The man appeared to be in his 50s. He had a drinker’s rosy nose and watery eyes as he emerged from a bar in the strip mall where I had my field command post for voter registration and petitions entrenched: two folding chairs, a small table, a ration of coffee in a thermos and my lunch in a sack, plus a big dish brimming with wrapped taffy as bait for grownups with sugar powered kids in tow.
I recognized the man for what he was: an alcoholic. Social drinkers are not half blitzed at ten o’clock in the morning. I know. I wasn’t a social drinker either, and I can spot a kindred spirit at 50 feet on a clear sober day. I snipered his attention as he made eye contact and asked if he was a registered voter.
“No, I hate politics,” he said, emitting a fog of 80-proof breath. My nose told he was a scotch drinker, and not the good stuff either, but the kind you can buy by the half gallon for under ten bucks.
I reached for a registration form and a term limits petition, asking if he was a resident of Sacramento County.
Fine. If he hates politics, then he’ll be interested in throwing the rascals out under the term limits petition I just happen to have right here. I told him to have a seat.
He sat down. I explained that if is not registered, he can’t legitimately complain about Premier Hussein Obama of Kenya or Commissar Better-Red-Than-Dead Pelosi taking away our guns and forcing women to abort their unborn darlings if he’s a conservative, or about Lunatic Right Wing Evangelical Bliss Ninnies in Congress if he’s a left wing remnant of the screwball Sixties.
“I hate ‘em all.” he said. I changed the subject. You can only push an alcoholic so far, so I asked if he had been in the service, sensing he had.
“Navy,” he said.
Same here. We compared sea stories and swapped lies for a few minutes. He relaxed and I started asking questions and filling out forms, giving the man what alkies want as much as they want booze: attention
He wound up registering as a Republican and signing all four of my petitions: the term limits for state legislators; the dedication of vehicle registration fees to road repair; the limiting of state park admission fees to the upkeep of state parks; and a sin tax on tobacco that ups the cost of a pack of smokes to over six dollars per pack, supposedly for cancer research. I say supposedly because, for all I know, the tobacco tax monies will be siphoned off for bullshit conferences in Nassau.
We both had a feeling of accomplishment when he left after doing his civic duty and boosting his blood sugar with a handful of taffy. I was also four dollars richer. I may be a lifelong Democrat/Indepedent/Commie Pinko Kneejerk Liberal, but I'm also a flinty-eyed realist. The Republicans paid a dollar per signature. The Democrats paid twenty-five cents, the cheap sonsabitches.
Next a nice lady of advanced years and bottle blonde hair, clad in a leopard print jacket and matching shoes, strolled by. I recognized her as a volunteer at the branch library where I pay my overdue fines. I asked: Candy, little girl?
“Mike! What are you doing here?”
Being a nuisance. Sign my petitions or no taffy,
“What are they for?
I explained each one. She liked the term limits petition, which she signed, but declined the taffy. In return, I promised to run up another overdue tab at the library. That’s my small way of helping to keep the system open, since library funding is always the first to be cut when the semi-literates in local government go on budget cutting sprees.
I really did not want to stop the next man who walked by. He was and elderly black man wearing an I Heart Jesus cap and what appeared to be a five pound silver crucifix on a chain around his neck. I figured I might be in for an ecclesiastical mugging right there on the sidewalk, but I stopped him anyway.
He did not preach. He did not proselytize. But he did sign my petitions and invited me to attend Sunday services at his AME Baptist church.
“We have a young Caucasian minister, no more than 30 years old, ” he said. “He sticks to the Bible and doesn’t act like a fool in the pulpit. The deacons didn’t want to hire him at first, on account of his age and his race, but now they all like him.”
He declined my taffy offering, but slipped me a schedule of Sunday services and resumed his journey to Calvary, or maybe just across the parking lot. To him, I imagine, they were the same thing. I supposed he was on his way to Calvary and redemption every day, every hour and every minute of his life.
Another Christian stopped by later, drawn by the taffy heaped in my Holy Ashtray Of Wrapped Candy Offerings. He was also black. He appeared to weigh about 250 pounds and had the wide permanent smile and vacant look of a mildly chronic mental defective.
"Hey, O.G!” he said, meaning Old Gangster or Original Gangster, a polite term young blacks use to address old farts like me. “Are you a Christian?” he asked.
No. Not at all. But I did not say that. I just asked if he was registered to vote. His mind was elsewhere anyway. judging by his answer: “Is that candy free?”
Sure. Help yourself.
“What are the yellow ones?”
They’re banana flavored.
“How about the blue ones?”
They taste like Windex
Those are licorice. I don’t know why they’re blue.
He pocketed a handful and smiled down at me for a minute or two. I said nothing. A group of teenaged girls accompanied by an adult woman with a baby carriage began setting up a cookie kiosk nearby. Girl Scouts, dammit. The little dears have a way hijacking my potential petition signers. But this time they rescued me. I made eye contact with the saintly blockhead and nodded in the direction of the cookie Scouts. He took the hint and left to make a raid on their thin mint stash.
I was left alone to contemplate what Christ said about the least of His bretheren and the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. But I did not think that any road to salvation, and especially to Damascus these days, is lined with taffy and cookie vendors. That would make slow going for pilgrims seeking green pastures, still waters, and a house of many mansions.