This week, we are featuring two memoirs of meetings with the 2020 presidential hopefuls.
Wrestling Joe Biden by Christopher Parent
Years ago, as a young journalist in Washington, DC, I was assigned to attend a Senate hearing on foreign relations. Upon entering an elevator reserved for Senators and their staff, which I was ushered into because the Capitol was under renovation, I noticed the floor was covered with a spongy, bright blue mat.
As the doors were closing a man jumped on. He carried a leather briefcase and resembled a corporate raider on his way to buy a company or unload vast quantities of stock. I recognized him straight off as Senator Joe Biden.
He looked at the blue mat and asked me as if I was responsible, “What the hell is going on?”
I replied, “The gym was closed so the Iowa contingent just held a wrestling meet in here.”
Biden immediately dropped his briefcase and contorted himself into a wrestler’s crouch, hands in front ready to strike. His eyes widened and he said, “Well, let’s go then.” My reflexive obedience to authority kicked in and I dropped my briefcase and mirrored his stance.
Like Hamilton and Burr on the shores of Weehawken, we stared and each waited for the other to make the first move. He was the Senator so it was his to make. He faked high with his left hand, a jab to set up his right hand, which he used to “shoot the leg.” But he pulled back and just slapped my leg as if he were a Mama dog toying with her pups, just a hard nip to keep them in line.
As the elevator stopped, he placed me in a headlock and grabbed his briefcase with his free hand. I squirmed enough to grab mine. We exited the elevator with me bent at a 90-degree angle, staring at the ground while he was erupting in laughter, yelling at bystanders, “Look what I got. This young man tried to wrestle me in the elevator. I've still got it!”
He walked me into the Senate hearing room as if I were a wild beast whom he'd just subdued in the gladiatorial ring. When a Capitol Policeman delicately separated us, Biden tossed me into the wild. “Now that was fun!” he said, patting me on the back. Admonished by my editors for wrestling a Senator, rather than posing a question, while trapped with him in an elevator, I recognized that I had little future in investigative journalism, and applied to law school the next year.
My 48-year-old self is more cynical and growing more so every day. I look at the world more cautiously, with scars from a career in which your opponent doesn’t nip you in the leg; she or he bites hard and takes you down if you flinch. You must learn to get back up. It feels as if Biden knows that. When his son, Beau, died 5 years ago, I thought back to the elevator incident. I pondered how many times he must have wrestled with Beau, only three years older than me, while raising him after his wife and daughter died in a car accident in 1972. I read that after the loss he was going to quit politics to raise his sons. But he had good work to do and re-entered the ring. He realized he had to get back up.
Today, if the scenario were to be replayed, suspicion and maturity would rule and our encounter would be far different. There would be no playful wrestling match. I would be armed with questions. The content of my coverage of the Senate hearing would be more substantive. It would have an angle, a spin, or at least that would be the intention. Now more than ever, when clicks are a more vital barometer than truth, stories need a hero and a villain. “What’s this guy’s take in this story?” readers ask now, always searching for good versus evil, their side as opposed to the other guy's. Liberal? Trump supporter? Is he for Biden or against him?
Yet, in having to constantly choose sides, we fail to see each other for who we are, and to hear the back stories that make us whole. We only see what we want to see, or have been conditioned to see. It becomes reflexive. We see a reporter and a politician, wearing their perceived biases and labels for the world to judge. In truth, there is much more. There’s an anxious youth looking for lessons on how to survive in a challenging world that lies before him, and a father seeking solace in the embrace or grip of a son and daughter he has lost and misses. Once we let the headlock go, if we so choose, we can recognize that we all need to get back up again. It’s the only way to improve.
Original version published in The Good Men Project:
Christopher Parent is a writer and intellectual property attorney currently living in Zurich, Switzerland with his wife and two children. Chris was a journalist and speechwriter before entering the field of law. He has authored pieces in academic publications sponsored by the University of Virginia, Fordham University, the University of Notre Dame, Tulane University, and The George Washington University. While quarantined, he published humor pieces in Public House Magazine and Points in Case. You can read his other superb piece for Memoirist- which had nearly 800 readers- here.
Trump in the Bar by Panagiotis Papadopoulos
Every couple of weeks my daughter calls me from America to check up on me in my retirement. I’m not really retired though. I work for myself. I’ve got my own place at last on the same Aegean island where I grew up. The same island I left when I was eighteen years old to make my fortune in New York. For forty-five years, I waited tables in restaurants there. I did well and was able to save up and buy the little joint I run now, where we mainly serve drinks and sandwiches to tourists and I have time to spare to write my memoirs of those days.
I started out in Greek places but as time went on, I learned all the tricks of the trade and moved up the ladder to work at some of the best places in the City. It was at one of these, during the great decade of the 1980s that I became acquainted with the man who, for the past four years, I’ve had the honor of calling ‘My President’. I call him this because, in those days, he did something similar for me. He used to come into the bar and grill where I was one of the handful of waiters and he’d say to the Maitre D’, “Give me my usual table and send me My Lucky Greek.” He'd always order the same thing, the 21 Burger— this multi-millionaire who could have had the most expensive dish on the menu as many times as he liked. With it he’d drink a Coke, never a drop of booze.
Some days Mr. Trump came in very upbeat. “I’ve just closed a big deal, Greek...a big deal. I’m in a mood to celebrate!” he’d say, clapping me on the back. Other days, he’d come in subdued and thoughtful and when I came over to the table he’d shake his head and tell me, “It’s a tough business real estate, especially in New York...very tough.” After which he’d always add, “But we can’t let this stuff get us down, right my friend?” Yet, no matter what kind of week he’d been having, whether he was on his own, with his family, or associates, he invariably gave a good tip, twenty percent at least. What’s more, he’d always thank me for the service and mention that he looked forward to seeing me again soon.
A couple of times, I also served former President Bush in that same bar and grill. I mean the older Bush who was married to Barbara Whitehair, whom I also served. You know what they tipped? That distinguished couple whose families have been rich since the century before last? Nothing.
When my daughter calls me, she always asks me the same questions. “How’s business in the cafe, daddy?” or am I taking care to stay out of the heat in the summer, or spending money to put on the electric radiators in winter. But for these last five years, there’s been another she has to throw in every couple of months, which is, “Daddy, have you changed your mind yet about voting for Trump?” To which I always give her the same answer, “Like Mr. Trump says, he could shoot somebody dead in the middle of Fifth Avenue and it wouldn’t change my mind about him.”
She started in with all this before the election of 2016 when the whole ‘Grab ’em by the privates’ business first came out. “Daddy,” she asked me, “What would you think if one of those girls he did that to had been me?” To which I answered, “It never would’ve happened because you were a respectable, well brought up Greek-American girl. I can promise you from all I’ve seen over the years that any woman to whom that occurred with Mr. Trump would have been sending out plenty of signals that it could.”
The carry-on has continued ever since, right through the phoney impeachment and Mr. Trump’s, in my opinion, restrained response to the Black Lives Matter riots. Her latest is that he’s dismantling the Post Office just to obstruct voting by mail. I sent in my own ballot last week while I was writing this. I trust that it will be counted, same as last time I voted for my President. I’m seventy-five next year, same as him. As I tell my daughter whenever we speak, my greatest hope these days is that both of us live long enough to see out the next four years.