A flashing memory of the knife that had been displayed earlier in the conversation kept me on edge in that ancient New Orleans courtyard where I found myself surrounded.
The enemy had me encircled on a peaceful blue-sky cool evening with Bourbon Street winding up not more than two blocks away and the tips of banana tree leaves languidly peeking over a corner wall. Having gone through a lengthy and confusing check-in process at a slanting flea-bag hotel held up by character and paint, the wife and I had been sipping our initial beverages and meditating on the night ahead when they came.
Conservatives, Republicans from Colorado and California, Schwarzenegger acolytes and burly Saints fans garbed in black and gold and filled with self righteous anger and liquor, the devil's own brew.
They returned from some misadventure, swerving up to the woman they had left behind (who had engaged us in pleasant banter before the males' arrival) and announcing that they had just encountered a Muslim taxi driver who supported Osama bin Laden.
Some unsavory rhetoric was bounced around and that's when the knife had come out, just a little folding knife, really, gripped by the hirsute fist of a devious-looking fellow who may or may not have been wearing shoulder pads under his jersey.
"I'm going to cut him, man," said the Saints fan.
That's when I asked what made them think this taxi driver was preparing to unleash the Plague upon Bourbon Street (who would notice?). It turns out they just had a feeling, apparently based on a statement about not wanting war.
"Yeah, well the war is wrong," I said.
Shocked faces, a microsecond of silence. Then the wave broke over my head.
What did I mean the war was wrong? Then I mentioned that I wrote for a newspaper and we were off to the races with nary a penny to our names.
"Ah, there you go, the liberal media!" announced the would-be knife fighter.
The range of topics flashed by in layers of conversation as they tried to divide us, one or two talking to me while another began to harry my wife. I tried to explain that there is no liberal media just as there is no conservative media because there's no such thing as "The Media." The media is a collection of individuals, not one big monster with a single head, and thus it was liberal or conservative depending on who you read.
Or watch, I suppose, since none of my opponents seemed aware that you could read about the news as well as watching it on Fox Television.
We discussed the war and the policies of Israel. "What would America do if Mexicans or Canadians started coming over to bomb our malls?" one asked.
The same guy had tried to compare Saddam Hussein with Hitler at one point, and he had taken up our Slim Jim beef jerky as a baton that he waved about energetically. This guy, I would later learn, was the smart one.
It was that guy's wife with whom we had been chatting so genially moments before, and while they both argued emotionally they still managed to keep a smile on their face. Not so with Mack the Knife.
Fortunately he wandered off after I made an effort to change the topic back to our mutual love for the Saints. Alas, for the Saints were doomed that night.
After Mr. Bad Vibes departed the debate continued, but now it was more an exchange of ideas rather than a tongue-twisting, danger-fraught dual, but I was still grossly outnumbered.
By the end, however, we agreed that we were well met and that politicians should more often do what we had just done. We had laid out the world's problems on a shaky wrought-iron table in a crooked parti-colored courtyard, solving it all between swigs of beer.
The next morning we parted ways, shaky with hangovers and still a little on edge, but in the end all Americans (except my wife), all cursed to walk the earth as Saints fans and all wanting the same thing whether or not we agreed on how to get it.
Ed Brock covers public safety and municipalities for the News Daily. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.