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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

An Empty Canvas

After hearing that George McGovern, my second political hero, had died this week, Other Bill and I decided that we would, in honor of McGovern, go down to Obama HQ and do some phone canvassing, just as I had done in 1972 for the democratic nominee who ended up carrying only Massachusetts and DC. Nixon slaughtered him, but we all know where he ended up, now, don’t we?

Phone canvassing in 1972 was really a kind of a kick in the pants. I’d walk over after school to a large commercial building set up with rows and rows of telephones (and they may have even been rotary phones) manned by volunteers from people my age (15) to octogenarians. Each caller had a portion of a huge printout of all registered Democrats in the 813 area code.

Because there were no answering machines or Caller ID software back then, the number you called was either busy, or no one answered, or someone picked up. Mostly, they picked up.

“Hello, this is Bill Wiley calling from Democratic headquarters here in Tampa. I’d like to ask you three short questions about the election if you’ll allow me.”

The three questions were:
1.      How do you feel about the Democratic candidate this year? (This was kind of a trick question to make sure they were paying attention; also to make sure they knew who the candidate was without saying his satanic name in the first question.)
2.      Can Senator McGovern count on your vote this year?
3.      Do you need a ride to the polls?

Most of the time, you didn’t get past the first question, because you would get hung up on, cursed at like a drill sergeant, or they’d say “I wouldn’t vote for that bastard if he wuz running for…" And in the blank space there would be one of several candidate positions that do not ever appear on any ballot.

Most often it was “dog catcher.” I wouldn’t let that rat’s ass clean my septic tank. I wouldn’t allow that n-lovin’ boy to shine my shoes. I wouldn’t piss on him if he were on fire. That man’s not worthy to wipe my ass. That was Tampa in 1972, and I suspect that little has changed since then. I can’t go back there without Demerol and clean needles.

After an hour or two of abuse, volunteers would go to the break table and have a cup of coffee or a cup of ice water and compare some of the sillier responses we got from Democrats, people who were supposed to be on our side. McGovern promised to end the Vietnam War the day he took office, for God’s sake. Who could not vote for someone who would do that? There was a great sense of hope and camaraderie at that table, even though we all knew we were fighting a losing battle.

There were a few inspiring calls. The one I remember most was an old woman who said she was blind and would like to volunteer to help with the campaign. “I can’t do much,” she said, “but I can stuff envelopes and lick stamps.” After I finished the call I went outside, sat on the curb and wept  relentlessly. Then I composed myself, went back in and gave the blind woman’s phone number to the volunteer coordinator, who called her back immediately.

Phone canvassing in 2012 is entirely different. First of all, there is no commercial building. It’s just someone’s house. There are no rows of tables filled up with phones. The register of callees is not just Democrats in our area. It’s data pulled from a website where people have bought Obama “stuff”; in other words, people who have been pre-determined to be Obama leaners or supporters. This eliminates the, “I wouldn’t let that sumbitch pick fleas off my dawg” comments. We were calling them basically to remind them to vote and let them know the early voting locations.

The lack of a phone bank indicates the technology change. The Obama assumption is that its volunteers have cell phones with unlimited minutes. This created a problem. Other Bill cannot use his employer-issued phone for personal use, especially for political causes. My cell phone, which I have used 5 times in a little over a year, is a Jitterbug. If I were to walk down the beach and pick up an undivided scallop shell, it would make calls better than the Jitterbug. They should call it the D&D: Distort and Drop.

So we both were given permission to work from home. Other Bill used our land line, and I tried to use the D&D, but after it dropped the second call that most people consider to be telemarketing anyway, I gave up on it, and we tag-teamed our landline instead.

Another technology change: Due to Caller ID, which most everyone has, excluding the Bills, no one answers their phone, so 90% of the time, you get voicemail. We had been instructed not to leave messages. We made over 200 calls and actually talked to 19 humans, most of whom pledged to support Obama for re-election. Big surprise, since they had all bought yard signs or t-shirts or pinbacks. We also got called back by people who now own our home phone number.

So it was a big waste of time.

We’re not giving up, though. We promised to go back next weekend, because they said they will have better tasks for us to do other than phone canvassing. Early election will be in full swing, so maybe we can take an old blind lady to the polls.

Since then I have canceled my Jitterbug service and finally bought a smart phone, which is pretty much useless when it is paired with a user who’s not smart. Flip Wilson as Geraldine used to say, “The devil made me buy this dress.” For me, Obama made me buy this phone.

Meanwhile, twice a week I am receiving robocalls from the RNC. If I’m there, I make sure I listen until the end of the message so I’m not databased as a “hang-up.”

I like giving them a sense of false hope, something I was filled with back when I was 15.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How to Exorcise that Awful Song Stuck in Your Head

Her name was Lola.

If pharmaceutical companies really want their stocks to rise and profits to skyrocket, they will invent a pill that will block your brain’s ability to get an annoying, repetitive song trapped in your head. I’d be more than happy every month to fork over a double co-pay for that.

During rare times of silence between Other Bill and me, which is a nicer way of saying, “Whenever Other Bill exhibits the ability to keep his pie hole shut for more than three minutes,” he will often ask me, “What song are you singing?”

Because we are such a happy, loving couple (and the previous paragraph should prove that), if we don’t have a song in our hearts, we certainly have one in our heads. Usually this is a good thing, and it’s a good song. I will tell him the song in my head, and then he will tell me what’s in his.

There’s a thrift store we frequent some Saturdays, usually in the late morning. Because they have such a huge profit margin, this thrift store is capable of paying for satellite radio, and it is always tuned into a station that plays reruns of Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 from the 70’s.

If you spent your teen years in the 1970’s, chances are you listened to “the countdown,” on the weekend. Also, if you were a teenager in the 70’s, you listened to a lot of pop song schlock. Disco was thriving in the seventies, and in order to have a hit, your song had to have a repetitive, meaningless but danceworthy theme. Because that’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, we liked it, uh-huh, uh-huh. That’s the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, we liked it, uh-huh, uh-huh. We also liked shiny, flammable, suffocating nylon Nik-Nik shirts and baggy brushed denim pants with madras plaid cuffs. They were so baggy that you could put them on after you’d donned your platform heeled, patent leather checkerboard zip-up boots. Yes, I have pictures.

It was a bad, bad time for fashion and music, and it left many of us severely scarred with the inability to remove these lyrics from our heads even forty years later. Most of us, however, did move on to less ridiculous, safer clothing.

I have triggers. When we were in the thrift store Saturday, and Casey was introducing a song that “debuted this week at number thirty-nine by a Swedish group, two boys and two girls. The group is Abba, and the song? Fernando.” My first instinct was to run as fast as my ancient legs would propel me, out of the store and onto the street. You see, any song by Abba, KC and the Sunshine Band, and every Barry Manilow song except for “Mandy,” for some odd reason, will plant itself in my head like a fast-growing poison ivy vine, which will “itch” for sometimes 48 hours or more.

But I chose instead to stay inside, shopping for t-shirts of the humorous kind, hoping that Fernando would not pollute my head for days to come.

And luckily, it didn’t. I escaped unscathed and un-possessed by two boys and two girls from Sweden.

A day later, Other Bill and I were quietly working in the back yard on a project to prevent an area that had evolved into a hotspot of erosion. He was planting ground cover while I was building a brick border to re-route the water.

These are usually quiet times, where we are one with the dirt and other parts of nature. Suddenly, Other Bill, as his operating system compels him, broke the silence.

“What song are you singing?” he asked.

I understand this to mean not what song I am actually belting out, but have playing on a teeny unremovable LP turntable beneath my skull.

“I don’t know the title,” I said, “but Joan Baez is singing it.”

Then, just to be polite and reciprocal, I asked him, “What’s in your head?”

“Ugh. Fernando.

“Ah, so you were lulled in by Casey Kasem at the thrift store yesterday,” I said.

“Yeah, I suppose so.”

Before I could shovel out another trowel full of dirt, someone reached inside my brain, removed the Joan Baez album, smashed it to bits with a sledgehammer, and replaced it with the 45 of Fernando.

I don’t even know the words to Fernando. I don’t want to know the words to Fernando. I just want Fernando dead. All I know is, “There was something in the air that night, blah-blah-blah-blah, Fernando. There was something there blah-blah-blah-blah, blah-blah-blah-blah, Fernando.” 

Two minutes after Other Bill’s song announcement, I said, “Goddammit!”

“What’s wrong?” he asked, ever concerned about my well-being.

“Now I’m singing Fernando.” I said. And it has now been playing in my head for almost 18 hours.

Sometimes if I am being annoying, and yes, naysayers, it’s true, there are times that this quiet, mousey, unassuming person can cross the line, Other Bill will ask me, “What was her name?”

That’s another one of my triggers. There is only one answer to that: “Her name was LO-la. She was a SHOW-girl. Blahblahblahblahblahblahblahblahblah at the CO-pa. Copaca-BAAAAN-a. Music was blah-blah while the blah-blah was blah-blah at the COOOO-pa…”

I want to kill Other Bill when he asks that question, and I think I could get off with a justifiable homicide defense. “Copacabana” is my all-time worst stuck-song nightmare, and he knows it. It can play for months. And starting right now, no doubt, it will, just because I have written it here for your entertainment and my torture. I might have to start cutting myself.

So after I was possessed by Fernando, I tried really hard to go back to the Joan Baez song, but that record was shattered, and besides, I had forgotten it. I tried In the Quiet Morning, Stewball, Prison Trilogy, and even the more popular The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down and Diamonds and Rust. Nothing would stick. Joan had turned Teflon on me.

Then I decided to try something repetitive, but more peaceful, a song from a better decade, a song by Bob Dylan, the poet laureate of a generation, something inspiring, a protest song, a call to action. So I started humming Blowin’ in the Wind. I love Blowin’ in the Wind. To this day, I still get goosebumps when I hear Peter Paul and the late Mary, up the volume when they sing, “How many deaths will it take ‘til we know that too many people have died?”

And you know what? It worked.  Thank you, Bob. Thank you Peter, Paul and late Mary.

So the next time you can’t get “shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake, shake your BOO-ty, shake your BOO-ty” out of your head, I suggest you fire up Blowin’ in the Wind.  It worked for me.

Of course, now I can’t get Blowin’ in the Wind out of my head, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

This essay has been brought to you as a public service announcement from the Seventies Music Revisionist Organization.

She was a showgirl.

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