Sometimes only barbecue will do. On those occasions I'm lucky to have a joint nearby where I can go sit at a bar and ... becue.
So there I was at the bar, becuing, when a gent in a tricorne and knee breeches walked in and sat down right next to me. "Pah-trick," he said, doffing his hat and extending his hand. I gave my name and we shook.
I took a chance on joshing as an icebreaker: "Tricorne and knee breeches! Not an everyday sight! Is Liberty Tax trying a new line of costumes for their sign wavers, or are you a re-enactor on the run from Williamsburg for committing an anachronism?"
"Williamsburg!" Patrick exhaled sharply. "I'd be dead if I were still there! As it was, we barely got out of Charlottesville alive when bloody Banastre Tarleton showed up unannounced. Had to come all the way down here to where they'd named a fort after me before I could feel safe. "
"You mean Fort Patrick Henry? You're Patrick Henry? Give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death Patrick Henry?" I'd met people who claimed to be the Messiah before, but this was a new one.
"Do I detect a patriotic tone in your voice?" he asked. "I hope so, anyway. I'm desperately looking for Public Virtue. It seems to have disappeared."
There was little question from the way he said this that it was capital-P Public and capital-V Virtue. He seemed very thirsty.
"Hmm," I murmured, gesturing to the array of taps behind the bar. "Sweetwater 420, Yuengling, Fat Tire, Samuel Adams, but nope, no Public Virtue here. At least, not on draft."
"You have spoken very eloquently, friend," the ersatz-Henry said, shaking his head sadly and tiredly. "That is what we have come to: In a country with such an organizer of minutemen as Samuel Adams, what have things come to, even with Tarleton and that traitor Arnold burning and pillaging? A draft. And where there is a draft there is no Public Virtue."
"You could ask. They might have it in bottles."
"Battles? Did you say battles? Everybody was all excited back in '75. Public Virtue everywhere! Volunteers? No problem! Only let them march and drill and camp out for three months and then go home! But for the duration? For the battles? For the cannons roaring muskets cracking bumbs flying all around men dying and the horrid groans of the wounded? Two years later, Washington was asking me for more troops, but who wanted to fight then? And that was four years ago. You cannot imagine how bad things are now. I'm ready to bring Washington in as a dictator and start executing people who won't leave if they don't take a loyalty oath."
"Wow, man are you sure you're Patrick Henry? You sound more like Maximilien Robespierre, you know, terror is the only guarantor of virtue and all that."
Henry turned to me with a sad look. "By the Gauling notes of the name, I gather you're making me into a Frenchman?" He sighed heavily. "Say no more. We are at the nadir. The abyss. The people will not save us. The Congress will not save us. The army will not save us. But, the French. The French will save us! The French! The royalist, monarchist, absolutist, non-republican French. The very epitome of the rape of public virtue. My god, my god, what have we come to?" He buried his head into his arms, folded on the bar, and sobbed.
I had to hand it to this guy. He was totally into his gig. Surely I could do something to get him to break character. "So, did you hear about that big bomb? The MOAB?"
"Moab! Moab!" Henry raised his head and shouted, pounding his fists on the bar. "Where Moses covenanted his people just before they entered the promised land! Where Moses died, not entering with them, a sacrifice to the life of his people? What is a covenant? A matter of convenience? I ask you! What is a pledge? A bill of fare? A choice between turtle soup and barbecue?"
Then he turned to me with a fierce look. "You! I ask you! Will you fight the British? Will you take it upon yourself as your solemn duty to fight them to the death so that you will be free? Or will you be like the others, all cheap bunting and parades and drunken songs from suckling at the ale tap, 'Let the eagle flyyyyy!' oh so happy to let others do the killing, and by all means make it far, far away from home, but who, when the war comes to your doorstep, will you flee the militia muster and degrade yourself to the point that you will not even serve on a jury without the heavy threat of a fine or imprisonment? Where is Public Virtue?"
His eyes were blazing. I was left just stammering. Far from breaking his character, I'd just been sucked into it. I finally was able to hem and haw that I was pretty sure I'd serve on a jury without the threat of a fine. But as far as the militia, there hadn't been a muster in a little bit ...
He cut me off. "Now, if you will excuse me, I must go relieve myself. Can you kindly point me the way to the outhouse?"
"Haha. Right over there. This not being Scotland, best not go in the one with the kilted person on the door."
The bathrooms are in a little alcove in full view of the bar. I watched him go in the men's. Not long after another guy went to wait for him to come out. He waited. And waited. He shifted from one foot to another. He needed to go pretty bad. I thought he should go ahead and invoke Scotland, but he went to the register for assistance. I couldn't hear the conversation, but it ended up with a waiter going to the men's and knocking. No answer. The waiter unlocked the door and open it. The bathroom was empty.
The next day in the mail I got a jury summons. With a majusculed threat of a fine and everything. It had "Patrick Henry says hello" stamped on it, which I thought was odd.
I called the court to find out what that meant. They said they don't do that; somebody must've tampered with the mail, which is a Federal offense. "Yeah, I know," I said. "So why can't it be a Federal offense to sell my browsing history?" The court didn't know and said goodbye.
I bet Public Virtue is good beer.