Big Freddy — a bag in each hand when he arrived — set them on the floor, pushed his bulk into his side of the booth and collapsed onto his bench seat.
“Merry Christmas,” I said.
“I don’t think I can do this anymore,” he said.
“That’s what you said last year,” I said.
“I had the pip last year,” Freddy said.
“And what do you have this year?” I asked.
“What we all have,” he said. “The best game of Flinch in a long time.”
“That game’s been around for years,” I said.
“Not that one — the one down in Washington,” Freddy said.
“The stalemate over the budget,” I said.
“With big-time bets going down on both sides,” Freddy said.
“Obama wins in a walk away — four more years and hold onto your hat with Democrats building their lead in the Senate and planning a takeaway back in the House two years from now.”
“Boehner’s having his troubles there,” I said.
“He couldn’t get the hard right to buy the deal he was making with Obama to keep from going over the cliff — which is within spitting distance - so he shuts down trying.”
“So, it’s over the brink we go?” I asked.
“Not necessarily,” Freddy said. “He didn’t call for a vote, so they’re still breathing.”
“But Obama won’t budge either,” I said.
“Maybe, but a wiggle might do,” Freddy said.
“With time running out, somebody’s going to have to do what they don’t want to do to avoid catastrophe,” I said.
“Best game we’ve had out of Washington in a long time,” Freddy said.
“Game? This is no game,” I said. “This could be a disaster.”
“Could be — maybe not,” Freddy said. “Both parties are looking ahead. Democrats want the House back so they can own Washington.
“Republicans don’t have any wiggle room. They own it, but they’re divided over how to keep it.”
“Their hard right isn’t playing games — they’re true believers,” I said.
“But they’re playing political Flinch, too,” Freddy said.
“The old card game? This is political trench warfare,” I said.
“There’s a hundred and fifty cards in that deck,” Freddy said. “That makes for a lot of keep taking one and putting it back or holding until the other guy makes the wrong move and gets stuck with a card he should have got rid of. Game’s over and the other side gets to yell FLINCH!
“There was a lot of that after the vote count last month.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I said.
“Don’t think so,” Freddy said. “What have Boehner and Obama been doing behind closed doors?”
“Trying to find common ground without giving up too much,” I said.
“Playing their cards is what they’ve been doing,” Freddy said. “Obama won, and he has the Senate in lockdown on his side. But he knows what Boehner’s up against in the House with his hard right-wingers, so he agrees to give Boehner not too much, but something to work with.”
“House Republicans are splintered,” I said. “Hardliners won’t buy into what Boehner and Obama are willing to settle for. They want less, not more, government.”
“That’s not the way the majority of voters felt last month,’’ Freddy said. “The only question left is whether there’s any card in the deck either side can use without either side yelling, ‘FLINCH.’”
“There’d better be,” I said. “It’s Christmas, and there’s no way anyone’s going to be saying, ‘Happy New Year’ if there isn’t.”
Bill Plante is a Newbury resident.