Wednesday, June 11, 2008

That Was The Week That Was—Part One:

The End Of The Beginning Is The Beginning Of The End...

Oh thank God it's over.

This past week, that is.

It was a bearish one for me, as I was toiling on a project I'm hoping sends a little coin my way, and it's bringing back the heart-rending memory of the loss of The Big Fella one year ago, and seeing the “It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”-ish finale of the Democratic primary season.

Just. Brutal.

The personal work was hard enough to get through—changes on a project started long ago, that new eyes and a new time dictated some serious alterations on. But it was the thinking about Steve that really weighed on me. Loss is difficult for me—in huge and overly childish ways, and this blog is a thing that has helped me grow up a little bit in handling it. But I'm human. Disgustingly, unshakably so—and as I found myself grinding through that project, I couldn't help but think of how things would be if The Big Fella, one of the best writers I've had the pleasure to know, were here now.

Would he have gotten “The Big Gig”? Or would something he'd written during this oh-so-fertile newsy period in the last 365 days caught fire in that way things do, and he have at the very least gotten his just due as a journalist and expert chronicler of the America and world we all live in? I don't know if “survivor's guilt” is the exactly apt framing for these feelings, but thoughts of “What if? and “Why Him” so permeated my thinking that it made it somewhat difficult to do the thing he did such a bang-up job of—which is to write. I could sort of feel him over my shoulder a lot this week—peering in, as if to say “So, one year hence...“How do you feel about this. Are you any better than you were at this than you were last first week of July?”

That's one hell of a question.
But I realize it was me asking it of myself just as much as any paranormal apparition's doing so.

Haggling over the answer is a non-starter for me—quite literally, as time is such a Damoclean sword that to linger over the answer too long is to in effect answer it. “No. You ain't. 'Cause a real writer doesn't get put off his game wondering if he's any good. 'Said writer's too busy bustin' his ass trying to do good work in the first place.”

Corporate mantras make for awful life lessons, but that damn Nike tag sums it up well. “Just Do It.”

And I have.

The world however did its best to trundle in like a wild, hungry bear into my pastoral campground of creativity. Particularly the 72 hours spanning from Saturday evening to well into the inky pre-dawn of Wednesday.

It was “The Final Comedown.” “The Brawl For It All”. “The Supa-Dupa Thrilla Between Chocolate and Vanilla”. The Clinton / Obama Reality Show's thrill-packed season finalĂ© as it were.

I caught a good chunk of the big DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meeting that Saturday, and realized again how important tone is in putting across a message. From the impassioned (maybe too impassioned) advocacy of Florida's Bob Wexler on Obama's behalf, to the unfortunate, smarmy lawyer-joke come-to-life of Cinton backer Harold Ickes. Facts matter, yes—but by God, presentation is nothing to sneeze at, and Ickes for all his lawyerly acumen managed to almost single-handedly torpedo public opinion for his cause, thanks to his almost hissing, contemptuous delivery. I was outright flummoxed that someone wasn't put up there who was a bit more sympathetic and able to connect with folks—in the room and in the homes of TV viewers. And when that impromptu uprising took place at the end of Ickes' huffy jeremiad, I had to pay attention. Taking the facts of what happened with Florida and Michigan into account, along with precedent and the byzantine wonkery that is state election rules. I found the meeting's outcome at the very least Solomonic, and at best, fairly well-reasoned.

But it was that group of noisy protesters (who a friend in local politics would later derisively dub “The Boneva Brigade”) who kind of stole the show, and one in particular—New York's own Ms. Harriet Christian, who would steal folks' breath away with one extended, YouTube-a-licious, verbal earth-scorching that peeled away a mask and revealed something ugly but known, and unhealthy but undeniable in 21st century America. Namely, the herpes-like nature of much of modern-day American racism. It never really goes away, but the outbreaks can be ugly to look at. If you haven't seen the clip, here's Harriet—with nary an amiable Ozzie in sight to put a smile on things.

I was out at a Starbucks working on my project when I checked on the internet—specifically FireDogLake—where I stumbled upon Ms. Christian's optimism-stomping rant. She managed to make Harold Ickes look like Captain-Fucking-Kangaroo. I watched her venomous tirade several times, wincing at her spitting of the words, “An inadequate Black man.”—words unprompted by any racial foreshadowing whatsoever by her questioner. She went there all by herself. In fact, it's clear that she was already “there” from jump, but she simply wanted to let the world know “where she was from” opinion-wise. I had my headphones unplugged for a couple of the listens when a woman next to me asked if what I was watching was coverage of the RBC meeting and I said “Yes.”

She asked me if the woman I was watching—the batshit Ms. Christian— was a delegate or something, and whether she had heard her say “what she thought she'd heard” on the YouTube clip. “No. She's not a delegate, she's a supporter.” I answered, and I sadly also said “Yeah. She said what you thought she said.”

The woman asked if she could see it again, so I obliged her.

Before I knew it, there were three other people looking on over us, and when Christian hit that sour, end of “The Muppet Show” talking point note—one woman looking on said, “Oh yeah. Thanks for that one, honey. Way to represent New York. Fucking idiot.” The original woman asked “Is she drunk?”. The guy to my right said, “That's no excuse. Alcohol don't make you do things you wouldn't do. It just removes your inhibitions. That's the real her right there.” The other young woman looking on simply said. “Wow.” and shook her head in disgust. There were the obligatory requests to see it again and I acquiesced, as the group seemed incredulous, and fortunately, the WiFi signal happened to be a free one that bleeds into the Starbucks bubble, so it was no skin off my nose. The clip was just starting to go viral when we were watching it, but the young man near me simply noted, “People in NY are gonna remember her name, and that face and voice. I'd be real careful once I got back home if I was her.”

“If she gets someone at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) who remembers her, that'd be interesting.” I said, noting without having to elaborate the preponderance of African American clerks who handle your business there.

“Hope she can cook, 'cause eating out's gonna be an adventure for awhile.”, he chuckled. “You never know...”

“Then there's the mail, maybe her super, all kinds of people she may depend on who ain't gonna take kindly to that clip either.” I said.

“Ohhhhhh, maaaaannnnnn. Awk-warrrrrrrd!, he barked in a perfect Fred Armisen voice.

Such is the potential price of stupid when you live and fuck up in the world's biggest little town.

On to Monday, and my work was interrupted several times by my buddy from uptown who works with people in Rep. Charlie Rangel's office.

“Charlie wants this shit over. He's catching hell from his people.”

“We're in limbo here. Nobody in town can endorse Obama yet. It'd make the Clinton people crazy. But the pressure! Brooklyn's ready to say 'Fuck it' and go.”

“You wanna come to the thing? I can get you in. The food's supposed to be off the hook!”

No thanks. Work to do, man.

Tuesday rolls in like a tidal wave on crack as the day is unavoidably full of minute-to-minute reports of early exit polling and then, a report about a concession from Senator Clinton that is quickly rescinded. But too late—it's a media wildfire, and my buddy calls me up with some news, saying that Rangel's really pissed, because “it has to end tonight, and he's getting signals that they're gonna drag this shit out.” I get a follow-up call from homeboy and he hips me that “It's on. The super-delegates are gonna be released today 'steady'.. Five an hour to put Obama over the top and squash this 'fucking Bataan death march' shit”.

Of course, I couldn't get Blogger to do a Goddamned thing to post on my news , so I put this up at Democratic Underground:

(Click to enlarge)

And so it went that afternoon. Every 25 minutes a call from buddy boy counting 'em off—through the twenties and then the teens.. The last count-call he was at nine needed to lock things up.

“This shit is done but for the shoutin'.”

I toiled on, half-listening to the news when my pal calls again saying it's gonna be “radio silence” for a while as the end event for Sen. Clinton was going to be held in the subbity-sub-basement at the new Baruch College complex off Lexington Avenue near Little India—the pocket nabe off Kips Bay in Manhattan where all the Indian restaurants are concentrated, “This is how they want it.” I ask if I can still get in to see—just out of curiousity.

He laughed so hard into the phone he almost hurt my ear.

“Man, I don't know what the fuck I was thinking. My ass can barely get in, and I've got reason to be there. Lock-down mode, br'uh. They ain't playing.”

So, I watched from home while working on my project, and saw instead of Senator Clinton's event...what simply had to be one of the worst political speeches ever delivered—by a person who didn't have an axe imbedded in their skull or wasn't Leon Spinks after nineteen novocaine needles jabbed in his jaw.

Good God. Who told John McCain it would be a good idea to grandstand on the Dem candidates final big day with a speech that reeked of John Candy's batshitteldy amiable Mayor Tommy Shanks from SCTV? His people know he doesn't have the goods—“the skillz, son!”—to pull this off on a no-pressure day, so how many brain-eating, mad-cow burgers were consumed by his handlers to make them think this ode to oratorical oafishness seemed like a good idea? Normally, I can sort of half-listen / half-work when speeches are on, but this one? This disaster required my full attention. I couldn't look away. Calling it a train wreck is an understatement.

It was a twenty-five car derailment of a special shipment of cutlery spilled everywhere—just before the locomotive plowed a gaping hole through the security fence of a Home For the Criminally Insane. A multi-stage tragedy.

They posed him in front of a green background, leaving him looking like a dollop of runny cole slaw on a bed of wilted lettuce. And the speech itself was a hodgepodge of monotonous line-readings that would have gotten him cut from the community ensemble from “Waiting For Guffman”. It doesn't help that Stevie-fucking-Wonder reads a teleprompter better, and McCain seemed as if he were told to not go into “Angry Old Man Yells At Cloud” mode, and then, fearing he wouldn't listen, his handlers dosed his Postum or something. He came off almost drugged, and he exhibited an annoying little chuckle that scanned like he was hallucinogenically seeing everyone in the crowd as characters from a vintage “Funny Face” drink mix ad.

It was that damned bad.

So bad, even FOX News had to smack it down. I'd love to tell you what he said, but that would be like describing what a hairy, 450-pound streaker said while screaming and running across the stage during a performance of Othello. You just ran your sloppy ass across a stage, man. Fuck what you had to say!

Olbermann and crew on MSNBC mercifully cut away mid-turd pinch by McCain to go live to the Baruch College bunker where Senator Clinton was addressing her supporters.

And yes, I said “addressing” her supporters because I had NO reason to believe that she would be capitulating in any way that night. And she most certainly did not disappoint. From the moment Terry McAuliffe (“McAwfuliffe”) hit the stage looking higher than a NASA satellite, crowing “The next President of the United States” as Ms. Clinton's intro, I knew: “If It's Tuesday, And Terry's Talking, It Must Be Bullshit.” There would be no acknowledgment of what a large number of the remaining 299,997,000 Americans not in Baruch College's bowels already knew by that point. The shit was done. The 2118 delegate number was easily eclipsed and would steadily mount even before the reports on the Montana totals came in. But there in that warm, enveloping cocoon of irreality, the Senator could bait, switch, tease and cajole for one last grand time with people who would NOT question her whatsoever. What in the last crazy final weeks of this campaign would lead one to think this was going to end tidily?


It was a rousing speech. meant to fire up her base and little else, in spite of the final, ugly math she surely knew as she strode onto the dais. The “supers” had in effect called her into the coach's office and said “Oh, and bring your playbook”. The dreaded “Turk” had spoken. But she was going home to the folks after being cut from the team and blithely telling them that she'd not only made the final roster, but thrown for five nifty TDs in the practice scrimmage that day. Ouch.

Now, let's slow it down here for a moment folks. Yes, a lot of that braggadocious roaring last Tuesday was indeed hubris-driven. The old inevitability thang is hard to shake still, some 18 months later, even when you've lost and the porters are sweeping peanuts and mustard packets down the stadium steps. The Clinton effort was deemed from the start as a dominant force “on paper”—a “Fantasy” team that could not lose based on the numbers. And it had been something akin to that for the years before this campaign when it was clear to power brokers, interested parties and folks looking to get a leg up that she was going to run. Am awful lot of those people / organizations did a lot of nice things for the Clintons and were probably assured access at the least, and specific deeds at the most when they re-ascended. A lot was invested in this campaign ending with her at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue by people you don't just say, “Eh, we tried.” to. Imagine a casino where a person supposedly has a major “in” at a table. Said person is backed by folks who want to capitalize on that “in”, so they float that person a lot of capital up front, assuming the investment's a solid lock with this “in”. Throw the player a hundred now 'cause you know they're bringin' back a thousand, right?

Except, the “in” doesn't pan out. Some mook from outta nowhere sits down at the table and cleans up like a 30-gallon drum of Tide™, Roll, BOOM! Roll, BOOM! Roll, BOOM! He cleans up for what seems like an eternity, racking up a fat stack of chips. You eventually win again. but he's so depleted your stack from your losses, you can never really catch up. He's got the “in” now, and you're in a position where the people who backed you for what looked like a sure thing won't be pleased if you fold. comes the pinky ring onto the table. “Clonk!” The watch. The gold money clip and the keys to the car. Fuck how you get home or if you even do get home at this point. You are betting it all on the big, unlikely Goddamned miracle that if it came in a movie, you'd throw your popcorn at the screen.

“Snake-eyes”...all the way down the line.

You're busted. No car, No watch. No ring. And a chorus line of bad checks bouncing like caffeinated Can-Can girls.

There's still those people behind you. The ones who kept you flush and hooked you up in return for capitalizing on that “in”.

What do you tell them? You make like you can still win. And that's what that speech last Tuesday night was about—as well as keeping the rank-and-file support base's spirits up in the face of reality's swift kick to the ol' nads. I understood it. The tone was not what people looking for an ending to all the rancor and getting on with the business of fucking up the GOP standard-bearer, Professor Irwin Corey's act were looking for (Count me in that heckling number), but I had a feeling based on my discussions with my buddy that this was all gonna be settled in short order. Especially when he called me after leaving “The Bunker” and cryptically, but perfectly summed up what his connected pals were calling the oddly haughty display.

“Man, a dude next to me shook his head and said 'Oh God. 'It's 'Top of the world, ma!'

“Top of the world, ma!” As in Jimmy Cagney's wild-eyed, literal flame-out at the end of the classic film “White Heat”. Trapped, Hopelessly outgunned. Brutally outmanned. Even if you've seen it a thousand times, the visuals still speak volumes.

It wasn't pretty. But again, I understood it.

There was no time to dwell on it though, even with the bug-eyed pans of the speech's tone and content by the talking head-class...

...Cause the surreal shit was coming hard on its heels. Barack Obama was now, now somehow officially The Presumptive Democratic Nominee for President.

Um...can I keep it real with you? Just reading those words on a page or computer screen—“The Presumptive Democratic Nominee for President.”—and considering who he is...well, the sentence still looks like something written in an indecipherable alien language to me.

I...just wanted to get that out there.

(End of Part One—Continued in Part Two)