Hot flashes are usually a private matter. Alison Teal shares hers.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

* I was once again shocked. We had internal polls that showed us only four points ahead, so we didn’t believe what was being said on TV until 70% of the vote was in. Back in Iowa we met a young man working for Congressman Ed Marckey from Massachusetts who had worked for Kerry on his last senate campaign. A week before the election Kerry was six points down in the polls. Our friend was terribly depressed and showed it. Someone in the office came up to him and said, “You must be new around here. Six points down a week before means Kerry wins by four.”

* New Hampshire was like a 60s political reunion for Sam and me. We missed seeing two of the old time crowd because both David Broder and Jules Witcover understood that you can see more of election night on TV than you can see live in Manchester. The other media person we missed seeing was Margaret Carlson from CNN and Time Magazine. I asked Robert Novak if she wasn’t there because her daughter was about to have her baby. “Yah,” he said. “I told her it was crazy to stay behind. I have seven grandchildren and I don’t know when any of them were born.” Who would have guessed?

* I am very reluctant to leave the cold weather as I have now developed a protective layer of fat. Also I think I am beginning to grow fur. I am definitely ready to hibernate.

* That reminds me of the thing I love most about Teresa Heinz. She is complaining that she gained weight in Iowa. Who doesn’t love a woman who gains unwanted weight? Now I’m not saying that I see it on her. In fact I can’t get my eyes off the scarves. But I love it that she worries about weight. I mean it makes her one of the rest of us. Well, some of the rest of us.

* I may have to do a slight addendum to my feelings about B & Bs. We are staying at the Inn on the Green in Middlebury, Vermont that doesn’t make you have breakfast with all the other guests. They actually have a room service breakfast with fresh baked goods from an excellent local bakery. You do not have to have face time with any of the other guest, there’s Internet access and comedy central on cable – all my necessities. Well, not quite all, I still prefer two double beds, no china rabbits, and a bar downstairs. But it’s not all that bad.

* After everything had been done to get out the vote, Sam and I were asked to go out with two other volunteers to do what they call “visibility”. We took Kerry signs and headed out to catch the rush hour traffic. Our destination was a kind of traffic island on a place where three highways cross. We were delighted to see the other two volunteers were around our age. That meant we would all be sympathetic to periods of warming up in the car. (It was well below zero.) When we found the spot, we weren’t sure any of us could actually cross the traffic to reach the destination without being killed, but we forged successfully ahead. Standing in the subzero weather, we waved at cars raising our signs up and down. I kept track of the reactions. Out of ten cars, five would honk and flash their lights, four would pass without any recognition and the remaining one would either make a thumbs down sign or give us the finger. In a state with very few Democrats, that was a good omen. The two other people with us turned out to know my brother and sister-in-law and also turned out to be Thalia Tsongas Schlesinger (Senator Paul Tsongas’s twin sister) and John Xtafaris, a long-time Massachusetts judge and political mover. This is what I love about grass roots politics.

* “You can’t fire a Volunteer”. That was the name of a book written by Ben Stavis after the McCarthy campaign in 1968. I’ve seen it all over this campaign again. There was a young person who came to volunteer in a small town in Iowa who was a little belligerent, difficult with people, a heavy smoker, and unkempt. He had come from a small town in Kansas to volunteer full-time for the campaign. He ate all the food that was donated by other volunteers and workers and probably slept in the bus station or his car. He made personal calls on the campaign phone lines, but he never really asked for anything. I saw him again in Manchester, New Hampshire, sitting lump-like in the staff section of the office, eating donuts and using the phones to make calls back to Kansas. This is not a problem of one campaign. I probably met this guy’s mother in 1968. There are dozens of these people out there ready to work in any campaign. What I don’t understand is how they know how to get involved and God knows how they get from city to city. The remarkable thing is that in Nashua, where Joe Grand-Maison was in charge of the office, volunteers are fired regularly. He just sends them out to do visibility when it is below zero. Only people in their first or tenth campaign are actually willing to do this.

* There is always loads of food in any campaign headquarters. Wonderful men and women bring it in or buy it or have it delivered. But one must be watchful. It’s not such a problem in seriously cold weather, but let me tell you it was a big problem in the sixties in Indiana. I had an egg salad sandwich just before taking a plane back to the east coast. The food poisoning took hold on the plane and I was rolling in agony in the back of the plane when the stewardess (that’s what we called them then) told me I simply had to get in a seat belt. I remember telling her she didn’t understand -- I didn’t care if I died.

* Tuesday night photo ops are not just available for the candidate. The number of people who flew into town in the hope of being seen in the presence of the candidate is remarkable. Some have worked steadily on the campaign and that is understandable. Others just show up and expect that their status will get them into the picture. It works.

* We are in Vermont now, on our way to Chicago. Nicholas, who now lives there, unfortunately has to get a real job with some income -- or at least enough of a job to support his improv habit until he gets into Second City. So, we are taking him and our daughter, Willa (a student at Middlebury) to visit her sister at Northwestern. I think we’ll stick to the southern route, skipping Canada.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

* “This is a state of surprises, so no candidate should count on anything.” That’s what all the news programs are saying here today. But the biggest surprise is that the Democrats ever got themselves in the position of having their first primary in New Hampshire at all. There are virtually no minorities here, no big urban centers, no income tax and, of course, precious few Democrats. The largest single group of voters is Independents who can vote in either primary. But more important than any of that is they don’t even accept Easy Pass. I am constantly tempted to race through the toll booths screaming “Live Free or Die”!

* The first news of the day is always from Dixville Notch – a town name Nicholas cannot utter without expressing disbelief (“Dixville” he keeps saying to himself, waiting for others to laugh, “I mean Dixville. Why is no one else amused?” He has been doing this for two days now). They don’t have a single registered Democrat so it couldn’t be a more appropriate place to start. Really. I’m not kidding. There are 26 registered voters, 10 Republicans and 16 Independents, one of whom voted Republican. (And what exactly are Independents independent from, by the way. It seems to me they are totally dependent on all the rest of us.) But Dixville Notch does vote early (just after midnight last night), so they are the only news for most of the day today. I remember in ’68 McCarthy had three full-time staff members there for the whole campaign.

* I can’t wait to go to The Sheraton Wayfarer tonight. It’s not where the Kerry victory party is, but we’ll have to stop in for old times sake. It is after all a relic and should be made into a museum. We had the McCarthy election victory party there in ’68 and while I only have dim recollections of the actual event, I do remember waking up the next morning in bed with six other people – all fully clothed. Not surprisingly at least two of them became life-long friends: John O’Sullivan and Michael Kortchmar.

*Everyone has victory parties because everyone has victories. NO ONE EVER LOSES IN NEW HAMPSHIRE. I know. I was here for McCarthy’s huge victory in New Hampshire in ’68 even though, in fact, he only got 42% of the vote to Johnson’s 58% -- and Johnson wasn’t even on the ballot.

* The real secret of the Kerry campaign has been the Vets and the Fire Fighters. I am crazy about each group but completely infatuated with the Vets. At The Wild Rover Bar in Manchester I managed to get a bar stool between two of them -- big burly guys wearing jeans, storm trooper boots, cowboy hats and black leather jackets covered with decals. The bartender came to me first. Not wanting to be a sissy, I ordered a bourbon on the rocks and then listened while they ordered: Caesar salads and Perrier.

* That reminds me of few years ago when my old friend, Anne Robinson, of London was visiting us in Berkeley. She had been driving back and forth to San Francisco over the Bay bridge and she kept seeing guys standing by the exit of the Bay Bridge holding signs: “Unemployed vet looking for work”. Finally Anne asked “Why are so many vets out of work? Is it something to do with animal rights movement?”

* By the time we arrived in Manchester every hotel and motel was filled. We ended up in a 1950s little Bates-motel like place. The bathroom door can only open 15 inches before it hits the bed and the mattresses are covered with protective plastic. But, believe it or not, every room has high speed wireless Internet. Hard to believe.

* There is this carrot that keeps turning up at all the Kerry events. I’m not kidding, some guy in a big carrot costume. I finally made my way over to him through the crowds to see what he was doing. “We’re promoting vegetarianism,” his companion said. Dan Glickman, who was standing nearby said “Glad to meat you, get it, meat you.”

* My other favorite rally attendees are these two guys who are trying to get their picture taking with each of the celebrities with a MAD magazine in the foreground. They told me that they get a free year’s subscription for each celebrity picture taken with them and the magazine.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

* Let me begin by telling you Harriet Bell is safely back in the United States and she wants to thank each of you for all the harmonicas and soap. Now, on to the snows of New Hampshire.

*Thirty-six years ago I was in New Hampshire with the Romney For President campaign. There, I said it. It’s all out in the open now. The thing is, I was working as an actress in Boston and was between plays. (That’s what we actors called being unemployed.) I met this handsome man, John Deardourff, who offered me a job working for Campaign Consultants, Inc. buying media in New Hampshire. (At least that's what I think he was offering me.) Over the previous summer I had worked as an intern for a media buying firm in New York where I learned the names of a lot of TV and radio stations, so that pretty much qualified me to do the media buying for a New Hampshire campaign. My biggest political concern was the Vietnam War and since Romney had come out against the war, I could justify taking the job.

After being in Concord for about an hour, I realized that all my kindred spirits -- along with all the available guys -- were over at the McCarthy campaign, but I kept to my commitment and tried to focus on Romney’s anti-war sentiments. Governor Romney made the now famous statement that he had been “brainwashed” into supporting the war. The press ripped him apart: it was not presidential to be brainwashed. His campaign fell apart and he withdrew from the race. But, before he did, I was able to convince my superiors that the $100,000 of prepaid billboard and radio advertising (an enormous amount in those days) should be given to Senator McCarthy because of his anti-war stand. After Romney’s withdrawal speech, the press in the Boston airport approached McCarthy. “Do you think the brainwashed statement was what killed the Romney campaign?”

Senator McCarthy paused. “You know,” he said, “I think with Governor Romney a light rinse would have done.”

It was a one-hundred-thousand-dollar one liner.

The Romney campaign ran full minutes of silence on the radio with the tag line of “This moment of silence was brought to you by the now defunct Romney for President campaign.”

* While Romney was preparing his withdrawal speech, all the Romney staff sequestered themselves with him. I was left all alone in the campaign headquarters to fend off the press. So I was grateful when Sam Brown from the McCarthy campaign planted himself on my desk. He was looking for the breaking news too, but at least he was my age. Eleven years later I married him – not exactly breaking news. Anyway I have a soft spot in my heart for that campaign headquarters. I believe I located it today. It is, appropriately, the current site of a Curves workout center for women.

* My brother, Topper, has responded to my border-crossing story: It’s interesting how at airports as well as border crossings, the guards seem to believe that rudeness alone will protect us from further attacks. I remember once at Logan (years before the security guards at Logan loaded two airplanes with terrorists and sent them off to New York), I asked one of those guards if I could walk thirty feet past her post to collect our aged mother, who had been abandoned in a wheelchair in the corridor and couldn't move. Alternatively, could she (the security guard) fetch Mother and bring her out. Or could she (the guard) CALL someone to fetch Mother and bring her out. Her (the guard's) response was just what you'd expect. She told me that unless I backed off and forgot about my Mother, she (the guard) would shoot me. I suppose Mother is still there.

* There are a couple of really good restaurants up here and you can be sure of running into all the media stars and senior campaign staff in one of them on any night. The throngs of younger, hard-working volunteers that are filling the streets and manning the phone banks are not so lucky. Therefore, I have asked one of these volunteers, my son, Nicholas, to write the following guide:


Keeping in mind the budgetary restrictions on today’s young volunteers, we strive in this part of the column to provide real steals for every meal.

First: breakfast. Though the classic Biscuit with sausage, egg, and cheese product ala Burger King is a good choice to begin the day, we here at the Hot Flashes Department of Cheap Eating recommend the McDonald’s breakfast burrito along with a cup of coffee brewed from yesterday’s grounds as a truly ideal way to begin your day/ulcer. This should keep you in an adequate state of intestinal discomfort to keep you from falling asleep in that comfortable chair in the office as you call everyone in the state of Iowa or New Hampshire who has ever voted democratic/voted republican/voted/not voted/is technically prevented from voting due to past felonies/is technically prevented from voting due to no longer being technically alive/ has never thought about voting but might be willing to change his or her long distance service with some persuasion from a volunteer who is in desperate need of medical attention because a breakfast burrito has eaten through his stomach and is slowly gestating inside of him until, alien-like, it bursts from his chest to take control of the office and encase the entire campaign in gooey cocoons woven from cheese product.

As we see, breakfast is an exciting meal, but it really holds no flame to the culinary joy that can be yours with a delicious campaign lunch from the fine people at the Hungry Hobo. Since you have no doubt been snacking on Doritos’s Taco Style tortilla chips since breakfast since you are a jackass and have not learned your lesson from the breakfast burrito, the baked potatoes at The Hungry Hobo will no doubt provide a refreshing change for lunch. I particularly recommend (this actually is a real item, really) the potato they serve smothered in cheese, peppers, onions, sour cream, chili and (actually really) Doritos’s Taco Style tortilla chips allowing you to get your full 100% in that vital MSG category of FDA recommended daily values.

The young volunteer then has about four hours to call everyone he called earlier again so they have the opportunity to demonstrate their support for his candidate by hanging up on him. After this period – known as either ‘call time’ or ‘dinner time’ depending upon which side of the phone you are on – the healthy young volunteer can complete his/her day with a nice dinner of homemade brownies and Doritos Taco Style tortilla chips washed down with forty ounces of ‘Old English’ brand malt liquor. At this point the young gourmand spends a few hours on data entry/the toilet before getting a good night’s sleep on the couch where he wakes up the next morning, pulls himself out of his cheese-product cocoon and downs a bottle of Tums.

Official list of Winners
1. Wendy’s Big Bacon Classic
2. Taco Bell’s Chicken Quesadillas
3. McDonald’s regular hamburger or cheeseburger. (An English friend says they have to put the pickle on it so it won’t be classified as a dessert. I doubt this, since as far as I know, we don’t have an official dessert classification in this country. )
4. Subway’s Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki Sandwich
5. Burger King’s Chicken Sandwich (forget the new Santa Fe chicken)
6. Sbarro’s Supreme Pizza supreme.

*Okay, me again. I am off now to the phone banks to poll voters on whether they feel the campaigns have placed enough significance on the important issue of stomach stapling.

Friday, January 23, 2004

There hasn’t been a comeback like this since Lazarus! On to New Hampshire!

* We left Des Moines Tuesday morning and stopped in Davenport to pick up our son, Nicholas, and Harriet Bell, an 18-year-old British student who is spending a year observing American politics. It’s about 1,200 miles from Davenport to Manchester. With luck, that’s two days of polyester sheets and Big Macs. Nicholas needed to go to his 3-hour Improv Olympic class in Chicago the first night, so we opted for teriyaki pork and down pillows at the Carothers in Glencoe. That left a challenging 1,000 miles for Wednesday.

But we were up for it. Sam set the GPS system in our Volvo to “fastest route” and we settled in for 19 hours of Botticelli. By the time we reached the Canadian border it was too late to question the Swedish-inflicted route. The Canadian border patrol were not concerned with Harriet’s lack of a passport and cheerfully waved us on, assuring us that her driver’s license was all she needed. We crawled through Ontario in a blinding snowstorm, longing for the divided highways of Indiana where the landscape is frequented with entertaining billboards pushing pornography. (Those rural areas fought hard against government-control, i.e., zoning, so now they are fertile ground for the “Adult” superstore business. And guess what? There’s a big market for it.) When we tired of Bodicelli, we took turns reading The State of Union Speech aloud for a giggle. Harriet pointed out a typo on page 2 where Bush thanks our “allies”. It should read “ally”.

At Niagara Falls (which, in the forty years since I last visited, has turned into an industrial wasteland of chain stores and hotels almost obscuring the falls themselves), we discovered the U.S. border police are not quite so cavalier and light-hearted as the Canadians. After two-hours with the immigration police, it was clear there was no way Harriet would be allowed to re enter the U.S. (even after pointing out the “ally” part of Bush’s speech). When she was taken into the back for further questioning we waited and watched as the other detainees were questioned. A Korean-born Canadian man was trying to get to Buffalo to pick up his parents at the airport. He was driving his parents’ car and didn’t know the license plate number. The officious officer was leaning into him and talking loudly: “How could you not know the license plate number? Where do you work? What do you sell there? How come I’ve never heard of it? Speak up! I can’t understand you.”

That same officer had treated us with courtesy. We sat watching through many similar interrogations and our hearts sank. It was rude and degrading and embarrassing and we just sat and listened like all the others who were waiting for decisions to be made about their entry. It made me sick.

Finally we gave up and went back to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, where we spent the night and secured a room for Harriet until her Godmother could drive up from Virginia with her passport. Remember those little care packages in the shape of Velveeta boxes we sent off to British children during WWII? Well, Harriet could use some. But remember No War Toys. Just send them to the Sheraton on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. If she has left there will be others.

The next morning the remaining three of us were once again stopped at the border. This time for no discernable reason. They just took our passports marched us through the blizzard up to the waiting room, had us wait ten minutes and then gave the passports back and told us to move on. I can tell you there was serious consideration during those ten minutes of just giving up and homesteading in Canada.

As of last night we have finally arrived in New Hampshire where the roadsides are a glorious messy battle of candidate yard signs.

Stay tuned for my guest entry this afternoon on fine campaign dining.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

John Kerry is the greatest closer since Seabuscuit!

* It was a night to remember. We’d been in Iowa just ten days in a half dozen different campaign offices, writing letters, canvassing and making phone calls with 18-year-old first-time volunteers sitting next to Cam Kerry, the Senator’s brother. By our last night in Des Moines every face at the final event seemed familiar. I felt like I’d know everyone for years from the boyish fireman who promised he’d send me a t-shirt to the CNN cameraman I had my final beer with very early this morning. It was cleansing grass roots stuff; tedious, exhausting and madly exhilarating. It’s so easy to get hooked again.

* It was remarkable to watch Dean’s speech because it reflected so much of what we had seen in the days before: his volunteers were frequently angry and very self-righteous, certain they had a lock on the truth. It stood in marked contrast to the people in Edwards’ offices who also reflected the public face of their candidate: they were in some ways the nicest people we met, kind, generous and generally hopeful for the future of the country. It will be really important not to pick a fight with them.

* The night ended with Gephardt’s elegant swan song juxtaposed against Dean’s Tourettes-like recitation of states to be conquered.

So we're driving off to New Hampshire.

Monday, January 19, 2004

January 19, 2004

* All the Kerry events yesterday were huge successes with far greater than expected crowds. Kerry was completely energized in Davenport. Our son, Nicholas, started crying several times during his speech. As dramatic as Kerry was, Nicholas’s emotions might have had something to do with not having eaten or slept for the last 36 hours. (He was also a little teary when I told him it was going to warm up.) There had been a party for campaigners the night before – everyone except senior staff. They were to stay until all the data was logged in. It turns out senior staff includes anyone who has been working since last Monday.

* At the Des Moines rally in the fair grounds last night, a special forces team leader, Jim Rassman, whose life was saved by John Kerry, told in unscripted detail about the event. In the midst of heavy attack the boat apparently struck something and he was thrown overboard. At first he wasn’t missed but within a couple of minutes Kerry ordered the boat to turn around to rescue him. Kerry was already wounded in the arm by small arms fire (his third purple heart) but he nonetheless made his way to the front of the boat where Rassman was struggling to get aboard and in the midst of constant enemy fire pulled Rassman from the river. It was the event that led to Kerry’s Bronze star with V for valor. Rassman is a Republican who simply called and said he wanted to help. It was an incredibly moving story to which Kerry responded equally emotionally, pointing out at the audience and saying “Anyone in this room would have gone back to make sure no American was left behind. Every one of you would have done the same thing.”

* Kerry’s rallies are a sea of bright yellow because of the tee-shirts worn by firefighters supporting Kerry. Surrounded by the handsome firefighters last night, Senator Kennedy (whom I adore) dressed in a black open-collared knit shirt looked like a giant bumble bee.

* This morning the papers are filled once again with stories of momentum. In fact, no matter what ends up happening, the story is and has been about momentum. That makes Kerry and Edwards the winners no matter what happens tonight. However the real story on the ground is that organization matters and the Dean and Gephardt campaigns have large numbers of volunteers and most of the union workers. (The restaurant bar last night was a sea of Dean workers in their bright orange hats – a brilliant campaign identifer.) If those campaigns don’t come in first and second that would be a real surprise.

* I have to post this from a Borders where there is internet access, so I will post this one now and then come back with more later in the day. I have many more anecdotes, but my morning was stolen from me by having to be nice to a room full of Republicans at our B&B. We were all required to have a sit-down breakfast together. It’s one of the secret commandments of B &Bs. We arrived in Des Moines late last night right before the rally and every hotel was full so we had not choice other than a B&B. I ABSOLUTELY LOATHE AND DESPISE B&Bs! The management hovers and oozes. I can’t stand frilly breakfasts with cream cheese and goosebury filled French toast. There are always cutesy hot pads for sale, made by the owner’s niece. And every single surface is covered with teddy bears or angels. At this one, there is a cherub painted on the ceiling over our bed with a very disturbing shape to her bottom. The whole place scares the wits out of me.

* It is wicked cold here and I must do what I can to get out the vote. So, more later.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

* When I feel the generation gap in the campaign, I can always count on my son, Nicholas, to help me out. I sent him an emergency email yesterday to find out who Moby (a rock star supporting the campaign) was so I wouldn’t feel so stupid around the campaigners I was making phone calls with. His answer: Moby is a secret code kids use to describe their elders. Actually Mobe means your parents are lame, Moby means they are cool, and Mobi means they may be a direct threat to the youth led revolution. If you hear Moba, leave the room. Quickly. And Mobae is really disgusting, so if you were thinking about that, shame on you. Hope this was helpful, -Nick

* These University of Iowa kids are really impressive. The ones we have been meeting with have been extremely well informed. Actually they remind me a lot of what we were like in the McCarthy campaign, very serious and well-versed on the issues -- but with many more piercings.

* Someone in the Council Bluffs office told me about a woman who was very angry with AARP out here. She had been trying to get her membership money back. They told her she couldn’t but she kept at it, saying “Oh, yes I can. You betrayed me with your support of the Bush prescription drug plan.” Eventually she was sent a check for something like $12.50. She endorsed it and presented it to Senator Kerry at a rally last week.

* I’m off to make phone calls for Senator Kerry’s last appearance in Iowa City at a rally tonight. Gary Hart will be with him. About half the people I call hang up on me or say they are sick of hearing from Democrats. We invite the others to the rally and ask if they are planning to attend the caucuses on Monday. About ten percent say they are I ask, but I’m not counting on it. Then we ask for their support. If they remain on the phone, we can actually get into some good discussions. Of course, about half the people who get to this point are supporting someone else and are equally eager to convince me of their candidate. Then we ask if they have a second choice going into the primary. I’m telling you all this to set up a one-liner: When I asked my three children to look at my blog spot, each one responded “If I have a second choice going into the primary as to when I’ll be looking at your blog spot, it will be never. I can’t believe you’ve turned into such a geek, mom. It’s embarrassing. You’re too old! You should be eating oatmeal and knitting.”

Friday, January 16, 2004

It has taken me a while for the impact of yesterday’s Kerry event in Council Bluffs to sink in. Sam and I arrived around 6:45am. I felt oddly uncomfortable among the Vietnam vets and the firemen who were the first ones there. As other people started pouring in, I got too busy to think about it -- encouraging people to sign commitment cards, tracking down water so an elderly man could take his medicine, passing out buttons and bumper strips, cutting in the long food line to get pancakes for a man too angry to wait his turn – you know, the usual campaign stuff. It wasn’t until Senator Kerry was introduced that I looked around the room again and thought about the last time Sam was in a room like this in Council Bluffs with a lot of veterans and union members.

Senator Kerry began his remarks with a warm thank you to Christie Vilsack, the governor’s wife and another to the local people and then said he had seen an old friend across the room and hadn’t had a chance to even say hello to him yet. He then went on to introduce Sam as the Director of the Peace Corps and Action under President Carter and the Ambassador to the OSCE under President Clinton but “more importantly as his friend of 35 years and a real hero for being one of the founders and organizers of the Moratorium Against The War In Vietnam”. There was enormous applause, even cheers. I so wished his mother could have been there. The last time Sam was in a community hall in Council Bluffs, people were screaming "traitor." His parents were getting hate mail with Sam’s face in the middle of a rifle target. Once his mother got a phone call in the middle of the night telling her her son was dead. Through all of it, his parents never asked Sam to do anything other than what he was doing. They supported him the whole time even when people in restaurants and in their church would refuse to speak to them. I called Sam’s mother last night and told her about Kerry’s introduction and the reaction to it. She wanted me to tell her absolutely everything I could remember, every detail: who came up to us afterwards, what each one said and then she wanted me to tell her about it all over again. She was crying at the end and said, “It must have been so wonderful for Sam to feel vindicated.” Sam has never felt a need for vindication; what he loved was that his mother could live to hear about this day.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

There was a wonderful Kerry event this morning in Council Bluffs with about 300 people showing up for a pancake breakfast at 7:30. Senator Kerry looked and sounded terrific and the most recent poll showed him a point ahead of both Dean and Gephardt. There is at least a 5% error possibility, of course, but it was a needed boost in the campaign.

I've spent the last couple of days calling people with their caucus information and trying to get them to commit to Kerry. Tuesday I talked to a man named Marvin in Iowa City who wanted to get a ride to the caucus. He was 91 and had just arranged to have his chemotherapy changed from Monday afternoon to Monday morning so he would be feeling good enough by early evening to go to a caucus, but he did think he would need a ride. That night our waitress, Sheryl, a leggy blonde of about 28, said she couldn't be bothered to vote. It was just too cold to go out at night unless it was for her job.

I haven't done any day-to-day volunteer campaigning since the sixties, so I am hit with comparisons all the time. I'm not hanging around till midnight anymore, to see who is going to go off with whom. Now at around nine (the time, by the way, you have to quit calling people's homes in Iowa) I'm much more interested in what restaurant anyone is choosing. There are great ones here in Iowa City with Neiman Shell and Harris Ranch beef!

Last night Sam and I went to Gorat's Steak House in Omaha, famous for being the favorite restaurant of Warren Buffet. I knew it from 40 years ago when I was growing up there and it hasn't changed at all -- really not at all: same fake paneling, same badly drawn pictures of Venice and many of the same waitresses. It's a steak house -- a surprisingly bad one for being in Nebraska. Every steak comes with two sides and a salad. One of the sides is always spaghetti or some differently shaped pasta with the same tomato sauce. This is true of all Omaha steak houses. I didn't know you could order steak without spaghetti until I went east for school. The other side is a choice of several different potato dishes. So it's steak, potato, pasta and iceberg lettuce. The Palm has had no influence on these places. But there were green beans on the menu last night hidden among all the potato choices. I ordered them. When they came, I commented with great disappointment that they looked like they were frozen. “Nope, canned, “ the waitress said. “Hey, you’re the one who ordered them.”

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Sam and I have been actively working for John Kerry's campaign in Iowa for seven days now, leaving only six more days before the caucuses. We drove first to Council Bluffs where Sam grew up. I grew up across the river in Omaha -- a town that prided itself on not knowing Council Bluffs existed.

Downtown Council Bluffs is bleak: boarded up stores with dirty snow piled in front. All the campaign headquarters are just about the only color downtown. Each candidate's office is near every other campaign office.

We were given assignments to visit people in little towns; people who the campaign had reason to believe might be convinced to go for Kerry. We spent the days visiting these people, traveling between little towns and farms.

In Imogene, a town of about 200, an 83-year-old woman was shoveling her driveway at one of our destinations. We stood shivering in the bitter cold talking to her for about a half hour. Near the end she said, "Well, you know, you've got some good points, but I was a Missionary nurse in Angola for years...and, well, you know when Doctor Dean called me, I just kept thinking, well, you know, he's a doctor and I'm a nurse... It's just a sort of bond. And he was really nice to talk to me for about 15 or 20 minutes, so I guess it would be easiest to go with him." THESE PEOPLE ARE SO SPOILED!!

Last night I was calling registered Democrats here in Iowa City, telling them Senator Kerry would be in their district on Saturday to give a speech at the junior high. Several said they were interested in attending, but then when I asked if they were planning to attend their caucus, they said no -- that they never went to the caucuses. I'd say "you know it's terribly important and the whole country will be watching what Iowa does." And they'd just say that it really didn't interest them all that much. I kept imagining myself in a Saturday Night Live skit where I'd start screaming into the phone: you stupid little shit, you don't deserve to vote. In fact if you even so much as try to go to the caucus, I'm going to slash your tires and flood your basement!

What do you think, am I getting too old for this?

I'll tell you one thing. It's not the same as it used to be. I started the South Beach diet the same day I started campaigning. I mean campaigns used to be all about sexual tension in the headquarters, so I thought this would be a fool proof time for a diet. On the third day I was waking up from dreams about pulsating jars of fruit juice. It turns out that the same parts of my brain that used to be controlled by sexual fantasies are now controlled by thoughts of Maytag blue cheese, Iowa pork and a good Merlot.

In Council Bluffs I wrote dozens of follow-up letters to people who had been called earlier. The envelope had "personal letter" written on the outside. Inside was a form letter beginning Dear _______, and was from the person who had spoken on the phone with the registered voter (who is probably never going to actually vote). I was to sign the name of the person and then write a P.S. using the notes which were taken during the phone call. We had crib sheets, but I took my job far too seriously to use them, writing elaborate personal notes extrapolated from whatever information I had. If it was noted that the woman's husband had a broken leg and wouldn't be going to the caucus, I talked to her about pain management and told her websites that dealt with broken legs. I figure she will be so mystified to get the letter that she'll feel compelled to vote for Kerry. Of course she might think we're stalking her. (This reminds me of the time my friend, Jane (Barlow) called the 800 number on the container of Clorox. It read: call this number with any questions. "So," Jane said, "what do you think about the war in Iraq?"

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?