Damn, I almost did it.After all these years, I almost got into a political argument with my hot-headed, partisan brother about whether our current president was saying and doing the right things.I almost had opinions.I almost got a little hot under the collar.
Before I tell you how this turned out, I’m going to tell you a true story.The year was 1968, and I was thirteen years old.It was the year that Eugene McCarthy was running for president.It was a year that young people all over America were getting involved in the political process.No, it was no longer a world dominated by adults, who had, by the way, been making a real mess of things.At least, that’s how I remember it.I got most of my opinions and information from my parents, who were both liberal Democrats.I heard them talking about the youth in this country and how great it was that they were now in the mix.It was especially encouraging for Mom and Dad, since most of the kids getting involved in politics were on the side of the Democrats.Some people back then laughed at the idea of kids campaigning for candidates, but a lot of people thought young people could make a real difference.Anyway, this is what I heard discussed at our dinner table, so was it any wonder?I wanted to be one of these kids.I wanted my opinions to count, and so with my parents’ blessing, I got involved.
Several blocks from our house there lived a Democrat named Carlton Ambrose, and Mr. Ambrose was running for a local office in our area.In his driveway he had erected a large tent to house his little campaign headquarters, and one day after school I went to the tent with a good friend of mine named Bobby Kranz.Bobby’s parents were also Democrats, and Bobby, like me, had an interest in current political issues.We stepped into the big tent, and there was Mr. Ambrose, larger than life, an honest-to-God local political candidate.He was meeting with his staff, and he stopped talking when Bobby and I entered.I remember what it was like in the tent.There were two desks, and several telephones, and several stacks of brochures, and a water cooler, and best of all, there was a large plastic bag by the entrance filled with yellow popcorn.We were deep in the central nervous system of the man’s campaign!It was so exciting.In fact, it was amazing.
“Can I help you boys?” Mr. Ambrose asked.
“We’d like to volunteer,” I said.
“We want to help,” Bobby said.
“How old are you kids?”
“Thirteen, eh?” Mr. Ambrose rubbed his chin. Now that I look back, Mr. Ambrose was probably thinking only of himself, but back then it seemed that he was truly impressed with us as human beings. He seemed to like us. We were willing to step forward and do our share for liberals and the Democratic party. “Jeez,” Mr. Ambrose probably said to his wife that night. “I’m just like Eugene McCarthy.”
“We could use a couple of foot soldiers,” a man in the tent said.
“Yes, yes,” Mr. Ambrose said.Well, after then talking for a few minutes with his associates, and after asking us some pertinent questions, Mr. Ambrose said, “You boys got yourselves a job.”
So, what exactly was our job?Bobby and I were to walk the district neighborhoods, going from house to house and handing out brochures, talking to residents about what a great candidate Mr. Ambrose was, and how much better off the community would be with him in office.We were coached on what to say, and how to handle objections and questions.Jeez, it was great.And Bobby and I did a fantastic job.We didn’t miss a single beat, and we walked the neighborhoods until our feet were sore.We knocked on doors and rang doorbells, and we met all kinds of interesting voters, some who said they’d support for Mr. Ambrose, and others who said they’d think about it, and others who said they were going to vote for the Republican but that they admired us for our efforts.I don’t remember running into a single person who was rude to us.It was truly one of the better experiences of my young life, and I honestly thought Bobby and I were making a huge difference.And I honestly thought Mr. Ambrose would win the election.
Then came election day, and I sat with my parents in our family room.We watched the election results come in on the TV in the evening.The most amazing thing happened.Mr. Ambrose got his rear end booted clear to the moon and back.He didn’t just lose by a few votes, but he lost by a landslide.The man he was running against was an incumbent, and my dad said not to feel bad, that incumbents always had a leg up on challengers.But it didn’t help, and I felt terribly bad for Mr. Ambrose and his bag of popcorn.
Fast forward six months after the election was over.I had moved on.I was now concerned with things such as baseball, pretty girls, and popular music.I remember I was pitching in Little League, and I had just mastered my curve ball.And I had my eye on a girl named Jennie Anderson.Every time I tried to talk to her, I made a fool of myself.And I remember Spinning Wheel by Blood, Sweat and Tears was my favorite song.My dad bought me the album, and I listened to it over and over.Bobby and I were still friends, and we hung out together after school.We were walking home from school one day when we were about to pass Mr. Ambrose’s house.Of course, the campaign tent was gone, and it just looked just like an ordinary old ranch style house.Mr. Ambrose was dressed in jeans and working in his open garage.I saw him at his workbench, and I told Bobby I was going to say hi.
I cut the corner and walked on Mr. Ambrose’s lawn toward the open garage, and Bobby walked alongside me.When we were halfway there, in the middle of the front yard, Mr. Ambrose turned around and glared at us.He didn’t even recognize our faces.He had no idea who we were.“Get off my Goddamn lawn,” he shouted at us.He looked mad as hell.“What the hell is wrong with you kids?”
“Sorry,” I said.
“We should get out of here,” Bobby said.Bobby and I walked back to the sidewalk, and continued on toward home.
That is my story.So, was I now going to argue with my brother about our president?No way in hell.I counted to ten.I took a deep breath.I reached down deep to the issues that really mattered to me.“How about those Braves,” I said. “I think they have a real chance this year so long as they stay healthy.”