Archive for June, 2007

max out

Posted in literally happened on June 10, 2007 by samsondoggie

Even if my co-worker had not set the thermostat to 84, it would have been hot enough. Even if it wasn’t North Carolina in the summer, it would have been humid enough. Even if it wasn’t 5:09 on a Friday, when my boss was out of town, it would have been late enough. Even if I had not read about securitization of HSBC’s subprime mortgages all day, it would have been “tempting-to-ignore” enough.

Dayenu. The telephone was ringing. Who was calling me now?

“This is Kim from the John Edwards campaign,” says the voice on the line, “I have Operations Director Andrew Young on the phone for you.”

Funny. It sounds like a secretary, definitely not like a machine.

“Great,” I say, stumbling out of my languor, “put him on the line.”

My thought is that I am going to be asked to do something on behalf of my boss, since he is Ireland right now and can’t take this call.

“This is Adam at CRA-NC.” People like that, I think. At least in principle. Except that in practice it does sound a bit odd. I wonder if they think that they have reached a hotline for something illicit.

“Tom!” he says. “You’re on for the party, right?”

“Er, this is Adam Rust.” I feel compelled to remind this guy about my stature. “Adam Rust, from CRA-NC.”

“Right,” he says, “this is Andrew Young, from John Edwards’ campaign. I’m calling to invite you to John Edwards’ birthday party. He is going to be 54.”

Axel, the eight-year old under the care of one of my co-workers, scoots by on his heelies in the hallway. Axel is very cool.

“I mean, I’m a Democrat and all,” I respond, “but I don’t think you are calling the right guy.” Actually, I am sure he is calling the wrong guy. “Tom” is the right guy. The relevant question is if he knows that he is calling the wrong guy, too.

“No,” he says. I think I can hear Andrew clicking the wheel on his address book in his Blackberry. But the conversation has slowed, and he’s still got me on the line. “You are on our list. You supported in the past.”

“You did, didn’t you?”

“I think we did.”

Axel wheels by, again.

“Where is the party?”

“At John’s law offices. At 6:30, Sunday.”

I can think of a few awkward questions that would only be relevant to modern campaign finance. Like, instead of ‘what should I bring,’ more like ‘how large of a bucket of cash should I be prepared to bring?’ But I go with more silence.

“Er, just remind me, what exactly is the address over there?”

That would be because I don’t know the name of his law firm, its location, or anything.

“3201 Glenwood.”

“In Raleigh, right? Well,” I tell him, “we’ll be there.”

Should I wear the brown khakis with the blue and white stripe shirt, given that I can only put my hands on one black dress belt and no brown dress shoes? My mother would be crying. I think I have achieved a real David Letterman look. Susie looks great. She’s got it cold — maybe its a North Carolina thing.

That is ok, though, because although this party is in a law firm, a number of people are wearing sandals and shorts. Of course some are wearing Chanel, and plenty more look like they are ready for the Kappa Kappa Gamma spring social.

But he is not arriving. Susie and I chat with Woodie and Brenda Cleary from Cary. Who are very nice, having housed 10 exchange students while balancing his career in the oil business. They have one son who is an economist in Syria and another who is a doctor.

Edwards arrives with his his wife, about two hours late. He had another event in Chapel Hill, a barbecue, $15 a head, thousands of fans….He’s wearing Levi’s (34-32). We gather in the lobby of Edwards’ former firm, Kirby and Holt. There’s a shiny brick floor and a sheet cake in the corner. There are about 95 people here. That includes John and Elizabeth, a lot of campaign staff, as well as former four-term North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt, and his wife Carolyn. The former Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court. A Sanford or two. The president of the UNC system. And a lot of high schoolers.

This is a few of his friends, his law partners, his fertility doctor, his neighbors, Governor Hunt… No Tom, though.

I think Andrew Young is the guy in the foyer speaking in nothing but crosstabs: South Carolina, Obama 52, Hillary mid-30s…” He is interrupted whe a blazer-clad friend gallops by.

“Great event!” he says.  He rubs his hands together.  “MMMoney!”

“We need you all to max out,” booms partner David Kirby. Maxing out is when you give the maximum allowed by campaign finance law. Currently, that amounts to $1,000 per person to a candidate, plus $5,000 to the political action committee of any political party and $20,000 to a national party. And then you can give another round through your business.

That is the hard part of running a campaign that today’s New York Times says is built around a “Poverty Platform.”

Uh, like I said, I’m from CRA-NC. We won’t be doing any maxing. You know, I have checked the matching campaign funds box on my tax return for a number of years. And, since Susie and I got married and started filing a joint return, I suppose that support has doubled.

I have to say that he was very powerful.

“Are you telling me that Giuliani is going to beat me in the South? Are you kidding? That sounds like some kind of joke! Or Romett, what’s his name?”

His message was that most of our big issues are interrelated. Energy use relates to global warming, and dependence on oil fuels the very terrorism that got us into Iraq. Free places without oil, like Dubai in the UAE, show how investing in people only occurs with the lure of easy petrodollars.

He got technical. He wants to develop wind energy, biofuels, and solar. He doesn’t want to permit another new coal-fired power plant. He wants to cap and trade.

He is almost angry when he talks about Iraq (which he promised to exit from upon winning office) or about crumbling schools. His wife told everyone that the Supreme Court’s decision last week to limit employer liability tested decency. People need to stop staring at their televisions and start thinking about people. Yes, we’ll definitely write a check. He earned that, no doubt. Susie wants to canvass again.

Kirby opened up for questions. There were four.

I was third: I raised my hand. Would this be the time to ask him if he was reading those peak oil web sites, too? I think, I’ll hold on that. I wonder, are the words “Interloper” printed across my forehead? Is he enough of a candidate to ferret out the scurrilous ex-journalist in the crowd?

“I’ve got two kids, four and two,” I ask. “We have a small 529. But I can look out and see the cost of tuition going up, see friends whose kids struggle to get into colleges that don’t appear to be making any more space for students, and I wonder if you or Governor Hunt have something to say about what needs to be done.”

He was on fire: He pointed his finger at me, at the people around the room, squinted, and spoke loudly.

In some many words, he said something like this:

You see, no kid who is willing to work should be denied a chance to go to college. If you can work, my plan will fund a chance to give kids at least a year of college. If kids drown in college debt, they can’t change the world with their dreams. Cutting school funding is crazy. The only way that the US will ever remain a power is through training the next generation for high-skill jobs.

He mentioned that a demonstration project of his plan sent all of the graduates of a rural North Carolina high school on to college this year.

We have to go.  We pull away from the circle.  It closes right back, around the candidate.

Susie grabs some birthday cake on the way out. Our baby sitter has been waiting.  We are the first to go.

Actually, we are not.  Gov. Hunt is waiting for his wife in the doorway.  We intersect.  Susie has to tell him about her graduate thesis on coverage of his campaign against Jesse Helms. Governor Hunt listens politely, standing at the door of his SUV.

As we walked to the car, I figured it was time to tell Susie about Tom, the guy who was supposed to be going to this party.


There was this table

Posted in hit bull win steak on June 4, 2007 by samsondoggie

There was a summer in 1985, in the time of Duran Duran and trickle down economics, that I decided that I wanted to build a coffee table for my dorm room.  Now, I was already well along in my lifelong career of being “not handy.” Yet I was not without resources.

“Dad,” I said, “I would like to build a table.” How did he gauge my intent?

I looked at him to convey that I was serious, albeit for some complicated reasons. Would he challenge me on this?

No. “I think that would be a good project for you,” he said.

I knew my dad was comfortable with this commitment.  I suppose it was the body language.  He removed his brown plastic frames, puts a lens in his mouth, and exhaled. He took the lenses back out. The condensation from his breath fogged the lens. He pinched the lens between the folds of his t-shirt. Holding his frames by the end of the temples, he examined his work. Not bad. He rubs the front of the lens against his shirt again. The shirt, bought in 1971 and worn well, gently buffs the lens. “Maybe I could give you a bit of help with that.”

He is definitely interested.

It takes some explanation to understand why I want to build a table, because it is more than just a need for furniture. I probably couldn’t explain it then. But now, I know what I was feeling. I wanted to have friends. I imagined sitting around the table with Rob and John, with my copies of Spin and Rolling Stone opened to sections on concerts, after we get back from practice or during a break from classes. ‘Sure, kick back here,’ is what this table projects.

I want to build it, instead of buying a table, because I am such an uninformed shopper that I do not know where I could find a table that would match the proportions I am thinking of — about 18 inches tall, about 18 inches wide, and about three feet in length.

This table building amounts to one surge against the growing dread I feel for going back in the fall. I cannot think of anyone that I can really call a friend. I had some friends as a sophomore. Things change fast, maybe in weeks. I am going to be living in a single, too, and that makes my prospect of friendship seem even more daunting.

Dad spreads a sheet of paper across the hood of his car. He has a shop pencil, the kind that unravels, in his teeth.

“Here,” he says, “is what I think you need to do.” The pencil stays in his mouth.

Dad has adapted a plan from a book he got at the library. It is legit. There will be no nails, just bolts that will be hidden under the surface of the wood with some artful wood working. Its modern looking, with flat surfaces unfettered by edging and thick dimensions.

My dad swings the wood-paneled door of the Plymouth Volare shut. He looks over the black roof for my figure. Am I, I sense he is saying, going to get out of the car already? We have work to do. No sense standing around.

I scramble to his side.

“OK,” he said, “we will get what we need here.”

I am very glad to have him here with me. I do not know the first thing about buying lumber, or getting nails, or any of it. Yet here we are, in a lumberyard in a light industrial section of Bridgeport, Connecticut. If you have ever been around such a place, you know that they are marked by the smell of sawdust.

I love the smell. Each type of wood has its own smell. I love even the scent of a lowly two-by-four, cut by a circular saw.

Wood is special to my Dad, too. He worked at our family business, Rush Sash & Door, for about ten years. In those years, I ran through the warehouse and played on the railroad tracks. I could climb the four stories tall shelves of windows. All of that stuff was waiting to be trucked to Omaha or Hays or Poplar Bluff. I could climb because I was the lucky son of the boss.

Being here reminds me of that, and it makes me proud of my dad. I think, “My dad knows a lot about windows and doors.”

Maybe too much. “Get off your a__ and move that glass,” was the mantra that he claims my granddad utilized to motivate his son. Today, our family’s old factory houses the distribution center for Wolferman’s English muffins. It is run by a Kenan-Flagler grad.

It is really cool to watch how he instructs the people at the lumberyard. No one is going to give him any knotty boards.

I am sanding the table. It is almost August. The table looks good. Some things have changed. The table has grown in size. Now it runs four feet in length. It is strong. We have already applied several coats of sealant. It will shine like a sheet of ice after the Zamboni machine.

My mom sticks her head from out of the screen door to the kitchen. “Phone for you,” she says. It is “Osky,” the uber-manager of all physical property at school. Osky supposedly once taught Latin, but now he serves only to make decisions about room assignments and to be the advisor to a group of students of his own choosing. D. Dupont, S. Woolworth, A. Kennedy, maybe you get a sense of “his choosing.”

I am worried. Maybe I am not going back to school after all.

“What does he want?” says Mom.

“Listen, I need to ask you something. You would like a roommate and a double room, or not? We have a new junior who needs a roommate.”

“He wants to know if I want a double,” I relay.

Of course I want a double room. I want a roommate. What could be better. A new student, too.

“Yes,” I say, “yes, I would like that very much.”

“Wait,” my mom interjects. “What are you doing?”

It is too late. Osky is moving on. “Great, then, I will make arrangements.” The phone clicks.

The table was transported to Watertown upside down on the top of a wood-paneled Volare station wagon.  I was living in the upper school dorm that year.  Osky followed through and gave me that double.  He added a wrinkle, though.  He put me in a section set off on its own that was populated entirely by stars of the varsity football team.

My new roommate was not on the football team.  He had a spindly frame and slicked back hair.  He planned to play intramural golf in the fall.  In the spring, he would go out for pole vaulting.  He said his dad was responsible for the company that made the vinyl seat covers for all of the domestic cars in the United States.  His parents signed off on smoking permission, so along with the box of Chinese stars, he arrived with a few cartons of Marlboro lights.

I was not ready to be impressed by the car seat story, but I was bothered by the Chinese stars.  That didn’t seem to have a palatable explanation.

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