Stuff Gets Political

Week 72

Stuff Gets Political

First things first:

I apologize for last week’s post. Not the content, mind you, but my writing thereof. It was not my best. As I reread I know it is not. So might those few of you ( “We Few, We Happy Few”) who read

And it certainly was not nearly all I felt and continue to feel.

I expect I am still processing.

The most I can say now, and will go on saying, is that this is not the world I expected in my youth, nor the one I invited three children to when I bore them. That world will take some fighting for. So let’s begin.

Chapter Sixteen

The Town Hall

Crowds are a human contact sport that I prefer to avoid. As to your question, yes, I have had a little experience of people and an entryway. Usually, the bodies have always been packed in and, in too many cases, smelt like sour pickles.

My clearest memories of being in a crowd approach nightmare status when I recall surviving the sweat and drug store perfumed crush between classes in high school, and then much the same nasal offense in the miasma of business school. However, living as I have for the last ten years, I have not at all missed the body-to-body pressure they entail.

Yes, the CPF could be said to be crowded, but it is a different kind of humans massing altogether. Some funerals do draw people that trample grass and graves in two or more sections, but that invasion lasts two hours at most. Afterwards, there may be stragglers, but little more. The residents themselves do not go in for gatherings on a regular basis. Ghosts don’t clump the way the living seem inclined to do in front of what they believe will be a “show.” Vampires may be found in groups, or (for the purists)basements, but they move so fast that, unless you’re on the menu for the night, any group of them have little or no impact beyond a cold whoosh of blood-scented wind.

For myself, I had lived alone for years and I preferred it. Though I will admit, lately I had a strong desire to extend that living arrangement for one more human, but that was taking some time, some patience and a new avenue of persuasion that I had yet to devise.

I watched Charlie fuss around the kitchen. I groaned inside when he came out with the “most important meal of the day” mantra my grandmother intoned when I refused cereal and milk. At least, Charlie was cooking. More eggs and bacon. My grandmother would do a horizontal triple Lutz if she knew he’d kept the bacon in her refrigerator.But he was cooking and giving me time to think.

He left me alone to eat as best I could when a twittering sound came from his front jeans pocket. He drew out a smart phone and caressed it to stop the sound.

“Since when-?” I began.

He put a finger on his lips and moved towards the back porch, where he put on his muddy boots and walked towards the garage.

I wolfed down the eggs before I followed him as far as the porch.

The conversation did not go well, it seemed. Charlie’s brows drew together and his lips pulled tight. And his voice took on a knife’s edge when he responded, “No, no, no! That’s not what we agreed on, Rudy! Five grand and no less! No, that’s unacceptable! I can go elsewhere, you know that?” He stared up at the sky and a passing cloud. His foot tapped in the dust. “Yeah, I’ve got expenses, too, Grogan! Get your head out of your ass and stick to the agreement.” Charlie stabbed at the phone with his index finger. He kicked at some gravel in the driveway before looking up at me.

“Some people,” I offered. “Bad deal?”

He missed not one beat. “Friend of mine, offered to do some maintenance on my car. You know, belts and stuff, for a discount. Now he wants to jack up the price.”

“Some friend.” I smiled, striking what I hoped was a hip-out, hand flexed coquettish pose. “So, now that you have a new phone, do I get your number?”

He grinned. “We’ll see. Go eat your breakfast.

The time of the town hall meeting did puzzle me a little. Eight-thirty in the evening in June was just before sunset. A strange time for a big political to-do on a weeknight. I wondered who exactly Spaccone thought he had targeted with that time. The “early birds” at the Genesee restaurants would be home and sleeping in front of the television by then. Families with children would have most of them in bed or wanting a second story or drink of water.

Charlie served me breakfast and a sharp order to eat while it was hot before I made any sense of these things.

Varney and Trumbull had come and mowed again. I had not requested it, but it was not unheard of for the union secretary to pencil in mowing as a regular appointment. The mowers would arrive and make their mess unless I requested otherwise, though I never requested such an understanding.

I dragged Charlie out to help me with cleaning the headstones. He collected a half-bucket of gravel and some fresh mud from Section H (I didn’t want to tell him some of our human nightwalkers used that ditch along the south side for an impromptu urinal), and then worked it together with some of the sand in Section C to reseat Old Sharpe’s headstone.

“One less reason to stay home tonight,” I told him. He groaned and started to dig at his “cement” with the trowel. “Don’t. Dealing with Old Sharpe is a whole lot worse than any meeting.”

He claimed the right to an afternoon nap, while I saw to the piled-up paperwork and phone messages. I could not, however, get the timing of the meeting off my mind.

I had to have suffered a mid-afternoon malaise because it took me several minutes to realize the meeting would be held on a Wednesday night. Sayresville was home to the largest number of Protestant churches per capita. Churches like Faithful Servants and about a dozen other congregations who howled in newspapers and on their marquees about the need to return to family (read, “biblical”) values would hold services until eight o’clock. The high school sat on five acres of land not thirty minutes from any one of those churches.

Somebody had actually thought this through.

And I would have bet my life and one of Charlie’s big toes – especially the left one with the really ugly nail – that Ambr’ and her ladies would attend.

Dinner had to be delivery pizza, minus the meat toppings. My stomach still had complaints about the bacon from the morning. Charlie rolled his eyes at the vegetables on the pizza. “Now you owe me,” he said.

Public school boards renovate or remodel their schools to keep up with “the times” (translation: legislative ideas, hunches and well-heeled parental wish lists). This is how they justify hikes in property taxes. Which also keeps the legislators happy and the school board happy for representing such a “prosperous and progressive” school district, the parents happy for having the “best” school and, in fact, keeps everybody else happy that does not have the tax loopholes to avoid paying the increased tax.

The first hike in my memory and concern as a property owner came when Sayresville and Mansfield consolidated into the Sayresville building. This required extensions, renovations and all that entailed, including trailers for classrooms over a period of two calendar years. The whole joining and accommodating of two school populations took nearly four years with annual one to two mil hikes in taxes. Five years ago, the school needed a new roof, preferably one with a sharp-stone surface that discouraged spring semester seniors from cutting class to go up top to sunbathe. Three years ago, the wiring to accommodate the metal detectors and computers required upgrading.

The cause of last year’s hike hit us in the nose as I dragged myself and Charlie through the glass door in front of the gym. The cinder block walls bore a fresh coat of glossy, white paint from the entrance hallway right into the gymnasium. Lockers down the classroom halls sported new coats of forest green paint. These would remain glossy and impressive until the third or fourth week of classes when student graffiti and other damage would add “character.”

The crowd in front of the freshly painted metal doors (also forest green) to the gymnasium filled perhaps two-thirds of the lobby. Two rather large men, both with shaved heads gleaming in the fluorescent light and dressed in black from their tee shirts and blazers to their athletic shoes corralled the people into two lines. Each man stopped a supporter at the front of the line for the requisite screening.

“Who do you suppose is paying for them?” Charlie murmured into my ear.

“Better be the campaign. The school board made a huge stink about having no money left after the painting and teachers’ salaries.”

“No chance the candidate would foot the bill,” Charlie said.

I shook my head. “I think I read somewhere that Spaccone’s been out of public office for years. I think he was commissioner of something in some little town without a lifetime pension. He’s running on contributions only.”

“More little old ladies losing their savings, right?”

I grinned, but said nothing. The swarm moved a half-step at a time. Fitting my body into the mass of people, elbows in my sides, shoe toes kicking my heels, left my mouth dry, my nerves abraded.

No one else seemed impatient, despite the slow pace of those admitted from the outside, however. Among the tightly packed swarm, I saw some with pre-printed, blazing red, pro-Spaccone signs tucked under arms. Several more clutched signs that were homemade, but pro-Spaccone nonetheless. I thought I caught a glimpse of an ice blue Kluzky sign, but it may have been an oversized designer purse with white detail. I did not trust my sight in that hot, over-perfumed herd of humanity.

“Got your answers ready?” Charlie said into my ear. Even with turn-out looking smaller than I’d pictured, the conversation hammered at our ears.

“How can I answer that when I don’t know what they are going to ask me?”

“Whoops! That couple had the wrong answer!” He pointed to a couple in their mid-forties with homemade “Elect Spaccone” signs. The men in black waved them towards the exit doors. The woman looked to me to be in tears.

“Only the pure of heart,” I said.

“Or the simple of mind,” Charlie agreed. He took hold of my waist from behind and pulled me close.

The bald man in black on the left stopped us. “You a registered voter in this county?” he intoned with a somewhat bored expression.

“Yes, we both are,” I said. He blinked, mentally ticking off the question from his list.

Before he could get the next question out, Charlie jumped into the conversation. “Man, we could use some of those lawn signs you have for our business. We’re small business owners and is it ever disgusting how many of the store fronts have signs up for that lyin’ Kluzky. Do you think we could get some signs?”

The man blinked, recalculating. Or recalibrating. “Sure.” He fished out a card from his blazer pocket. “Call the office and they’ll mail you some. Window signs, too?”

“Naw,” Charlie said as he pushed me into the gym. “We’re all lawn.”

Safe inside and across the gym floor from the men in black, the knot in my shoulders loosened. I looked at Charlie with no little admiration. “’Lyin’ Kluzky’?” I teased.

He shrugged. “They all lie.” He started to lift me up some bleacher steps.

It was a routine assembly-style setup for the town hall: bleachers on either side of the playing floor pulled out and one-third full. Some folding chairs on tarps on the playing floor divided into ninety-nine percent of the chairs facing the stage at one end and the four or five others facing the ninety-nine percent, with a wireless microphone resting on the center chair facing the crowd.

The folding chairs facing the stage were nearly full. The rest of us abused our backs by filling up perhaps a quarter of the bleacher space.

“Only thing missing is the high school band,” I said.

Charlie had already compromised his posture. He leaned forward with his elbows resting on his knees and his fingers laced and hanging between his legs. “Nah, school let out a couple weeks ago. Band camp won’t start for another two weeks.”

“You were in Band?”

“Four years.” He turned his head to look me in the eye. I believe I was grinning. “You tell anybody, though, and your ass is grass.”

“As long as you’re doing the mowing.”

“Who else?”

“I dunno. The union keeps sending Varney and Trumbull – “ He groaned and slapped my knee.

“See anybody you know?” Charlie again.

“Huh?”

“Haven’t you looked around at who’s here and who’s not?”

I shook my head again. Living alone did have its drawbacks. Excuse the expression, but it deadens me to some of the “natural” response that those who still have pulses and/or brain activity (admit it, some of us have one or the other, but not both) demonstrate in similar gatherings. They come in, seek out their seats even if they are unassigned; there are people who claim particular locations as theirs, like the mourners jockeying for most visible by the family position at the graveside. Then they scour the crowd for familiar faces to wave at and persuade the bodies to move closer. You probably have seen it, but I have only vague memories my grandparents doing attending church or shul or concerts or plays, where everyone else who lives among the living are all doing much the same thing.

For myself I’d always been more interested in the walls. Or the grass, trees, flowers, insects and other critters if the function was held outside. Here in my old gymnasium, the new paint smell burned my nose even more than in the lobby. I looked around the shiny white walls. They (whoever the “they” was who repainted schools) had included a remake of the “portrait” of the school mascot on the wall opposite the stage in their redecorating. He was still a doll sort of man with a squarish head, black oval eyes pinched into a scowl, no nose and a manic grin. He stood in a crimson tunic with greaves and a silver and crimson helmet with his bared, bodybuilder arm thrusting high a silver sword. What was new was that the mascot carried a crimson Roman scutum over his, well, scrotum. He was quite the little centurion. One might call the depiction a little awkward, considering that the school nickname was the Trojans.

“Is Ambr’ here?”

I shook my head. “Sun hasn’t set yet. She’d have to send a delegation.”

“And how would she do that? Do vampires have phones?”

“These days, I have no doubt. Might be a cell phone she took from one of her meals. She could have told the church ladies that she couldn’t take personal calls at work, so they probably set it all up over the last couple of nights.”

“So she takes the cell phone while she’s hunting?” Charlie made a sour face. “That’s cold.”

“Or the ladies leave a message and Ambr’ picks them up when she gets back from feeding and leaves messages for the ladies. She’s got this story about caring for an invalid mother going with them.”

“Yeah, but how does she charge the phone? Did she steal the charger cord, too?”

“Ambr’ does nothing by halves.”

He offered me a grin. “What do you suppose she has for a ringtone?”

I gave him a teeth-baring grin of my own. “We can always go down into the crypt after this business and listen.” His grin faded.

“Not funny, Grace.”

Nor was most of the town hall meeting.

Spaccone arrived “fashionably late,” after he’d kept the assembled supporters waiting twenty minutes in a gymnasium without air conditioning. He scampered to the front of the folding chairs. He chose the “man of the people” outfit of a decent, summer weight gray suit with an open neck red dress shirt and red athletic shoes. He looked over the crowd with as if he expected someone to pop him a basketball.

I thought from the first glance that the cartoonist had been kind in depicting him as a weasel. He had the rodent face, the black eyes and long snout with minimal lips. However, his salt-and-pepper hair stood up in all directions as if he’d gelled it to resemble the results of passing through a wind tunnel. Furthermore, I am not familiar with the sounds a weasel may make, but when Spaccone spoke, it took me several minutes of hard listening to realize that, yes, he was speaking American English with a Bronx accent, and yes, he did have opinions he wanted to share.

And he shared them. Most of those opinions rehashed his publicized litany of the need for a “return to family values and fairness,” the sad state of our State and, going from the general to the specific, Kluzky’s dishonesty and malfeasance in every office Kluzky ever held. I heard or understood little as to what Spaccone would have done differently or what he intended to do differently if elected.

Spaccone added in a number of criticisms of the other public figures and news broadcasters who had voiced their criticisms of him. He skirted outright profanity or sexual insults in his responses to the criticism, but he left no doubt that, in his mind,”You know what Kluzky and those bozos who think they know so much are? They’re dog turds and it’s time we scraped ‘em off into the garbage where they belong.”

Not even the reference to dog feces seems to matter to the assembled citizens of Sayresville. Those in the folding chairs rose up, cheered, whooped and applauded with every insult he tendered his opponent and critics. Those on the bleachers applauded and hooted, too, but I think most were afraid that the stand-up, sit-down part of support their candidate was not advisable on the decades-old bleachers.

Spaccone spoke, or rather harangued those who did not support him for fifteen minutes. Then I heard, “Now I’d like to answer your questions.” Hands and voices shot up immediately and he had to shout both down in a plea that included, “Jesus Christ, folks!” to let him choose one at a time.

The first chosen one asked about property taxes and what Spaccone would do to lower them. He called it a local issue, but said he’d look into it.

Next came a question his support or non-support of stricter gun control laws, to general booing.

Spaccone grinned. “Anybody here packing tonight?” A general chorus of “No!” answered him. He shrugged. “Sounds like enough gun control to me.”

A tidy block of mostly men on the far right of the folding chairs gave him a two-minute, whooping and standing ovation. Spaccone beamed.

“Yes, let’s hear from this lovely young lady here,” he said once the block reseated itself.

I caught a glimpse of a single-strand pearl necklace under a white halo’d hair. When she stood a little unsteadily, I saw the variegated yellow sweater set and painful lemon of a skirt. One of the bouncers rushed a second wireless microphone over to her. No doubt he trod on a few feet because it took him some time. Even Spaccone looked impatient.

“Mr. Capone,” Naomi began.

“Spaccone, ma’am,” the bouncer hissed and Spaccone said into his microphone.

“That’s right,” Naomi said. “Spaccone.” She paused, looked down at her feet with her jaw working. Then she raised her head again and resumed. “I represent the Mothers in Pearls of the Faithful Servants Church here in Sayresville.”

“I know the good work you all do,” the candidate broke in.

(“Then he knows more about them than anybody does,” I said to Charlie.)

“I doubt you do know,” Naomi countered. “We haven’t started our work yet. However, we are putting together a petition and would like to have your support.”

“And what is the petition for?” Not knowing this candidate’s facial expressions very well, I had to guess that the twisting lips and clenching cheek muscles, along with rapid lip-licking meant Spaccone had started to calculate risks and benefits of whatever Naomi had to propose. Then again, he might have had Ian’s tic problem, too.

“We want to repeal the 19th Amendment and any other legislation that insults women by making them equal to men!”

You may have noticed in large gatherings like this, there is a consistent, simmering hum. People simply cannot sit in that close proximity to each other without muttered conversations, coughing, or some other form of general, inarticulate noise that holds the dreaded silence at bay. Well, Naomi’s statement brought in the silence, complete and terrible as it usually is.

Spaccone had lost all human color from his face. “I-I beg your pardon?”

Naomi regarded him as if he were rather stupid. “Women don’t need to vote! They don’t need equal access to education and sports and all that tommyrot! That’s the man’s sphere of influence. Has been since the days of Adam and Eve! A woman has a higher responsibility than running a marathon or running the world.” “A-And that is?”

Naomi sniffed, a huge, long, snort of contempt. “To maintain morality for the men and preserve the human species!”

The crowd’s hum hardened to a simmer, then voices bubbled up with, “Sit down, you crazy old bitch!” and “Are you nuts?” and “How the fuck did you get in here?”

Spaccone recovered. He waved down the naysaying voices. He reached up to straighten his tie, then remembered he wasn’t wearing one. He cleared his throat. “Ma’am, that certainly is a unique point of view.” He batted down some more derisive laughter. “Why don’t you ‘Mothers’ send me a copy of your petition and I’ll certainly look it over and see what I can do.”

“Sell-out!” a voice from the gun block shouted.

Hum rose to a rolling boil, then fell off again as Naomi sat down, head bowed. I expected she was out of breath or praying or both.

“One more question,” Spaccone announced once the calming hum resumed.

A man stood. He looked remarkably like one of the screeners at the door, except that he would have had to have traded his black blazer for a red flannel shirt, which no one in Sayresville would have worn in the humidity of early June. He held out a meaty hand for the microphone.

“I hate politics and I hate politicians,” he announced. I smiled. I had that man’s card in my back pocket and I was sitting on it. The gun-supporting block muttered a “That’s right!” and other sounds of support, so he went on. “Those bastards in the State Capitol have been taking our money for years and doing nothing for the little guy.” More support.

“He’s not what I would call a ‘little guy,’” Charlie said. Damn the crowd and damn his pace, I wanted to kiss him!

“What I want to know is,” the plant continued, “what are you gonna do about those folks in Albany who call themselves legislators? Highway robbers is what they are!”

Talk about feeding your guy a line. Spaccone’s face exploded in a snarl. He made a fist with his free hand and raised it as well as the microphone. Then he screamed. Yes, a candidate for State Legislature in New York State screamed. “I’m gonna take a baseball bat to the whole lotta them! I hate politics, too, and, man, am I angry about it!”


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