This weekend, a video of Joe Biden telling a story at a pool-naming ceremony in 2017 floated up to the surface of Twitter where it was received about as well as a mysterious warm spot in the water of the deep end. Biden told a Wilmington crowd of his youthful days as a lifeguard at the site and an altercation he got into with a ne’er-do-well named Corn Pop. It starts off weirdly specific and homey and suddenly veers into a scene of violence straight out of The Warriors. Joe Biden seems to have invented a genre I can only describe as What the Folksy. See for yourself:
Here’s live footage of me, in 2019, after watching this video of Joe Biden in 2017 talking about the 1960s like they were the Wild Wild West:
I just… I have a couple of questions, concerns, prayer requests, and silent screams. Let’s just dive into this.
First of all, I love that the protagonist of this story is named Corn Pop, who apparently was a real person and whose nickname makes me hungry for breakfast. This immediately puts me on Mr. Pop’s side; sorry Biden. I will always pledge allegiance to my flagging blood sugar levels.
Second of all, I am vexed by the choice of this story in general. The idea of Uncle Joe Biden, standing in front of a cluster of teens telling a rollicking tale that climaxes with a deleted scene from the Patrick Swayze fight movie Roadhouse is deranged. This is that thing where you’re sitting at the kids table at Thanksgiving and your uncle, who is into MLM schemes and something called “bio-hacking,” starts telling a story about the time he and your dad tried to kidnap their old classmate George McFly to get the answers to a science quiz and your dad is shaking his head vigorously and kicking your uncle under the table but your uncle doesn’t seem to notice. Maybe cuz of the bio-hacks. This is the kind of story that everyone agrees afterward does not have a “moral” per se, so much as a “lasting emotional scarring effect.”
The dissonance of the whole thing is impressive. All Joe Biden had to do was go get a pool named after him, say thank you, and go. Instead he’s like, “So, you know how much job was aquatic safety and chlorine levels and tanning? Well, because I’m a visionary and an innovator, I also took on additional responsibilities. Namely: Aquatic Mortal Kombat.” This is a royal rumble at a pool, y’all. Synchronized street fighting. Forget no running and no swimming until 30 minutes after eating; they’ll be lucky if they can enforce “no menacing someone with a switchblade.” People say that Biden may not be able to match Trump’s unhinged style of fighting in a general election, but put these two dudes in a kiddie pool and it’ll be on and popping!
I have to admit, I’m a little perplexed about the inciting incident in this story. Biden talks about a diving board and how if you fell off the side, you hit your head on the cement. Interesting. Then he jumps to telling us that Corn Pop was a “bad dude” who “ran bad boys.” Intriguing. And then he pivots to talking about how you had to wear a bathing cap if you had pomade in your hair. Fascinating. What do all of these things have to do with each other? Only the water knows.
Mr. Pop is apparently on the board and will not listen to Fightin’ Joe. Is he falling off the side? Is he not wearing a swim cap? Anything is possible. Biden says, “Hey Esther!” meaning Esther Williams the famed synchronized swimmer, a 1960s read if ever there was one. He tells Mr. Pop to come down or Biden will drag him down, which does seem to negate the effort to keep Mr. Pop safe. But what do I know? I’m not a brawling 1960s life guard with a slicked back coiffure and a bunch of sassy references to the Golden Age of Hollywood tripping off my tongue.
Mr. Pop escalates the exchange by telling Biden to meet him outside. Not to belabor this already off-the-rails story, but Mr. Pop got down off the board to go outside, so I do believe this a point in favor of Biden. This is where I would freeze this video if I was showing it as a part of an after-school water crimes diversion program. “What went wrong here, class?” I would ask. “Everything!” they would answer back in unison. Biden then introduces another character to whom he goes for fight advice like The Karate Kid hitting up Mr. Miyagi. However, apparently “wax on, wax off” hadn’t been invented yet, because Biden is advised to wrap a chain around a man’s head.
The fight mentor figure here is a guy named Bill Wright, whom Biden describes as the only white mechanic in the pool system so… you know, a perfect character to advise on de-escalation in this particularly charged environment. Bill Wright, peacemaker, invites Biden to the mechanic’s lair and cuts off a six-foot length of chain and hands it to him like Excalibur. As a reminder, this is all because a man wasn’t wearing a bathing cap.
Let’s talk about weapons for a moment, though. Pausing at the moment after receiving Excalibur, Biden digresses into a reminisce about the razors that Corn Pop and his crew were holding outside. “In those days, remember the straight razors you just bang ’em on the curb and get ’em rusty? Stick ’em in a barrel of rain water. Get ’em rusty.” Ah, the good ole days where men were men who gave each other tetanus.
I need more information about the whole blade-rustification process. It just seems very involved. You bang it on the curb, you have to wait until your trusty barrel fills with rain water, then you drop your straight razor in and hope for the best; there’s a lot of process. Were they aware that a non-rusty straight razor will actually get the job done, even in a drought?
Maybe that was a modern innovation.
Anyway, all that barrel-soaking and chain-cutting was for naught because Biden chooses the path of peace by telling Mr. Pop “I’m sorry for calling you Esther Williams. I apologize… Not for throwing you out but I apologize for what I said.” And this… works. Despite the best efforts of pacifist chain-wielding mechanic Bill Wright, Corn Pop is mollified by an apology for name-calling, sparing future vice president Joe Biden of committing a felony assault. This is outrageous. This is the place where I truly cannot with this story. Beloveds, if there’s one thing I know it’s that you should never apologize for calling someone Esther Williams. Is there a higher compliment in all of life guarding? Methinks not. In fact, if you ever see me in these chlorinated streets and you don’t call me Esther Williams, it’s on between us. Just as soon as my straight razor finishes it’s three-week soak. I’ll send you a calendar invite. And don’t forget your swim cap.