By Tim Henney
Downtown bank and Tango Cafe customers who walk past a round table occupied by chuckling (often howling) post-middle-aged merry pranksters (some say old noisy annoyances) on weekday mornings often wonder what all the gabbing and guffawing is about.
One pounds the table with such enthusiasm in reaction to a cohort’s comments that coffee cups have bounced to the floor, requiring fetching, bossy Tango person Nadine — unamused — to rush out and tidy up. (The table pounder is a lawyer who claims to have lost the only case he ever had; served as a local PTA president, among other civic duties; has occupied so many Sandpoint houses he can barely remember them; and did so much developing in San Diego he resents city fathers naming it after some dude born around 1400 instead of after him).
Not all breakfast brigade members have had such despondent careers. One, a huge success — despite being Norwegian — shared an Oscar in 1969 for a film he photographed. Another eight of his were nominated for Academy Awards. In all he estimates he photographed some 300 films and documentaries in a career that took him to almost every country on the planet and every continent except Australia and Antarctica — and often in the company of presidents, world leaders and movie stars. Then he wrote a book.
Another, a retired senior FBI officer and pre-Trump sane Republican, has a Ph.D. and is the author of seven or eight books. That few Tango colleagues have bothered to read them doesn’t faze him. “I write for a more enlightened, more cultured readership,” he explains. He and his frivolous, willowy wife spend balmy winters on Maui. (What happened to that old bromide that all men are created equal?)
Other breakfast brigade brothers, dodging the vagaries of Idaho winters, hie themselves off to California, Arizona or deep into rural Mexico where tourists fear to tread. More courageous colleagues spend winter mornings debating climate change; politics; science; religion; restoring old cars; philosophy; nuclear fusion; literature; the rule of law versus violence in a democracy; history; Ukraine; cannabis; basketball legend Wilt the Stilt’s alleged sexual adventures; the Seahawks; the Zags; inflation; the connection between watermelon and cavities; major surgeries (affectionately called “organ recitals” by braggarts who delight in reporting on innards surgically and repeatedly removed from their bodies); real estate taxes; and denigrating their cowardly comrades basking in Maui, Mexico, California and Arizona.
If those left behind grow weary of high falootin’ conversation, they’ve been known to discuss flatulation and Fox News. Neither of the latter is considered polite breakfast conservation. Especially Fox News.
Many history-reading round table members suspect the powerful, political and uber-profitable anti-America Murdoch family, which owns Fox and their Taliban-like talking heads, base their destructive propaganda on Dr. Joseph Goebbels’ Nazi Big Lie machine of the 1930s and early ’40s. Without Goebbels, Hitler could not have turned democratic Germany into a dictatorship. The result was World War II and more than 50 million killed. (It’s a safe bet no Murdoch or Fox News mouthpiece ever saw combat. Moreover, they know that if they can help sink America into fascism, they, like Goebbels, will sit at the head of political and military tables.)
Two of the group’s dozen or so confreres are Sandpoint natives. One, 81, skis Schweitzer regularly and scoots around town on an e-bike. When not zooming hither and yon on two wheels, this elder athlete volunteers at Bonner General. Past community efforts involved the annual music festival, Boy Scouts and the food bank.
His parochial comrade, a mere babe of 72, worked as a logger for some 35 years, coached kids’ soccer, then earned an Idaho Vandal degree and taught physics and other sciences. He subscribes to The New Yorker magazine, as do several table buddies. (How many ex-lumberjacks are so cerebrally concerned with world events? To the surprise of some, The New Yorker is written for an international audience, not specifically for New Yorkers).
If this article gives the impression that Tango table dialogists just yak on without pause, you’ve been misled. From time to time they are distracted by a passing fanny. No, wait! A passing fancy.
As in, “If I hadn’t gone into [whatever] I might have been a contender” (a la Marlon Brando, On The Waterfront, 1954). By and large, however, breakfast brigade bullshitters are pleased with past and present achievements and involvements.
Whether retired minister and celebrated journalist Paul Graves feels the same about them is questionable. A friend of all at the round table, Paul sits alone nearby, working on columns and at other erudite tasks. Table members suspect he feels inferior to their collective intellectuality and wisdom. (Yeah, and pigs fly!)
Considering college student chairmanships and later corporate teams, non-profit boards, university advisory committees and military journalism, this correspondent has known a number of fraternal consortiums. Yet never have I known one where congeniality and diversity define a group like they do the Tango table. Especially diversity in physical accouterments.
One proud beret-wearing ex-hippie charter member has been making locals happy for years with hand-crafted dancing ducks in parades and at the farmers’ market. With his perky, care-giving soulmate he also grows the grandest gardens this side of the Mississippi.
Another, with his wife, launched and operated several of North Idaho’s cherished waterfront and downtown restaurants. Before that he was a college football and rugby star. After that, he flew countless missions under fire in ’Nam as an Air Force pilot. And he writes poetry.
A third forever-member is a jazz authority and talented photographer (see the joyous photo of the hairy and hairless comrades on this page).
A table regular who considers skiing as essential to life as, say, bacon is to eggs, ran a Moscow insurance business for decades and was not surprised when authorities there helped track down the suspected murderer of four university students. Early in the case he said, “Those guys know what they’re doing. They’ll get him.”
Would a retired airline pilot who still flies a private plane, sails boats, zips around on an e-bike, hosts a radio music show and, with his equally energetic (and hungry) wife personally keeps DiLuna’s cafe prosperous, have time for morning hijinks with cronies? Of course. He knows his priorities. His buddies include a former marathoner and professional firefighter; an entrepreneur who divides his time and business acumen between running a company in Phoenix and his condo in Sandpoint’s Seasons; and a retired school teacher and principal who served, among other places, in Africa and spent seven years overseas during which he and his bride traveled the world.
Table compatriots include a Sinatra sound-alike and archivist who recorded thousands of radio and TV voice overs and, as an art director, had a creative hand in big league ad accounts in Chicago and San Francisco.
Unfortunately, now and then some effusive colleague feels compelled to repeat a joke he’s told many times before. His pals use the moment to visit the bathroom. It helps, though, if the joke is short, as in:
“What happened when the woman backed into the airplane’s spinning propeller?” “Disaster!”
I confess I have never known such bonafide camaraderie or had more fun with friends. When I left the bank building after a recent bull session I found myself humming, “Grab your coat and get your hat, leave your worries on the doorstep… just direct your feet, to the sunny side of the street.” But when I walked across the street it was snowing. So I switched to an all-weather Carole King/James Taylor anthem seemingly composed for the Tango table: “You’ve Got A Friend.”
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