Friday, January 29, 2010

The Ballad of Me and John, part 2

November, 2007

John Edwards is coming to my house, this week. I am beginning to think I am in over my head. My new strategy is to go around saying “It’s going to be great!”. Very loud.

On Friday I make over a hundred calls from the campaign office, inviting even more people to the house party. My neighbors have all been leafleted, my teachers and coworkers emailed, my friends Facebook messaged.
“Can you draw me a diagram of your house?” Emily says, putting a piece of copy paper and a marker in front of me. “Security needs to know where the exits are,”
My geometry is lacking, but I do the best I can. I realize it’s upside down and backwards, scribble it out, start over. I hand over a crooked floor plan in smudgy purple magic marker. Emily looks at me like I’m not in possession of quite all my marbles.

Sunday is D-day. Edwards is due at seven, the campaign arrives at four. Kristen is so overdressed she might as well be wearing a sign that says Not From Around Here. Emily hands me a roll of Edwards 2008 stickers and positions me by the door. Everyone is to be wearing a sticker when Edwards finally gets here. Ann, the New Hampshire coordinator, arrives-- cropped silver hair, funky jewelry, South American wool tote bag. She has an armload of placards which she begins industriously affixing to every vertical surface in the house. My mother is gamely brewing gallons of coffee, and my neighbors start arriving with trays of desserts.

Ian motions me into the hallway. He’s already sweated through the underarms of his unironed button-down.
“What are you going to say?”
“What do you mean, what am I going to say?” I’ve been cleaning all week. I’ve been smiling and sticker-ing for an hour already. I’m wearing heels and a skirt in November. I’ve done my part.
“When you get up to introduce John--” they are all on first name basis with the candidate-- “What are you going to say?”
I make a face like I’m tasting vodka when I expected root beer.
“I didn’t know I needed to say anything...” My voice pitches up an octave.
“Oh, man,” Ian says for the hundreth time today. A tiny spasm roils his eyebrow and he claps a hand to his face. “Well, you have a little time--it’s only a few words.”
“Okay,” I say weakly.
“Super.” says Ian, and vanishes.
My mother, coming through the front door with an economy pack of styrofoam cups in her arms, watches him go.
“Is he all right?” she asks.
I give her a dark look and say nothing. I think I need a cigarette.

I scrawl two drafts of my introduction on the polka-dot notepaper we keep stuck to the fridge for grocery lists. I keep it short, aware that I have to memorize it. Good enough, I decide at last, folding the sheet and putting it in my pocket. I run over and over it in my head as I fold napkins into triangles and fill the sugar bowls and creamers. David and my father are busy hoisting two very elderly nuns through our front door. Channel 9 is setting up in the kitchen.
“I was NOT TOLD that there would be TV presence here,” Kristen says, popping a pill and chasing it with black coffee. “Are you credentialed?”
The cameraman looks unconcerned, shrugs. Of course we’re not set up to hand out press passes. That is the end of that.

It is literally impossible to move anywhere in the entire first floor of my house but somehow Emily finds me, my parents and my siblings.
“Come on outside now,” she says, shoving her way through the crowd. “They just pulled in.”
We are coatless, and it’s bitter cold out. Dark, too. The rental minivan idling in our driveway shows no sign of life.
“Typical,” my father says sourly.
Paul,” my mother says, a one-word reproach.
“Do you want my jacket?” Sarah, a higher-up from the regional office, chirrups for the third time.
“I’m fine,” says my sister, for the third time.
Finally, Edwards gets out of the car and heads up the front walk. His much-discussed hair is, sure enough, perfectly coiffed, and like his expensive shoes at odds with his jeans and blue work shirt. It’s all an act, of course, but we don’t expect otherwise. He shakes hands with all of us, as well as a good number of people who couldn’t fit inside and have been waiting under the window. My mother’s friend Roberta shakes his hand and offers him a brownie, which he politely declines. He shakes my hand, follows me into the house. A microphone is thrust into my hand and somehow I’m standing at the front of my living room, in front of a crowd that Emily estimates at 160.
“Hi, everybody,” I stammer.
“Louder, sweetie,” says a tweedy old man behind me.
“Hi, everybody,” I say, copying Kristen’s perky demeanor to the letter.
“I want to thank you all so much for being here tonight, and thank the amazing campaign staff, my wonderful parents who opened their home for this, and especially Senator John Edwards for taking the time to talk with us tonight. In the age of 24 hour news and instant updates, when it must be pretty tempting to just campaign via satellite, Senator Edwards is here in my living room, taking our questions and shaking our hands. So don’t hold back, ask the tough questions--this is what it’s all about.”
Crowd goes wild. I shake hands with Edwards again, hand off the microphone. I imagine first-time heroin users feel similar.
Edwards does his bit. I remember why I like this guy-- his healthcare plan, his plan for Iraq, his stance on poverty. He takes questions--my aunt, a middle school principal, asks about education. My social studies teachers asks about Iraq. One of my sister’s classmates is making a documentary, and asks why the New Hampshire primary is important.
“Because you do this,” Edwards gushes. “You get informed, you care. And because your opinion is so informed it’s a great way for the rest of the country to size up the candidates. Also, New Hampshirites are down to earth people who don’t shy away from the hard questions and who don’t get fooled by celebrity or empty promises-- and I can’t think of any better place for the first in the nation primary.”
We eat this up, of course. Of course he has to say this, and of course he says much the same thing in Iowa. I don’t care. (Edwards kindly doesn’t mention that our first-in-the-nation status is pretty much all we’ve got going for us.) I know I’m being suckered, but my heart swells a little just the same. I let it happen. Cynicism is one thing, having a presidential candidate—a celebrity, really—in your living room is quite another. The few people who have been sitting leap to their feet, and there is universal and deafening approval. Everyone likes to hear that they’re special.
On that note, Edwards ducks out, stopping on the stairwell to pose with my rosy ten-month old cousin Lilly.
The house empties fast now, the line of cars that extended up the street dwindles. I answer reporters’ questions in a daze, and they vanish just as quickly. It is nearly eleven by the time we are cleaned up, and the campaign staffers sent home with foil packets of brownies and finger sandwiches. I know I won’t be able to sleep for hours yet; the buzz hasn’t worn off. The next morning I will sleep through physics and most of orchestra, but I don’t care.
I head to bed anyway, and I lie awake for at least an hour. Despite myself, I’m maybe getting just a touch of TB. I find myself imagining an Edwards win in the primary, then the general election. I’d be able to watch him giving the State of the Union address and tell people that he was once standing in my living room. And the idea is too seductive to resist.

(To be Continued)

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