Dwight Eisenhower, Harry S Truman, History, liars, outright lies, Steve, Thomas Dewey, with friends like these
You probably know by now that my hapless college friend Steve frequently found himself on the receiving end of innumerable pranks and other instances of only partially deserved churlishness. There were many times, however, when his particularly high-strung temperament actually fanned the flames of his torment, mountanizing an incident that people lacking his unique set of problems would consider little more than a molehill. One such episode I’ve come to think of as the “Dewey Affair.”
This was back during my decidedly hazy first senior year of college. I was hanging at my place with Steve and three other friends. Someone cracked a joke that I no longer remember, and I said in response, “That hasn’t been funny since Thomas Dewey was president.” It was meant as a joke–a pretty nerdy one–and not something to be taken seriously, and everybody took my meaning. Everybody, that is, except Steve.
“Thomas Dewey was never president,” he said, looking at me seriously, and managing to sound a little condescending.
Something very strange and primal happens to me at these moments, a sort of psychic whiff of blood in the water, a wickedly perverse desire to argue not for reason but for its own sake. I’ve given this aspect of my nature a good deal of thought over the years, and the most helpful comparison I can draw is that it is akin to the sudden compulsion of a heretofore sleepy dog to chase after a boy who runs from it. In about the span of a heartbeat, a notion which had never before crossed my mind becomes a game plan.
“Well, sure he was, Steve,” I said, surprising even myself with the ease and conviction of my reply. “You’ve seen that headline, DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN?
“That was a mistake,” Steve said.
“A mistake?” I laughed and looked at the other guys in the room. “Steve, that picture is famous. It wouldn’t be famous if it were a mistake now would it?” Some of the other guys laughed at this, God bless ’em.
Steve was beginning to get upset. His mouth worked for a moment as he searched for something to say, but could only manage, “Dewey was never president.”
“C’mon, Steve–I’m a history major,” I said. “My emphasis is on American history in the 20th Century. Don’t you think I’d know who was president?”
“Thomas Dewey was never president.” Steve was turning red now. Like a moth drawn to a flame, Steve seemed eager to assist in his own undoing.
“Well, then who pushed through the Johnson-Ready Bill?” I asked, ignoring the uncomfortable facts that not only are bills put forward by the legislative branch rather than the executive, but that furthermore, to the best of my knowledge no such bill existed.
“That was Eisenhower!” he said, nearly screaming now. “Look,” he said, jabbing a finger at me, “I’ll bet you a hundred bucks that Thomas Dewey was never president.”
“You’re on,” I said, and Steve stormed off to his place to secure $100 worth of proof. He lived close by, and was back within moments, barging in bearing an open text-book in one hand, and stabbing at me wildly with the other as he spoke.
“See? Thomas Dewey was never president!” he said, his aggressive index finger now turning its wrath against the book, striking a single point in the middle of the open page with a staccato THOK-THOK-THOK!
I didn’t say anything, and Steve looked up from the book to find me looking at him quizzically, not bothering to look at the information on the page.
He said again, a little more hesitantly, “Thomas Dewey was never president.”
“Well, of course he wasn’t, Steve. Who put that idea in your head?”
He stood there open-mouthed for a moment. “You said…you said that Thomas Dewey had been president.”
I laughed. “That’s ridiculous. I said no such thing.”
Suddenly, all the impotent heat was back, as if it had never left him. “You did!” he said.
I shook my head slowly, and what I hoped was pityingly.
Steve seemed to expand with fury. “He did!” he said, turning now to the other guys in the room. “You heard him! He said that Thomas Dewey was president.”
“No he didn’t,” said the first guy.
The second: “I didn’t hear that.”
“Leave me out of this,” said the third dude.
Completely ablaze now, shaking and nearly in tears, Steve turned to me again and accused, “You said Dewey had been president!”
Then I said the thing that really did it, the thing that made Steve stop speaking to me and the other guys in the room for almost thirty-six hours, which was a small eternity for him. I think what made it so delicious was that I said it with a straight face, glacier-like patience and with such a genuine sense of puzzlement that poor Steve’s conscious brain just seemed to break down and give itself over entirely to full-on “nucking futs” mode.
When he accused me (rightly) that final time of propounding a president who never was, I told him, “Steve, I’m a history major with an emphasis on 20th Century US history. Why would I make an asinine claim like that?”
A colossal slamming of doors announced his exit, and then only slightly more softly, his arrival at his own place not far way. Although he would eventually cool off a little over a day later, we kept our distance from him that evening, as for about the next hour the night was filled with the sound of Steve screaming and breaking things.
William Miller said:
Poor Steve. Even today he ends up the butt of a joke for all of us to enjoy on your blog. Life is so unfair. That’s mostly why it’s so damned funny.
Steve inspired so very many great stories. I’ve barely begun to plumb them all. In fact, I thought about sticking a disclaimer on this post that Steve was not a composite character, but actually the same individual who experienced all these things.
They do make for funny stories, and they wouldn’t have happened if I were a more mature or better person at the time (I go into a little more detail about how I regard this past behavior here–check it out if you have time, it’s a favorite). But they also wouldn’t have occurred if Steve hadn’t been so misanthropic (although that doesn’t necessarily show up here) and angry.
We’re still in touch, although we don’t talk a whole lot these days.
No surprise there….
So, you thoroughly enjoyed pushing his buttons!
Thanks for reading, Chicago Blanca! Yeah, I liked pushing buttons in general (obviously, a very watered-down streak of that still exists in me), but Steve was a special case. You didn’t have to look for his buttons–he wore them like a banner. As in the instance I described above, there were times–many–when it was almost as if he was leading us by the hand.
Great story. Now that I know Dewey was never president, I will have to change my lectures.
Well, the historical record has become so fluid in recent years that I say keep going. If you say it enough, it’ll be true eventually.
Thanks for reading, Rick!
Trinity Rivers said:
***sigh*** not laughing, feel sorry for Steve 😦
Thanks for reading, TR. I can understand feeling sorry for Steve–he was not an easy person to get along with sometimes, but we were very cruel at times, and I would behave differently if these in the same situation today. Having said that, I’ve never felt particularly bad about THIS incident (except for agreeing to a bet and then denying that I’d made the bet–that’s weaselly). It was just a bit of innocent, nerdy fun, and his reaction was, I think, extreme.
Trinity Rivers said:
Maybe it’s a guy thing and since I’m not a guy I don’t get it. I’ve always had a great deal of difficulty attaching the term “innocent” to a prank that causes the target a significant amount of distress. Sounds like Steve was a difficult person to get along with but it may have been that Steve suffers from some sort of cognitive disorder. On the other hand he may have been a total know it all who needed a good come uppance. I can’t know cuz I wasn’t there.
Carrie Rubin said:
At least Steve knew Dewey was never president. That’s more than can be said for a lot of Americans today, according to some of the media quizzes that have been thrown around from time to time to show how dumb we are as a nation. Of course, I wonder who they’re recruiting for these quizzes…
“first senior year of college”—Hmm, if Steve managed to graduate in four years, at least he got the last laugh in that department…
Steve was (and is) quite bright. Also, I didn’t mention it in the piece, but he was also a history major at that time.
I only got ribbed about being a five-year guy by one person, a dude whom I had teased previously for being a five-year guy (and I was not alone in teasing him). But for whatever reason, I never took a lot of shit about it. Maybe because it wasn’t (as is so often the case) because of academics. Most everybody involved knew that it was a BS expulsion anyway, and if not for keeping my mouth shut, I could have taken a lot of people down with me.
But as for Steve getting the last laugh. Sadly, no. He joined the military after that year, and didn’t graduate until long after I did. I’ve been on a spate of “Steve” stories lately (there are more), but I will get around to at least one story where Steve was in on the gag. That’s about as close to a last laugh as he’s likely to come, I’m afraid.
Carrie Rubin said:
Well, five years isn’t bad at all. I was picturing a 6 or 7 year process.
I’m kidding of course. Anyone can see Smak is not a dullard. Now Tardsie on the other hand…
Alex Autin said:
What’s so brilliant about this, besides the writing which is top-notch, is that it fully illustrates how the Steves of the world will willingly argue …even when they know they’re right. The non-Steves would just say something along the lines of – ‘right, and your mom was his vice president’, but the Steves launch immediately into lock-and-load mode, an action which makes them amazingly fun to fuck with.
Thanks for the kind words, Alex! You’ve nailed Steve exactly.
That same year, Steve was paired up with a roommate who was perfect for him. It so happened that that year their respective football teams met in the Super Bowl (and having inferred from your reply to my comment on Things I Love that you’re a football fan, I’m wondering if you and Steve have the same team–his fave was from your general neck of the woods), and they made a bet where the loser would have to wear the winner’s jersey the day after the game.
Steve’s team won, but his roommate wussed out of the bet saying “He just couldn’t do it.” But anyway, they started fighting, and when somebody came to break it up, he said they were choking each other, and that it was the biggest pussy-fight ever. Wish I’d seen it. On the plus side, everyone took Steve’s side on that one.
Alex Autin said:
Steve and his room mate show the two sides of the coin. Those who will get into a choking match knowing he’s right, and the other end of the spectrum – those who will stick to their guns knowing they aren’t loaded. Both being short-fused and perfect targets for hilarity.
As for football, though I live in Texas being from New Orleans means I’ll always be a
die-hard Saint’s fan, and as such I’ve had to learn how to take a joke. 😉
he’s also nitpicky.
Sounds like Steve is/was a perfectionist – they find it really hard to take life lightly; every thing is so serious…. Must be really hard for guys like that…!
El Guapo said:
You’re a bad man. A bad, funny, funny man.
I’d have tried to convince him that the Dewey Decimal system was instituted and named in the President’s honor
It seems that Steve could be somewhat disabled. He was born without a funny bone. He would never have lasted with my circle of friends back in the day. Way too much sarcasm was used at unsuspecting target’s expense…
Poor Steve. If the word “yutz” didn’t already exist, it would have been invented with him in mind. I’m glad that the only violence incurred over this lunacy was some door-slamming.
The Writing Waters Blog said:
You are a wiley one. I think the crowd is being a little tough on poor Steve here. He seems a bit prim and too devoted to “right” answers, and basically a guy some of us more clever ones like to play cat and mouse with. Or is this just me admitting I’ve been out-cated?
Extremely well written and supremely funny…..people like this without all the anger are otherwise called gullible. That being said my picture is NOT next to that word in the dictionary…
Today, you could probably whip up a Wikipedia entry on Dewey’s presidency in no time. Hit a few other social media sites, and you could start a conspiracy theory about how Dewey really did win, but “somebody” decided Truman should get a second term….
Morale of the story: Thou shalt never be deeply attached in the permanence of knowledge.
Or it could always be never be an insufferable know-it-all.
You’re evil. I love watching this sort of thing, but hate it when people do it to me (which is all the time because I’m so gullible and take people at their word until they TELL me they’re messing with me). You’re funny, but evil. 🙂 SO glad you have a like button again. I couldn’t find one for months! A
Thanks, Andrea–I don’t think anybody LIKES to have tricks played on them, but I don’t think that most people (you probably included) would have fallen for this. Were the situation reversed, I would have said “Whatever” pretty early on and been done with it!
True.. what I fall for and react to is the baiting and persistence if the person. If I know they’re wrong and basically know they’re messing with me, but they don’t back down and cop to it…just keep doing it. It drives me bat-so. Like, angry and homicidal. Hehehe
Luddy's Lens said:
Oh my GAWD how fun that would have been!! Kudos to the other guys for keeping their faces straight.
I still think people like Steve deserve it. (I have not matured much as far as that goes.)
Thanks, LL! You know, in retrospect, I don’t think he deserved it so much as he begged for it. I’d like to think that if I were in this situation now, I’d find another way to address some of his particular issues. Maybe if I hadn’t been such an ass, we could have brought him out of it. C’est la vie–at least I’ve got some good stories (there are more). Thanks again!