“Did you hear? Bernie appeared at a rally with Zephyr Teachout in Hasbrouck Park!” Janet told me. Bernie Sanders has shed his surname, and become a one-word celebrity on the level of Cher and Rihanna.
A few red, orange and yellow trees dot Tremper Mountain above Phoenicia (where I live), like gnomes in colorful hats peeking out from the foliage. The huge chorus of crickets each night has dwindled to a few soloists.
Six-year-olds and college kids are debating which persona to adopt for Halloween: a werewolf, a princess, Beyoncé, Popeye? Squirrels scamper around collecting nutritious meals for the winter, and politicians race around collecting votes.
Campaign signs have not yet sprouted on lawns. Each election year Shandaken’s town board passes a resolution requesting citizens to refrain from erecting political signage until after Columbus Day. First let us celebrate the unbalanced imperialist who “discovered” our continent, then let’s pursue the solemn business of self-governance (seems to be the logic).
But let’s talk about Zephyr. I met Ms. Teachout at Half Moon Books in Kingston two years ago while she was promoting her book Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United. The book’s thesis is quite simple: the Founding Fathers deeply feared “corruption” would destroy our political framework. And what did they mean by corruption? Exactly the system we have today, where seductive lobbyists dispense millions of bucks to hustle legislation.
I was surprised to discover, on Wikipedia, that Zephyr Teachout is her birth name. Zephyr was the Greek god of the west wind, known as the gentlest wind. (Interestingly, Zephyr’s job is to teach out at Fordham University Law School.) She was virtually unknown when she contested Andrew Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic primary, receiving an astonishing 35.5 % of the vote. Now she’s running for Congress, in my district (the 19th).
Speaking of this election, I myself am running for president of the United States, as I do every four years, but mine is a fairly low-key campaign. My one official appearance was at the Golden Notebook in Woodstock, where I read from my campaign journal, which records my dreams, promises and doubts about my candidacy. For example:
I am, I believe, the only presidential candidate with palindromic slogans (i.e. phrases that are exactly the same backwards and forwards). For example:
Toll a ballot!
We’d limit NASA’s anti-mildew.
e.g. Never revenge!
National plan: O, I tan!
Selah. We revere whales.
My father, who is 97, vividly remembers Civil-War veterans visiting his classroom when he was a child. (“Also, you’d see them at parades,” he remembers. “There’d be a car for Civil-War veterans.”) Most of them had been drummer boys in the War Between the States. And possibly some of those Civil-War soldiers had met old men who, in their youth, knew George Washington. So I am two removes from the revolution that begat this nation.
It’s a shame that no one is allowed to sleep in a museum. Wouldn’t it be nice to awaken surrounded by Vermeers and Manets? Once I am president, I will launch a pilot program allowing six people a night to bed down in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. If this is a success — if no one pees on a Rubens — we’ll slowly expand the program, until every night thousands of lucky Americans sleep in our citadels of art.
Anyway, this gives you a sense of my program. Meanwhile, the current presidential contest is so divisive almost no one discusses it in real life. All the venom emerges in the unlikely venue of Facebook, amid the elephants holding paintbrushes and cats being fed with chopsticks. I’m talking about arguments among liberals. Bernie, Hillary and Jill Stein (the Green Party candidate) battle it out like trident-wielding gladiators. Because Facebook collects “friends,” I’ve never seen Trump and Hillary supporters cross paths.
Incidentally, please don’t vote for me — I am not a third-party candidate; I’m a no-party candidate. Vote for someone else!
Personally I’m addicted to the mechanics of voting — especially to the old lever machines. When I was in high school I knew a tall, rather severe girl named Isabel who revealed to me that she was Greek Orthodox. “Do you go to confession?” I asked for some reason.
“Yes, I kneel before the priest, he enfolds me in his robes, and I make confession,” Isabel explained. I’ve never forgotten that image — so reminiscent of the curtains in a voting booth.
It’s a lot less fun to sit at a desk and fill in a circle with a pencil. (Phoenicia now uses paper ballots.) Nevertheless, voting may be most pleasurable in a small town, where an amiable, almost familial bemusement accompanies this civic duty. I personally know the woman with the ledger book, the official observer, and quite often the next voter standing behind me. Furthermore, we are all inside that great American institution, the volunteer fire department, where neighbors selflessly sacrifice to protect the homes of their enemies and friends.
Meanwhile, Janet — do you remember her from the first sentence of this essay? — is running for office herself! She is on the ballot for Shandaken town assessor. Her last name is Klugiewicz. Vote for her if you’re a Shandakenite! She is the only candidate.