Stiff Drinks For ‘Those Damn Repelicans’
By Zack Pelta-Heller
As election time nears, I find myself once again doing everything I can to support my party. I am writing political pieces for left-leaning Internet publications and making calls for MoveOn, reminding people to get out and vote. Last Sunday, wearing a “Vote” shirt from a 2004 Democratic fundraiser, I stood with my family on a busy Center City street in Philadelphia, selling baked goods to raise money for local Dems. “Cupcakes for Casey,” we offered. “Up with pumpkin bread, down with Santorum!” With all of this political activism, it’s hard to believe that six years ago, during the 2000 Republican convention in Philly, I actually worked for the Republicans.
I was home on a break from Brandeis that summer, bartending for various catering companies to make extra cash. When the Republicans rolled into town during the first week in August, I rallied with my friends and family along the Ben Franklin Parkway every morning. I wore a “No Bushit” button, signed petitions to free both Mumia and Tibet (practically in the same hand motion), and pushed my girlfriend’s grandmother through the crowd in a wheelchair, as she clutched a circular blue NOW poster. I remember feeling proud of this woman of 86, who told anyone who would listen about how she despised “those damned Repelicans.” She’d spent a lifetime adhering to her convictions, and I was about to betray mine.
At 2:30 each day of the RNC, I turned my donkey tail and ran a few blocks south to a defunct armory, where I bartended at the Republican party’s parties. The armory itself had been transformed into a Caribbean island paradise, complete with real-life palm trees, bamboo huts, eight rum bars, and the main attraction, a mammoth crow’s nest perched atop a sunken pirate ship. I remember wishing that this was what the Republicans had in mind for military spending.
The concept of these fundraisers, as though diabolically designed by Karl Rove himself, was to push the concept of a “non-stop party.” Republicans were bussed in to the armory at one o’clock for some early afternoon revelry. Once properly sloshed, the delegates were shipped down to the convention (held at a South Philly stadium), only to be transported back up at the end of the evening’s proceedings for a five-hour nightcap. The T-shirt uniform that my fellow bartenders and I wore captured the essence of both parties—the nightly rum extravaganzas and the Republican party itself. “Captain Morgan,” the shirts read in patriotic red, white, and blue, “Putting the party back in politics!”
The highlight of my week of double shifts came on the day Jeb Bush spoke during an afternoon party. The governor of Florida looked like a bloated doppelganger as he took the podium, which was covered by colorful garlands. Governor Bush’s hair was parted on the same side as his brother’s, though his face looked less smug. I don’t remember the content of Governor Bush’s speech, however, because as he spoke, a pudgy Southerner began chatting me up while I made him a lime daiquiri on the rocks.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Colin Powell speak tonight down at the convention,” he said in a gruff drawl as I shook rum and sour mix together in my shaker. He wore a sweat-stained cowboy hat and a bolo with leather strings coming down through the nostrils of a silver steer skull. I was surprised he wasn’t rapt in Governor Bush’s speech, though few partygoers were.
“He should be a decent speaker,” I said, hoping for a tip as I strained his drink over ice.
“Just glad he’s not running for President,” the Southerner offered in a whisper.
“Oh really, why’s that?” I asked, somewhat distracted by the oversized “Kiss me, I’m Republican” pin.
“Welp,” he explained, leaning a little closer as the strings from his bolo disturbed the spiral tower of cocktail napkins that I’d carefully sculpted at the beginning of my shift, “between you and me, he’s black.”
“Next thing you know,” the Southern Bushwhacker chuckled, “there’ll be a woman in the Oval Office.”
For some reason, I thought of my Jewish grandmother, and what she would do in my place. She would probably have leapt across the counter and strangled him with his own bolo; this Republican stereotype, this poor excuse for a human being that I had actually served. Instead, I decided to kill him with kindness.
“Or maybe even a Jew,” I suggested.
He let out a belly laugh that he immediately stifled for fear of attracting too much attention. “Don’t even get me started!” he said, waving his hands over his head as he walked away, as if surrendering to his own bigotry.
I should have quit that afternoon, but I didn’t. It wasn’t so much the money or the fact that I’d learned so many daiquiri variations that I was ready to change my name to Zachary Daiquiri. Serving the Repelicans suddenly seemed comical, even though I vowed never do it again. What convinced me to stay, however, was when Captain Morgan himself stopped by later that night, in full pirate regalia. He climbed to the top of the crow’s nest with a fake parrot on his shoulder and threw down mini bottles of rum to a delighted crowd. Jeb Bush would have been envious of such a spirited response.