Smile Politely

Evading the Debate

Instead of watching the debate, I went outside for a smoke. The thing is, I don’t smoke, but I have been trying to start and it was quite pleasant.

As I practiced exhaling, I composed a letter in my head to the News-Gazette about “fairness.” People have been complaining that their letters column is unfair.

“There were ten letters for Obama,” someone griped, “and only one for McCain.”

Well, I thought. Maybe that is all the letters they received. Should they have printed just one of the Obama letters to make things even? Say they had received ten letters for Sarah Palin and no letters for Joe Biden. Should they not have printed any letters at all, to make things balanced? My answer: yes. I think so. No more letters. Especially letters about Sarah Palin.

Then I thought of another letter to write, a letter complaining about all those bad letters. Ungrammatical letters. Midwestern-style letters, the kind I call “it’s not the hate, it’s the stupidity” letters. Enough.

Suddenly, we’re about to become a socialist country. Welfare for the fabulously wealthy. Everybody says it is necessary. But who cares? Let them have all the money. Money is just a burden. Those yacht-obsessed idiots don’t appreciate anything. They throw money and call it a party. They have no aesthetic sense. They squint and squint and try to understand, but it only makes sense to them if it costs a lot of money. Then they understand. Then they say, isn’t this wonderful!

When, all the time, the most glorious and light-infused magic was passing right beneath their eyes, unnoticed, their vision blinded by their collected and invested mountains of green printed linen.

The debate was still going on. I went to the back yard to take a nap. I’m old now. I take naps. I dreamed I — moi! — was being interviewed by Katie Couric. We were surrounded by bright lights and the interview seemed to be going well, but as I stood up, the leather chair I was sitting on kind of squeaked, and Couric assured me, “That’s OK,” and I tried to tell her, “No, it’s not what you think…” But it was too late. The whole world was watching. Then I woke up. True story.

I could hear the droning, arguing, stuttering, grandstanding and dissembling still going on from the television inside.

With more time to kill, I reviewed the events of the week. There was a car chase down my street, the one-block-long Wood Street near downtown Urbana that nobody knows exists. It’s one of the twin cities’ best kept secrets. Anyway, at 7 a.m., one of the neighbors was visited by two men in a green sedan. He jumped into his little white car and the two cars sped along, one chasing the other, bashing the sides of other parked cars, perhaps shooting at each other (the rear window of the white car got blown out), and knocking down and smashing the old granite street lamp and street sign. Now even fewer people will be able to find Wood Street.

The cars kept squealing around the block. The tire came off a car and rolled down the street. You can see the rim marks scratched in zigzags down the streets and sidewalks. I called 911 and stood outside watching them try to kill each other and themselves. The white car started careening down the alley towards me, narrowly missing the dumpsters.

“Where is the car now?” the respondent at 911 asked.

“Coming right towards me,” I said.

“Move,” he said.

Eventually, the police caught them all. Nothing appeared in the paper. Maybe I should write a letter.

Why am I writing a column for Smile Politely? Didn’t I retire from this sort of thing years ago? What did Jesus write? Nothing. He let other people do his grunt work. What did Lao-tse write? He didn’t even write those 81 verses attributed to him. That was somebody else, too.

Who would be my audience? I already write my poker buddies an email synopsis of the game every week. That should be enough to satisfy me, shouldn’t it?

Who really cares if I spent all last week listening to My Bloody Valentine’s brilliant and improbably gorgeous 1991 album of distortion, Loveless, over and over and over again? The Reluctant Townie, maybe? Naaah. I don’t think so.

I love reading the Townie’s exploits. It’s amazing how people his age think they are inventing the wheel. It’s like Joe Biden said about Obama. You’re so clean and new and spotless and squeaky. Everything excites you. Really, we older people get the biggest kick out of that.

I stuck my head in the door.

“Is the debate over yet?” I yelled, blowing a stream of invisible smoke. “Who won?”

Illustration by Eduardo Mascorro

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