Joe Pisani (opinion): Cures for political division — golf, veal parmigiana and the Swimsuit Edition

This artwork by Nancy Ohanian refers to different Republican and Democratic perspectives.
This artwork by Nancy Ohanian refers to different Republican and Democratic perspectives.Nancy Ohanian

I have this really bad personality defect. Well, there are many, but this one’s so obvious I probably should do something about it. Counseling. Reprogramming. Mortification.

It troubles my family members and friends because I keep what was known in the olden days as “bad company.”

You see, I consort with liberals and conservatives ... even though it’s not always easy and nowadays it’s practically verboten. Quite honestly, it would be easier to pick a side and just delete half of my address book, but I can’t do that because you never know when I might need some good legal advice from my liberal lawyer or a good colonoscopy from my conservative gastroenterologist.

As Thomas Paine once said, “These are the times that try men’s, and women’s, souls.”

My standing rule is I don’t talk politics, but that doesn’t stop any of them from rambling on and on about the border crisis ... sorry, bad choice of words. My Democratic friends have banned that word, although my Republican friends love it. I meant the “border situation.”

When they persist, I go into self-distraction mode, which I learned from Yoda or Spock (the Vulcan, not the pediatrician). This means I tune them out and start thinking about something pleasant. For example, instead of images of Joe Biden’s press conference, I substitute images of, say, the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Voila, problem solved.

It’s quite simple and very effective, and it has preserved countless friendships. You should try it. I guarantee there will be fewer fistfights at Thanksgiving dinner, if we’re ever allowed to have family gatherings again.

Growing up, we had all kinds of radicals and reactionaries around the dinner table, and the debates were relentless. I get a headache just thinking about them. Being Italian, we were prone to yelling and using expressive hand gestures that often came perilously close to turning into fisticuffs. But no matter how intense the discussion became, we forgot our differences by the time the meal was over. My mother’s veal parmigiana and homemade wine worked like a sedative on the most loud-mouthed activists. Politics can’t compare to a good Italian meal.

Times have changed. For example, my father never harbored any grudges over political differences, so if I ever said, “Why are we taking Uncle Tony to the hospital for his cancer treatment — he’s a Republican,” I would have felt my father’s Democratic hand across the back of my head. Those days are gone. Hatred has taken over.

Always remember this: Politicians come and go, but friends and family are forever.

A fellow I know told me that one place where politics doesn’t interfere with his friendships is on the golf course. He plays with guys of both political persuasions, and their views on the $3 trillion national debt don’t get in the way of the game. I wanted to suggest it’s time they included a woman in that foursome — another bad choice of words — but I didn’t want to trigger him.

The older I get, the fewer friends I have, and I don’t want to lose any more because of politics. I probably should shut up now and turn my attention to something more productive like the Swimsuit Edition, but instead I’ll keep digging my own grave, as my mother used to say.

This brings me to my final point. My father wasn’t college educated. He was a simple carpenter named Joseph — not that one — who made our lives a living hell with his drinking. However, at 50 he found Alcoholics Anonymous and lived his last 25 years sober, making amends for all the misery he caused during the previous 35.

In the last part of his life, he became quite the philosopher, a regular Socrates at the dinner table, and he would say things I thought were absolutely simple-minded, until I got older and realized how profound they were. They were AA sayings like “Don’t pick up the first drink” and “Take your own inventory” and one of my favorites, “Live and let live.”

In some ways, AA meetings are like that golf course. No one argues about politics at an AA meeting because they have more important things to discuss, like sobriety and their Higher Power.

There’s a lesson here for all of us, alcoholic and non-alcoholic alike. In the immortal words of whoever it was, let’s live and let live.

Joe Pisani can be reached at joefpisani@yahoo.com.