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Debating Brexit in the Sea Star with the God of War

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“So you’re Mark?” a guy I didn’t know said to a guy I was talking to. “I know we’ve met before.”

“I don’t think we have,” he replied, “since my name’s Peter.”

“I don’t know why I didn’t remember that,” the first guy said, embarrassed.

“You have to hear the full name,” Peter told him. “It’s Peter Mars. If I just say ‘Peter,’ nobody remembers it. But ‘Peter Mars?’ People remember that.”

We both agreed that’s very likely.

“What gets me, though,” Peter said, “is the number of people who say ‘oh, Mars? Like the candy bar?’ No it’s not ‘Mars like the candy bar.’ It’s ‘Mars like the GOD OF WAR!’”

For a moment, everything was quiet. The divine had spoken. It was actually pretty awesome.

“I have to keep having that conversation,” Peter added. “But at least I get to shout.”

We were at the Sea Star in the Dogpatch because we’re all friends of Tony, and Tony had a very good day. These guys – Tony and his friends – were all crew for Burning Man back in the 90s. The guys who literally built a city in the desert back before anybody knew how to build a city in the desert.   They figured it out as they went along, with a crew of strangers out of a Foreign Legion recruiting film.   These are men with stories, men who by any reasonable standards should have died trying to do something impossible while drunk and dehydrated.

Ask Tony about accidentally taking a triple dose of acid his first day on playa. Ask about the one armed man who killed his roommate before joining the crew. Ask about the special forces agent who went AWOL to hang around and build the city. Ask who shot Flash. If you’re lucky, he’ll tell you.

But somehow it all turned out okay. They lived. In fact, almost nobody died, and now Tony insists on buying my first round. I order a whiskey, ginger beer, and lime concoction off the specialty cocktails list that I do not like at all – it’s sour where it should be sweet and sweet where it should be sour – but I finish it anyway because goddamit Tony bought me that drink, and we’ve got history too.

The building the Sea Star’s in has housed a dive bar consistently for the past century, and so while the Sea Star is only a few years old and still shiny – even colorful – it has a wonderful broken in feeling. Like all good dives, it doesn’t try too hard: it’s comfortable with what it is, and that brings out comfort in other people.   Fancy has its place – I’m an unapologetic drink snob – but deep down, all we really want is a place where people will listen to our stories.

There was a Jamison rep on site that night, and she started passing our group shots.

“Gentlemen,” I said, when we all had one. “At the risk of bringing us down: since we’re drinking an Irish whiskey I think it’s only appropriate to toast to the end of the post-war political order in the west. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but it looks like the Brexit passed, Europe is cracking, and God know what happens next.”

We raised our glasses. “To Europe cracking,” they said, and we drank.

Tony and Peter exchanged looks. “I’ve got another one,” Tony said. “You know how the Supreme Court is deadlocked and they can’t get shit done? Well, there’s an easy way to solve that gridlock. You just need another conservative justice to die off. So …”

He and Peter raised their glasses.

My face fell. “I, ah, guys …” I say, “I can’t … I can’t go along with that … I can’t toast to a political opponent dying. I just … I can’t got there with you …”

Tony cracked up.

“God damn,” Peter said. “He actually called you on it!” He grinned. “Nobody ever does that.”

“Good job,” Tony said, patting my shoulder. “How about we just drink to the end of gridlock?”

I agreed, but am still confused. What happened there? Was I really the victim of an attempted prank … I could totally see these guys starting a series of more and more elaborately horrible toasts with a straight face just to see how far somebody would go, it’s very them … or did they mean it but backed off when I protested? I have no idea. I just know that that the world I want to live in, the whole point of a global order is to keep everything from being a life or death issue. That’s why we have systems, so we don’t rule by mob justice.

I get why you did it, Britain, but you broke my heart.

The owner of the Sea Star, a friend of Tony’s, was in Ireland that night (Northern Ireland voted to stay in the Union), and so Tony’s friends are taking selfies and sending them to her. We order beers. The Jamison rep gives us more shots.

It felt to me like the world was falling apart. But Tony patted my shoulder and we clinked glasses to the men and women who built an impossible city – one that has lasted far longer than anyone ever imagined. And maybe, I thought, drinking another shot of whiskey with a man named after the god of war, this will turn out all right.

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Benjamin Wachs - Fascinating Stranger

Benjamin Wachs - Fascinating Stranger

Benjamin Wachs is the author of the short story collection A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City. He tweets as @BenjaminWachs, and displays (some of) his work at