So…spent this morning and the early part of the afternoon at the Kimono Wine Bar in Nogizaka, Tokyo, where my friend Lauren Shannon hosted an Election Returns Watch party. It was well attended, with great folk, food and vibes. Simply smashing!
It had been a long time since I spent hours in the same room with politically like-minded individuals speaking intelligently about an election and electoral process that bears some discussion. Needless to say, it was refreshing…just what the doctor (shrink) would order for a soul slowly being racked by a society that would malign and disregard it as a matter of course or common sense.
Refreshing, I say, but not much more.
You see, there was also the election itself, and this was decidedly not a source of refreshment. In fact, it was a bit on the disturbing side.
While I was on the sweet side of optimistic the whole morning, tearing through
platters of bagels and fresh fruit, throwing down cappuccinos like water, I became aware of this growing distress at what was playing out on the screen; a CNN studio replete with fancy graphics and wonky coverage, told a story of America that was uninspiring…a electoral map screamed that something was still very wrong with the country I left behind.
A map that was looking mighty red.
Not that I expected the map to turn blue and the nation to unite and break into a collective chorus of “Yes We Can!”
I didn’t, I swear.
But, like those dark days during the election and re-election of Dubbya, there was simply and inexplicably (at least to me) way too much red.
It reminded me of a brilliant 80s movie I revisited quite recently called “Being There.”
Peter Sellers was magnificent playing a moron who, due to a series of coincidences and the awesome ability of humans to project their ideas and aspirations on to any media while at the same time distrust / mistrust their own senses, and finds himself at the threshold of being an unlikely candidate to lead the country.
And as I watched the screen late this morning and saw that, at that moment, in the real world, both Romney and Obama each had inspired 49,000,000 Americans to pull the lever (or whatever) in their favor, I realized, in a most eerie moment of cognizance, that something of Being There nature was playing out before me.
I was stricken…
I felt at once as naïve as a child and sage as a soothsayer.
I said to those seated or standing closest to me, “49,000,000 Americans voted for Romney?” It wasn’t really a question though…at least not one I was asking to those in attendance, but more to the source of everything that falls under the definition of real. I felt like I’d said something so obvious yet profound and mysterious, like Christopher Columbus in some alternate universe announcing to his crew, “The world is not flat?”
One gentleman seated near me said, “yep.”
I looked at him. He looked grim and stricken as well and I felt like we’d shared something. I sat down across from him and said, “that talking head said ‘this is indicative of how divided Americans are.”
He nodded, kind of solemnly, kind of helplessly.
He, a middle-aged white man from the northeast, living here in Japan these past 20 years or so, sitting here getting a fix in the form of a reminder of what he’d left behind two decades ago, living in a land where there is a hell of a chance neither he nor his children will ever be able to truly belong…this man reached out to me, gently took hold of my hand, lifted it and extended a finger. I did the same. I wasn’t even sure why. I just did. I looked at our fingers, two parallel lines suspended above the table littered with cups and glasses, bagel crumbs and fruit peels, and I realized what he was pointing at, or rather pointing out.
It was the difference in our skin color.
As a writer, I’m a big believer in the power of words, both written and spoken. I don’t know if President Obama wrote all his speeches, but I remember his delivery and I remember the words. They moved me. They moved America. He made a believer outta me. That is not to say that I forgot that he was a politician. I didn’t. I can be as cynical, especially when politicians are involved, as anyone in their right mind.
But, his message cut right through my hardened cynical shell like no other politician, black, white or what have you, had ever been able to even come close to. Obama had read my mind like it was an open book and tapped into a well in my soul that I always knew was capacious but never in my wildest dreams believed could be penetrated by a politician, let alone one that, without an excess of piety, pontificate like a beloved preacher and embodied the very promise and hope he was prescribing as a panacea for America’s pain and misery.
When Obama said, “we will remember that there is something happening in America…that we are not as divided as our politics suggest…that we are one people, that we are one nation…” I believed him. My heart reached across the aisle because I thought there is no way…NO WAY…those on the other side of that aisle could deny that they felt the same, or at least wanted to feel the same, wanted to give this promise a chance to manifest itself.
I was proud to be a product of a nation that produced leadership that could inspire the way he did, that could find the words and say what needed to be said when it needed to be said, on a platform where everyone could hear it. I thought that, at long last, providence was upon us all.
Well, today’s election result was proof that there is, indeed still something happening in America. And upwards of 49,000,000 Americans will have no parts of it; would sooner toss the keys of power to a confirmed unrepentant compulsive liar with admitted scorn for 47% of Americans and binder full of women, with nothing useful to add to the ongoing dialogue between Americans and our government that doesn’t ring of running Her like a poorly run corporation deep in the red and in need of a CEO with a track record in the black…
And, as my fellow party attendee sat across from me suggesting that it was because Obama was in the Black, I just looked at him and his bony white finger for a moment, blamelessly.
And I wondered if he could see the cynicism in me trying to shut and seal the lid on my gushing well of hope, even as we watched Obama and his, thankfully, slightly more than 47%, seal four more years of dueling with millions upon millions of apparently hopeless souls.