The Field-Goal Kicking Mule
I don’t know why I ever go to these political fundraisers. They never turn out the way I expect them to. I always expect them to be my big opportunity. My big chance to make that fateful acquaintance with the right person. I’ve always wanted to get into politics but every time I get too close, I smell its scent.
I see so many faces I remember from the Democratic National Convention. We were all errand-running lackeys in ‘96; now some appear to have taken that next step up the ladder. One actually appears to be the campaign co-chair for the candidate we are all awaiting. Figures, he’s the guy I liked the least. Seemed to be the Number One Ass Kisser. All the young politicos are here. The pumped-up college kids in disheveled high-school graduation suits. I try to remember how I wept with joy when Clinton won in ‘92. I try to summon that energy, that blind enthusiasm, but I’ve lost it ... probably at the ‘96 convention.
I stand against the wall and slurp my beer, all the time trying to make eye contact with people I recognize. As much as I try, nobody recognizes me. My face has been lost in a sea of introductions since 1996. Awash in an ocean of handshakes. No wait... the slimy little co-chair guy does recognize me! He keeps looking at me. Wait, maybe it’s because I keep looking at him? Maybe it’s because I look a bit out of place? The $75 elbow-rubbing fee usually weeds out the scruffier-looking people like me. God, did I pay $75 to be here? The thing is that I really do believe in this guy. I think he’s got a chance to be the next president of these United States. Shit, $75! I’ll give anybody $75 to oust that dupe who’s currently occupying the White House and I’ve got a baby on the way.
Oh my god I have a baby on the way.
Eye contact. Not the co-chair, but an older woman who asks me if that’s my jacket on the chair. I say it is and she’s welcome to it — the chair, that is. All conversations at these sorts of things only start by a forced accident. So we start to talk. She has an air of dinner parties, martinis, and dead husbands. Her first husband was in World War II and her second was a cowboy from Texas. She says this gives her a better insight into the mind of the current cowboy-in-chief. I can hear the faintest whistle from her dentures as she speaks.
The day she got active in politics was the day JFK was shot. At that point she sensed that forces unseen were trying to overthrow this country. She feels the same way today. So here we are. Me representing my generation, she hers. We both believe in the candidate. She asks me what younger people think of the candidate. I want to say, “Young? I’m 33. Did I mention that I have a baby on the way?”
I’ve always wanted to be involved in politics. I think it’s the greatest game there is ... oh, and you get to help people.
Most people start to give a shit about politics once they get into their ‘30s, right? God I hope so because I’ve cared for way too long for it to be healthy. I was that nerdy kid in Social Studies class who enjoyed it way too much to be cool. I’ve always wanted to be involved in politics. I can’t get enough of it. I think it’s the greatest game there is ... oh, and you get to help people. Everybody else who graduated college with a political-science degree did it because they were going to law school. I did it because I loved the subject. That, and it came easy to me.
Educated political discourse over drinks. Is this my fateful acquaintance?
She recognizes two men that walk in the door. Two men wearing trench coats over their suits. They are somebody. I am a scruffy albeit well-spoken stranger in jeans. She politely excuses herself from the conversation. They are clean jeans, mind you.
We have all been here about an hour and still no sign of the candidate. The evening has progressed and the cash register has been ringing behind the bar. People are bit looser and even more excited about meeting the possible next president. In reality it’s just a stopover stump speech where the candidate can get about $10,000 for shaking a few hands and standing in a few pictures. Nonetheless, it’s still as close as I usually get to the people that really run things around here. I tell myself to grab another beer and squeeze myself into a conversation. I’m an outgoing person.
The place is filling up. Someone bumps into my elbow. I recognize him from the DNC and he recognizes me.
“Hey, didn’t you work in Dan Hynes’ office at the DNC?”
“Yeah. I did some volunteer coordination.”
A volunteer coordinator is quite possibly the worst job in a political office. You are the volunteer who has shown enough capability to herd other volunteers. By the end of your first week you are the person that greeted you at the door your first day.
“So what have you been up to?” he asks.
I never know what to say when somebody asks me that question. I know what they’re looking for: “Well, I went to law school and now I’m working in Congressman Blah Blah’s office.” But I do not possess that simple of a history. God where do I start? I know ...
“Got married. Got a kid on the way.” Ah, something he’ll understand.
“Aw that’s great.”
Pause. Silence. We both look around the bar. Come on man, reel this conversation back in.
“So what do you think his chances are?” I ask as I nod to a poster of the candidate smiling wide. We begin our obligatory verbal hand job of the candidate who has just finished his dinner with the $1000-a-plate folks and is on his way.
“I think he has the best chance to beat Bush next year,” he proclaims.
“Yeah, well that’s the thing. There’s still a lot of fear out there. Ya know.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t follow you.”
“Well I think it’s a miscalculation that many of the Democratic candidates are making. Don’t get me wrong. I’d vote for a field-goal kicking mule over George Bush but the American public is still freaked out by 9/11. The candidate who can beat Bush must be able to convince the public that he will do a better job at defending them. It doesn’t matter if the threat is real or not. The Republicans are going to have more money than God next year and with that much money they can create perception. I think this guy has the best defense against that smokescreen. He was the friggin Commander of NATO. Do you realize that Bush will have to call him ‘General’ during all of the debates?”
I have said too much. He looks at me as if to say, “Hey, I wasn’t looking for a history lesson. I was just looking to hand off the hand job.” He doesn’t care. He’s just here to rub elbows.
“He’s here!” Conversation over.
He’s short. Shorter than I expected. He’s a wee man.
All of the young politicos line up in their receiving line at the entrance. Girls fresh out of college but already with the hairdos of CNN anchorwomen. All the faces I remember from the DNC are up at the front of the line. The applause starts from out on the sidewalk. A few Secret Service men enter at first, then the cameramen. The direction of the lights on top of the TV cameras leads my eyes to the person I have been waiting for all this time, the man I think could be the next president, and well... he’s short. Shorter than I expected. He’s a wee man.
The young politicos are at their glad-handing best:
“It’s a pleasure to meet you sir.”
“We’re all working really hard for you here sir.”
“Go get ‘em General!”
If blowing him in public would help their careers they’d do it in a heartbeat. They have what it takes to be successful in politics: a complete lack of dignity. Yeah, thank god I still have my dignity. It’s gotten me so much closer to my dreams, my grandiose dreams. My completely unrealistic lifelong dreams.
When I was in high school I took one of those tests administered by a career counselor. The answer it came up with was film director. This was the test that was supposed to give me some sort of realistic goal to work toward and the best it could come up with was film director. At that point I knew there was no reason to have realistic long-term goals. So when I graduated high school my three main goals were world domination, show business, and professional sports. In my mind, any of these was just as likely as film director.
The Number One Ass Kisser takes to the ramshackle stage to introduce the man of the hour. Then the candidate takes the stage. Behind him hangs a poorly constructed banner with writing that starts off one size and gets progressively smaller. God, he really doesn’t look comfortable in front of a crowd. He looks so stiff. He launches into his stump speech. Pausing at times for laughs or applause that always seem to come a little too late. It’s all very forced and contrived. I have given him this chance and he has blown it. He functions so much better on TV. He’s lucky that’s where most people will meet him. My mind starts to wander. I could get this crowd fired up.
I think about how my unrealistic goals are just a crutch for me. In the beginning they were a defense mechanism. The fat brainy kid needed to dream of a day when he was justified. Summoned to begin his benevolent dictatorship. The absolute power wouldn’t get to him. He’d stay true. God, can I be paternalistic at times. Which reminds me... oh my god I have a baby on the way. Does that mean that all of those delusions of grandeur must disappear? It sounds so self-centered but I can’t help thinking about it. Man I’ve got to stop dwelling on myself for one damn minute! I need to gag the internal dialogue and get back to the moment at hand.
I came here to hear this man speak. This boring insincere little man.
I can feel my belief in the candidate wane. I really should never come to these things. I should stay at arm’s length and be a believer. That’s where I can do the most good. The most good. That’s really what I’ve always wanted to do; it’s never really been about the power. This is when it dawns on me: That’s why most of these people are here. That’s why most people want to get into politics. They are drawn to power like moths to a flame ... oh who am I kidding? I’m drawn to it too. Mrs. Peitrak, my grade-school librarian, said that I could do anything I set my mind to. I should be co-chairing this guy’s campaign! I’d do a better job than Ass Kisser Numero Uno over there! At least I’d make a better banner than that piece of crap.
Nobody gets pumped up over pragmatism: “Whoo! Yeah, that makes sense!”
The stump speech ends in an awkward fashion. The crowd doesn’t realize that the speech is over and pauses before applauding. I clap loudly and let out a small hoot. That’s what I do. I hoot. I try to get the energy up in the room. The problem is that most of the people are here for very pragmatic reasons. They believe that this candidate has the best chance to beat Bush next year. These are not the things that stir men’s hearts. Nobody gets pumped up over pragmatism: “Whoo! Yeah, that makes sense!”
The candidate takes some questions from the audience. All big fat meatballs:
“Sir what would you do about the situation in Iraq?”
“What is your opinion of the Patriot Act?”
“General can you please tell me what I want to hear?”
When someone asks him what he would do about the state of health care in this country he gives a sneak preview of his plan that he will announce in a major policy speech tomorrow. Oh boy. I have totally lost interest. Is there something wrong with me or is there something wrong with politics?
“Sorry folks but we gotta get going. We have to get back to New Hampshire and win this thing!”
Whoopdi fuckin do. I’m at least getting a handshake out of this. I take my place in line. I am waiting in line to touch this man. That’s why everybody is waiting in line, as if some of that sparkle of power will be left on their hands.
The candidate works his way down the line. Stopping along that way to gab with familiar faces. Nobody really has anything to say. It’s all an attempt to connect with this larger figure. He’s close, just a couple of hands away. The weird thing is that they just hang their hands out there and he has to just grab one.
Contact. I get the left hand to right hand shake. It’s like I should be kissing his ring. His hand is the cold clammy hand of a nervous man.
“Just remember General. If you make it to the general election you have to go after Bush’s performance, not his personality.”
I get a quick nod. There’s no way that registered. I know I just said it for my own satisfaction.
The crowd of well-wishers, cameramen, and Secret Service men make their way out the door. They walked in a little over a half-hour ago. It’s on to another stop, another room full of people. They have left this room buzzing. Everybody surges toward the bar and I get caught in the wave. At least my coat is over by the bar.
I grab my coat and then fight my way against the flow of the thirsty true believers. I gotta get out of here. Every person that I come into close contact with annoys me more and more. I really don’t like these people. I can’t really say why. Am I jealous?
I finally make my way out to the sidewalk and fresh air. The Number One Ass Kisser is helping the candidate get into his car. They exchange a few words and then he’s gone. Tail lights. As the Ass Kisser turns to go inside our eyes meet. He does recognize me. I say nothing.
I stand outside the bar looking into the large front window. Do I go back inside and talk to him? I watch everybody’s mouths move. I can only make out a few words here and there. All the laughs pop through the glass like exclamation points.
I really don’t want to deal with these people anymore. I don’t need this in my life.
I have incredible friends. I have a great life. I have a beautiful dynamic wife.
I turn away from the window and start walking to my car. I feel resolute and sure of my choice. As I drive home, the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” comes on the radio. I feel like a weight is slowly being lifted off my shoulders the further I get away from that scene.
“But if you try sometime. Well you just might find. You get what you need.”
I have a baby on the way.