Fall River’s sick with politics, just the way it’s sick with opiates.
Only a minority of people are addicted, but the amount of trouble they cause is way out of proportion to their numbers.
As someone who has written and talked about Fall River politics for more than 25 years, I may be an enabler, my columns and my radio show both feeding the craving of people who are dying for the adrenaline fix of the next election, the next campaign, the next scandal, the next recall, the next greasy, grimy, nasty little rumor.
Looking for a little rest from my life of feeding the fire, I went to The Liberal Club last weekend.
Like a few other places, The Liberal Club is not just IN Fall River, it IS Fall River. You don’t see a lot of out-of-town reporters in The Liberal Club because, despite the number of political events held here, the club denies the political definition of Fall River. Anyway, the reporters who show up in the TV trucks have a hard time finding the place.
I don’t. I’ve been to the Holy Ghost Feast here a bunch of times, and I’ve given the bar my share of business, too. The last time I was here, it was for a Christmas Craft Fair. The bar opens at 8 a.m., sure sign of a place with a clientele likely to be doing shift work.
The Liberal Club has brown paneling and sports mementos on the walls. It’s big and noisy, and it shouldn’t be cozy, but it is cozy. There are people who have been eating here every Saturday night for 25 years. If you go to The Liberal Club, and you don’t see someone you know, you’re not from Fall River.
I went to The Liberal Club to remind myself that I don’t live in Government Center, I don’t live at a city council meeting, I don’t live in a voting booth, and I don’t live in a courtroom. I live in a place that eats, and laughs and drinks beer. I live in a place with a pulse. I live in a place that cannot be described in a newspaper headline. I live in a place the well-dressed television reporters leave after they get 15 seconds of video.
People talk politics here, but they also talk work, and weather, brake jobs, the Red Sox, and love. They talk grand-kids and job searches, and a son or daughter in the Army.
Out in the hallway where you wait for a table, there are benches along the walls. A young man stood up without being asked, and offered his seat to one of the ladies in our party. If what you think you know about Fall River is drugs, and gangs, and crude, cheap little politicians, you would be surprised at the gesture. I wasn’t. I live here. One of my favorite things about Fall River is that our language is much rougher than our hearts.
And there was a bulletin board out there, with little ads and notices pinned on it by the hopeful. There were business cards for auto detailing, and scrap removal, and nail salons, cleaning services, and dinners for someone with medical problems. Who would think Fall River had so much empathy if they did not live in the city, if they did their job and went home across the bridge every night?
I came here to eat, but I came here to heal a little bit, too, to remind myself of where I live, and who we are when we are not headlines, when we are not snippets of video narrated by people who’ve never spent a night in the city, who would never find this place because it’s on a side street, and because the nearest sign for the place is very small, just a little sign on a slightly bigger street. I don’t need to look for the sign.
You walk into The Liberal Club, and warm light comes at you through the door, and there’s a burst of laughter from the bar, and you see your cousin at another table.
Every place has to have a government, and government breeds politics. Right now, Fall River has more politics than it does government, and that is bad for the city.
Like everyone else in Fall River, I’m a little sick with politics right now, so I went to The Liberal Club, to remember what Fall River is like. I may get sick with politics again. The virus may still be in my system, but, last Saturday night, for a couple of hours, I got well at The Liberal Club, among my own people.