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June 17, 2024

Warren Pieces 5: Political Camp Pains

By Jonathan D. Scott

"He's the sort of guy who wouldn't give his grandma a bent nickel if she were begging on the street. He's got to be a Republican." The bearded man wearing a black NO FEAR tee shirt is talking loud enough to be overheard by the subject of his insult -- a slightly older, slightly stouter, and slightly balder man sitting by himself at the other end of the quiet bar.

A man in a navy blue serge suit shakes his head. "Warren Borman? That effete intellectual? He's a Democrat."

"You're both wrong," says a thin man in crew neck sweater. "I've heard him rant about the government. I'd be willing to bet he's a Libertarian."

"Oh, yeah?" says the bearded man. "A twenty says he's a Republican."

"I'm in," says the man in the blue serge suit, reaching into his breast pocket. "My twenty says Democrat. Gertz, you in? Winner take all."

Warren puts down his glass of Merlot. "Did I hear you gentlemen say something about a bet?"

"We only meant ... "

"I know exactly what you meant," says Warren. "You three have nothing better to do than attempt to violate the sanctity of the American voting booth by provoking me into revealing my political allegiance."

"We wouldn't ... " begins the man in the blue serge suit.

"Of course you would," says Warren. "And even though you have no right to hear it, I will tell you the remarkable story of my experience in politics, as you have decided to turn it into a wager.

"We don't have much ... " says the man in the crew neck sweater.

"Certainly you do. Sixty dollars is at stake. Just put your money down there on the table."

* * *

Having graduated from college in the early 1970s (says Warren), I obtained an entry-level position in a firm in a southern state that shall remain nameless. My co-workers, in true loyalty to their local economy, smoked incessantly. I often sought refuge from my polluted cubicle in a small, shaded picnic area behind the building. That is where I first saw her.

She was breathtaking. Her curly locks were the color of a five-year-old penny, and the freckles on her face, arms, and legs lent her the ethereal beauty of Seurat painting.

"Hey," she said in a Southern drawl that quite stole my breath. "You're new around here."

"Warren Borman," I said, extending a hand trembling from the sudden onset of emotion. "And you are correct. I have lived here only a few weeks."

"Changed your registration yet?" I must have displayed bafflement because she leaned closer to explain. "Your voter registration. Are you eligible to vote in the upcoming election?"

Like most educated Americans, I had been taught the basics of a democratic government. However, as politics -- taking a back seat only to religion -- was considered an unsuitable subject for conversation, I wasn't aware of ever knowing anyone who actually voted.

"We're in the middle of the most critical gubernatorial race in a century," she said. "For the last six years we've been under the rule of a fascist reactionary Republican named Fred Smellman. Our only hope of returning justice to this state is the Democratic candidate, State Representative Jack Rankin. Here you go." She said, reaching her speckled arm deep into her substantial purse. "I'm not allowed to politic at work but since we're technically not working, I can give you these." She produced -- in this order -- a Rankin button, a Rankin bumper sticker, a rolled Rankin poster, and a Rankin rally flyer.

"The rally's Friday evening after work. I could come by your office and we could go together. That way we could get to know each other better." She twirled her red polka dotted skirt in a typically southern coquettish fashion.

Everything seemed to be quickening, including my pulse. "B ... but, I don't know your name."

"Linda," she said. "Linda Lovelace."

Or that is what I shall call her.

The rally turned out to be less than the stellar event I had been anticipating. The majority of supporters of Democratic Representative Jack Rankin wore their hair long: the male version being tucked in gaudy headbands -- the female, ironed to resemble drapery. A barefoot fellow with kaleidoscopic sunglasses stood gaping at my stylish checked polyester suit. "Hey, man," he said. "You look like The Man."

I stood pondering this cryptic statement, wondering if manners required me to thank him, until Linda took my arm and led me through the throng up to a large pig-tailed blonde who at first glance I took for a lead soprano in Wagnerian opera. All that was missing was a horned helmet.

"Warren, I'd like you to meet Val Oderly," said Linda. "She's Jack Rankin's campaign manager."

"Glad to have you on board," she said, shaking my hand so vigorously I worried for the springs in my self-winding watch. She grabbed a hold of my lapel and ran her eyes up the entire length of my body. "Listen, why don't the two of you join me after the speech for a little chow-down?"

Linda clasped her hands. "Ooh. How exciting! Isn't that exciting, Warren?"

Before I could formulate a reply, the candidate took the stage. One look and I wondered if Linda had been rash pinning her hopes on such a prospect. Jack Rankin was slight with a weak chin and voluminous bags under his eyes. A less likely looking politician -- even in the south -- I couldn't imagine. However, after clearing his throat several times, Rankin delivered a marvelous speech. He spoke quietly yet persuasively about government's responsibilities to the underprivileged and the deprived and so forth and so on. I confess I was quite moved.

And thus within the hour I found myself sitting between Linda and Val, the Viking Soprano, at a local restaurant that served an extraordinary dish to which the waitress gave the surprising sobriquet, "hush puppies."

"Jack's really something, isn't he, Warren?" Linda's green eyes were twinkling.

"Something is exactly the word that springs to mind," I said, refraining from bringing up the use of teabags under the eyes as a cosmetic aid.

"Look here, Wally," said Val throwing a substantial arm around my shoulder. "Frankly ... may I speak frankly?"

I assured her that, although my name was Warren, she could.

"We got ourselves a good campaign going, but you know those Republicans."

I didn't, of course.

"Jack's got lots of strong supporters, but they tend to -- how do I put it -- all have the same kind of look. What we're in need of is a man who's liberal but looks like he's a conservative -- like he's got a two-by-four stuck up his ass. Well, someone like you."

"She means that in the nicest possible way," said Linda.

"Could we count on you, Wally, to help out the campaign in a very special way?"

Prior to that afternoon, I cared little which party was in power or when, but Rankin's speech had brought me cogently into the Democratic fold. That, plus the hand of Linda, which had somehow crept under the tablecloth and was resting provocatively on my knee.

"I'll do it," I said, giving my freckled beauty a sidelong glance and a meaningful wink. "By the way, what am I doing?"

The Viking Soprano produced a plain brown bag. "Tomorrow Governor Smellman will be giving a speech. When it's over, you'll go up to his campaign manager, Sid Putrib, and give him this."

I opened it. My accountant's brain acted with lightning speed. "This is $20,000 in hundred dollar bills."

"You'll give it to him as a contribution to Smellman's campaign."

I doubted both my ears and her sanity. "But ... but why ... ?"

"I know Sid. Getting that much money in cash will make you his best friend for life. When you tell him you want to volunteer for the campaign, it'll be all you can do to keep him from smothering you with kisses."

"But what ... ?"

"You'll be in a perfect position to report back to us what's going on in their campaign."

"But how ... ?"

"Every week you can meet Linda in some quiet, dark spot and pass along the information."

I turned to Linda. A daub of pork barbecue remained on the side of her mouth, perfectly complementing the crimson in her freckles. The word "spy" vanished from my mind. So did "espionage," "deceit," "subterfuge," "dissembling," and "unseemly." So did the memory of an entire semester spent in Ethics class. I was lost in the verdant eyes of my bespotted maiden.

"I'll do it," I said, deftly avoiding the offer of another handshake with the Viking Soprano. "But only to help further the cause of government's responsibilities to the underprivileged and the deprived and so forth and so on."

"There'll be a place in Jack's administration for a young man with your skills, Wally. By the way, what sort of skills do you have?"

The difference between the two candidates' rallies could not have been more striking. There must have been four hundred other men in identical stylish checkered polyester suits. And then there was governor himself. A hale fellow well-met if I had sever seen one. He was stocky and ruggedly handsome, with a chin dimple in which it looked possible to hide his car keys.

He spoke long and impassionedly about the natural beauty of the state, its distinctive cuisine, and even the prowess of its university basketball teams -- subjects I wasn't quite able to connect to his tenure as head of state -- but he had the crowd laughing, crying, and cheering.

When the hysteria abated, I made my way through the sea of supporters until I found Sid Putrib, the governor's campaign manager. He was exactly as described, a wiry man with a face adorned with a pubescent moustache and topped with what looked like a black, oily corrugated tin roof.

"Mr. Putrib?" He turned to me as if I were a cockroach he had discovered in his raisins. "I'd like the governor to have this," I said, handing him the envelope.

He snatched it from my hand and looked inside. "Jesus Christ," he said. "That must be ten grand in cash."

"Twenty," I said, wanting the man to appreciate the full tableau. "To help out the cause, being myself a staunch Republican and desirous of volunteering my time for your candidate's campaign on behalf of the wealthy and privileged."

"Hell, yeah, sonny. For twenty grand you can even sleep with my wife."

I assured him that my ambitions lay in a different arena.

"Good choice," he said, slapping my back.

Everything proceeded as planned. Sid invited me to join the exclusive Governor's Club, a society of six or eight middle-aged men who seemed more interested in the consumption of alcohol and in wagering on the outcomes of university football games than politics. In fact, the only reference the governor made to his campaign was offhand -- a disparaging and surprisingly graphic remark about his opponent's wife's breasts.

Yet, the whole escapade was made thrilling by my weekly rendezvous with Linda. For our trysts, she had chosen a small all-night diner whose proprietors practiced remarkable economy with their electrical lighting.

Over glasses of highly sweetened iced tea and plates of key lime pie, she listened intently to my reports, recording every detail into a small, black notebook. Although the lack of substantive material was a disappointment to her, I was anything but disappointed. Even in the dimness of our rear booth I was entranced by the multitude of brown stars that bedecked her features.

"Please be patient, my dear," I said to her. "Surely something will happen sooner or later."

And sooner it did.

"War'," said Sid Putrib, placing a perspiring arm around my shoulder the very next night. "I've been talking to The Gov and he says he'd like to get to know you a little better. Says he thinks you're a smart cookie and might have some good ideas about how to woo the youth vote."

"Actually," I said, escaping the arm, "I've been thinking about how the Governor can explain his tax cuts for the wealthy by a scheme I humorously call 'trickle down' economics."

"Sure, sure, sure. You just save it for The Gov, War'. He'd like you to come by the executive mansion tomorrow night, say about midnight. The front door is locked, so just use The Gov's private entrance. Oh, I almost forgot. There's a few things he'd like you to pick up on the way over."

He proceeded to dictate a shopping list including -- as I recall -- flour, sugar, butter, eggs, whipping cream, vanilla, maraschino cherries, and two aprons with frilly edges. I was so brightened by the prospect of having a private audience with the governor I never gave consideration to the strangeness of the request. I was much more concerned about bearing the cost of the items, as I was then of some straitened means.

However, I did as bid and at five minutes to twelve the following evening I climbed the stairs of the private entrance to the governor's quarters.

"Mr. Borman -- may I call you Warren? -- please come in. I see you brought the things I asked for. Well, if we're going to make cupcakes, we'd better get started. But first," he said with a wink, "let's put on our aprons. We wouldn't want to get flour on us, would we?"

And so we did. I spent the better part of the next hour wrapped in a pink apron with frilly edges, sifting flour, melting butter, mixing batter, and finally eating the results of our labor. I waited, patient and eager for an opportunity to broach the subject of politics. "Governor Smellman," I said at last. "I was wondering ... "

"Call me Smeckers," he said, offering me a glass of Yoo-Hoo from his refrigerator. "That's what all my close friends call me." And he gave me a smile identical to that on his campaign posters.

I hesitated. "Well ... Smeckers, I was wondering ... "

He laughed. "Of course. How could I forget? Here's a twenty. That should cover everything. Listen, pal, how about coming back over tomorrow night? Same time. I just need you to pick up a few things."

And of course, I did. It required locating sources for a large galvanized tub, a basket of Macintosh apples, and two pirate costumes, one with a plumed hat. Frankly I was unable to see much entertainment in donning comic regalia and placing our heads in a tub of water attempting to bite the apples. But the governor displayed unrestrained enthusiasm, getting much enjoyment from imitating a Hollywood version of a cockney accent.

My private evenings with the governor became a series of increasingly bizarre affairs. Of the night with the eight commercial-sized containers of mayonnaise, the bag of chicken feathers, and the jelly beans, I cannot bring myself to speak. Suffice it to say that, although I was not able to bring a report of political campaign activity, I looked forward with eager anticipation to my next meeting with Linda.

Her reaction did not disappoint me. Her eyes grew to the size of two green china tea saucers. "Unbelievable," she said, finally finding her voice. "I knew Jack Smellman was a right-wing extremist. I didn't know he was mentally unbalanced."

"Only if you consider chasing white mice around a living room with a fondue fork to be mentally unbalanced," I said.

She scribbled faster than I thought humanly possible. "Wait until Val reads this. This should kill Smellman's chances for re-election. "She took my hand and brought it to her cheek. "You are so sweet and brave for doing this, Warren."

"I'm just glad to do my part to help the disadvantaged and the deprived and so forth and so on," I said, hoping to hide my blush in the plentiful shadows.

For the next night, the governor had asked me to meet him in a large commercial building in the downtown area. Brushing past a homeless man who requested I invest in his rehabilitation, I arrived as directed at a fifth floor office carrying a box with that day's requested items. Instead of the governor, I found Sid Putrib lurking in the dark hallway.

"War', the Gov was called away to some important state government-type business," he said, taking the box. "Said he was real sorry and for you just to leave the stuff with me. I'll get it to him later. Thanks a mil, War'. Just keep the receipt and The Gov will pay you back."

Grateful for the chance to have a night to myself, I shook Sid's hand, immediately wiped mine on my pants, and went home.

I slept quite soundly that night and woke refreshed. But when I opened my door to find the daily newspaper, my sense of well being vanished. I was astounded by the headline article.


I grabbed the paper and feverishly read the story. A burglar had made forced entrance into the office of a local psychiatrist, stolen the private medical records of the Democratic candidate, and left them anonymously on the doorstep of The Daily News. The papers revealed that Jack Rankin was under treatment for a number of psychological difficulties, not the least of which was enuresis, a condition that had plagued Rankin since he had returned from serving in Viet Nam.

My first thought was for poor Linda, whose hero now had no chance at all of winning. I knew that Southerners in particular disapproved of mental illness and that no right-thinking American voter would abide a governor who regularly soiled the gubernatorial sheets. I felt quite like weeping and would have had I not noticed the address of the psychiatrist's office as reported in the article.

It was the same building, floor, and office where I had handed Sid Putrib a box containing a brace and bit, a file, a chisel, and a crowbar. "An amazing coincidence," I was just thinking to myself when the doorbell rang. There were three men in black suits and sunglasses, brandishing small identification cards. "State Bureau of Investigation," one said. "May we come in?"

* * *

"You were set up!" says the man in the crew neck sweater.

"You were a stooge!" says the bearded man in the NO FEAR T-shirt.

"You were framed!" says the man in the blue serge suit.

"Like the Mona Lisa in the Louvre," says Warren, wiping a drop of Merlot from the corner of his mouth. "It took the agents less than two minutes to locate the receipt for the tools that had been left at the scene of the crime. The homeless man in the street whom I had brushed aside was the star witness. He later became the Republican Party candidate for Secretary of Labor.

"Being, as I said, of straitened means, I was represented by the public defender, a man whose wife was the second cousin of the governor. The counselor assured me if I answered all questions honestly all would come right in the end.

"I did as he advised. When put on the stand, I reported the details of my nights with the governor, or rather with Smeckers, as I had been accustomed to calling him. My testimony only served to amuse the jury who had to be reprimanded for their rollicking expressions of incredulity."

"Did you tell them you were working for the Democrats?" asks the man in the crew neck sweater.

"Alas, the Democrats denied having any association with me. They, of course, blamed me for sabotaging the election. When Linda testified, she said the only relationship we had was one occasion when I had trod on her foot in the elevator."

"And the Republicans?"

"Sid Putrib told the judge that no Republican would ever stoop so low as to break into a man's private office. Of course, the fact that the judge was the brother-in-law of the step-father of the governor's godchild was not in my favor."

The bearded man shakes his head. "Jeez! What happened to you, Warren?"

"From the beginning of the trial there was no doubt I would be found guilty. However, before I was thrown in jail, my sentence was commuted by the governor who, he said, had extraordinary pity for a man who was obviously insane."

The man in the blue serge suit reaches for the bills on the table. "Well, fellows," he says. "He's obviously couldn't be a Republican after that. He admitted he had been swayed to the Democratic Party."

"After the girl he loved denied him in his hour of need? No way he could still be a Democrat," says the bearded man, grabbing the wrist of the man in the blue serge suit.

"I knew he hated both parties," says the man in the crew neck sweater. "I don't blame him for being a Libertarian." He takes hold of the bearded man's arm.

"You gentlemen have overlooked a critical factor," says Warren. "Stealing confidential medical records is a felony. As a convicted felon, I have not been eligible to vote for over thirty years. And since each of you has lost," he says, rising and taking the bills off the table, "the house keeps the kitty."

Article © Jonathan D. Scott. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-03-29
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