Friday, October 31, 2008
When I do get up the first thing I do is practice yoga for an hour. I sit down for breakfast. I play guitar. I take a long shower. I lather up with scented soap. I shave. I massage coconut oil into my hair. I put on my scent, Eternity by Calvin Klien. I dress. Then I get in the car and head for the office. I leave antique Jim Thorpe nestled in autumnal golden brown hills and gripped with fear I head for Lehighton.
Everyday there is like a roller coaster. Like last night, when I was talking to an undecided.
"Are there any issues in particular that concern you" I asked.
"Yeah, Health Care."
I started to explain the different aspects of Senator Obama's stance on Health Care. I started with the states initiative to expand coverage to children that Senator Bob Casey had talked so passionately about.
"Yeah, C.H.I.P.s My kids are covered already. I got paralyzed on one side of my body and the insurance company says it was a pre-existing condition. They said I got it from lying on my sofa chair."
I started to tell him about how part of Senator Obama's plan was to eliminate that exception. But before I got two words out of my mouth he interrupted me again.
"I don't care about that. You democrats that's all you do. It's just a load of double talk."
"Sir. If you could just let me explain..."
"No you listen to me." He was screaming. "The judge changed the decision on the bench. He even let a doctor change his testimony over the phone and you guy's just go on and on about Health Care for other people's children. That doesn't concern ME."
I laughed. The laughter was genuine and spontaneous. He had completely taken me by surprise.
"What are you laughing at?"
"I'm sorry." I said. "I never heard that before. You don't care about other peoples children?"
"Now you've done it. Now you've really ticked me off. Now you WON'T get my vote."
I know I am not the best person for this job. I let myself get painted into a corner and then I don't know how to get myself out. When I first decided to go to a battleground state they asked me what my greatest strength was. Then they asked me what my greatest weakness was. I thought for a moment.
"I spend a lot of time reading and educating myself on the issues. When I talk to someone who's knowledge runs as deep as the latest sound bite from Fox News I just think they are ignorant and not worth talking to. I don't imagine that is going to be very effective."
Then there are days like yesterday when I spotted a little old lady peering through the door. She was perfectly coiffured. She had on a plaid wool jacket with large brown buttons. On her lapel was a gold jeweled pin of a rose. She had a cane. I went and opened the door.
"I hope I am not intruding." She asked elegantly.
"No not at all. What's up?"
"I would like to help. I like that Obama. We need new ideas."
"Sure." I said. I sat her down and gave her a form to fill out. She looked up at me with crystal grey eyes and smiled.
"I hope you know you are getting a life long Republican to volunteer for you."
That is what it is like. Every day. By the end of it I am paralyzed. Exhausted. But at nine P.M. I wrap it up and I am happy. I race back to my Victorian hideaway. I have a cup of mint tea. I turn on the old TV that Louise has painted pink and glued doilys to. I have learned to keep it tuned to Turner Classic Movies. I do not stray. Beyond that there is only more turmoil.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
"I hear you are doing great things."
So naturally I thought him a decent man.
He asked me what I needed. I told him we needed signs. The locals were fixated on the sign war. These giant McCain/Palin signs really made them feel defeated and the ubiquitous LOU signs were just more stray buckshot.
"Is that all?" He said.
"I don't know sir, can you somehow get these people to volunteer?"
He turned me over to his assistant who had some impossible name like Heather Feather. She had the manicured look of an airline pilot. I gave her my details.
I had to leave before he gave his speech in the cellar of the AmVets hall. The Hall had been built in the 50s and nothing had changed about it except that it had acquired a 5 decade coat of coal dust. Veterans quietly drank upstairs in a long dimly lit bar. The were waited upon by women who still sported the bouffant hairdos of their distant youth.,
The rain was coming down in torrents as I drove back to Lehighton. Later I heard that Kanjorski's speech, along with an indictment of the Bush regime as imperialist, included a plea for volunteers. The next day, the hard core democrats,, the ones who snorted at me when I talked about phone banking and canvassing, began showing up.
Sorry about the over the top style Marin. But I needed to get that written anyways.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
He gave an impressive speech. There was a magical feeling in our tiny office as he stood on the dais and address the crowd of volunteers. I wondered where they all came from. Why don't they show up for phone banking? Casey has a way of making the connection between what happens in Washington and how it manifests itself in Lehighton. He recounted the tale of how he and his fellow senators including some conservative Republicans had put together a bill to expand health care coverage to children.
Lehighton and I know there are hundreds more that need it. George Bush vetoed that bill. John McCain voted against it and applauded that veto. We need a president in Washington who will sign that legislation."
My goal was to get one of those self made photos with him but between the security and the volunteers I didn't think it was going to happen. Then it happened. Casey and his family had gone out to canvass door to door with the rest of our people. They came straggling back in in ones and twos. I was coming up from the cellar and there he was sitting in a chair by himself.
"Hey" I said. "Mind if I get a shot of us?" Katie a 17 year old intern from the Hazleton office offered to snap it. "No, no, no." I said. " I can do it.
I put my arm on his shoulder and held my cell phone up. Katies Jaw dropped. I snapped it.
"You're doing a hell of a job here." He told me with what seemed like genuine warmth. He walked out and on to the bus.
"Oh my god." Katie said. "You totally popped his Myspace cherry."
"Not bad." I thought as the bus pulled out. Last Saturday I walked into an empty office went down to the cellar and cleaned the toilet. Today a senator from the state of Pennsylvania was sitting on it.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Linda and Roy Chrisman organized this float for the Halloween parade in Lehighton. It is supposed to be a switchback train car. Jim Thorpe had a steam and gravity powered one back before the turn of the century. Kind of like a rollercoaster for loggers. They put a cardboard cut out of Obama in the back of the float, as if he is on a whistle stop tour. Almost everyone in town came out for the parade. One reason is that almost all the marchers throw free candy out to the crowd. The kids know this and were out there in force. And there were lots of marchers; a couple of motorcyle gangs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, a guy like easy rider with a huge flag attached to his bike, little girl acrobats doing all kinds of impossible flips and handstands, an armada of classic cars, and plenty of giant trucks.
Friday, October 17, 2008
"Just between you and me. Why don't you try Vonnage."
I called them and the problem was that with all of the start-up costs it came out to being only a hundred or two less.
Ron said he had some ideas on donations, but the best he could come up with was $500 from Keith McCall's campaign. Then I was riding down 433 and saw this swirling blow up doll next to a huge sign. FREE PHONES.
I told the lady I only needed service for a month. She said:
"That's OK, as long as you cancel within thirty days you don't have to pay anything."
"Nothing? I can cancel for any reason?"
"Well if its a complaint about service we might try to give you another phone."
"But other than that, If I cancel by November 17th I don't have to pay anything?"
"And the phones are free?"
"After the rebate."
"I don't have to return them even if I cancel?"
"No. You own them."
So I got the family plan for 5 phones. I got a plan for 6000 thousand minutes each. Donna and I filled in all of the rebate forms and cut the bar codes off the boxes and photocopied everything and mailed it all in. I had to pay $265 dollars up front for the phones but I get $250 back. Total cost for 5 lines, $15. And the DNC coughed up two more cells for us.
Ron said to me:
"How do you sleep at night?"
"The sign said 'Free Phones' Ron."
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
"What are you, a nigger lover?"
The portrait of Senator Obama arrived today. Dawn wrapped it so nicely I could not resit waiting to open it. Chris lost the coin toss so she went over to the laundromat to dump off both of our over stuffed bags. When she came back Kim was there along with some other Volunteers for the unvieling.
As I was hanging it up a guy with a blonde pony tail drove by in a white pick up truck.
"Right on!" he yelled as he was cruizing by. He parked and came in immediately with one of his construction buddies to volunteer. Sometimes even I am surprised by the kind of people who support Obama. Like the hunter who came in and offered to make venison stew for all of us. Or the 40 year republican guy who couldn't take McCain's "dirty smear tatics."
I was training one of the volunteers in making persuasion calls. Her name is Mary. I was telling her about how you did'nt need to be a policy wonk. I told just tell people why you are supporting Obama.
"Well." she said. "I'm 19 years old and my father just died and left me with nothing. I'm living on my own and waiting on tables. I'd like to go to school but I just can't afford it. I can't even afford to go to a community college. My mother is even worse off than me. I think Barack is gonna change all that."
I hear a story like that every day. Like Don who came in to phone bank with us. He has had four brain surgeries. There is a quarter sized welt on his head in each spot where they went in. He got a virus inside his head, became gravely ill and was fired by his company. His insurance provider which he had paid into for 20 years refused to cover him. He sued and won. He said he would come in and help as much as possible before Monday. On Monday he is scheduled for his 5th surgury.
"I might not be able to come anymore after that. I just hope I get to vote."
There was also Helen Gula whom I met canvassing. She is a proud Obama supporter surrounded by McPalin people. She told me that before her husband died she has said to him.
"Joe, you are all I got. If you die I got nothing." They had both immigrated from Checkoslovakia. He told her that it wasn't true, that she would be allright. He was a veteran from World War Two and when he did die she was right. She had nothing. It was her good fortune that a man from the VA took an interest in her case and won her benifits. She knew him from her church. Now she gets $700 a month.
"Thank god the house is paid for." She says. Currently her montly heating bill is $437 a month and still she pays taxes.
Monday, October 13, 2008
At Molly Maguires you can partake of this gigantic sandwich for free. As long as you are willing to listen to the locals scream at the coaches on Monday Night Football.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
I switched over the ridge to Jim Thorpe PA. Jim Thorpe has been colonized by New Yorkers for the past 30 years. It is nestled in the nook of a little river bed surrounded by mountain views. The main street is filled with restored Victorian homes. Most of them have been transformed into galleries, coffee shops, restaurants and Bed and Breakfasts. There is an old Opera house now used for third tier rock bands. For instance, Blue Oyster Cult is playing there on Halloween. They have an antique locomotive that ferries tourist in from surrounding villages. It was a great tourist destination at the turn of the century. Back then it was nicknamed little Switzerland.
I was walking up the main street when I saw a "Vacancy" sign on one of the B & Bs. The place is called Victori-ann's and I'm sure there are better pictures on the web. I thought it would be cost prohibitive but I couldn't resits knocking. I was met at the door by the owner Louise. Louise has a shock of white hair on top of her cherubic elderly face. She is 84. She still does most of the work. She has a big fat dog named Molly who loves to have her belly scratched. The entire place is decorated with the belief that there can never be enough bric a brac. Ever. Her color scheme rarely strays away from pink and lavender.
"I thought I turned that damned sign around." Louise told me in her gravely voice. She used to be a cabaret singer in New York during the thirties and forties. Her son and grand daughter are still in show business.
We hit it off quickly and she made a deal with me that I could not refuse. It does include one Saturday where I may have to sleep on the couch but for the most part I am staying in the same room. I have a little veranda where I catch a tiny fragment of a wi-fi signal so I can sit and catch up on my blog. I help her take out the trash and I walk the dog now and then.
The office is up and running now with just barely enough supplies to make it to the next day. The town is pitching in and every day people bring us new things. The volunteer core is growing. I am so tired I cannot even imagine how I will make it to November 5th.
Ron is awesome. He is a 5th grade teacher her in Lehighton. Can you believe he had these patriotic flag buntings in his cellar. He also brought over cleaning solutions, folding chairs, speaker wire, a hammer, a coffee maker and painted the bathroom floor. Yeah, among other things. He also is one of the handful of Jim Thorpers who will go out and canvass.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
I was cleaning up the new office when Ardana stopped in. She told me that this used to be her favorite place. She told me they sold all kinds of knick knacks here. Ardana suffers from cerebral palsy. She told me that her father threw her against a wall when she was nine months old. He didn't want no girl children.
She has seizures and has to take medication. It costs her $436 dollars per month. She has social security and it takes a big hunk out of her check. She says she's not mad. She does what she can. She takes old greeting cards and makes bookmarks out of them to send to the troops in Iraq. She also is a big fan of a local football star named Robbie Frey. She thinks Robbie is really hot. She takes his stats and uses them as her numbers in bingo. And she wins.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
This is what it looks like from across the street. My friend Dawn is painting an Obama poster for us to put in the front window. This place is a community project. There is no DNC money over here in Lehighton. People from the town have donated everything, desks, chairs, a coffee maker, a printer, phones. I was talking to the phone guy who is doing the installation for us for free. I said to him I couldn't thank him enough. He said to me:
"Don't thank me, just win this thing."
This is the new office. Bare. The space is being donated by Gene Durigan. He owns the building and a lot of other buildings in town. He is a millionaire and he is a Democrat. I told Kim that we needed to take the lock off of the back door. In case there was an emergency. Gene showed up the next morning. 80 years old in a flannel shirt, work boots a John Deere cap and a huge pair of bolt cutters. After he snapped the padlock off the back door he told me that he discovered it wasn't locked. Then he noticed that the key was hanging next to the door. We both laughed.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
I couldn't find any chocolate for chocolate day. All I found was a stuffed dog in the garbage. But then I saw this terrific blondie at Dragonfly. Dragonfly is the only place in town with a real barista too so it makes it great for Tuesday which is coffee day.
The guy who owns the building next to the Hazleton Headquarters really hates us. He erected this giant sign next to our front door. The funny thing is that Lou Barletta doesn't like McCain and I don't think McCain likes him. McCain is progressive on immigration and Barletta, well, he's a racist.
And Palin and McCain don't agree on a lot of issues. The whole ticket is about to explode.
There is a thing about Hazleton. Half of the stores here are closed. And the other half that you think they are stores you go up to them and try the door and it's locked. You peer in the windows and you see that there is dust everywhere and the phones have been ripped out of the jacks. Its like whoever owned or ran the place fled.
According to Yahoo there was supposed to be a chocolatetier somewhere in the backstreets here. All I found was this dog.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
It was colder here than I thought when I got here. I went to the thrift store across from the Obama For Change office to buy a coat. They didn't carry any mens clothing. I found a really nice black leather jacket in the women's section. The only problem was the buttons were on the wrong side. Hey. It was good enough for Jimi Hendrix.
Then I saw this cup. Can you believe it? It must be some kind of sign. I just don't know what it means.
The first night here I thought I had scored. It was quiet. It was clean. It is run by a family of South Asians. I think maybe Bangledesh. I asked the thin dour man who ran the place if I could have a weekly rate. Sure thing but I would have to move downstairs.
Downstairs in the smoking section it's a different world. My first night there a woman who had tailed her husband there with a prostitute had a screaming match with him in the hallway. It was 3AM. He came storming out and wrestled her down the hallway.
"Andre Smxywnems is wanted in New Jersey." She screamed.
The next night some old man was lecturing his hotel mate directly behind my head. Class was held at 3am. Then Mr. Thump Thump Thump moved in above me. I have been here for 3 days and it already feels like a year.
Monday, October 06, 2008
This is the room that the local Obama staffers found for me in Hazelton. A mattress on the floor. I had to rifle through the closet to find my own sheets. Luckily there was a down comforter in a dry cleaning bag among the piles of boxes and books and VHS cassettes that filled this some sort of study room.
The host wasn't there to greet me. He was working at the campaign headquarters. I don't know who he was or if he was his son but the guy who answered the door had black framed glasses with impossibly thick lenses. He never looked at me but only into the phone he was simultaneously talking into as he led me around the house. He was a nice guy. Friendly. But something had happened in his life and I don't know if he always did but now he stuttered and repeated himself and went off on tangents that, not knowing the terrain of the world he inhabited, that I couldn't follow.
I counted three cats in the house so far as he showed me my choice of rooms. By the smell of the wall to wall carpet they seemed to be engaged in a long drawn out pissing war. Dave.. Day... Davy.. was on the phone with a neighbor who had spotted another combatant that had escaped and had called in to report it's location.
The house had a big Obama sign that filled the screen door. There was another patriotic blue sign on the lawn. Beyond that the neighbors had surrounded it with McCain/Palin signs. These were good people, but I couldn't stay there.
I made my bed. I went to the office. I had a tuna sandwich. Then I went back to the house, took my things and checked into a Motel.
David Murphy bought this black Volvo so that he could surf the Hamptons during the summer of 08. After that he went to Bali. He lent it to me so that I could go to PA to work for the Obama campaign. Its a big car and it was hard to park in Harlem. I ended up bringing it to the Bronx and leaving it on my Aunt Margaret's street. There is no alternate parking up there and she could see it from her front porch.
Driving out to PA from Harlem was easy. Once I got over the GWB I was already on I-95 S. Merging onto I-80 W to PA was a piece of cake. After that it was 117 miles on the same road. Highways really are designed for the most incompetent among us. Even me, a New Yorker who gets behind the wheel maybe 5 times a year can handle it.
I left at mid afternoon and already there were long shadows on the highway. But the sky was a bright blue and the sun still had some summer heat to offer. I opened up the roof. By mid New Jersey the road was dense with trees at the height of their rainbow display.
I turned the dial on the radio and found WFMU coming in strong. The DJ was spinning obscure 60s psychedelia groups. For more than an hour everything was great. Then I approached the Delaware Water Gap. The topography changed. The temperature dropped. FMU sputtered and disintegrated. I turned the dial to the left and Christian rock group on "The Word FM" was thrashing out the lyric:
He shall be named.
He shall be named.
I turned the dial to the right and some old man was crowing about Honest Abe Lincoln walking 200 miles in the snow to return a penny and George Washington chopping down a cherry tree and then owning up to it and how now nobody talks about that anymore because Satan is running everything.
Then I stumbled upon the clear beacon of an NPR affiliate. There was hope.