Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Regular Blog Post?

Well, I thought I had something to say, but it turns out I don't.

So I'll make one of those really annoying and boring blog posts that tells people about nothing interesting at all. Today, after 4 days off, I was back at work. It was actually kind of a relief, except for the getting up at 730 part. Ok, so I hit snooze until 8. When I was unemployed, the worst part was the general lack of anything structured to do. Of course now I have the opposite - a complete lack of anything unstructured to do, or, more accurately, a lack of unstructured time. I didn't realize how absolutely terrifying it is to not have any structure until I did - turns out I'm not very good at it. I should have learned this at Evergreen, and kind of did, but it really comes home to roost when I went from 6 months of no work to nothing but work. I work best under a deadline, which also may explain why I perform best after leaving assignments untouched until the night before they're due. I like me some pressure.

Well, that's about all the cliche'd introspection I feel like presenting to the world for the moment. Or at least to the four of you who read this. ;) Couldn't leave a blog post this boring without an emoticon.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

It's snowing. In Seattle. On Christmas. This is simply ridiculous. It almost definitely means that my friends won't (be able to?) drive across the lake to watch a movie tonight, but who knows. I don't remember the last time it actually snowed ON Christmas.

I have to admit, my head's in a pretty weird place right now. Every year, someone seems to give me an incredibly depressing book to read just before Christmas. This year, it was The Kite Runner. Brie just came in and told me, "I'm never giving you another book." I barely put it down since she gave it to me, Sunday afternoon.

Five years ago, when Riley was still at Lake Tahoe and we all went there for Christmas, I was reading American Gods. I remember going out in the middle of the night, and walking up into the woods a little ways. It was bright the way snow makes the night bright. Everything contrasted. It was absolutely terrifying.

This is a pretty crappy Christmas post. I think these are supposed to be warm and toasty and full of cheer. I'm not very good at cheer. I personally prefer melancholy, so I'll see if I can't negotiate the middle and go with a factual update.

Due to some unforeseen expenses, I find myself about to enter the poorhouse early. The result is that, unless my boss can find room in the budget to pay me for a few weeks, I'm gonna have to leave the campaign before the caucus. Which sucks. But I'm holding out hope that something will happen.

When we get back from Christmas break (all four days of it, which is an eternity compared to what they get in Iowa), we'll be exactly one week from the first contest. Iowa, in the latest census, has a population of 2,900,000 or thereabouts. Approximately 130,000 of them are expected to turn out for the democratic caucus, and somewhere around 80,000 for the republican version. There's plenty of wiggle room after Iowa, of course, but the likelihood seems that around 200,000 people are going to choose the set of next presidential candidates. Pretty strange to think of, really.

And now it's snowing in Seattle. And sticking. It's almost like I'm back in Colorado, or New England, at Christmas. I guess I'm glad that if I have to be subjected to winter, at least I get snow. It is beautiful when it's falling, before it turns brown from exhaust, or turns to slush or crystallizes into a layer of jagged ice. I guess you can say that about almost anything new, really. It comes in shiny and clean and then something makes a mess of it and then you lose interest, and eventually it becomes a nuissance and you just want it gone. But I won't have to be here for that part. I'll be here to watch it fall silently, stick to the ground, coat the bare red trunk of the big magnolia that still has green leaves. I'll go out and throw a snowball to Henry, and watch him try to find it, four legs each going its own direction. And then tomorrow, I'll get on a plane, and go back to Vegas. On Thursday, I'll go back to work. I'll go back not knowing if I'll be there for a month or a week, but I'll go back and it'll be one week till Iowa, one week till we actually have something tangible to work with, or through, or against. One week until we see if the country really wants to change, or whether the racists and the nostaligists and the apologists and the corporate lobbyists get their candidate, or whether the rest of us get ours. And I don't know what or where or for how long my role will be, but I do know this much: for the first time in my adult life, I'll be looking forward to returning to work. And I won't have to watch the snow turn dirty and it won't melt into the bottom of my boots. It'll just stay a white Christmas, soft, silent, clean.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And a late addition

Second Encounter

I realize that blogs are supposed to be updated more often.

I could request some sort of dispensation based on the number of hours worked, or my general energy level after 13 hour days, but really I just haven't felt the motivation to write.

The writer's strike meant that the debate Monday was canceled, which meant a free day, which meant we got a bonus stop on the way through. Two small events to build. More like one tiny event, and one so small (in the numbers sense) that it can't even be called building from a field perspective. Not that that made either less important, or less exciting.

There was a lot of hustle and bustle to get the high school interns to the library. Four schools. Conversations with 30 parents, permission slips, text message coordination, and rides to arrange. I bought a 36" pizza to feed them while they waited in line outside the library.

"Hey, when's Barack coming back," the pizza guy asked me.

"He's here right now."

"What, he's here? Where?"

"Across the street at the library."

"Hey, tell him if he comes here, I'll give him a free slice of pizza."

They let staff in first. We stood in the library hallway. Almost all of us were in our red shirts, the ones from the debate. I'm not entirely sure why, since we were completely closed off from the rest of the building, but we were all using our inside voices. When they started us moving, we went down the stairs, and into another room. It was stuffy, and there were thick black curtains on both sides, and doors at both ends.

For some reason, half of the group was still using inside voices. Members of the advance team were swirling around. "When the Senator comes in, we're not gonna mob him, ok?" Until he said it, I wouldn't have thought of it. Maybe it happened somewhere else. Who knows. There were Secret Service guys at both doors.

It was stuffy, and the high school students I brought, who were still standing outside, kept texting me to tell me that their fingers were gonna fall off. It ain't Iowa or New Hampshire, but it turns out that it does get kinda chilly here.

Every time the door opened, we all turned, and every time it was someone else from advance, or political, or communications. Then it opened and Barack came in. This time I wasn't at the end of a 20 hour day. I think he's not much different in physical size from me, and if you could lope at a walking pace, that's how he came in. Smooth and easy. "Hey hey, what's going on?" I'll be honest, I'm pretty sure he said something like, "so here're my people," but I was kind of too awestruck to really record it cleanly. The important part is that he was a real person. He called Luis up so he could personally wish him a happy birthday. He grinned. When he talked to us, he talked to us with just the right mix of humanity and invulnerability. "I know you guys are working hard. I know you're eating pizza every night. I know you need sleep, and you're not getting it. And I also know what a great job you're doing. Trust me. I see it. We're up against opponents who have a lot of strength, but there's no substitute for enthusiasm. I know how hard you're all working, and I make you this promise. I'll do my part. You keep it up here. I really believe we're gonna win this. Now come on. Let's take some pictures. We've got work to do."

We went up, a region at a time, and took a photo. He should our hands again. There was an episode of The West Wing where Alan Alda can't shake hands any more, because his is so chapped and torn up from all the shaking. Barack shook my hand softly, but not limply or weakly. Just enough press to let me know he was there, and I'm sure carefully constructed to save his hand.

He threw his fist in the air as he headed out to the auditorium. "Fired Up?"

"Ready to Go!"

And then it was time to get back to work.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Barack Obama, Ok

My 4 year old nephew isn't exactly happy to see me and my little brother leave at the end of a visit. He's always excited for us to arrive, but apparently apprehensive about us leaving before we're even there.

Just before we arrived at Thanksgiving, he asked my mom, holding up all five fingers on one hand, why "Uncle Ev and Uncle Rye have to leave after this many days?"

First my mom made sure he understood which days they were, and confirmed that it was indeed five days, as he had indicated. Always the educator.

Then she told him, "Riley has to go home to go to school, and Ev has to go back to Vegas to help get Barack Obama elected as President."
"President of the United States of America?"
"Yes, President of the United States of America."
"But Nan, we already have a President."
"And who is that Ibra?"
"Jed Bartlett is the President." If you've never met my nephew, you don't know the complete certainty with which he presents things. There are not gray areas. Of course, he's watched the West Wing since he was 1, so it's not an unreasonable assumption. And considering that my parents, like the rest of sane America, use the show as an escapist fantasy, it's perfectly fair. I wish it were true. Apparently for him, it is.
"Well honey, President is a job that people share. Now, Jed Bartlett is President, but it's almost someone else's turn. And Ev thinks that Barack Obama should be the next President."
"Why Nan?"
"Well, because Barack Obama wants to take care of America." (It's probably important to note that I'm completely fabricating this portion of the conversation. It's based on what I imagine the interaction was between my mom and my nephew at this stage of the conversation, not any objective reality).
"Oh. What about Jed Bartlett?"
"He thinks it's a good idea, too."
I'm told my nephew marinated on this for a minute, no doubt looking pensive as only a 4 year old can. "Barack Obama, President of the United States of America. Ok."

It might not be the most influential endorsement Barack gets, but as far as I'm concerned it's the best one.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Quick Thoughts

I won't get into the complete unreality that was my 10 year reunion just yet. I'm too tired, I have to be up too soon, and it was a little too ridiculous for me to process fully yet. What I will tell you is that it was fantastic, and that when I went to meet a supporter who's a high school teacher, classes let out when I was in the hallway, and it really got real.

But what I want to talk about is baseball.

I can't claim to be anything I'm not. When we moved to New England (I was ten) I hated it. There were mosquitoes. People were trying to tell me about Jesus all the time. They didn't eat Pace Picante Hot Salsa, just the Mild. It sucked. And so I hated it, and everything associated. I made something of a passion out of rooting loudly and obviously against the home teams, and my poor pops took me anyway, on his Firm's season tickets, to many a game. When I moved to Seattle, I started to realize that there was something to that Boston place. Pizza, for one, and a good sub. And sports fans who cared even when things weren't so great. I started to root for the Sox, a little. In '03, I was back with Brie, and we watched game one of the (tragic) ALCS in John Harvard's brewpub in Harvard Square. I caught the bug for sure then. After Game 3 of the ALCS a year later, after we lost 19-8 and went down 3-0, I took a couple bets. My friends all laughed. I laughed last, of course, but that's not the point.

In the Republican You-Tube debate tonight, the last question came for Rudy. The guy wanted to know how Giuliani could be a Yankee fan, but root for the Sox in the series. Giuliani gave an answer that could be accepted in almost any other circumstance. He said he's a fan of the American League, and he'll root for whatever American League team makes the Series. Makes sense. I'm an American League guy too. But folks in NY and Boston know his answer wasn't ok. If you're a Yankee fan, you're contractually obligated to scoff at the Red Sox. If you're a Red Sox fan, you'd mortgage your soul to see someone, anyone, beat the Yankees. It isn't an either/or kinda rivalry that gets put aside when there's a National League enemy to defeat. It's a not-over-my-dead-body will I root for those cocksuckers kinda thing.

And the worst part is, "I don't know where I stand" Crazy Rudy didn't even give the worst answer to the question. Mitt "I couldn't hold a steady position if my life depended on it" Romney holds that honor. Mitt, born and raised in Michigan, made some sort of ridiculous claim that his family was all dyed in the wool Sox Nation. And then he dropped this one on us: "We waited 87 long years..." blah blah blah. Yeah, yeah Mitt, you're the good, long suffering Red Sox fan up against the evil Rudy Yankee-ani empire... Wait a second. Did you say 87 years? Hmmm. 1918. 2004. Nope, can't quite come up with 87 there. You f*&kin' moron, it was 86 years. How someone can claim, essentially, to have lived and died with the Sox (a claim I personally do not make, btw), and then assign them to 87 years in the wilderness... But then, Mitt's probably a bible expert too, so I'm sure he knows Christ was in the desert for 41 days.

And these are two of the people who're seriously being considered for President of the United States of America. Good god, people. Good god.

Fired Up, Ready to Go

The sky is just orange above the mountains, and still indigo and starry overhead. I slept for less than three hours last night. If I could hear my bike it would probably be roaring, but the wind at 100mph takes pretty much all other sound away.

Last night, pointing at the map, our state Field Director, Mike Moffo, laid out the strategic vision. He's got a whole battle plan, and it's brilliant. He was part of the Kerry team in Iowa in '04. Nuff said. He lays it out, piece by piece, a general prepping the troops. We get assignments. The teams, the timing, the plan. But that was last night. It's not quite 6am, I'm alone on 215, and my bike is flying.

It's already started by the time we get there at 7:15 in the morning. One team has been there all night, sleeping in cars, playing kickball. We've all got red shirts. Two flatbeds, one 16' UHaul. Supplies apportioned accordingly for the battle plan. It's not 8am, and we're set. Three supply posts, walkie-talkies, and a bunch of campaign staffers completely and totally oblivious to anything but winning.

I guess this is where I should say a few words about the layout. UNLV and CNN have dissected the campus, outlined a set of seemingly arbitrary rules, and a code of conduct for the "CVA", or Campaign Visibility Area. We're under strict instructions not to knowingly break any of these rules. Where we can and can't be, what we can and can't do, use, place, wave or say has all been pretty well preordained. Of course, it all goes out the window by 10am when it becomes clear that none of the other campaigns give an ass, and that campus security doesn't either.

There's the rule about the size of campaign signs, prohibiting the ubiquitous 4'x8' mega-sign. We've got 4'x6' signs. The Clinton folk have cut their 4'x8's into three sections and turned them into three man sandwich boards. The Edwards camp either didn't get the memo or didn't care, and there goes that restriction. An area of the parking lot labeled "H" has been designated as the only acceptable on-campus visibility area. No one goes there. By 11am, they're routing traffic through the CVA, and we're all out on the street, lining Swenson from Tropicana to the parking lot entrance. Mobile teams get the call via walkie-talkie and swarm to live camera shots, waving signs behind sometimes amused, sometimes annoyed TV anchors. We outnumber the other campaigns already, and it's still just staffers.

At 11am, the infantry starts to arrive. Volunteers roll in, pick up a sign, put on a tee-shirt, sign a pledge card and hit the street. By 11:30, we're several hundred strong. We've got the street lined with red tee-shirts. And it's time to start the cheering.

At this point, my adrenaline is starting to settle in. It hasn't gone down, or gone away, it just isn't making me twitchy anymore.

We need volume, so I make what I can. Up and down the line, leading the cheer, and after one pass I realize I need more volume. I twist a sign into a bullhorn, tap it with packing tape, and start shouting. Call: "Fired Up!" Response: "Ready to Go." Repeat. The Clinton camp doesn't seem very well organized. They're loud, and they have (against the CVA rules) a megaphone. We all have red shirts. It's pretty obvious who our people are. "Fired Up." It's got a military cadence. Long first syllable. Rising, then a sharp, hard second. There're other chants too. We have a megaphone before long. The response it steady, even. "Ready to Go!"

It's November, it's an early state, and we all put on sunblock in the morning. It's probably 80 degrees. At 12:30, lunch arrives, and most settle into the shade to eat PB&J. We have a bagged lunch for everyone. I'm distributing, and catch this bit as I walk by a cluster of Clinton peeps. Volunteer, female, 50: "So that campaign gets bagged lunch delivered, and we have to walk back to headquarters for fruit roll ups?" Campaign staffer, flustered, younger, male: shrug, look away.

By the afternoon, cavalry for both sides arrive. My voice is failing by 1pm, but I force it, when we need it. There's a group of staffers taking turns leading the pep. Me and Max, another Mass-hole, tag team a few rounds, running the length of our line, pumping our fists. Every time a camera goes live, we swarm. When they make the mistake of coming along the line, we pounce. More than one journalist gives up, laughing, as we surround in a sea of red shirts, signs, and chants.

John King's about to go live, and we get in behind him. Somehow the Clinton camp hasn't figured out how to get people behind the cameras, or maybe they just can't spare anyone from the line. John King's on a stage, and I'm holding a 4'x6' sign as high as I can behind him. He turns and grins at us. He sees my Sox hat. He gets the look every New Englander's had since '04. "Where you from?"
The look turns into the other one. The Nation one. "Oh, great. I'm from Dorchester."
"Lexington." I'm not sure he can actually hear me, because my voice isn't even a croak at this point. It's only 2:30, maybe 3. But he smiles, waves. He turns back to the camera, then looks back at where I'm standing. He's got a water bottle in his hand. He says something to the Camera man, the Camera man looks through his viewfinder, then looks at me.
"Hey, scoot this way a little," and he winks. I scoot.
We go live, and the Obama signs are the only ones there. Behind us, another news anchor looks at us and laughs. I glance over. She's cute, and she shakes her head at me, smiles, and shrugs. I agree. It's completely nuts. And I haven't had this much fun in ages.
The camera turns off for a commercial, and I set down my sign. I have to hold it high, and it's kinda unweildy, there's a breeze and my arms are tired. I see Rory Reed getting out of a limo, and there's a tall, thin redhed walking towards us. She's gorgeous, and I swear I know her. She walks right up to me and smiles. "It's good to see you all out here," she says, and she has a clean English accent, Queen's English. "Even if you are for the wrong candidate." It clicks in my head just as I see her button, just as she raises her hand. "I'm Elizabeth Kucinich."
"It's an honor to meet you ma'am. I have a lot of respect for your husband."
Her grip is firm, and she looks me in the eye. She shakes a few more hands and moves on. The camera gets ready to go live again.

There's a lot more shouting. A grand finale. We pack the trucks. We head to the party. A Mexican joint across from the Hardrock has 21 flat screens, and they're projecting the debate on a screen and on the parking lot wall. Everyone watches, but really we're all waiting. After the debate, after Secret Service ropes off a little area. After the intros, he comes bounding into the room. He's smaller than I imagined, somehow, even though he's bigger than I am. It's part stump, part off the cuff. He's standing 4 feet away from me, and Brie's squeezing my hand. To be completely honest, I don't really remember it. When he comes around to shake hands, I push forward and put mine in his path. He shakes it. He looks right at me.

It took me about three days to process, I think. If I remember correctly the shake was firm, buthe didn't press or apply pressure. After it happens I'm in a sort of a daze. And then, we're off to the last hurrah.

The first Nevada Jefferson-Jackson dinner isn't a damn thing like Iowa. It's in a ballroom at Paris Las Vegas. It's quiet. Of course, before I find out what it's like inside, I have to come down the hall. As I walk towards the door, the guys from my office break out of a group. "Evan, Evan, you gotta come over here." They're all in a semi-circle, and they bring me around. "Evan, this is Richard. Richard, Evan." Again, he's smaller in real life, but not as much as I would have thought. He looks at my Sox hat.
"Not wearing that hat I can't shake your hand," he says, as he shakes my hand.
"It's an honor to meet you, sir." I really can't talk now.
"Somehow with the hat I expected an accent."
For a few minutes, we get treated to the ideas of Toby Ziegler, er, Richard Schiff. I'm really just not processing anything anymore.

The dinner's interesting, in a clinical sort of way. Joe Biden's angry. Chris Dodd is too slow to make his point. I miss Kucinich, although I hear his wife was standing behind him the whole speech. I miss John Edwards too. Gravel's a firebrand, part loon and part Cassandra. People nod politely, he rants against the privatization of Washington and the selling of the Democratic Party, and he's mostly Cassandra, right but too honest to be believed. Our guy bounds onto the stage, delivers the stump. It was better in South Carolina, the first time, in it's full glory, but this one's pretty good. There's a giant TV on either side of the stage, and he looks tiny compared to the massive tele-rendering he gets on the screens. We wave our signs when he leaves.

Earlier, we packed the streets and the campus. Inside, it's Hillary who's packed it out, full of $120 a plate supporters. Every time she gives the call, they give the response. Her voice is shrill. I've never heard it live before, and it's every bit as shrill as on TV. I'm barely in the room, though, so it doesn't really matter. Finally, it's over, and we head for the doors. I say something to one of the other guys. He looks at me. "Is that really how your voice sounds?" I just nod, smile.

The chant is loud when we reach the door, and outside in the hall it's deafening. Every staffer. Every supporter who went to the dinner. They're all in the hall as we spill out. A sea of red shirts and red and blue signs. They're jumping. "Fired Up." It rises. "Ready to Go!" The floor is shaking a little. Some dinner-goers walk by shaking their heads. Every one of us has been up since 5am. We got 1, 2, 3 hours of sleep the night before. We're hoarse, at best, and exhausted, but the adrenaline hasn't given out yet. We jump. We chant. I see Moffo again, and he's grinning with the thrill of battle. "Fired up," he shouts. I catch his eye. "Ready to Go!"

Thursday, November 15, 2007

5:18 AM

It's 5:18am. I'm about to brush my teeth. I was at work 18 hours yesterday, and today'll be more like 20. It's about as big as a day gets around here. Our big chance to shine. I won't go into details, but suffice to say it's a big enough operation to, well, let's just say it's big. Watch CNN, kids. Today I get to be one very small part of one very big movement.

When I went downstairs to eat my cereal I saw the most recent Newsweek. It's got that tacky tie-dye look, and Bobby and Tricky Dick and Martin and all that, and it says "1968: The Year that made us Who We Are."

1968 may have made my parents, but it didn't make me. And it may have helped make the world we live in, but it's not gonna get us out of the mess we're living. Let's get past it. Let's fight the fight we've got now, 'cause if 1968 is still what makes us who we are, we're all going down.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rocket Boys

There's a place where only our dreams can take us.

I don't remember the dates, and sometimes I don't even remember the places, but I remember the dreams. The one with the train. That was the first I remember. Off the tracks and burning. Then the one with my little brother on his tricycle, and the truck that didn't stop. I remember the burned out landscape, and the sniper, and the feeling of the bullet tearing into my leg as I hid behind a chunk of flame kissed concrete.

I remember the spider webs. All around me, spider webs. Like a funnel when I ran, leading me forward, into nothing. I remember the huge glass window shattering, the phone book, thrown, hanging in the air. I remember Ami Archi, and the end of the world, and waking from the dream's dream into the nightmare I was dreaming.

I remember when Jason came to me, bleeding from his neck, where the knife cut. I remember it like it just happened, like it wasn't a dream. I can still see the shelves stretching away, and feel the bowling ball and the computer falling from my arms. I hear Alex yelling. I hear the gas hissing from the pipe, and the hinge on the front door at the summerhouse creaking. I see Jason again, and this time he brought people. I can see it anytime I want to, anytime I'm not careful. I can see them always.

Sometimes I wonder what friends see. I wonder what place Sean wakes up from. I wonder whose hands Alex feels just before waking. I wonder what John sees, what his dreams show him, what Jimmy and Nanajiji said to him. Sometimes I wonder.

There's a place where only a dream can take us.

I remember the dives, the deep blue and the statues. I can see them, floating, sunken. The water is Caribbean aqua, the statues are eastern, and I can go anywhere. I remember the horses. Backs, manes, dust, hoofbeats. I can still see the mountainside, the whole group sitting, and John, his arm raised to go across my shoulder. I can hear, in the echo, what he said to me. And I remember the zombies, and the beach, and Anna Pelrine. I remember how the helmet came open, and just where the Southern Cross gave way to the bible black, and the feel of the wind rippling the hair on my arms, my legs. I can smell the Pacific Ocean. Is it strange, to remember the texture of a dream?

There's a place where only a dream can take us.

I spend my day making phone calls. We laugh at each other, across the office, when there's a line that merits. "Well, you know, education's one of the biggest reasons I'm supporting Barack." "So, does that mean you're a fan of corruption in government?" We laugh, and we joke, and we clown. But there's a reason we're here, for peanuts or nothing. There's a reason that we spend 13 hours a day, every day, in an abandoned mail store, where the last tenant left the letters hanging on the walls, letters we've cannibalized, leaving incoherent sounds hanging. There's a reason we get up, every morning and come here.

There's a place where only a dream can take us.

The irony is that I came here, looking for a dream. But I'm sure they'd tell me, sometimes you have to look for a dream to find one. When I was twelve, John taught me the tricks. You write something on a piece of paper, put it under your pillow. You make a deal with a friend that you'll meet him somewhere. And when you wake up, you stay in your favorite position. When you wake up, you don't open your eyes. Not till you have it by the tail. Not till it's there and solid in your mind. "A dream that you don't look at is like a letter you never open."

There's a place where only a dream can take us.

Kennedy took us all somewhere. Too high to see with the naked eye, and long after his brain was splattered on his wife's dress, on the backseat of a Cadillac convertible, we're still aching, still reaching. One man's dream can shape a nation, reshape it, change everything. It can change the way we see ourselves, the way our dreams reach us. Sometimes you have to go looking. Sometimes, it takes an eternity of wandering, day after day of thirst in the desert. Sometimes I have to write bad metaphors, one after the other, tired and flogged, to get to my one good sentence, to find one honest thing worth saying. But there's a place only a dream can take us. It isn't a dream of a quick fix, for me. It isn't a dream of fair education, or healthcare, or foreign policy that isn't hatched up in a game of Risk. I'll take all those, but that's not it. For me, it's a dream of a bigger future. It's a dream that I can someday tell my nephew, with his African father, his mother from the foothills of Colorado, that I can someday tell him, when he's old enough to hear me, that he can be anything. It's a dream that his world will be open as mine feels, as open as the horizon when the sun comes up over the Mojave. And it's a dream that I can tell him I was there. That I was part of it. That I helped make it happen. Of course, it's also a dream that my horizon will be that broad, that my world will be that open.

There's a place where only a dream can take us.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

And in Other News

And in other news, I really didn't want to get up this morning. Not that I usually want to, but today I actively didn't want to. So instead I didn't. Okay, I did, but not on time. I got up at 815. I'm a damn rebel. Then I spent the 5 minutes in the shower singing Dust in the Wind. No idea why.

The day that we left Seattle, I had that shit lodged in my brain all day. A little more understandable there.

"Only for a moment, but the moment's gone."

It was a long moment, admittedly. About 1/3 of my life. It isn't even like it was one time, or one place. How do you pack 19-28 into one category? I got there scared of girls and throwing toga parties in my shitty apartment, and left half married and hosting dinner parties. There were easily 4 life stages in between. Sometimes I think parts of it happened to someone else.

"All we do, crumbles to the ground though we refuse to see."

Okay, so it's a little pathetic, building an entry around a song by Kansas. I generally try not to put too much weight on things written by bands named for states. Or cities for that matter. But it's what happened. Too late now.

Leaving wasn't like moving to Olympia, or out of the Madhouse. I remember packing my green room up when I left my boys and moved in with Brie, putting my posters in a tube, knowing they wouldn't be out for a while, maybe ever. The poster of Uma Thurman, the Pulp Fiction poster, the one that's been over my bed, slightly canted left, since I was 16. It was a shock, for sure, but it wasn't like this one. The Monday before we left was our last trivia. Dekkie announced it. That was the first time it hit me. Every Monday for 7 years. I missed maybe three or four a year all told, and only because I was out of town. Then standing outside the Fields with the Madhouse boys, one last night. There were a few stars. At the going away party it wasn't too bad, too many people. Packing the truck was easy, too. But the last time we walked through the house, I got stuck in my little paint studio in the basement. I spent hours outfitting that room, insulating it, dust proofing. And hours painting, and money on supplies... It never amounted to much of anything. I couldn't get the dust out of the room, and I couldn't get enough business, but I painted some bikes, and some other things. And it was a little dream in my basement, one that I followed, if only for a while. It was funny, standing there, in the dark. All these dreams, pass before my eyes, a curiosity. Woops. Did it again. But it was like that. Humming Dust in the Wind, sweeping the last of my paint flecks off the floor. It stayed and it hung, tune or tuneless. It started in my basement, and from there straight till Portland was behind me.

So I guess that's that. I've been too busy since I got here for it to really set in, you know, that I can't just drive up the road and grab a beer with my buddies. And as glad as I am for a fresh start, it's gonna hit me like a sledgehammer one of these days.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Well, it turns out...

I guess common sense has found a constituency in some republican hearts...

Hell, even my elephant friend Bobby Newman says he'll vote for my guy, and he thinks Reagan is the best ever. Must be something about not being a corporate schill, or maybe it's that he's sooooo dreamy.

Republicans in early states change parties to support Obama

Sen. Obama participated in the annual Steak Fry hosted by Iowa Senator Tom Harkin.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Sen. Barack Obama’s, D-Illinois, presidential campaign announced today that more than 300 former Republican voters from New Hampshire and Iowa are switching their party affiliation to actively support Obama, D-Illinois, in those crucial first two contests.

“I’ve been a Republican all my life, but the challenges we face are too great to choose a candidate based on his party—we need to the choose the candidate who can bring fundamental change to Washington and start getting things done again,” Jerry Spivak said. “Barack Obama is the only candidate who will be able to break the partisan logjam and inspire Americans to come together around real solutions.”

Obama's campaign sent out a list of 268 Iowa Republicans and 68 New Hampshire Republicans who changed their party registration and promised to vote for the Democratic presidential hopeful.

–CNN Associate Producer Lauren Kornreich

Sunday, November 4, 2007

On The Job

Dear Blog,

Sorry I haven't written in a while. It's not that I don't want to, I do, I've just been so busy lately. I started my new "job" on Thursday, and boy, it's been a lot of work. I spend about 10 hours a day calling people, and another 3 hours a day entering the data I get from those calls. Boy, old people sure can be funny. Why, just the other day, I had a fellow tell me, "Obama? What kind of idiot would vote for that dark sonuvabitch? I mean, I'd never vote for that damn darkie!" :( OMG! Can you believe that, blog? I mean, who says darkie these days anyway? Seriously, I'm pretty sure that "darkie" went out of favor as the slur of the day back in 69. He must not have the internet. IDK, maybe someone should teach him the new ones.

But really, I spend most of my day cold calling people, and trying not to sound scripted. IMHO, I do a pretty good job. "Well, it's funny you should mention [insert concern here] sir, because one of the things I really admire about Barack is that he [insert factoid here]. So, can we count on your vote in the caucus."

The worst part is, I'm actually enjoying it! I mean, who knew that cold calling people and talking about politics could be fun? LOL. Not me, that's for sure. ;)

I have to tell you blog, it's awfully strange being in Las Vegas and doing normal people things, like sleeping, and pooping, and not drinking at the craps table all night. It's not so weird during the day, 'cause the strip is really just a bunch of funny looking buildings when the sun's out. But I gotta tell you, when the lights come on I feel kinda like a moth. Even the In-and-Out burger has neon! But they don't have video poker, so I usually get my fast food at Jack in the Box. IDK. Ciabatta Cheeseburgers really taste better when you're playing slots!!!!! :) :) :)

Well blog, GTG. Folks are getting home from Church now, so it's time to get back to the phones. BTW, I really need the Broncos to get off the turf and score some points! I placed a 7 way parlay at Planet Hollywood yesterday, and I need the donkeys to cover the 3pt spread. Anyway, it was really nice talking to you. I'll try to be better about visiting, but it can be hard when I'm SO BUSY!!!!!!!!! Well, TTYL!

your BFF

Thursday, November 1, 2007

T-Minus 59:00 and counting

The inanimate object I really miss is my old shower. It was a two headed monster. The year I moved in, I replaced one head with one of those removable, multi-setting things. I never had a cold side in that thing. I know I moved to the desert and all, but the problem isn't the water pressure or the guilt in taking too long a shower, the problem is that my shower here sucks. Maybe I'll go buy a new head. I'm gonna need good showers if I'm getting up at 7:30am every day. I know, I know, that's like an hour or two late to some of you, but I haven't had to be up before noon with any regularity in three or four years.

Open space is deceiving. From the exit gate of our development (which comes equipped with unarmed guards) I can see the strip, and across most of the valley. I'm so used to being blocked by hills or trees that I figure if I can see it (and it's not a mountain) it's gotta be close. 20 minutes later, I still hadn't gotten where I was going. Side streets are four lanes, arterials are six. Actually, the arterials are wider than the highway often enough. And the developments end abruptly against the desert, with only five foot cinderblock walls to keep out the chaos of undeveloped land. After Boston, and even Seattle, the site of an undeveloped swath is a strange thing.

And in fifty two minutes and counting, I'll be walking in to my new gig. Guess I better get dressed. It's a strange feeling, starting something completely new. It's been a really long time. Here's hoping...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On the Road Part I : The Path Oft Traveled

My first memory of it all is a crisp day in early October. I think Alex was driving, I'm not sure, but we were leaving my parents house in New Hampshire. Everything we owned was packed into a white Ford Tempo with a minor oil leak from a hole in the oil pan. It was spattered with asphalt, and the front left corner panel was primer gray. The theme to Shaft was playing on the oldies radio station.

To get into that car, I had worked 12, sometimes 13 hour days all summer and early into the fall, landscaping and building fences. We planned the trip over coffee and eggs and pie at a 24 hour chain diner in Woburn, late one night.

Our first stop was in Amherst, two or three days. On the last night, before our 6am departure, while I slept on the bedroom floor, I had a dream. There was a hedge, green and crisp and ten or twelve feet tall. In the middle of it, there was a small toolshed, old and rickety and built with wood. At places in the hedge, gaps had been cut. The sky was clear, and the sun was bright. And there were zombies. Gray skinned, but more animated than something from The Night of the Living Dead. They were quick, and smart, and they fought hard. And they kept coming. On our side of the line, I had soldiers. We were outmatched, but it didn't matter. I directed the troops, armed with tools from the shed, and we formed a line and held. I led, swinging a sword, and a garden hoe, effortlessly cutting down the zombies. And at last, the zombie king came. He had a suit of plate armor, with bright tassels on the helmet and shoulders. We fought. I can still see my move, my fatality. I lept higher than a man can leap, swinging in a backflip, twirling 180 degrees as I came over and around him. As I began to descend, I swung my sword, across from my right shoulder, and his head landed just as my feet touched the ground. As it rolled, the helmet fell open. Maybe it's the mythical archetype, or maybe I just watched The Empire Strikes Back one too many times. But his face was my own, pale and gaping. And then I was on a beach, the one I went to every night in Australia. The stars were out, and the space between them was black. I can still see my feet, looking down my body towards the surf from where I lay in the sand. Anna Pelrine lay next to me, the girl who played Juliet to my Romeo in the 8th grade play, the one I could never get to like me back, the first one I ever liked as more than friends. And we just lay there. And then I woke up.

At Niagara Falls, they wanted $10 to park, so we drove slowly and looked over the rail. The trees were changing across the Birkshires, through the Adirondaks, and into the Ohio planes. I got sick in Bowling Green. I barely remember Milwaukee, except for the frozen custard stand. Just past Omaha, sometime around midnight, a storm broke. I could see it coming across the blank plain, but there was nothing to do for it. It was hail at first, and thunder, and then rain so big that it might as well have been hail. When we rolled into Boulder the next morning, the oil leak was big enough that the engine was smoking. Down and around the mountains, through New Mexico and Arizona, where I forgot to replace the oil cap at one stop and almost killed the car. But it kept chugging, across the Mojave, where dawn began. The blue-gray light outlining the jagged arms of Joshua trees. And then down, through Bakersfield and the loops of LA. I got the first ticket just south of Fresno, tagged by an airplane. "Aircraft's got you going 70." They pulled 8 of us over, 3 cops walking the line. The second ticket was in Grant's Pass, at 3 in the morning. Estimated at 69. And at last, before noon on the last day, Seattle. It was a dream. I totaled the car 4 hours later, but it didn't matter. We were there.

Although I wasn't really on the road, I took a train that way, two years later. My friend killed himself. Then another three days later. A third overdosed later that month, and a fourth got married. First I took a bus to Spokane. (for that story, go here: Then a train to New Mexico. My neighbor was an older guy, a Vietnam Vet who couldn't figure out why a gallon of gas cost less than a gallon of cola. Wish that was still a problem, but those were halcyon days. Central California rolled by, click clack, choo choo. Grapes, olives, strawberries, trainyards and boarded houses. It took 4 days. I took a plane home.

The next time I was on that road, it was southbound. Through Oregon, then west to the 101. Through Redwood and down the coast. That time my partner in crime thought he was a race car driver, going down the coast road at 30 miles over the limit. I held the oh-shit handle and looked out to sea the whole way. That trip was the first time I saw Vegas. It was 1030 at night and 101 degrees when we came over the ridge and I saw the strip for the first time.

The first time, northbound, 19, everything packed into a Ford Tempo with an oil leak, a few boxes, my best friend and I. Nothing worth keeping to lose. This time, southbound, almost 29. My girl. My dog. My cat. My snake. Everything I own packed into a 26' Penske truck towing a car. It was 330 in the afternoon when we got on I-5. It was sunny, clear, but cool. A few renegade maples bursting into color.

We stayed both nights in Motel 6. One in Roseburg, Oregon, the second in Modesto, California. We were gonna stay in Stockton, but there were bullet-proof glass windows at reception, so we pushed on. The first night, we ate dinner at Chili's, and I had a barbeque-ranch bacon burger. The first morning, we ate a Shari's and I took a cherry pie to-go. The truck topped out at 35 going up a slope, and we had plenty of time to watch the double peak of Shasta rise, shift, and fade. The plains of northern California could be in Africa. Slow, rolling hills covered in golden, sunbleached grass, marked with low, scrub trees. Throw in an elephant, take away an angus herd... By the time we hit Stockton, we were at each other's throats. We made up, sort of, over breakfast at IHOP in Modesto. We made up all the way on the walk back to the truck. We each pulled an olive right off the tree. She turned hers in her hand. I put mine in my mouth, just as she said, "I don't think you want to eat that." She was right. It wasn't in my mouth long. It was grainy, and bitter, and it left a purple stain on the pavement.

Just before the mountains flatten into the Mojave, above Bakersfield and below Barstow, the truck started beeping. I got in onto the shoulder just as the engine shut off. The hood started smoking.
"Oh my god. Oh god. We have to get the animals out of here. Oh god."
"Okay, I have the fire extinguisher in the back. You just get the animals out your side."
There wasn't much time to check the mirror. Cars blew past, and I raced to undo the lock on the door. I got the red tube and ran to the front of the truck. Opening the hood, I was greeted by a burst of chemical steam, but no smoke, no flames. "Looks like the radiator went nuts." She had both animals over the guard rail, breathing fast and shaking. The guy at Penske said someone would be there in an hour. The road was cut into the side of a steep face that dropped away and down. Below us, maybe sixty feet, train tracks ran and disappeared into a tunnel. Across a valley, another crest rose, topped with multi-million dollar homes. An arroyo cut a deep swath through the valley, deep enough to conceal everything but the crowns of cottonwoods and willows growing in its bed. "Look, a coyote." Sure enough, the old trickster himself was wandering along the rim of the arroyo, lolligagging in the sun. There was a golden eagle, and kids on mountain bikes. I texted my friends, asked them to send good road karma. Both of our motorcycles were in the back of the truck, illegally, and I really didn't want anyone to find them. I thought about the old lady I picked up and drove home one night. I thought about the hitch-hiker with the broken leg I took home from the Crosby, Stills and Nash concert. I thought about when my friend's motorcycle trailer popped a tire on the highway onramp and I went to help him. And it turned out, my road karma's in pretty good shape. When the guy showed up, it was just a busted coolant hose. We were back on the road forty minutes later.

When we crested the hill, there was some stupid disco track on the radio. I spent the last two miles at 35 searching for a good song, a memorable song, but it just didn't happen. I wasn't supposed to remember it I guess. I don't remember what was on the radio when we rolled into Seattle, or the first time I saw Vegas. I don't think I had a walkman when I took the train to New Mexico. That's just the way it'll be, I guess. The soundtrack's only important if you remember it, anyway. I don't remember the soundtrack, but I do remember the dreams.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sin City, Part I

I always knew, intellectually, that there were people in the world, and yes, even in this country, who didn't follow politics. I've known people who didn't care about politics, or didn't vote, but never anyone who just plain knew nothing about it.

"You've got your job cut out for you," Devrim said. "They won't even know who he is down there."
She grew up in Vegas. I guess I should have listened more closely.

It was the third day of driving around, looking for a place to live. Everywhere we went, it was the same drag-and-drop houses. The same mirrors, the same bathtubs, the same floorplans. Up the street, with a little luck, there was a cut-and-paste mini-mall with the same parking lot, same satellite buildings, the only difference being which corporate mega-chain filled the main storefront. The streets were all 6 lanes, the houses always behind the same 5 foot high cinderblock wall. I was riding with Eric's realtor friend. She was helping us out, letting us into properties. "Why Vegas?"

"Well, we were already looking at Vegas, and I got an internship with Barack Obama's campaign down here."

"Who's that?"

"Barack Obama?"

"Uh huh?"

I guess Devrim was right. The work is certainly cut out here.

On our last night, we ate at a classy restaurant in Summerlin. The room was low-lit, modern, all white, black. Two translucent panels suspended with stainless cables hung between the front door and the dining room, playing Casablanca. I've never seen a panel like them before, but they were certainly cool, and certainly pricey. From our table, the films appeared backwards on the screens. The waiters wore bistro aprons, black with white pinstripes. The menu was updated daily, printed on heavy stock recycled paper, presented on clipboards. The most expensive bottle of wine rang in just under five thousand dollars. And the whole bar was lined with inset video poker machines.

On the way to the airport, the strip sparkled. The light from Luxor punched into the sky, waiting for aliens. The new Trump Tower glittered gold. The Rio's purple and blue, the MGM in green, Bellagio's fountains, the dark, brooding arc of the Wynn. Above it all, the needle point of the Stratosphere.

"It's weird coming to Vegas and not going to the Strip," Brie said. "Usually, it's off the plane, straight to the hotel, and never leave the Strip."

I was in Vegas for four days, and never even heard the dice rattle. Never heard a roulette number called. No blackjacks. No Asian businessmen, no drunk frat boys on bachelor parties, no Mexicans snapping flyers for call girls outside the Imperial Palace.

Just a vast expanse of development blocks, stretching ever out from the towering hotels. Just cinderblock walls, lava rock landscapes, bulldozers and tower cranes. And sunshine. Four straight days of 80 degrees and sunshine.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Wednesday Afternoon with MonkeySaurus

It's like ordering off the world's smallest Chinese menu. There are only two responses to the statement "I'm moving to Vegas."

1) "Why?" Served with a side of "You poor, stupid bastard, were you dropped on your head as a baby?" Add a subtext of "What's wrong with this idiot?" for $1. No substitutions, please.

2) "Cool." Served with a side of "Man, I wish I could do that."

By far, option one is the most ordered.

I've been back in Seattle for a little more than a week, and most of that time it's been raining sideways. When it's not raining where I am, it's raining down the street. Even the clear sky is tinted gray, like it knows we've got 8 more months of this, and it doesn't want us to get our hopes up. The trees that bother changing colors go to piss yellow, or bile green. A few rogue maples, mindful of their family's reputation, buck the trend, go through the colors of flame before they go bald. They stand out like sore thumbs. Everyone looks at them and wonders if they were dropped on their heads in the nursery.

I read Maxim on the shitter. This month, one of the fluff pieces was on the "Ten Toughest Cities in America." Seattle came in at number 6. I'm not sure what the formula was they used that got them that result. Something about number of days of sun, crappiness of local sports franchises, karate studios per capita... Whatever the formula was, I started laughing. In the rich, relatively sissy Boston suburbs where I spent my teens, you were lucky if you could talk your way out of a fight, and there was a fight someone didn't try to talk his way out of every day after school. I've been here 9 years, spent most of them working in bars, and I can count the fights I've seen on my fingers. There're plenty martial arts studios, but half of them advertise as "Non-Violent Martial Arts," a statement that is at once oxy-moronic and painfully ignorant of what a martial arts training means. But we wouldn't want our kids to learn something violent, here, so it'd better be non-violent and non-confrontational. Yes, the sports franchises here suck, but you can't really call Seattle fans tough the way, say, Cubs fans or Eagles fans are. Tough fans stick with a losing team. When the Mariners lose 3 in a row, the fans disappear, only to return when the M's hit a 9 game winning streak. The last game I went to, the Mariners had men on second and third with two out, down a run, in the bottom of the 8th inning, and the douchebag behind me was trying to start The Wave.

And after all that, the funny thing is that I love this town. I just can't take it anymore. Is Vegas some sort of Shangri-La? No, but I do think they're building a Shangri-La Resort and Casino. Vegas is unbridled hedonism. It's plastic. It's greedy. It's an ugly, artificial swatch of manufactured paradise in the middle of the desert. But maybe that's why it's so fantastic. Naturally, there should be nothing there but sand, and the little artesian spring that made it a stopover on the way to California. The railroad first came through 100 years ago. It's barely more than 60 years since Bugsy first arrived. Vegas has been through the hands of cowboys, prospectors, the railroad, the mafia, and now corporate America. Everything there is there because someone saw an opportunity to build something out of nothing. And I guess that's the dream. Take everything I've got, everything I've built here or anywhere, all the habits, identities, assets, all of it, and bet it all on a chance to build something out of nothing, to take a piece of desert and turn it into something bigger and better. That's the side of Vegas that the people who order option number one don't seem to see. And it's the one I'm counting on.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Three Days Later

In the subway terminal at O’Hare, I had to go to the currency exchange to get change for a $20. When I walked in, there were three people in line. A small black girl with an Adam’s apple that was a little too big was arguing with the teller. “I just need to get this done,” she shouted.

“Yeah, but you can’t just cut in line. You gotta wait your turn.”

“He don’t mind,” she said, looking at the guy behind her.

“Yeah, but what about the people behind him?”

She turned to us. “Do you mind!” It wasn’t really a question, and she didn’t really wait for an answer, although me and the girl in front of me both shook our heads. “See, they don’t mind. Now can we do this?”

“Well, they might not mind, but I still ain’t gonna do it,” the teller said. “You can wait your turn like everyone else.”

“Fuck you, then, bitch. I’ll take my business somewhere else then, bitch.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to now, because it ain’t gonna happen here.”

She backed up to the door, head weaving. She sliced her acrylics through the air, and her Adam’s apple bulged. “Fuck you, bitch! I hope you croak, bitch! I hope you fuckin’ croak and die, bitch! I hope you fuckin’ croak and die, bitch.”

I think she got on at Irving Park, although I’m really not sure. She walked past me, to the end of the car, and set her tattered plastic shopping bags on the floor behind the divider. Her gray sweatsuit was stained with dirt the way that smog browns the clouds before the rain. She turned her back to the sliding door, and looked around the car, although her eyes never seemed to focus on anything. I noticed the wet spots on her thighs just before the smell first drifted to me. It was mild, but sharp, the acrid burn of fresh urine on top of stale. She squatted slightly, plunged her hands past the elastic band of her sweatpants. Her forearms moved up and down, back and forth, like a prospector panning for gold. A full minute passed, and when she pulled her hands out of her pants they glistened, slick with I don’t care to know what. She held them out in front of her, looking through them, looking through us.

The smell moved down the train car in a wall. The Mexican woman with graying hair and a floral print blouse flinched, and I saw her catch a gag in her throat. It passed the doors, and came to me. Thick, salt and pussy, rich and clear, but stained. Like the orchard, a week after the last apples fall, while the leaves are still red or brown on the trees, after first frost, but before snow. The stink caught in my throat too, and my stomach turned violently. The blond in the white blazer and horn-rimmed glasses put her hand to her nose. We all did. The young black couple in Ecco Unltd tees, the punk rocker with purple hair and a jacket made of safety pins, everyone.

For the first time in my life, I washed my hands as soon as I left the subway.

Last night, it rained. The streets were fresh at six o’clock this morning. A young woman sat in the corner of a doorway outside Dunkin Donuts. Her sign read “I AM HUNGRY.” There were free copies of the paper at the hotel’s front desk, so I gave her the dollar in quarters I had saved for a machine. She met my eyes as I bent to hand it to her. She was either indomitable or fresh to the street. Her eyes were clear, soft, and underwritten with a smile. “How are you this morning?” she asked, eyes locked on mine.
“Um, good, thanks. You?”
“Lucky to be alive.” She broke my gaze and looked east towards the lake, and excused me with “Thank you.”
“Good luck.”

“What would you say if I told you power is good?” Mike growled at us.
He must be 60, although he could just as easily be 40. Close cropped black hair, lightly salted. Sharp, deliberate eyes. Weathered jaw. Black oxford, untucked, black slacks, black shoes.

A few people shook their heads. “How ‘bout this? Who here wants power? Who really wants it?” My hand went up, and a few others. “Okay, you do. Who doesn’t?” He scanned the room. “Who’s not sure?” His finger stabbed at his target. “You. Why not?”

“That’s a lot of responsibility. I don’t know if I want that responsibility.”

“Okay, fair enough. What kind of responsibility?”

“You know, to the people. The people under you.”

“Right. Okay. You’re responsible to the people under you. Some of us don’t want that responsibility. Why not? Who else?” His finger stabbed again. “You.”

“Well, I guess I’ve just seen it abused.”

“Good. Abuse of power. We’ve all seen that, right? Everyone’s heard that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely?”

There was a murmur. “Good, right. But what about this. If you don’t have power, what’s your other option? Powerlessness, right?” He scribbled on the whiteboard, words sloping diagonally away to the right. “So what if I told you, power is good, powerlessness is bad?” Again, a murmur, stronger. “If you don’t have power, you’re powerless. You should all want power. Because power is good. With power, you can accomplish things. Without power, you can be oppressed. Does anyone know what Frederick Douglas said about that? How much will people be oppressed? How much pressure people will accept?” He prowled the front of the room, scanning.

“As much as they’ll take.”

“That’s right. There will be as much oppression as people will take. So what does that mean? If you are powerless, someone’s gonna oppress you as hard as they can. But if you have power, you can fight back. So where does power come from. There are two sources. Two sources of power.”


“Right, money’s one. What’s the other?”


“That’s right. But not just money and people. Organized money and people. What’s more powerful? Getting a million dollars from one person, or a million dollars from a thousand people? A thousand people, right, because then you have money power and people power. But money and people have to be organized to be powerful. If they’re not organized, it’s just money, and just people. You need an organization to be powerful. And you need power because power only respects power. Who knows what Frederick Douglas said about power? Yes, Ariel?”

“He said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, and it never will.’”

“That’s right! ‘Never has, and it never will.’” He paused over this, watched us. “That’s the key in community organizing. First, you have to find out who has power. Then you have to find out what their self interest is. Then you figure out how to use that, not in a manipulative way, but in a way that helps both of you."

"Let me tell you a story. When Barack first went to the state senate, he was a member of the black caucus. Now that’s pretty much all from the city, and then it wasn’t a very big caucus. They couldn’t do much on their own. But the caucus wanted a law to deal with racial profiling. We were getting too many stops for driving while black, too many tickets and arrests. We wanted a law so police would have to record the race of everyone they pulled over and every arrest, so they’d have to consciously mark it and so we could see who was being stopped and why. But the caucus was small, the police didn’t want the law, and we couldn’t get it through. So Barack looked around for another group that was too small to get their own things done. He went to a group of guys from the south, rural whites, and he said ‘what do you need?’ And they said, ‘We need a seatbelt law.’ They said, ‘We’re having too many fatalities on rural roads. But we can’t get a seat belt law through.’ So Barack said to them, ‘You help me with my law, I’ll get yours for you.’ That’s a good tradition here in Chicago.” He grinned. “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Goes back a long way around here. So the black caucus got together with rural whites from downstate, and they got a racial profiling law passed, and a seatbelt law. Because Barack saw who had the power he needed, and that they also needed the power he had, and he went and talked to them. Now you don’t get two groups like that together unless you’re willing to talk to people you might disagree with. But, usually, if you can find out someone’s self interest, you can figure out a way to get something done for everyone. But if you don’t have some power to offer in return, you won’t get anything.” He paused and looked around. “So what do you think of power now?”

“One thing I don’t get, it seems like those are both common sense. I mean, I seems like, you know, it’s common sense, you should wear your seatbelt. It’s common sense, we shouldn’t be racially profiling. Shouldn’t we be able to get common sense laws like that passed easily?”

There was a chuckle and a groan in the room. One of the black guys, a big, broad smiling guy of maybe 45 with a sharp eye and a deliberate tongue rolled his eyes. He looked behind him at one of the younger black guys. They shook their heads, with a sad laugh.

“We should be able to,” Mike barked, “but that’s not the reality. You know why? Because common sense is not common.” There was a rumble of agreement, heads nodding. “To you and me, sure, that seems like common sense. But common sense all depends on where you come from. Common sense is not common. To people in the south, it was common sense that the sons of Hamm shall be hewers of wood and bearers of water. Why? Because the bible told them so! You should believe the bible, that seems like common sense, right?” His voice built, hard and fast and loud, but never cracked. “We look at that and think it’s crazy, because common sense isn’t common! Common sense needs a constituency!”

There were no cars coming, so we crossed against the light. A train rolled by, drowning out John’s voice for a moment. “I feel like this is a real urban center,” he shouted as the train crackled above us. “Just everything here. It feels like Gotham. I mean, when I think of a city, this is what I think of. I can see Batman here, not in Manhattan. You know, with all these buildings, all the architecture. And these trains, they’re like the trains from the old movies. The ones King Kong ripped up. And the way they’re just grafted right onto the city. I don’t know. I just feel like this is what a real city should be like.”

In the shower, the morning I came, I lost my breath. Two years, especially the last six months, I’ve been a zombie. Walking dead. The weight of it covered me as fully as the hot water. When I stepped out of the shower, the mirror was fogged. I wiped it with a towel, lathered, and put the razor to my cheek.

Stepping off the blue line at O’Hare, I could still smell the acid stench, a bad memory of a smog cloud, lingering. When the plane finally went wheels up, I watched the airport hotels, the houses and warehouses and rail yards drop away. We passed into the haze of last night’s raincloud, spent now, barely more than a thick fog. The white crept in at the edges of my window like a bad movie scene cutting out of, or maybe into, a dream, crept in until it was all I could see. Somewhere below me, freeways and box stores faded into the winding cul-de-sacs of suburbia. Somewhere below me, the grid of roads and wires faded into the broad squares of corn country. Somewhere below me a town nestled into the lee of a gray-green lake. A high school football field. A water tower with some girl’s name scrawled in spraypaint on the side. A grain silo. A wind farm. All around me, a white veil of cloud that could open on clear sky, or anything at all.