An Irregular Column
by Mykel Board
I am profoundly troubled that any candidate would chart the course of American history as follows (and I'm rearranging Obama's history here to make it more chronological):
American Revolutionaries -> Manifest Destiny -> Slaves/Abolitionists -> Suffragettes -> the Labor Movement -> the Greatest Generation -> the Civil Rights Movement -> Himself. --Mother Jones Magazine
Rather than focusing on any specific issue or cause — other than an amorphous desire for change — the message is becoming dangerously self-referential. The Obama campaign all too often is about how wonderful the Obama campaign is... --TalkLeft Internet Site
ALTERNATE UNIVERSE ONE: It's November 4, 2008. There's an early arctic chill in the air. I walk the 100 yards down Bleecker Street from my apartment to the voting booths. Faced with the depressing task of staring at the names HILLARY CLINTON and JOHN MCCAIN, I'm gonna pull the lever for Ralph Nader or some other sure-to-lose candidate.
I enter the curtained booth. Something presses against the back of my head.
“Don't turn around,” says a voice. “I've got a gun. If you don't vote for Clinton or McCain, I will kill you.”
ALTERNATE UNIVERSE TWO: It's November 4, 2008. There's an early arctic chill in the air. I walk the 100 yards down Bleecker Street from my apartment to the voting booths. Faced with the depressing task of staring at the names HILLARY CLINTON and MIKE HUCKABEE, I'm gonna pull the lever for Ralph Nader or some other sure-to-lose candidate.
I enter the curtained booth. Something presses against the back of my head.
“Don't turn around,” says a voice. “I've got a gun. If you don't vote for Clinton or Huckabee, I will kill you.”
“Pull the trigger,” I say.
Yes, it's MRR #300. The May issue. I write this, however, in February. The theme is supposed to be The California Scene, the Bay Area and politics-- just like the first MRR.
I don't give a shit about the California scene. I don't know anything about Bay Area music. I haven't cared since Op Ivy broke up. But politics? Oh yeah, now is the time to write about politcs.
For the last 25 years of Grandma MRR, every 4 years I wrote my VOTE-THIRD-PARTY or DON'T-VOTE-IT-ONLY-ENCOURAGES-THEM column. But this year, I've got a surprise.
(“You're so predictable Mykel,” she says.
“I hate being predictable,” I tell her. “That's the worst insult you can give me.”
“I knew you'd say that,” she answers.)
February 2008, America has a chance. The sliver of a chance. An infinitesimal chance. A corn-kernel-in-a-beershit chance. A semen-stain-on-an-evening-gown chance. The United States might become the first Western nation with a Negro leader.
Korea, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Granada, Desert Storm I, Afghanistan, Desert Storm II. 50 years of being the planet's badguy. 200 years of white guy presidents-- all but one Protestant. America NOW has a chance to lead the world in something different.
For once we can be the good guy again. The world hates America. I can't travel without being gringo-ized by a humanity that America fucked up. The election of a Negro could change all that.
How bad could America be if a majority white nation votes for a Negro? How could that country of arrogant racists be so arrogantly racist if it elects a colored guy as president?
Barak Obama could be the first Democrat I'll vote for since George McGovern (who?). I don't give a shit about Obama's politics. I don't give a shit about his flip flopping. I don't give a shit about his church appearances. He is a Negro. He was against the war in Iraq from the start. That's enough for me.
I don't care that Obama's campaign is about Obama. That his platform is Obama. That his promises are Obama and more Obama. Presidents don't do anything except stand up and make speeches. Their advisors rule. Presidents exist for the TV cameras. Things in America are not going to get better with Obama, but they'll LOOK better with Obama.
I can't imagine this really happening. Americans are too goonish, too war-loving, too nasty to allow it. But in February 2008, there is a sliver of hope.
Eager to help make that sliver into an entire... er... board, I call M, a pal of mine with a button-making machine. I find a picture of the Illinois senator. A nice one. In front of the Capitol. Smiling. Arms folded. No American flags. No religious symbols. I scan it into Photoshop.
I lay out the words in a circle around the picture. VOTE OBAMA-- AMERICA NEEDS A NEGRO. Proudly, I walk outside and go up Broadway to the closest Obama campaign office.
I pass my local street bum, a scruffy white guy who still has some of his teeth. He's been on my corner for almost 10 years. We're friends.
I dig in my pocket for a quarter. Throwing the coin into his oversize cup—really more like a pail—I tell him my plan to work for the Illinois senator.
“Good luck,” he says, “but it ain't gonna make much difference to me. No matter who's president, I'll be right here on the corner with my little bucket. You'll see.”
A bit further up the street, an attractive colored girl walks toward me. I thrust out my chest to make sure she can see who I'm supporting. It's working. She gives me a big smile. Then she freezes. Her smile turns into a frown, then a sneer. She huffs past me. I don't get it.
Shrugging, I continue my walk the half dozen blocks to the downtown Obama campaign headquarters. It's about 4 blocks east of NYU. In a storefront. If I remember correctly, it used to be a Radio Shack.
There's a huge picture of the colored man in the window. Not a full-body shot. Just his face. His hands together, prayer style. But they're not in praying position. Instead, they're at an angle supporting his head. Like Shirley Temple on The Good Ship Lollipop. (Who? On what?)
Inside the office, there are Obama bumper stickers, Obama badges, Obama campaign literature. Most of it has no words on the front except OBAMA. A few brochures have a white-on-blue logo that says CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN.
In front of one table, a vaguely punk-looking young man (black leather jacket, tight black jeans, hair in a collegiate fauxhawk) pokes at the literature. He speaks with the black woman behind the table.
“And what about vegetarianism?” he asks. “What's Obama's stand on that issue?”
“Issue shmissue,” says the woman. “We don't do issues. We are issues.”
An expensive haircut, smelling of Eau d'NYU Freshman, comes up to me.
“Hi,” he says, eagerly extending his hand. “Can I help you?”
“You bet,” I tell him. “I wanna work for Obama.”
I see him look down at my home-made button.
“I can get more,” I tell him. “I made it myself. You can have the rights. No royalties. I don't believe in royalties.”
“You can't wear that,” he says. “That's racist.”
“You bet,” I answer. “But it's racist in the best way. It's PRO-colored people. It's a short form of from slavery to president! I know Obama doesn't have slaves in the woodpile, but it's the image that counts. Don't you think?”
“Look,” he says. “I don't know what you're trying to do, but would you please do it elsewhere? We have a campaign to run.”
“And I want to help,” I say, beginning to lose my enthusiasm in the cold reception. Like an erection that droops at the sight of an anal wart.
As we speak, a tall dark guy with dreadlocks comes in the door. Despite the dreadlocks, he wears a business suit, white shirt, and dark blue tie. His lapel sports a large button with a picture of Obama. Just the senator's face-- and one hand in a thumbs up gesture.
“Is there a problem here?” he asks in a deep resonant voice, sounding more British than Jamaican.
The whiteguy nods at my button. The tall guy looks at it and frowns like that girl on Broadway did.
“I think you'd better leave,” he says.
I take a few campaign leaflets and go out.
Looks like organized politics, like organized religion, does not get along with me. I'm gonna have to do this myself. My way. Bring on the scanner and color printer!
Obama needs publicity. People everywhere need to be reminded. I scan the cover of one of Obama's campaign brochures. Click. Cut. Paste. I'll photoshop a new set of stickers that'll wake New York up to my new hero.
I cut the stickers into large squares and go back out to the street. I see my bum friend again.
“Hey,” I ask him. “Can I put one of these on your coin bucket?”
He looks at the white-on-blue sticker.
“Sure,” he says, “but I don't get it.”
I read the sticker I've slightly doctored.
OBAMA, SPARE CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN.
I'm gonna distribute them to beggars all over the city. That should wake people up. Every sympathetic bum donor will get it. They'll all become aware of the historical poverty of American slaves. They'll realize the way the world sees us. And they'll understand the chance for a symbol to reverse that image.
It's not far to the next bum. He sits on a milk crate at the corner of Mercer and Houston. Instead of a bucket, he shakes a more standard cardboard coffee cup. This guy is black. The sticker should have even more impact here.
“Hey,” I ask. “Can I put one of these on your coin cup?”
I show him the sticker.
“Er...” he starts. “Would you mind telling me what it says? I left my reading glasses at home.”
I read the sticker to him.
“Sorry,” he says. “I don't get this political stuff. Anyone gets elected, I'm on the same street corner... 'cept of course, Giuliani. With him, I'm in jail.”
This guy is only the first in a string of refusals. For some reason, the average homeless guy has no faith in the government or the electoral system. He doesn't want to spend even an inch of begging cup to support a candidate.
One guy I try to talk to could be Hispanic, or just a white guy who needs a bath. From his speech I figure he's black. In any case, he's savvy enough to have an actual marketing reason for rejecting my request.
“See,” he says, “most folks that give me money are brothers, white ladies or old people. Now, the brothers are gonna give me money anyway. Obama, Osama or whatever. The white ladies all like that white lady...”
“Hillary Clinton,” I say.
“And old people,” he continues, “like that old guy.”
“John McCain,” I say.
“So your sticker ain't gonna do me no good... got a quarter?”
I give the guy a quarter for his astute political analysis and, discouraged, I head home.
So what's left? My campaign work was a failure. My bum crusade never got more than one bum. All I have left is this column. So here it is:
If Obama doesn't get the nomination, you should vote 3rd party or not at all. America does not need 20 years of 2 families. Didn't we fight King George to get rid of dynasties?
McCain is a worse horror. Sure as shit, he won't allow 4 years to go by without his own war.
If Obama gets the nomination, you should vote for him. I will. He really is the chance for Americans to feel better about themselves and the world. There's not much more we can hope for.
-->Yeah it was April Fools dept: I guess most of you figured out that my column about A YEAR WITHOUT KIDS was a fake. There is no such group.
The man who started the movement was also a complete invention-- sprung from my brow like Aphrodite from the brow of Uranus.
The concept's not bad though. Anyone interested can have full rights to the name.
-->Get me one dept: Daryl Hill of Cookeville Tennessee bought his 10 year old daughter an MP3 player from Wal-Mart.
Surprise! The player was "preloaded with pornography and explicit songs." Evidently, someone bought the thing, downloaded the good stuff, then sealed it up and returned it. Now that's my kind of sabotage!
-->Embarrassing being a Jew dept. part 1: City University of New York and The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, among others, canceled presentations about a book called THE ISRAEL LOBBY. They said they needed critics to balance out the presentation. All critics, however, were "unavailable or unwilling to participate.” This call for "balance" is the new censorship.
Where is the balance for Rush Limbaugh or Anne Coulter? Where is the balance for an entire night of Fox News? Certainly not on CNN!
-->Embarrassing being a Jew dept. part 2: The school administration in Old Saybrook Connecticut canceled a performance by the Al-Ghad Folklore Dancing Troupe of Palestine. Why? Because parents claimed it was "offensive to Israeli and Jewish sensibilities." Maybe they couldn't find a Kill-the-Palestinians-Now Dance group to balance it out.
-->Speaking of predictable dept: A new book called, Predictably Irrational, talks about variations in the famous PLACEBO effect. Not only do people get better when doctors prescribe a sugar pill placebo... but the effect is increased if patients pay a lot for it. In other words, a worthless drug gives more relief when priced at $2.50, than when priced at 10 cents.
And what have the drug companies done for you lately? You sure?
-->Saving by intimidation dept: No, I'm not talking about Christianity. I'm talking about a BOMB BANK made by the Japanese toy company, Tomy.
The bomb-shaped bank begins to shudder and beep if not fed regularly. Longer starvation makes it explode and send coins and bank-shards flying. Sounds more American than Japanese, doesn't it?
-->If thy left hand offend thee dept: Kyle N sent me a clipping about an Idaho man who believed he saw THE MARK OF THE BEAST on his hand. Using a circular saw, he cut off the hand and microwaved it. A hospital spokewoman declined to say if any effort was made to reattach the offending hand.
-->What exactly does OVERWEIGHT mean? dept: The November 7, 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association reported, "Overweight people have lower mortality rates than those in all other weight categories (underweight, normal, and obese) and are less likely to die from certain illnesses, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and respiratory disease."
That begs the question... who decides what is and isn't overweight? Over WHAT weight?
-->Glad I'm not a Christian dept: Southern Baptist Pastor Wiley Drake has again urged his followers to pray for the deaths of staff members at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Last August, Americans United filed an IRS complaint about Drake’s use of church letterhead and a church-based radio program to endorse Mike Huckabee. Federal tax law forbids tax-exempt groups from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. The IRS later notified Drake that his church was being investigated.
In response, Drake sent e-mails to followers urging them to engage in “imprecatory prayers” (curses) against Americans United and three of its staff members.
Wrote Drake, “In light of the recent attack from the enemies of God, I ask the children of God to go into action with Imprecatory Prayer. Especially against Americans United for Separation of Church and State…. Specifically target Joe Conn or Jeremy Learing [sic] and their leader, Rev. Barry Lynn. They are those who lead the attack.”
Drake directed his followers to Psalms 109 (as well as Psalms 55, 58, 68, 69 and 83) for examples of imprecatory prayers. Verses from those texts ask God to bring death and destruction to those targeted.
“Let his days be few; and let another take his office,” says one passage.
“Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow. Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg,” says another.
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