Archive for September, 2008

The Time has Come

In the past, I had taken pride in being a member of a long-suffering minority. My choice to be in this minority group came at a certain price, but I knew that it was important for me to take a stand against the popular; to do what I thought was right. Besides, I had never known any other path than the path of my conscience. But that all changed this past Tuesday morning, as I stared at the ballot in front of me. I knew it was time for my voice to finally be heard. It was time to end my time as a registered Republican and to register as an undeclared voter.

At heart, I’m still in most ways a Republican, but in this state, and especially in my district, a Republican’s vote is not very valuable in the primary elections. Perhaps, on a good year, there might be one or two unopposed candidates readying themselves for the slaughter of the general election, but there is never a choice.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic Party side of things, there are many contested races. This could be due to the fact that, with a dearth of Republican candidates, the candidate who wins the Democratic primary usually slides into the seat uncontested. Just in the most recent primary election, both the state senate and state representative seats were contested on the Dem side, while the Republican ballot had but a single name – the dude who is going to get smushed by John “Can I Get Me a Hunting License” Kerry.

So, I feel that having a voice in my local elections is more important than taking a stand against an overwhelming majority. Changing my registration might mean fewer uncomfortable situations that I, like any minority, found myself in. A few examples of this:

– Whenever I would show up to vote in any kind of primary, the ladies at the polling place would say, “Republican!” with just the tiniest bit of surprise in their voices. Granted, they probably aren’t doing anything differently (and they certainly aren’t doing anything wrong), but they just seem surprised, as in “Oh, look, a Republican…how quaint!”

– The time, early in our relationship, when one of my wife’s friends took her aside and, in all seriousness, asked, “How could you possibly date a Republican?”

– I won’t have to feel as uncomfortable during the repeated times in my English grad school classes when students, or even professors, throw out some crack about Republicans, or make some supportive statement toward Democrats. It’s not so much that these people make the statements, but the level of pompous certainty they have that there is no chance that anyone in the class might disagree. And, if I disagree – which I usually do – there is no way to indicate that without sparking a big, ugly debate. (Ok, I will probably continue to be uncomfortable in these situations, no matter what my registered status is).

– The above situation happens at work, too. It shouldn’t, but it does.

– I might be able to avoid some of the arguments I sometimes find myself in with my Democratic Party friends. I don’t mind discussing politics, but when people become incoherent in their passion for their cause and begin to believe that I am somehow defective simply because I disagree with them…well, that frightens me a little. It’s also frightening when these otherwise sane and rational people actually argue that people in red states shouldn’t be allowed to vote (usually after losing a presidential election).

– In addition to avoiding the arguments, maybe I won’t have to serve as the lightning rod for all of my friends’ complaints about the latest Bush administration. I admit that I voted for him twice, but I wasn’t crazy about him; I just disliked him less than I disliked Gore and Kerry.

– I’m looking forward to no longer being the target of fundraising letters from Republican politicians from other states. Look, Mr. or Mrs. Republican from a state other than my own: I appreciate that you have an uphill battle and all, but leave me be. There is no cash here for you, no matter that you seem to think that the world will end if you are not elected.

One negative outcome of my change to undeclared is that I will no longer be able to crack the joke that I’m the only Republican in the Town of Clinton. Interestingly, no one ever even chuckles when I make that crack. Instead, they say something like, “Yeah, you’re not the only one. I heard of another one once…then we tracked him down with torches and sharp sticks.”

And, so, I have been hunted down and converted. Sometimes, maybe it’s better to have a voice than to take a stand.

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The Day to Day Grind Tim 18 Sep 2008 No Comments

A Friend Lost

“Hey Tee-im.” It sounded vaguely like someone with a thick southern accent was calling my name.  I had a class to get to (it was the mid-1990’s at UMass-Lowell), so I continued walking. “Tee-im!” I turned around and did a double-take when I saw the tall African-American man smiling at me. “Dwayne?” It was Dwayne.  Holy cow. I should explain.  I met Dwayne while the two of us were stationed at Keesler Air Foce Base in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1989-90.  Dwayne, who was from Alabama, was the shy type, but with a great sense of humor and an infectious, almost guilty laugh.  I was (am) your typical wise-acre and spent my time trying to make him spray soda from his nose. Living in the dorms on Keesler was fairly uneventful.  We trainees went to class, kept our rooms clean, and went to bed at 11pm.  Other than the occasional game of ping pong or pickup basketball, there wasn’t much to do.  Dwayne and I would kill the hours sitting around his room, talking about the future and listening to music.  Our futures, in the short term anyway, looked to be quite different. He was in the regular Air Force, so upon his graduation from Keesler he would be assigned to a base somewhere to begin serving his 4-year hitch.  He was hoping for Hawaii (everyone hopes for Hawaii) but had accepted the probability that he would end up in Nebraska, where his Alabama blood would have to adapt to the cold. I was going home, and I told him all about how I planned to go to the University of Lowell (as it was known then) and become an electrical engineer like two of my brothers.  The Air National Guard was going to pay my tuition and life was going to be good (note:  I graduated with a business degree). The theme music for our conversations was generally provided by Dwayne.  He introduced me to Public Enemy, Luther Vandross, and the Isley Brothers; all on tape, as the only radio options in Biloxi were 896 country stations and 1 classic rock station. When we needed more music, or when we wanted to go to all-night weekend parties at the local motels, we would venture out into Biloxi.  This was a little more exciting than it should have been, since the local Racist White Men with Long Hair and Pickup Trucks Association didn’t like any of us Air Force boys.  The rumor on base was that the local men hated us because their women loved us - if only because we represented a potential escape from Biloxi. The fact that Dwayne was black did not endear us to the locals any more, but luckily he was also 6’2 and had muscles in places where most people didn’t have places (to steal a line from the late Ron Luciano).  A stern look from Dwayne was usually enough to keep the confrontations verbal rather than physical. My days in Mississippi came to an end in March of 1990.  I heard that after I left, Dwayne and some other Airmen rented a van and drove it to New Orleans, where it was promptly stolen, along with all of their clothes.  After that, I didn’t hear much from Dwayne.  There were a smattering of letters, and I would talk to him on the radio from my National Guard base once in a while, but soon we had lost touch. Then, more than 4 years after I had last seen him, Dwayne was standing in the Registrar’s office at UMass-Lowell, shaking my hand.  He had remembered my plans; so when his Air Force hitch ended, he moved up to Massachusetts, joined my Air National Guard unit and enrolled at Lowell; just like that. We made plans to get together, and I ran off to class, feeling a bit shocked and thrilled. But, it didn’t work out.  I was busy with the social side of school, and Dwayne and I only got together a few times.  He was quiet and shy, and no matter how many times I invited him to hang out at my fraternity house, he just never made it over there.  He was in a strange place, and taking classes that were extremely challenging.  Soon, he joined a local religious group.  He was excited about the group – they were quite friendly - and tried to talk to me about it. But, from my days working as a Resident Advisor, I knew that the group had been classified by the University as a cult. I was alarmed and tried to warn him away from it - but he wasn’t interested in my advice.  We stopped talking so much, and the months flew past faster than even one of those Mississippi afternoons.  I was busy, he was busy.  When the semester ended, Dwayne dropped out of school, left my National Guard unit, and went home to Alabama without leaving a phone number or address.  I have not seen or spoken to him since. What might have happened if, very early on, I had taken him home to meet my family and to enjoy a dinner; if I had really tried to help him adjust to life in a strange place and to feel at home?  What if I had just been less stubborn about walking over to the dorms instead of insisting that he come to the fraternity house?  What if I had been less busy with things that I can’t even remember today? I’ll never know.  I miss Dwayne sometimes.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 04 Sep 2008 No Comments