Anyone out there like the blues? My grandmother, God rest her Irish soul, loved the blues. From the time I was knee high to a grasshopper I remember her playing records on the Hi-Fi in the living room. She was a big Nina Simone fan and could sing My Baby Just Cares For Me as well as Nina. She liked Bessie Smith, loved Nat King Cole’s Ramblin’ Rose and on a rainy afternoon would play dozens of records. It was sweet sadness from a simpler time.
So every once in a while I’ll dial up my blues playlist. My personal favorite is Nina Simone’s Sinnerman. It’s a song that reaches all the way inside, grabs you by the soul and rattles your innards. In fact, if you close your eyes you can imagine you’re in the basement of a little piano bar on Seventh Avenue in New York. Cigarette smoke lays atop the audience like a blue blanket. Nina’s wailing like a Baptist preacher at a summer tent revival – Oh sinnerman, where you gonna run to–
“You all need to get off Donald Trump’s ass!” boomed the deep voice of John Hammer.
In the tenth of a second it took my heart to weigh the options of full cardiac arrest or just a sharp, stabbing pain to the base of my brain, I was transported from that club to reality. All in all, I was pretty pleased there wasn’t an ambulance involved.
“Frankly, John,” I said catching my breath, “I’m not surprised you’re a Trump supporter. There’s a—”
“And Biden, too, Timmons!” He blasted. “It’s not one or the other. It’s both. You,” he said as he pointed a massive hand my way, “you people in the media are so damn busy telling me who to vote for and who to vote against that you never tell me the straight news anymore. All I hear now is one side or another.”
For those who don’t know John Hammer, he’s a guy who’s worked hard all his life with the calloused hands to show for it. He’s a mountain of a man with a red neck and a red, white and blue heart.
“John, to be fair I think that—”
“You want to think? Here’s something to think about, Timmons. Did you hear about the dumbasses who were going to kidnap the governor of Michigan? Of course they got caught, but that governor turns around and lays the blame on Trump. But you know what, the problem isn’t Trump. It was those dumbasses.”
“John, I get that, but don’t you think that Trump created a climate where—”
“Tell me something, when your kids were little and did the things that kids do, did you ever let them off when they said they did it because one of their friends did it first?”
“Of course not.”
“Then how is this different? Democrats blame Trump for everything. And the Republicans blame Pelosi. Or Schumer. Or Biden. I’ll tell you something, Timmons. This country is falling apart at the seams, and everybody’s pointing fingers at Washington. We’ve got neighbor against neighbor and everybody is saying it’s somebody else’s fault, this politician or that, depending on whether you listen to CNN or Fox. But tell me this! What the hell happened to personal responsibility?”
I had nothing.
“Trump is a racist, they say. Biden is a liar and cheat, they say. Maybe so, maybe not. But even if they are does any of that give me the right to do one single thing wrong? Do their misdeeds – real or imagined – give me a right to smash windows and loot stores in big cities? Does it give me a right to hate, and I mean hate anyone else with a different opinion. C’mon Timmons. You may be in the media, but even you know the answer to this one.”
The Hammer glared at me. He was worked up.
“Personally, I’m amazed we keep electing any of ‘em,” he said. “Doesn’t matter which party. Answer this for me – is there anything the federal government does with our money that we think is well spent? Mind you, I’m not talking city or county or even state. I’m talking federal. Tell me one thing they do with our money that we think is wise, or efficient, or cost effective, or even smart?
“They waste more than I can imagine and I can imagine a lot. But we keep letting them do it. They talk about if we elect them they’ll do this and do that and we say OK and follow along.”
The big man took a breath.
“I saw a commercial the other day that ripped Victoria Spartz because she said health care isn’t a federal issue. That’s kind of it, isn’t it? One side thinks that universal health care is the answer and the other side doesn’t. But Timmons, let me tell you where both sides are missing the boat. Our government is inept. And yet both sides trust that same government to take our money and use it wisely. We let the government manage what’s become a retirement account – that everyone knows if we invested that money ourselves we’d do better. We trust the government to use our money in the right way. Maybe that’s something liberals and conservatives can agree on, that the federal government might be the worst steward of our money ever. Maybe that’s our common ground – and if it is, then maybe we can start holding these clowns accountable.”
“I don’t know John. It’s kind of like that health care you mentioned. That’s a pretty divisive issue.”
“Doesn’t have to be,” Hammer shot back. “You want middle ground? Well, one side thinks that no one should go bankrupt because of a health issue. The other side thinks that they aren’t responsible for someone else’s health issue three states away. What if instead of a huge tax that pays for universal health care (and all the pork barrel crap that comes with it), maybe it’s a smaller plan and offers an option? Maybe a government plan is available for those who want it, but for those who prefer private plans, they can go that route?”
“I don’t know John.”
“I’m not saying it’s perfect. Compromises never are. But we have to start somewhere.”
He started to walk away, but stopped.
“In the meantime, don’t blame Trump and don’t blame Biden. If you don’t like it then put on your big boy panties and dig in. If we’re going to turn things around in this country we got to start by taking responsibility for ourselves and we got to stop blaming politicians. They’re only doing what we let them.”
Hammer did then what he always does. He walked away. Nina Simone was still singing. Oh sinnerman, where you gonna run to?

Two cents, which is about how much Timmons said his columns are worth, appears periodically in The Paper. Timmons is the publisher of The Paper and can be contacted at ttimmons@thepaper24-7.com.