Varmints, Rascals, and Scoundrels

If you’ve read this column over the past few years you know I have a general aversion to most holidays. St. Patrick’s Day, however, is an exception. A bunch of men gathering in bars to drink, talk politics, and tell bawdy tales. What’s not to like?

One snowy afternoon in Dublin not too long ago, I found myself in such a situation, sipping some dark, thick Guiness, complements of an old boy who used to work for said brewery. It wasn’t long before Sean, Seamus, or whoever he was, began professing his admiration for that loveable rascal Bill Clinton. A few Guinesses later, he was confiding his lust for the Kennedy boys, a cheeky bunch indeed. In fact, he still kept a photo of Bobby Kennedy in a silver frame beside his bed. Wink wink.

Hey, what can I say? It’s Ireland. A country that produced Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde, and whose national holiday celebrates a priest driving snakes into the sea. A nation of varmints, rascals, and scoundrels.

The dictionary defines a rascal as a dishonest or unscrupulous person. It is derived from Middle English. A rascal also means a mischievous person or animal. A varmint, pronounced vahr-muhnt is a word of Southern origin and it tends to refer to an objectionable or undesirable animal or an obnoxious or annoying person. A scoundrel is an unprincipled or dishonorable person. All scoundrels are rascals and varmints but not all varmints and rascals are scoundrels. A varmint isn’t necessarily a rascal. Rascals and scoundrels, by the way, are almost always men.

We have plenty of ‘em in Rehoboth, you know – varmints, rascals, and scoundrels.

Skunks, for example, are fond of Rehoboth. They favor places where differing environments meet — woodlands and fields, marshes and lawns. In summer, they dine primarily on grasshoppers, crickets, yellow jackets, and beetles. They’re known in town for their late night dinner reservations at summer rental houses with overflowing trash cans.

Varmints, though, don’t have to be mammals. Jellyfish certainly ought to be considered varmints. The highest concentrations arrive in August and September and they send people running. Mosquitoes and biting flies are definitely varmints. As are ants. Did you know they’re still around in winter? They might be a little slower and you might wonder about their genetic fitness, but they’re still after your sugar.

Rehoboth’s close proximity to Washington attracts a certain slippery type of varmint – politicians. There’s a reason Rehoboth has long been called “The Nation’s Summer Capital.” Imagine all the varmints, rascals, and scoundrels who have slithered across the Bay and walked the Boardwalk over the past seventy years. Following is just a sampling that I know about.

Uber-scoundrel Richard Nixon vacationed occasionally in Rehoboth starting back in the 50’s when he was a senator. Some say he penned his famous “Checkers” speech while staying with friends on Virginia Avenue. That radio speech was one of the first to appeal directly to the public, and it was successful in answering charges of his taking illegal campaign contributions and saving his place as vice president on the Eisenhower ticket. My favorite part of the speech was when he declared that his wife Pat did not own a mink coat, but, rather, a plain respectable Republican cloth coat. A sure sign of austerity and honesty…

Speaking of senators or future senators, Chuck Robb used to party in Rehoboth with first daughter Lynda Bird Johnson in the late 60’s. The newspapers had a ball with it. Though I happen to like Chuck Robb for his pro-choice and pro-gay rights stands, his affair with a former Miss Virginia and allegations of wiretapping Virginia Governor Doug Wilder killed his political career and qualify him as at least a rascal, I would think.

More recently, we have Michael Scanlon, the Rehoboth lifeguard turned Republican politico turned lobbyist, convicted recently along with his buddy Jack Abramoff of scamming $80 million from Indian tribes and bribing federal officials. Pure scoundrel. Scanlon owned several homes in Rehoboth and ran his business from the blue house on the corner of 2nd Street and Baltimore Avenue.

Former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer was occasionally sighted around town. Rumour has it that he met his wife at the Starboard in Dewey Beach. He gets stuck with the scoundrel label, as should anyone associated with this Administration.

Remember David Brock? The self-proclaimed conservative journalist, “hit man,” and darling of the far right who skewered Anita Hill and Bill Clinton and then turned liberal and came out of the closet when he got a $1 million book deal to write a biography of Hillary Clinton. Yeah, that guy. He used to own a house on Park Avenue. Because he’s “reformed” and now battles his former right wing cronies, I’ll cut him some slack and label him merely a varmint. But barely.

I won’t, however, go soft on Representative Tom Foley of Florida. He remains a scoundrel in my book. Not a lot of people know that Foley used to stay on Henlopen Avenue during summer visits to Rehoboth. With a boyfriend no less.

A dear friend of mine, an artist of some note and wisdom, says we should be thankful for varmints, rascals, and scoundrels. They make life interesting. They provide a safe topic of gossip. Irish playrite and Nobel Prize Winner George Bernard Shaw, though, had another take on scoundrels. According to Shaw, who died at age 94 after he fell off a ladder while trying to prune a tree, “every man over forty is a scoundrel.” Hmm…

So, in closing this St. Patrick’s Day, I hoist a beer and offer this toast to all my brothers over forty: we might be in the gutter, but at least some of us are looking at the stars.

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