Enough with the '08 Presidential 'Buzz' Already
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Union Station, late Sunday evening. Arriving in town after a long train ride to do a post-election follow-up, I ducked into the men's room to wash my face before hailing a cab. As I propped my roller luggage against the tile wall and flicked on the faucet, I heard a voice -- to my surprise, since I'd thought the bathroom was empty.
"Hey," it said. "Hey, excuse me. I'm sorry. I know how this sounds, but do you have six dollars?"
I turned the faucet off and turned around. A dumpy-looking white man in a wrinkled pinstripe suit was standing with his hands clasped together outside the corner stall. His temples were moist and he had a lilac-colored tie with white flecks and a large coffee stain running down the middle yanked loose around his unbuttoned collar. Looking closer, I saw that there was a semi-coherently arranged pile of newspapers and brown bathroom paper towels on the stall floor; Mr. Pinstripe had apparently made a bed for the night.
"Six dollars?" I asked.
"Yes," he said. "You see, my cousin was supposed to come with my train fare, but he didn't show up, andÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ well, I need to get to Trenton, and I'm six dollars short. If you give me your address, I can pay you--"
"What's your cousin's name?" I asked.
"My cousin?" he said. "Well, his name is, uhÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ his name is George. It's George. George Anderson."
"George Anderson, huh?" I said. "And what's your name?"
The man sighed. "Okay, buddy, look," he said. "I don't have a cousin. I just need some money. Can you give me six dollars or can't you?"
I frowned. "Wait a minute. Don't I know you from somewhere?"
"Oh, God," the man in the suit said, shaking his head. "Yes, you might have seen me before."
"Hey, yeah," I said, snapping my fingers. "I saw you in USA Today, right?"
"Okay, you got me," he said. "I'm Tom Vilsack's buzz."
"Tom Vilsack? The Governor of Iowa?"
"But you can't be Tom Vilsack," I said. "Tom Vilsack has no lips and a saggy neck and he looks like a roadie for a Lawrence Welk tribute band. But you're bald, for one thing, and--"
"No, no, you don't understand," the man snapped. "I'm not Tom Vilsack. I'm Tom Vilsack's buzz."
The bathroom was silent for a moment except for the dripping of the faucet.
"Impossible," I said finally. "Tom Vilsack has a buzz already? A 2008 buzz?"
"No, it's possible, believe me," the man said. "I'm him."
"But the midterm elections only ended like ten minutes ago!" I said. "Nobody can possibly have a buzz yet!"
"You couldn't be more wrong," he said, pulling out a wrinkled magazine from somewhere under his suit jacket. "Check out this week's Time. Here. Read the underlined section."
I took the magazine and read. "'Real Buzz Begins for Next White House Bids.'" I kept reading, then shook my head. "But this is all about McCain. Says he attended 346 events this year. Then there's a little bit about Biden, and RomneyÃ¢â‚¬Â¦"
"But it mentions Vilsack," the man said. "And here. Look, this is from the New York Post last week. Story's called Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ1st Up for '08 Gives Hill Fair Warning.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Maggie Haberman says that announcing early 'generates some buzz' for Vilsack.' You hear that? I'm generated."
He held up the Post article, which was crudely ripped around the edges. I waved him off.
"I don't know," I said. "That doesn't mean anything. What does Joe Trippi say? You don't have a buzz without a Joe Trippi quote."
"Des Moines Register from the weekend," he said, clearing his throat and handing me the clip. He read: "'Joe Trippi, who managed Democrat Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign, said Vilsack generates a good buzz when he travels around the country.'"
I examined the article closely.
"Wow," I said. "Vilsack does have a buzz. Goddamn."
"That's what I'm telling you," he said. "So can I have that six dollars?"
He wrung his hands nervously in front of him, then scratched his nose. I noticed that he had a sore on the back of his left hand, which also had a piece of dirty gauze around the thumb.
"Wait a second," I said. "If you're Tom Vilsack's buzz, then what the hell are you doing sleeping in Union Station on a Sunday night? What's going on here?"
"Oh," he said, eyes darting left and right. "I'm not sleeping here."
I stared at him. "Bullshit," I said.
"Okay, well, fine, I am sleeping here! Jesus, you're tough," he said. "But it's just tonight. I had a little problem."
"What kind of problem?" I asked.
"Well, here's what happened," he said. "I was up on New York Avenue with Irving Kristol last night. We were trying to buy a couple of gelcaps from this guy named Hi-Top, who Irving knew. This Hi-Top, he tells us to meet him behind a Burger King up there, we bring the money, and he shows up, and all three of us get jumped by Rudy Giuliani's and Barack Obama's buzzes, these two big motherfuckers in black leather jackets. They take the money and the drugs and then they run away towards the Baltimore-Washington parkway. Irving says he saw them get into a blue Pontiac under the freeway. So he goes back to his car and says he thinks he knows where he can find them, and he tells me to go back to Union Station, wait for him here. He's all showing me his gun and everything, says he's going to fix those guys good. That was last night. Anyway, he hasn't showed up yet."
He took a deep breath and traced his shoe on the tile floor. "I'm beginning to worry that something happened to him," he said. "I mean, that was almost 24 hours ago. He won't pick up his cell phone. And I don't have any money left. My flight back to Des Moines is out of New York and don't have any way of getting up there, and--"
"Stop," I said. "Just stop."
I leaned over, put my head in my hands, and thought deeply for a moment.
"Okay," I said to Tom Vilsack's buzz. "You almost had me, but no. I refuse to listen to this. I'm just not interested. This is crazy. It's not even Thanksgiving in 2006 yet. I'm not going to spend even one more second thinking about the 2008 elections. Not one second, do you hear me, you asshole? You people are all out of your fucking minds. All of you! Elections in Japan take six weeks! And don't think I don't know you didn't cook up this story just for my benefit. Tom Vilsack's buzz, getting jobbed in an East DC smack deal by an American Enterprise Institute fellow and punched in the eye in an alley by Rudy Giuliani's buzz? That's very clever, but I'm just not listening to it. Okay? It's 2006. I'm going to finish my little post-election wrapup here in Washington, go up to Boston, have turkey with my family, and I'll see all you assholes in 16 months or so. Okay?"
Tom Vilsack's buzz sagged, looking crestfallen.
"You mean it?" he said. "You really think Irving was in on it?"
"Of course he was in on--!" I started to shout. "No. Wait. I don't care. I don't care if he was in on it! I'm just going to back out of this bathroom now. Okay?"
I stood there panting, eyes wild, glaring at him.
"Okay, I hear you," he said finally. "But before you go, can I have the six dollars?"
I squinted in frustration.
"Dammit!" I said. "Okay, out of curiosity, what do you need the six dollars for?"
"I figured I'd take a cab across town and try to get a mention in Wonkette," he said plaintively. "Do you think you can help me get into Wonkette?"
I answered without thinking. "You're asking the wrong person. I don't have any traction with Wonkette."
"That's too bad. How about Kos? Do you know anyone who knows Markos Moulitsas? Maybe if I had six dollars, I could go find Markos Moutlitsas."
"Hold on," I said, eyeing him suspiciously. "Are you Tom Vilsack's buzz -- or are you his internet buzz?"
"I'm both," he said. "We can't afford separate buzzes. Not yet, anyway."
He hung his head pathetically. Always a sucker for a hard-luck case, I pulled out my wallet. "Okay, I'm going to give you the six dollars," I said. "What's your scam, anyway? What is the Tom Vilsack buzz, exactly?"
"Oh, it's 'community,'" he said. "Community is a terrific value for the Democratic Party and it's something everyone can get excited about."
He handed me a Washington Post clip with the relevant quote. The headline of the story was 'Tom Vilsack's Democratic Optimism.'" I frowned again.
"I thought Al Gore already tried 'Democratic Optimism,'" I said.
"No, no, that was Kerry-Edwards," he said. "And that was just plain 'optimism.' They were reacting to Bush's 'pessimism never created a job' ad. Our thing is completely different. This is Democratic Optimism. Completely different."
I read the interview quickly.
"And this line here," I said, pointing. "This line where he says he's going to 'talk about health care, education and security from a values perspective.' What the fuck does that even mean? How do you 'talk about national security from a values perspective?' That's not even English!"
"Well, that just means that when we talk about security, we're doing it in the context of values -- and values are central to Democratic Party ideals," Vilsack's buzz said nervously. "If we Democrats can talk about values, we're going to win a lot of elections."
I all but threw the money at him. "Just take the fucking six dollars," I said. "You people all give me the creeps, you know that?"
"Thanks," he said, gathering up the bills. "Hey, one more thing. You wouldn't want to buy a die-cast replica of Air Force One, would you? I bought it for my son, but it turns out he already has one. It's worth thirty bucks -- I'll give it to you for twenty."
"I just saw the same toy on sale in the Union Station gift store for $11.99," I said. "You stole that."
"Okay, you got me," he said. "No, actually, what happened was that I found it outside the store, but when I went to return it, the store was already closed."
"So you scratched off the price tag and tried to sell it to a total stranger in a public bathroom for twenty bucks," I said, backing away. "Fuck off, okay? It's 2006! Leave me alone!"
"It's all about hope!" he shouted after me. "We're bringing hope back to families! Hope for America!"
"It's 2006! Die slowly!" I shouted.
He waved back, then disappeared back into his stall, ready to jump on the next poor sucker. Get ready for a long two years.