A Dress Code for Democracy

Cowboys at the Rusty Spur in Scottsdale, AZ

With less than two weeks left before Americans decide on who will become the 45th President of this grand old Republic, I will once again try to wrestle with the paralysis of the pen that has plagued my armchair political punditry for the better part of this election cycle. After all the mindless and mundane chatter mixed in with a boundless measure of mercurial shape shifting, neither candidate has done all that much to move the ball down the field. And while I must apologize for my overuse of hackneyed sport’s metaphors, as we come around to the homestretch this really does appear to be a bona fide horse race.

Unfortunately, I suspect that if there were not those troubling tendencies that continue to cause a segment of the population to make their decisions based upon race and religion, the poll numbers would be very different. Added to that the fact that neither candidate has adequately articulated a clear or attainable vision of  how one might govern a nation in the grips of  ongoing economic and geopolitical peril–we are left with yet another presidential contest that will be decided by pandering to the disheartened and disenchanted mob on the extremes, and a handful of undecided voters in a few key counties around the country. So it is not much of a stretch to suspect that both parties might resort to a bit of chicanery in order to affect the final tally.

I happened to grow up in an area of New Jersey where the local Democratic machines had a propensity toward bribery and outright bullying if the usual promise of patronage was not enough to swing the vote in their direction. Thankfully, these transgressions against democracy were  mostly isolated local events, and did not have national implications that might determine the outcome of a presidential election. And while I enjoy a good conspiracy theory as much as the next gullible Gus, I tend not to believe that our fates have been altered and decided by the likes of the Illuminati, Free Masons, or those children of privilege that perform clandestine rituals while worshipping the remains of Geronimo’s cranium in the darkened bowels at Yale’s Skull and Bones Society. But at this particular moment in time, I might acknowledge the possibility that there was indeed a well orchestrated effort by Republicans to put in place a national policy of voter suppression in those potential battleground states that embraced a majority of like-minded governors and legislators. 

While the idea of having to provide a valid photo ID in order to exercise ones franchise in these times of heightened security threats and concerns about illegal immigration seems reasonable on the surface, take it from someone who has spent over forty years in the tavern trade–if you want to discourage certain clientele from gaining access to the bar simply initiate a dress code. The call for top hats and tails after six will certainly eliminate  those whose resources limit them to Levi’s and Stetsons. This allows those in charge to be selective without appearing to be discriminatory. So in the case of massaging voter turnout, one need not suggest something as offensive as a poll tax in order to statistically impact an election. Consider this political engineering a type of dress code for democracy.

Heard's Brigade at Re-enactment of the Battle of Monmouth

And now that some thirty states have enacted some form of voter identification law, it is more important than ever that we rise above our collective national inclination to sit out the game when someone attempts to make the path around the bases a little harder to negotiate. We owe it to those that have lived up to a much more serious code of  dress and decorum from the fields of Concord to the streets of Kandahar. Honor their service and sacrifice–Vote!

Posted by Chris Poh

Once in a Blue Moon

Neil Armstrong - Apollo 11 Mission - NASA Photo Public Domain

Black boy in Chicago
Playing in the street
Not near enough to wear
Not near enough to eat
Don’t you know he saw it
On a July afternoon
He saw a man named Armstrong
Walk upon the moon
                                From the song “Armstrong” by John Stewart

It seems both appropriate and bittersweet that we have honored the achievements, and marked the passing of Neil Armstrong on the occurrence of a blue moon. I was fifteen years old during that momentous summer of 1969 when we placed two men in the Sea of Tranquility, as a third crew member orbited  Earth’s only natural satellite. But truth be told, I was much more interested in that which transpired among the sea of humanity that had landed on Max Yasgur’s farm near Woodstock, New York. But within those two very different events there was a common measure of human potential. In the midst of generational conflict, civil unrest, political upheaval and a brutal war in Southeast Asia, we could still overcome our shortcomings and failures to achieve greatness. And there was a collective appreciation of those accomplishments that transcended our differences. 

As I listen to the  current political dialogue during this summer’s presidential campaign, I wonder to myself if these times could even produce the likes of  Collins, Aldrin and Armstrong, or for that matter even a  Crosby, Stills and Nash. Currently our national discord certainly seems to have a decided edge over any possibility of  national harmony.

After the Apollo 11 Mission, I remember spending a bit more time peering into the night sky. There was a time when even my old Gilbert 80-power 3-inch reflector telescope found its way back to the front lawn. The small bits of light in the dark silence rekindled some of that wonder and awe that was lost to the self-absorbed ways of adolescence. Today most of my celestial gazing seems to be limited to those long walks back to the car after closing some pub. Unfortunately, like so many of us I find my self spending too much time in that mundane inner space  where the light of the heavens is obscured by incandescent pollution and our own pointless incessant chatter–a place where humans tend to only react according to their own individual self interests–a place that is the source of both our internal and external strife–a place of big egos and small ideas.

Over the next several weeks there will be the usual clarion calls from both sides of the political divide to join them on the road toward the reclamation of our American potential and preeminence. Our eyes will be bombarded with the well orchestrated persuasive partisan messages coming to us by the light of our  computer screens, smart phones and television sets. But in reality, we need not look  any further than into the light of our children’s eyes, or into the light of that endless night sky to understand our place in human history. It is those illuminations that will fire our intellect and imagination–and allow us to leave our footprints on the path to a better America. Let’s just hope that we can make those small steps toward another giant leap sometime before the next blue moon.

Posted by: Chris Poh

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Reaching Across the Divide

It has been some time since I have made any contributions to this particular forum, in fact, the last word came from my cohort and compadre, Ed Petersen, who back in April again posed that vexing question: “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

Now after having endured the close of yet another presidential primary season, the beginning of the main event, and the first two days of the Republican’s gathering of funny hats in Tampa, the prospect of getting along seems as unattainable as ever. But in the interest of promoting our policy of  defusing the prevailing air of pessimism, we will continue to voice our own unique brand of hope and optimism.

The following piece was recently published in our new online publication Parting Glass Media:

Having spent a substantial portion of my adulthood on both sides of that barrier that separates the patrons from the potables, I know from experience just how territorial people can be about what they perceive to be an almost God-given right to a particular place at the bar. And any newcomer to the establishment that infringes upon that preordained seating arrangement, at the very least, might be subject to a less than welcoming glance from those that believe that their time at the tavern affords them special considerations.

I have always believed that if you observe human behavior on a small-scale, one will gain much insight into the overall nature of mankind. And watching the masses jockeying for position at the bar in the hope of getting those rewards that await them on the other side reminds me very much of our current attitude towards those that may have entered the saloon, or crossed our borders, without the proper credentials. And with another heated presidential election season in full swing, the hand wringing and wrangling over the issue of immigration will once again be at the forefront of the fear mongering laundry list of political issues. Our mercurial position on the matter has always been dictated by economic self-interest, and by our own personal prejudice for or against that particular group seeking safe haven on these shores.

During my time as a bartender at Manhattan’s Peter McManus Cafe during the late 80s, I experienced a very different response to some of those that were here in the country illegally. Although these new Irish immigrants were not facing anything equal to the hardships and devastation caused by the Great Famine of the mid-nineteenth century, an abysmal economy at home had driven them to seek employment throughout the five boroughs of New York. And while these expatriates were not about to take on anything as ambitious as digging a canal or building a transcontinental railroad, a number of rundown city neighborhoods did experience gentrification as a result of this ready, willing and able-bodied pool of affordable labor.

The same friendly pubs that cashed the checks of these undocumented workers would garner a quick reward for their blind eye courtesy in the form of an ever-increasing thirsty patronage that could spend many hours treating their homesickness with a generous dose of beer and whiskey. The local collection plates also benefited from those displaced souls who still adhered to the tradition of mass on Sunday, no matter how many pints were consumed during the previous evening’s session. So it was no small wonder at the time that there would be advocacy and a call for amnesty from both the politicians and those in the pulpit who shared a common heritage with those that were now living in the shadows of America’s promise.

As we once more face the challenge of constructing policy that is just and reasonable not only for those who are coming into the country, but also for those that have established their rightful citizenship, let us be mindful of the fact that much of this nation’s good fortune and success can be attributed to that longstanding tradition of inclusion. Furthermore, the vast majority of immigration, legal or otherwise, is driven by conditions that if faced by any human being would prompt those people to seek a better life elsewhere, regardless of the cost or personal risk. In the course of our own history, Americans have crossed or moved the borders to suit our individual and national needs—and in many instances without sufficient concern for the wellbeing of those who would be impacted by such actions.

Lastly, let us not forget that within most of us resides this deep-seated desire to bridge the divide that separates all humans from our point of origin in the universe. In an attempt to make that journey we have adopted principles, philosophies and religious beliefs that call upon us to transcend culture, race, and national identity in our dealings with each other. For if any of us are to draw from that wellspring of knowledge, or to partake of that holy nectar—we must first find a way to sit together on this side of the bar.

Posted by: Chris Poh

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Shaken, but Not Stirred

Bluecoat Gin

I was in the middle of one of my favorite afternoon delights, a martini made with Bluecoat American Dry Gin, when the great tremor sent shock waves through much of the original thirteen colonies. From Richmond, Virginia to Boston, Massachusetts the talk was only of the big quake, and how even the President of the United States may been thrown from his beach chair while enjoying the usually serene sands of Martha’s Vineyard. Meanwhile, our compadres on the West Coast were glued to their television sets–their eyes searching the eastern urban scapes for the gaping chasms, collapsed highways, bent bridges and smoldering rubble. But alas, that morbid aspect of human curiosity would have to be satisfied with tales of interrupted soap operas and rattling china. 

As for myself, once I digested the uniqueness of the occurrence so close to home, my thoughts quickly turned to the politics of the situation. I was relieved to know that we were not as of yet burdened with a balanced budget amendment. Because had New york and Philadelphia been reduced to a  collection of  fallen brick and twisted steel, I’m not sure the current Congress would approve of additional assistance from Washington, and Wall Street shows little interest in wanting  to help in the rebuilding of America. 

These little wakeup calls, that are thrown our way every once in a while, should serve as a reminder of just how vulnerable we really are, and how dependent we are on one another–and a government that is strong, functional and flexible. As usual, I’m sure our politicians were likely a bit shaken by the event–but probably not stirred!

Posted by: Chris Poh

Published in: on August 24, 2011 at 1:43 pm  Comments (2)  
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Kicking the Proverbial Can Down the Road

Pabst Can

Of all the metaphors that made their way around the media during the debt ceiling debate, the one that seems to have scored the most airplay was a reference ad nauseam to kicking the can down the road. If the recent precipitous drop in the stock market is any indication of Washington’s ability to put off having to deal with the toxic economic brew that is filling the cups of so many Americans,  we have finally reached that point in our nation’s history when our politicians, to use another tired worn-out metaphor, are no longer capable of even  passing the buck.

In response to my own  debt ceiling debacle and employment crisis, I, like the Federal Government, am considering painful cutbacks to certain key programs. My “Drink Only imports and Microbrew Program” will probably have to be downsized by the implementation of a less costly domestic policy. Thankfully, Becker’s Corner in Quakertown, PA features “Turn Back Tuesdays,” a very affordable celebration of those classic American brands that satisfied the palates of past generations.

Becker's Corner - Quakertown, PAQuite frankly, there is something rather heartening and reassuring about drinking those beers that saw my father and uncles through the hardships of their times. So while our elected representatives are pondering what to do next about our ailing economy during their summer recess in places like Palm Springs and Martha’s Vineyard, I will be popping open several PBRs–knowing full well that all we really need to get this party going again is a can of creativity, a six-pack of hope, a case of good leadership and a keg full of caring!

Posted by: Chris Poh

Raising the Bar Instead of the Ceiling

Gold Hill Saloon - Virginia City, Nevada

With any luck, by the time this piece is published the political posturing will subside, and the wiser minds in the debt ceiling debate will prevail. The truth be told, this grand experiment in democratic rule was founded on a mix dedication and debt. By 1791, the country owed in excess of 75 million dollars to those creditors who bankrolled her revolution. And with the exception of a two-year period beginning in 1835, the United States has had unsettled obligations ever since Ben and the boys emerged from the Pennsylvania State House to make public their intent to break ties with King George the Third.

While it has always been a popular notion that it is the misdeeds and inefficiencies of government that are the root cause of our unbalanced books, it is in fact, those less than admirable traits in humankind that have left the public holding a rather large unpaid tab. Historically, most of Washington’s deficit spending has been the consequence of military conflict, or the missteps and misappropriations in the marketplace. Perhaps if those at the helm of our economic institutions were a bit less greedy, or if we had a healthcare system that was fair and affordable, or if we could just find a more peaceful way to settle our differences—we might just be able to get our financial house in order.

Abandoned Sluice at Gold Hill

But as I raise a glass of whiskey at the saloon of the Gold Hill Hotel, which sits atop those spent silver veins of the Comstock Lode that helped to finance many bloody Northern campaigns during America’s Civil War, I realize that we are still a ways off from raising the bar on human behavior. So for the foreseeable future, we will remain dependent upon a Congress that raises the ceiling on public debt.

Posted by: Chris Poh

“Welcome Home,” Mr. President

 Obama at Ollie Hayes' Pub

With the simple front-page headline “Welcome Home,” The Evening Herald, a leading Irish newspaper, put to rest any further questions about Barack Obama’s true pedigree. An endorsement from the land of long pours and long stories trumps the long form birth certificate every time. So Mr. Obama now becomes the 29th of the 44 US presidents to trace his roots to the old sod of Erin.

In a scene reminiscent with  Sean Thornton, played by John Wayne in The Quiet Man, in which the celebrated Yank returns to Ireland to lay claim to the ancestral cottage in which he was born–the President arrived in Moneygall and was escorted by Henry Healy, his long-lost eighth cousin on his mother’s side, to the humble abode from where Falmouth Kearney. his great-great-great grandfather, had emigrated to America in the 1850s.  

And like all great tales involving the Irish, there was of course the obligatory public house scene. At day’s end the President and his entourage adjourned to Ollie Hayes’ Pub to hoist a few pints.

As I watched the coverage of  this  event unfold, I came to the realization that in the grand scheme of the universe the  odds of  being raised up in the Rapture in America during this past Saturday were probably about the same as the odds of  pints of Guinness being raised up by a black  US president in Ireland on any given day of the week. 

S0 here’s to raising up a good pint, a good man–and to beating the odds every once in a while!

Corrigan Brothers

Click here  to experience how the good people of Moneygall and the Corrigan Bothers  marked this extraordinary occasion.

Posted bt: Chris Poh






Sometimes, the Bums Just Need to be Thrown out of the Bar!

Dean Martin in Rio Bravo

I was on my way home after a long day on the working side of the bar at the Indian Rock Inn when I got the news by way of  BBC radio that bin Laden had been apparently killed by U.S. forces. My initial reaction was one of  relief and perhaps a bit of smug gratuitous joy, but then the usual circumspect analytical side of my personality began to take hold. I knew that the man who had just got done proving the legitimacy of his birth would soon have to prove the legitimacy of another man’s death. And by early morning the crazies would already be spouting  their far-flung conspiratorial theories on both the airwaves and the web.

I have come to the conclusion that their resides within the human brain a place that allows small children to believe in the Easter Bunny and adults to believe in God–a wonderful place that operates on simple faith, and is more often than not a source of peace and comfort. But unfortunately, that same group of neurons and neural pathways that can foster strong beliefs, without the benefit of any tangible evidence, can also give rise to dangerous distortions of the facts when driven solely by fear.

My own brand of logic causes me to question just how much we actually gain by the killing of one man. And while I fully support the notion of cutting off the head of the snake, I know that another serpent will soon emerge from the viper’s den. And all too often that snake tends to display even more loathsome reptilian-like behavior. But for the sake and safety of those decent well-behaved patrons that are presently sitting in the saloon, sometimes the bums just need to be thrown out of the bar. And even though there is probably a more nefarious scoundrel lurking in the shadows–we can thank God and the Easter Bunny for good bouncers and great Navy Seals!

Posted by: Chris Poh

Should We be Drinking from the Enemy’s Well?

USAF 204th Fighter Wing Over Kuwait - Public Domain Photo

I remember being chided by some fellow bar patrons for having a misplaced sense of patriotism after ordering a screwdriver made with Russian vodka. This particular political skirmish occurred in September of 1983, a few days after Korean Airlines Flight 007 was shot down by a Soviet SU-15 Flagon Interceptor. My response to the reproach was the rather flip remark of a much younger man, “Gentlemen if I were to give up drinking the alcoholic beverage of every country that I had a beef with, I’d soon have to give up drinking altogether.”

Looking back, I question my earlier wisdom and wonder now if we should be providing aid and economic support to those whose values and behaviors are in conflict with ours. Beyond the moral implications, there is the pragmatic aspect of drinking from the enemy’s well. When the relationship eventually sours either access to the well is denied, or the owner poisons the waters. As the price for a gallon of gas has yet again broken the three dollar mark because of this current round of unrest in the Middle East, Americans once more must question an energy policy that is dependent upon the reasonable conduct of despots, tyrants and thugs.

The seeds of our own revolution were planted in part when Great Britain implemented The Sugar Act of 1769. This burdensome tax on molasses imported from the West Indies led to the ruin of the once thriving rum industry in colonial New England. In response the colonists utilized native crops in order to continue the production of quality spirits. Today that same Yankee ingenuity carries on in the fast-growing field of micro-distillation. Companies like Philadelphia Distilling and Finger Lakes Distilling are among the over two hundred smaller suppliers that are providing their American clientele with premium potables without the words “Imported from…” being on the label.

Perhaps it is time that those in charge of crafting our nation’s energy policy adopt a similar homegrown approach to the problem. I just hope that we don’t ever get into a squabble with Scotland—because I still haven’t found a domestic distiller that can duplicate the distinct finish and flavor of the Balvenie Double Wood.

Posted by: Chris Poh

And the Lion Shall Sit Down with the Lamb

President Obama shakes hands with Speaker Boehner - photo by Jim Young/Rueters
Whether or not we can achieve the long-term civility and cooperation envisioned by President Obama in his State of the Union address remains to be seen. But at least for one night during this long cold winter, there appeared to be a bit of genuine warmth emanating from  the House chamber. The simple gesture of having the members of both parties sitting next to each other might actually begin to change the tone in Washington. (If nothing else, the tone of Speaker John Boehner’s tan finally seemed balanced.)

On this particular night the United States Congress  appeared to be the government  of all the people, instead of the usual partisan fans of two opposing teams in their assigned bleachers at a high school football game.

Since the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords there has been much talk about the need to change the tone of our political dialogue. While I will not speculate as to what degree the events in Tucson were influenced by the current level of acrimony between Democrats and Republicans, my years of experience in the tavern business have taught me that our discourse and tone certainly do matter. 

I have been witness to too many instances where a highly charged atmosphere combined with some  ill-chosen words  provided the license and excuse for the less rational patrons to display their violent tendencies. 

On the other hand though, I have experienced many more occasions where a kind word, a calming hand on the shoulder, or just the invite to sit down next to someone else diffused a potentially dangerous situation. So let us not discount the power of what we say or where we sit.

Tir na nog Irish Pub - Trenton, NJ

So in the spirit of proper tavern etiquette,  I would ask our politicians  to please remember the following points:

  • There is a place for everyone at the bar.
  • On St. Patrick’s Day everyone is Irish.
  • The rest of the year we are all Americans.

Posted by: Chris Poh


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