I am not making this up. I met my diametric opposite a few days ago. We kinda it it off. By yesterday, when we parted ways, I couldn’t get him out of my head.
Come the fall, my daughter will matriculate at UC-Davis. Despite the havoc Prop 13 wreaked upon California’s educational system, our state universities remain a shining example of what public education can be. For two days, we were both plunged into the University’s culture — my daughter off with the students, me off with the parents. As this isn’t my first time at the UC Rodeo, I was familiar with the tropes. The nuggets of good, UC-Davis-specific info were massively outnumbered by well-meaning-but-generic suggestions about dealing with our freshman angst and our own.
My new friend Gary and I started chatting — just because we were sitting near each other while waiting for one of the information sessions to start. We all wore badges with our names, our student’s first name and their intended major. That way, all the parents had a way to break the ice with each other — just by reading each others’ badges.
I’m not subtle in a room. Gary saw me immediately for what I was — a progressive. Gary did a little “lawyerly” poking around. He showed me a picture of a Remington rifle he was interested in buying. It was a nice-looking rifle. Not my thing but, still, my under-reaction surprised Gary.
The subject of marijuana had come up. I forget why. It seems to come up a lot around me. Gary had recently developed type 2 diabetes. When he and I and the two other hookey-playing dads sat down for an off-campus beer, Gary and I were the only non-drinkers. I asked if he ever used cannabis instead. Gary said he almost did once (at UC-Davis — he was a very proud alum) but hadn’t since — and really couldn’t because of his work.
Gary, ya see, is a judge. A very conservative judge from a very conservative part of California. The instant I heard Gary was a judge, I was captivated. I grew up a surgeon’s son. While I thought of my dad as “dad”, other people revered my dad because of what he did — and did for them. Working as I have in show business, I’ve seen people be revered because they can memorize dialogue and act it out on cue. But, perhaps because I grew up being unimpressed, I became immune to being impressed. Gary being a judge (never mind his politics) made him a guy with a job I wanted to know more about. The perfect basis for a friendship.
Now, I hope Gary will forgive me for this. I’m about to give away his secret. He’s a profoundly decent man. His care and compassion for drug addicts — his work on their behalf to keep them out of the penal system (but with the penal system’s threat very real) makes him a hero. There’s a saying in the Talmud: “Save one life, you save the world”. I told Gary that’s what he was doing. He downplayed it. The last laugh is mine — I’m shouting it from the rooftops here.
The truth is, because Gary isn’t a doctrinaire conservative — and I’m a pragmatic progressive — we found an amazing amount of, if not common ground, then ground where structures could be built where we both could live. It’s funny how when you put politics — even differing politics — inside decent people, one hears the differences but one also sees a way to get past them. Decency is a remarkable thing, I tell ya!
Decency means you have to listen sometimes — and wait your turn to counter. You have to argue facts and not feelings. You have to stay reasoned and reasonable.
I have a confession to make. I used what my new friend Gary told me about himself against him. And he let me. The subject of Donald Trump came up. The subject of Russia came up. The subject of Robert Mueller and The Mueller Report came up.
Gary said he hadn’t read the report, didn’t intend to, and thought it was a waste of time. That’s when I played dirty. I talked to my new friend Gary as the compassionate, law-abiding judge I knew he was — there was video, news reporting — testimonials from drug addicts who’d been saved from their own demons. Gary is especially fond of his time in drug court. He’s put more than a few demons to the sword there.
I put Robert Mueller into Gary’s courtroom,. Was Mueller a “good witness”? Purple Heart War Hero… Second longest-serving FBI Director… a man who’d spent his whole career as a public servant — whose reputation even now remains sterling. I asked — if the evidence presented in the 488 page Mueller Report was evidence presented in HIS courtroom, how would Gary feel about it?
I told you — Gary is a very decent man. He did not disagree that AG Bill Barr misrepresented Robert Mueller and his work product. The more we talked about the subject, the quieter Gary became. I don’t argue feelings. I argue facts (and I can back up everything with receipts if needed because I’ve learned the hard way — it sucks being humiliated by someone who does bring proof that they know whereof they speak). But feelings are part of the equation and depending on how intense those feelings are, the facts can easily get de-contextualized. A fact out of context is a statistic waiting to be abused.
Gary and I talked about the 2nd amendment too. We talked about how it’s worded. We talked about guns and gun culture. Though it pains me to say it, i don’t see how we’d ever make America a giant gun-free zone. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work toward it. My bet is the more women flood the political system, the tighter gun restrictions will be because mothers hate the thought of anyone’s baby getting shot.
Guns will be a series of conversations we’ll have over time, I bet. I believe we will have those conversations. And though we won’t see eye-to-eye, I believe we’ll begin to see ways to bridge the chasm. Decency, I believe, will make the chasm harder to maintain. I hope that Gary’s decency was a reflection of my own. Having someone listen to you — really listen — changes things.
I bonded with Gary. I found a compadre (and a partner in crime). I found someone whose world fascinates me — as my world fascinates him. I doubt we’ll ever have the same war stories.
As someone who rages against political opponents like a fool shrieking into the void, I found it incredibly satisfying to listen. To ask questions. To understand the perspective that made another person who they are.
I guess that’s what happened. I looked inside the heart of another person — and saw them beneath what they thought.
I can’t say for sure if this new friendship will endure. I want it to. I already come away from it enriched by it.