Peggy Noonan And The Case Of Gutter Punk Ron DeSantis
She had left the Upper East Side behind. It had been an unseasonably warm winter in New York and Peggy Noonan, sister in good standing of the Order of the Triazolam Numbness, felt a need to stretch her legs, to stop staring at the same view out the same windows of her rooms. So she left her pied-à-terre and wandered in the general direction of Lower Manhattan. It was nearly eighty blocks. She was feeling spry.
She noticed things as she walked. Noticing things was her specialty. She noticed the store windows full of dresses and hats and the ladies walking in and out of them. She noticed rundown apartment houses. She noticed what looked to be a ’57 Buick, tailfins angled back just a bit as if bent there under speed. She noticed cafeterias where lonely men took their supper, dawdling over turkey and mashed potatoes and apple pie, in no rush to return to their small and lifeless apartments. There were a lot of ’57 Buicks. A lot of fifties-model cars, come to think of it.
A cloud crossed the sun. She looked up and noticed the sky had gone gray. The next moment, rain poured down in a rush. The strangest storm, she thought. There had been no warning, no drizzling ahead of the main force. The clouds had rolled in on a dime and wasted no time releasing their moisture on the stunned denizens of New York.
Of course she had not brought rain gear. The forecast had called for sun and warmth. Now here she was, caught out, becoming soaked right down to her socks. That was when she noticed the neon sign dully shining behind dirty glass. She hurried for the shelter it promised.
Fortune was with her, for she found herself in a bar. A rundown saloon of the sort one didn’t see much in New York anymore. Battered wooden tables, battered wooden chairs, battered wooden-faced men and women hunched over chipped glasses filled with glorious amber-colored liquids. This was a serious bar, for serious drinkers, people for whom drinking was not for lubricating social outings or celebrating milestones. Here drink was not a means to an end, but the end itself.
She found an empty stool, right near the cigarette machine – a cigarette machine! How quaint! – and the hard-looking gentleman leaning against it. He wore a fedora, a long raincoat, and a suit of an older style and vintage. He had a Lucky in his mouth, which he only removed to take a swallow from the glass of rye in front of him.
He waited until she had ordered a gin and tonic from the surly bartender. Then he spoke.
“Don’t see dames like you in this place much.” The voice was growly, well-cured by alcohol and tobacco. “Not with that fancy outfit. You people stick to uptown. It’s no less of a sewer, but you can go to cocktail parties and tell each other you’re keeping your fingernails clean.”
He stubbed out the cigarette and lit another. “Name’s Hammer. Mike Hammer. I’m a private detective. I got an office, a great secretary with fabulous legs and I spend too much time crawling around in a gutter with the worst scum that ever oozed off the sidewalks of this city. But my forty-five shoots straight. What else can a man want?”
The first GOP presidential debate is five months away, in August. Primaries begin about six months after.
“You go to hell, lady.”
Mr. DeSantis is a big dawg, and it isn’t only Donald Trump trying to take him down. A prospective competitor called recently to share his thoughts: “DeSantis is a cheap imitation of Trump, it’s Fox News soundbites and cowboy boots with 2-inch heels.”
“Sounds like quite the punk. Listen, the only man alive who should be wearing cowboy boots is Lorne Greene. Anyone else is a sharpie running a game on you. Say, is this Trump fella any relation to Fred Trump, guy who owns a bunch of slums out in Queens? The papers don’t say nice things.”
I don’t think he’s running as Trump without the psychopathology, I think he’s running as a serious, forward-leaning, pro-business, antiwoke conservative with populist inflections.
“The hell is antiwoke? Sounds like something those Greenwich Village beatniks would hang their berets on. You think the lushes in here care about something like that? They want a bed to lay down on at night, a little security. If they had those things, they wouldn’t be in here pouring bourbon down their throats day and night.”
“Maybe someone to take care of the communists too,” he said after a moment’s reflection. “If they think about it at all. Does this DeSantis fella hate commies? I’d vote for him, if I voted. Which I don’t. Whole goddamn system’s rotten. You want a smoke?”
His leadership in Florida has been “a rebuke to the entrenched elites who have driven our nation into the ground.” They are a “ruling class” that controls the federal bureaucracy, big business, corporate media, big tech, the universities. “These elites are ‘progressives’ who believe our country should be managed by an exclusive cadre of ‘experts’ who wield authority through an unaccountable and massive administrative state. They tend to view average Americans with contempt.”
“This guy wants to be president and he talks like a goddamn Columbia professor.” He gestured at the bartender, who brought over a bottle of rye and poured three fingers into Hammer’s glass. “Oh, did you want a clean glass for your second gin and tonic?” Hammer said to Peggy. “Not that kind of place, sister. Bar at the Waldorf’s probably open, though.”
My favorite part had a Mickey Spillane feel. Assigned as a naval officer to Northeast Florida, he sees a beautiful woman on a golf course. “She was dressed in classy golf attire and was generating an impressive amount of clubhead speed.” He thought her a college golfer: “She looked the part and had a great swing.”
“Golf, huh? The mug who hates elites wants to brag about nailing some tomato because she was wearing classy golf attire and could drive a 3-wood. He married her? I expect the coppers down in Florida are going to find him in his yard brained with one of those clubs someday.”
Does he connect with voters on the trail? How does he play it when he gets smacked around in debate?
“Smacked around? Like he’s some wretched scum who thought he could put it to some capo's daughter without a fuss?” He went to light another cigarette and found the pack empty. A few coins and a handle pull brought him a fresh pack of Luckies from the cigarette machine. He crumpled the old pack and lobbed it onto the floor.
“Let me tell you something,” Hammer snarled as he touched a lit match to the cigarette and pulled on it greedily, like a baby with a milk bottle. “This boots-wearing phony sounds like he’d fold like a bad poker hand if some fairy so much as looked at him crosswise. He’s not impressing you, is he? ‘Cause when you walked in here I thought you looked pretty smart. For a chippy.”
You’re not stooping when you explain your thinking, you’re spreading.
“Something’s spreading around here, anyway.” Hammer finished off his whiskey and threw some coins on the bar. “Sounds like a hell of a guy, this DeSantis. A damned sleazeball if you ask me. Anyway, that’s enough letting you bend my ear. Gotta be a murder being committed somewhere.”
Hammer pulled his fedora low and tightened his raincoat around him. He slunk out of the bar into the street, trailing cigarette smoke and midcentury machismo with equal aplomb. Peggy thought about taking leave herself, about going home to begin her column. Instead, she ordered another gin and tonic. After all, it was still raining.
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