Smoke-filled room brings out the politicians
The first thing that hits you is the smoke.
Indoors! It seems like such a novelty now. It’s hard to believe that not long ago bars and restaurants - even workplaces - smelled just like this. All the time. Were we crazy or what?
And it wasn’t just cigarette smoke. I was attending the 77th Annual Oyster Eat at the Georgetown Fire Hall, and that means big, fat cigars.
My eyes hurt, and I don’t even wear contacts. Funny thing is, smoke never used to bother me. In high school, I welcomed bathroom smokers. The billowing clouds made the restrooms smell better and added a touch of smoky ambiance to the facilities.
I arrived a little after 8. It had been a few years since I’d attended, and I was curious to see, in an election year, how many politicians showed up for one of the prime opportunities to show just what a regular guy you are.
Everybody wears jeans and caps, and lots of guys wear camo-type shirts, even Sen. Chris Coons, who looked like he had just gotten back from a safari in the Senate Caucus Room.
(According to legend, former Gov. “Pete” du Pont had some ratty old thing he had his butler pull out for these occasions that actually had holes in the elbows. We’re talking Gov. Pierre S. du Pont IV, scion of one the most patrician families in the Milky Way Galaxy. He was born in a tailored suit! With little wingtip booties! I never actually saw Pete’s old sweater or shirt or whatever it was, but if you promise not to check out the story, I won’t either.)
The first politician I ran into was Tom Wager, Delaware’s state auditor. I gave him extra points because he was standing outside and it was cold. Maybe since he’s the only statewide Republican office-holder, he feels he has to try harder.
Inside, I immediately saw another politician, who looked extremely out of place: Rep. Ruth Briggs King. Didn’t she hear? No girls allowed!
Thankfully, Ruth assured me she wasn’t planning to stay. She was there to make sandwiches and sell raffle tickets on behalf of the fire department and then skedaddle.
To the Shrimp Feast?
Nope, she said, by the time she got there, “It would be too crowded.”
Sen. Ernie Lopez, on the other hand, played it smart. He said he stopped by the Shrimp Feast first, and then came to the Oyster Eat.
Not that he was a big fan of raw or steamed oysters, the only kinds available at the Oyster Eat. He confided that he was more of a fried oyster man. He said he came for the fellowship.
Big John Brady - he must be about 6’4” or so - said much the same thing. “If you want to serve in county government you have to come here,” said Brady, who was elected Sussex County’s clerk of the peace in 2012.
He said he came for “the Pepsi and popcorn,” which is the first time I’ve heard that said about the Oyster Eat.
Me, I like ‘em raw, stewed, steamed, fried, frittered, poached, smoked and probably pickled. In fact, I do believe, Sam, that I would eat green arsters and ham. I would eat them in a car. I would eat them at the bar. I would eat them here and there … well, you get the idea.
(In Delaware, pronouncing “oysters” as “arsters” - especially after some city slicker has pronounced it “oysters” - is always good for a laugh. Don’t ask why. Just join in. So if you didn’t laugh the first time you read “arsters” in the preceding paragraph, go back and read it again.)
The Shrimp Feast, by the way, is the women’s answer to the men-only Oyster Eat. It’s in its 24th year. But it’s not as much fun. I hear they don’t even smoke cigars there.
And, of course, they don’t have oysters. I was fortunate enough to run into Don Clifton, my brother-in-law, and three of his boys, Bill, Luke and John. (Of course, they’re grown men at this point, but we’re all boys at the Oyster Eat.)
John was doing a Mack the Oyster Knife number on the tasty mollusks and handing them back for others to eat. I had come armed and dangerous, at least to myself, with oyster knife and heavy glove, but, hey, if someone’s going to open up hot, freshly steamed oysters and just hand them to me, who am I to spoil their fun?
The oysters, as always, were great, especially washed down with Georgetown’s own 16 Mile Brewery beer.
We had reached that special time of the night when Complete Strangers Became Your Best Friends.
A young man, who appeared barely old enough to drink, offered me, out of the blue, a swig from his bottle of bourbon. I’ve got nothing against a pull of whiskey, but I begged off, saying I had to drive home.
“Who doesn’t?” he replied.
He added that the police weren’t going to be out catching anyone that night. I didn’t ask if he had that in writing.
Preparing to head back out into the brisk night air, I paused and looked back on a scene where time seemed to stand still and - perhaps out of nostalgia - shed a tear for how things used to be.
Naaaahh. It was definitely the smoke.
(Note: There may have been other politicians there that I didn’t see. Unlike Big John Brady, I can’t see over the crowd.)