I walked out on the porch to close the wind-blown outer door after my last client, and stood on the lawn for moment dazzled by a fulvous sunset sky (I can’t believe I just said “fulvous”). It wasn’t until I turned back to go in that I noticed my porch enclosure had been graced with twenty cardboard campaign signs, the accompanying wire stands, a yellow polo shirt and a three-way carpenter’s level.
The momentary sense of time travel all but unmanned me. (Can you be unmanned if you are a woman, and do I consult a professor of English or of gender studies?)
The local candidate I once managed (if that is the right word) — a man known for his volatile temper, eccentricities, and stunningly naive online sock-puppetry — had a particular obsession with the visibility of cyclists, pedestrians and campaign-sign planters. I was there the night he nearly got himself arrested for disrupting a forum about community policing with a sputtering tirade about telling cyclists to wear white at night; if he had a story of some personal tragedy that informed the vehemence of this sentiment, I never heard it. But he was always careful to wear orange and yellow polo shirts when he put out his own signs, and nag the rest of us.
He also nagged us to level the signs with a three-way bubble level — it did give a striking, formal effect that contrasted with the other skewed and listing signs on the same median, or as he explained in one candidate forum, “you can’t just jam it in and hope it remains erect.” (That may have been the only joke he ever made.)
These days, so far as I know, he still really really hates me, because he had no sense of humor — you can’t honestly blame him — about being “taken off” in my spoofy mystery novel.
Somehow, he never took in that he wouldn’t have had my help on the campaign trail if I hadn’t felt a moral obligation to balance the satire — it was pretty ruthless — with a little positive PR for someone who, whatever his flaws, actually held positions that I supported. The day he finally added it all up — about two years after publication — I had just come back from planning my ex-husband’s memorial service, an excursion during which, blind with tears, I rammed the fender of my old car Melissa into a bollard, so soundly that I had to kick the driver’s door open with a horrible nails-on-a-blackboard sound. I had very little energy or inclination to make conciliatory noises. I listened to him narrate the mixture of subterfuge and browbeating with which he finally pried my name out of my publisher, and said at last: “That’s impressive. I couldn’t have written better detective work.” He howled unintelligibly and hung up.
The next day I got a letter enjoining me to cease and desist from ever mentioning his name in print, text message, Internet posting, etc., and from contacting him in person, by land line or cellular phone, fax, and probably carrier pigeon.
He is now managing the campaign for a current splinter candidate — he even ripped off my sign design, which is true flattery. She hasn’t got a snowball’s chance in hell but I am supporting her too, just because this kind of thing has become a habit. I guess she accepted my offer to stick out a couple dozen signs and sent him around to the volunteers (I suspect she has about six total) when they arrived from the printer. I am glad I didn’t cross his path, given the cease and desist thingy and a whole lot of other things that I am glad not to revisit now that my ethical debt, and sense of the absurd, have been served. But I stood there holding the shirt and the bubble level, one in either hand, and I swear to you my eyes stung and spilled over.