Monday, April 19, 2010

Familiarity Breeds Contretemps

Across from the McCall Veterans Memorial I sit, awaiting the impending Tea Party demonstration with a NASCAR enthusiast’s thirst for disaster. It’s five o’ clock, and there is to be a protest here to commemorate and vilify Tax Day, according to a roughly 35-word flier that misspelled “Veterans.” McCall has a relatively robust Democrat/liberal contingency--of the all but three counties that went to McCain in 2008, Valley County is one of a handful in which the margins were less than double digits--but this is still Idaho. The nearby back country Secesh area was named as a nod to Southern secessionists. A robust turnout would not be surprising.

Yet the space is empty. Further complicating matters, my computer battery is dead, depriving me any chance to real-time blog the proceedings. I retreat into a neighboring bistro to charge said battery. Across the street four people talk amongst themselves. Could this be it?

I return some twenty minutes later, and their numbers have doubled. I see them cross the street, expecting them to make their stand, but instead they spend time reading the names on the memorial. Pacing the sidewalk, I consider an approach. It becomes obvious hovering from a distance will do me no good and makes me look creepy and suspicious besides-—if there’s one thing paranoiacs do not need, it’s validation of their fears—-and so I cross the street with a pad of paper and pen in hand, digital camera in my pocket.

The demographics are the usual Tea Party brew of white, aging, and angry. The timbre of the participants’ speech is one of indignant agitation, and there is a man in white and sky blue stripes glaring at me with an expression inhabiting the somewhere twixt a scowl and sneer. On the periphery sits a man who often reads his Bible at the coffee shop at which I work, characteristically silent.

The group’s de facto leader, so distinguished by the clipboard in his hand, asks me if I’m a Tea Partier. I’m not.

“Who do you represent?” No one but myself, I say, truthfully. He points out the notebook and pen, and I tell him it’s just for my personal blog.

Satisfied for now, he returns to the conversation under way before my arrival, saying to the others off-handedly that he is a former Republican. This is slightly interesting if only for the word ‘former,’ but he then proceeds into depressingly familiar territory, veneration of Sarah Palin, who “won’t take anything from anybody.” The sky blue scowler continues his vigil, and a man crosses over and takes a seat next to me.

“Did any of you watch Glenn Beck last night?” a woman asks. Sounding most incensed, she reports that federal government employees will have to accept the health care plan. “How many of them are actually going to?” She then starts talking about Amendment 28, which subsequent Googling reveals to be an amendment to the United States Constitution under consideration—by which I mean it is the basis of some internet petitions—which reads thus:

Congress shall make no law that applies to any citizen of the United States that does not apply equally to all US Senators and Representatives. Congress shall make no law that applies to any US Senator or Representative that does not apply equally to all citizens of the United States. All existing laws and regulations that do not meet these criteria shall be declared null and void!

The exclamation mark would be a first for the Constitution.

After invoking an amendment that would reiterate what is already law, the woman intones, to someone who does not have nor want insurance, “They can get in your bank account, buddy.”

The conversation pivots to the subject of the present gathering. The clipboard bearer notes, ruefully, that the guy who organized this didn’t even show up. “It’s hard to make a change with six-to-eight people.” I’m reminded of the first protest I ever took part in, against the impending Iraq war back in early 2003: sparely attended, cold, and for bad measure situated next to some goofy, vaguely sexual bear statues downtown. A concerned citizen drove by yelling, “Burn Iraq!!!” Passersby here and now are thus far indifferent. It’s hard to say which is worse.

The man sitting next to me strikes up a conversation by asking my political affiliation. Nominally Democrat, I tell him. He says he was unhappy with the lack of transparency in the health care legislation, how nobody knew what was in the bill. I respond that they had posted the bills before the votes, and he parries with the claim that none of them read the bill. Congressmen have staffs to do that, I say. He admits he hasn’t read a lot about it.

He says people should live within their means. Who, I asked. Individuals? State government? Federal?


Well the thing with the stimulus package, the whole reasoning behind it, is that in a downturn no one is spending, the economy is slowed, and so only the federal government can deficit spend in order to stimulate the economy until it’s back on its feet again.

He admits he hasn’t read a lot about it.

We start talking local. I size him up. He is middle-aged and modestly dressed, his Napa Auto Parts hat being the most remarkable part of his wardrobe. I introduce myself.

“Oh, you’re Gail’s son!” My mother’s reputation precedes me.

I tell him I graduated here in 2004. He hasn't been involved in the high school for years, though, and so he doesn’t think he knows anyone from my class. I throw out a few names of classmates that come from a similar background. Sure enough, he knows their fathers, went to school with one of them in fact. He has a daughter who had graduated here, but that was years before. She’s parked on the curb and is coming out to see him. They chat lightly. The Amendment 28 lady walks up and joins the conversation.

“It’s not much of a turnout.”

“At Crusty’s [Pizza] there’s going to be a celebration for passing health care reform. Who would be celebrating that?” I should mention my friend whose house just this morning caught fire, who had to be flown to Salt Lake City for treatment after he burned his hands and feet when he went back in and unsuccessfully tried to save his dog, who doesn’t have health insurance. But I don’t.

Amendment 28 starts inquiring of my background.

“Do you work?” Well, yeah. “Where?” Right over there, actually. I point across to the coffee shop where I had been sitting at the beginning of this.

“Oh, the Fogglifter! I haven’t been in yet.”

“You should,” The man’s daughter says. “The food’s great. The owner, Steve, is so nice.” This is the first time I’ve gotten a look at her, and I recognize her as the gal who does our inventory at work. I saw her just a couple hours ago during closing.

Amendment 28 notices my Albertson College shirt. “Oh, Albertson! I went there. Years ago, back before they changed the name. That was what first brought me out here.”

The group coalesces around Clipboard. I say something, ask something, and he stiffens. “Why should I talk to you? You’re not from around here.” Well, yeah, I am, I stammer, except for the last five years—except for five years, I’ve lived here since 1990.

“Yeah? Who are you?”

I introduce myself.

A collective “Ohhh” follows. My mother’s not even a Republican.

A car pulls up, and out of it steps a muscled man with red short-cropped hair and goatee, in sunglasses and a white T-Shirt that says God, Guns, and Guts Made America, and I realize Marilyn Manson was serious when he said he got his “Do you love your guns, god, and government?” lyric from a bumper sticker.

I take out my camera, to take a picture amongst the group, since their numbers have grown, if slightly. Clipboard tells me he’s not having his picture taken.

Guts says he has signs, to everyone’s delight. ‘Everyone’ includes me, for inflammatory political rhetoric is like pornography: the intended audience gets off on it while everyone else is by turns appalled and amused. Guts’ wife (I assume) obliges us, coming forward with a pug—-a blight on doghood that offends nature by requiring a Caesarian Section to enter this world—-with paper signs reading “Liberty” and “Or Death” attached to the sides of its harness, offending good taste and PETA in one go.

Accordingly the dog shakes free of its harness and attempts to escape its predicament.

Guts plants an “IRS FAIR TAX” sign in the grass, earning a honk, and brings out a couple flags, American and Gadsden, which Amendment 28 and Clipboard hoist skyward. They get a friendly honk from a passing car.

More talk:

“…Do you guys know about Ron Paul?”

“He’s a libertarian that runs as a Republican.”

“His son Rand is running in, Virginia, I think?” Kentucky, I correct him. At this point I’m not sure if disclosing the fact I interviewed Ron Paul for exactly a minute and twenty seconds two years ago would engender admiration or fierce jealousy.

“…Is this affiliated with the Boise Tea Party?”

“…We’re going to get more rallies going, get people elected.”

It’s nearing six o’ clock, and I have to meet someone to celebrate our having successfully indoctrinated a class of fifth graders into the liberal joys of theatre, so I ask Clipboard if I can ask him a few questions.

“Sure,” he answers.

I thought I heard you say your name was, Dan?

“Dennis. Dennis _______”

And you said you’re a former Republican.

“Was. But they don’t care, they just all scratch each others’ backs.”

What is the purpose of this rally, what are your specific grievances?

“Government.” Silence ensues. “Simple as that. It’s out of control, it’s too big.”

Any specific policies?

“It’ll be a hard road. Start over. Start all over.” I wonder, not aloud, if this is before or after they get people elected.

I thank him for his time. My business now finished, I put my pen and paper pad away and walk toward the road. Behind me, Dennis calls out.

“Tell your mom I said hi.”


  1. Wonderful post, Ben.

    I'd expect no less from you. Miss you face.


  2. Thanks for taking the time to do this.