I am a unicorn. There, I said it. I’m going to make some confessions here that will shock you. Some won’t make it past the next paragraph. That’s fine. I have a complicated relationship with politics. I think a lot of us do. I’d love to say I’ve been a lifelong progressive, but that would be a lie. Over the decades, I have evolved many times in my beliefs and practices. In fact, I think it’s more important to evolve than to be consistent.
My first flirtation with politics came at a very early age. As a child, and this is no bullshit, my first man-crush was on Ronald Reagan. I’m not talking about his policies. Lord knows I was a clueless preteen, and later a stupendously hedonistic teenager. But gotdam that man had charisma. Folks who are not of the Boomer or Gen X generations will never understand the impression Uncle Ronnie had on young people before he became POTUS. In my earliest memories, Ronnie was a lovable cowboy and likable Governor of California. On the old black-and-white TV, I hung on his every word, even though I didn’t understand the implications of what he was saying. I remember being outraged by his loss in 1976 to Jimmy Carter. When I cast my first vote from Marine Corps boot camp, you better believe it was for Uncle Ronnie. So you can go ahead blame me for the last forty years of our descent into conservative hell.
This might not be my most outrageous admission. I won’t mind if you stop reading now. In fact I’ve probably just lost credibility with a lot of people.
The 80s were a blur for me. I can barely remember the Bush Senior presidency and the intervening years. It’s safe to say that I was a Grade A, genuine (rhymes with wine) fuckup. There is no other way to describe me. I was pretty much out of control. Blur might be putting it mildly. Around 1990, I had a serious fall from grace and moved back home to Columbus with my tail between my legs. This started a chain of events that eventually led me to where I am today. It all started with a newspaper ad.
I was unemployed, un-moored and uninspired. But the one thing I’ve always been good at is finding a job. Back then I put it down to luck. These days, I have no problem blaming white privilege for this ability. I can bullshit on a resume like nobody’s business. I’m also a world class talker. But I’m sure it helped that I clean up well, have lily-white skin, and even when alcohol infused, I’m an untapped wealth of trivial knowledge. So, I answered this ad. It was for a community organizer. I had no idea what this meant. At the time I was politically unaware. This was before the internet came along to change everything.
I was like a sponge. All the years of going to concerts, chasing women and drinking everything in sight had left me as a blank slate. I’ve always loved people and I LOVED the hippies that I worked with. I was a monster on the doors, talking to folks about toxic waste and utility company rip-offs. I could talk people into anything. I once joked that I could “canvass McDonald’s into buying Whoppers.” It was during this period that I fell for the second great love of my life. (I skipped over the first because she’s my one great regret and the source of my life-long self-loathing).
That year was idyllic. I was a fierce advocate on the doors. I had the fire in my eyes of a true believer. I trained dozens to do the same as me. At home I was nesting. There was no doubt in my mind that we would “social justice” our way to a picturesque life that you read about in the classics. But my belief was fragile and my ego more so. When she left me, I was once again unhinged. Picture a spinning top that has lost its grip on gravity and wanders drunkenly to its inevitable crash. I sank into the loving arms of my misery.
What followed was a twenty-year interlude. You could say I was retired from politics. I went through another descent into the madness of self-doubt. I landed in the service industry, where jobs are always plentiful for guys who look, talk and think like me. Target was starting to blow up nationwide and I hopped on the rocket. That lasted about five years.
After that, I had a brief stop at CompuServe, which back when it was the OG of the online world. I spent two years there. It was during that time that I went from being a computational luddite to a computer nerd. Better still, I became a Mac nerd. From the time they financed my first computer, it took me ten weeks to write my first novel, the one that shall never be read. Ten weeks, 100,000 words. Let that sink in. I climbed onboard the information superhighway in 1996, and I’ve been addicted ever since.
After CompuServe was sold and broken into pieces, I had my pick of low-level tech jobs. So, what did I do? I went to bartending school. I remember sitting in my car, talking to Benny, the guy who supplied the jobs, and he gave me two leads. It was literally a coin flip on which number to call. I chose heads. I landed at an airport, serving drinks at seven a.m. to folks traveling to Las Vegas. Within two weeks, I’d met the third love of my life. She was a recent immigrant from Africa and ten times smarter than I ever was. I fell love with her mind as much her face. But her family was a huge problem, and when she eventually left me, I felt that familiar falling sensation. My professionalism crumbled. When they finally let me go, I marked it as one of the best days of my professional life. The relief was tangible, like a ghost in the room. How pathetic is that?
Next, I went on a meandering journey that took me to New York City on 9/11 to Huntington, NY, where the rich folks live, to the upper middle-class enclave of Dublin, Ohio and finally to The Hilltop, Columbus, Ohio. Each location was a step down the economic ladder, and the jobs reflected that as well. I performed every function from cook to server to bartender to general manager. I loved these jobs, for a time. I thought I was good at them, for a time. The fact that I lasted so long in each is a mystery to me. Five years here, four years there, two years, five years, two years. When I finally decided to pull the plug on this chapter of my life, I was working as a delivery driver on the Hilltop. I should have asked for combat pay. If you live in Columbus, you know I’m lucky to be alive.
During this two decades of foundering, I became the unicorn that I am now. I’d never been a Democrat or Republican. Now I became a party of one. Let’s call it the Contrarian Party. I voted in every election except 2000. My votes in 1992 and 1996 were protest votes. My votes for Perot and Nader were a direct result of my disgust in the corrupt system. I hated Bill Clinton. (Much like Carter, I’ve since seen the error of my ways). In fact, until that ill-fated night in 2016, I boasted often that “I had never voted for a Bush OR a Clinton.” And yes, even when I spoke the words, I capitalized the OR. It explains where I am today, but I’ll get to that later.
That all came to a halt in 2004. I volunteered with the League of Young Voters during the Kerry campaign. It wasn’t Kerry the man who inspired me, it was the youthful vigor of my compatriots, some of whom are still friends today. The idea of social justice that was planted in my mind way back in 1990 began creeping in, like fresh blood reanimating a desiccated vampire. I even went so far as to drive to DC to protest the third Bush inauguration. I could write a whole post about that weekend. Maybe I will someday. Kerry folded like a cheap suit, but I firmly believe it set the stage for what happened next. I was still in the throes of restaurant hell, but it was all beginning to wind down.
We all know what happened in 2008. Despite my excitement, I was regretfully silent during this campaign. Sure, I voted, and I talked up Obama every chance I got. His win was one of the happiest nights of my life. As my restaurant career wound down, my political re-awakening was stoking up. The election in 2010 would be last I would sit on the sidelines for a long time. But yes, I was still a unicorn…
To be continued…