If I tried talking to my wife about what actually happened last night, she would simply dismiss the story as just another figment of my imagination. As you know, I do a written and audio blog. What you don’t know is that I also create political and geo-political “What If’s” for an internationally known website. I do that under another name. Imagination is a major component of my work.
My scientist friend, Steve, upon hearing the story, would probably demand to know what I had been drinking, cut me off from any more talk and suggest that we go back to the bar and continue where I had left off. You are the only person, Bill, whom I can think of, that would at least listen to my whole story, without pre-judging or cutting me off in the middle. To accept this story as true takes a very open mind and you are the most open minded person I know.
As God is my witness, everything happened exactly as I am about to tell you.
Do with the story as you will, Bill. No one will believe you anyway.
It all started a few weeks ago when I focused all of my blog work on the upcoming Presidential election. I didn’t “spare the rod” as I whipped up commentary that was not very flattering for either candidate. Uncovering more of Hillary’s history I became convinced that she was just a clone of the Bush family, Obama and even her husband himself. Yet, as I ripped apart the Trump platform and also his history, I began to question if he was really who he said he was. His ties to the big banks, love of the military industrial complex and lack of any governmental experience also made him a potential lackey clone.
Quite frankly, Bill, I was torn, but not as a blogger or journalist. In that regard I knew that as I discovered more and more about each candidate, it was my duty to report what I had found and the conclusions I had drawn, regardless of where it led me.
My struggle came from whom I, John, was going to cast my vote for.
I know. I know. You could say there is always Gary Johnson or Jill Stein. Or even just stay home. I have always voted for President and sitting it out is not an option for me. Plus, I’ve never wasted my vote on a third party candidate, let alone a fourth party. It’s just not in the cards.
It may sound strange but I have this belief that my vote was bought and paid for with the blood of those who went before me, including many members of my family. From the Revolutionary War to the present, men and women have fought and died to protect my right to cast my ballot. Bill, I take it seriously and cherish my right and my obligation. I know my one vote is like a grain of sand on the beach which to most people is meaningless. But to me it is my grain, my vote and it is precious. I will not throw it away. That’s why I must be absolutely certain in my selection.
For weeks I’ve been conflicted and have struggled with which candidate would not be the best for my country but which candidate would be the worst? Who would do the most damage? Is that even logical?
My wife said that I had become obsessed. Perhaps she was right. Regardless, I had to be crystal clear in my own mind. Could anyone else in history have ever agonized over their decision for the Presidency as much as I had been doing? Not likely.
Hillary or Donald? Donald or Hillary?
The most divisive election ever, dirt thrown like never before, money and corruption walking hand in hand and still I was nowhere closer to making a decision, which brings me to the mysterious and incredible events of last night.
As you know my wife and I have recently rented a small bungalow near the canal in an area which is known as Little Havana. Its proximity to the canal encourages jogging, biking and even a stretch for dogs. I don’t own a dog and my physical exercise is limited to screaming at my television on Sunday afternoons in the fall. I have reserved my usage of the canal for more cerebral activities like sitting on a cement bench after a midnight stroll. I know it does nothing for my body but it sure works wonders for my mind.
After one such evening, a few days ago, I came to the conclusion that I should become much more aggressive in my exposure of the two Presidential candidates. Yesterday I completed some of my most in depth work to date. I did five radio interviews on both liberal and conservative stations. I posted a detailed analysis of the shortcomings of both candidates. I also sent out a “what if “scenario of Armageddon proportions about each candidate under my pseudonym. That column was read by over twelve million people. I am sure that I gave enough researched reasons for the Trump supporters to feel good about hating Hillary and yet probably as many reasons for the Clinton supporters to hate the Donald. Unfortunately I became even more mired in my dilemma. I may have laid it out clearly for the mass but for me I just muddied my own waters.
“How could I, having studied the facts, vote for anyone with such a horrid track record as the former Secretary of State. The disasters in Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq and Benghazi speak for themselves. In addition her direct “play for pay” association with the Clinton Foundation stands as a monument to money laundering, fraud and political corruption. All of that and I haven’t even touched her First Lady eras in both Arkansas and Washington. To put the icing on the cake it would appear that the doctors are pulling a JFK and holding back the truth about her health.”
All of this I continued to thrust upon my wife who responded by giving me a blank stare.
“Yet, once again, I was forced to look at my alternative. He’s a loose cannon. He thinks that the world’s leaders will roll over at his presence and cower when he utters ‘let’s make a deal.’ He wants to build a military that already spends more than Russia, China, England and Saudi Arabia combined. He says he will bring back coal even though natural gas is so much cheaper. His business practices are questionable. His history, like his opponent, makes for interesting bed time reading.
This is all so amusing if it wasn’t so frightening. Could the next 50 years be determined by this election? Never before, I believe, has such a monumental decision had to be made.”
Thus, Bill, I concluded my nightly dinnertime lecture to my poor, politically abused, wife.
Last night, in spite of her comforting classic green chili and tortilla soup having been served, I was louder, more aggressive and much more agitated with every mouthful.
“How could our country have gotten to this point?” I dropped my spoon, splattered the chili, threw up my hands and blurted, “Which one? Which one?”
“Enough,” she said. “That’s enough.”
She stood and grabbed my half eaten bowl of chili and threw it in the garbage. Months of her suppressed frustration and anger finally surfaced.
“Every day that is all I hear Clinton or Trump, Trump or Clinton? You are obsessed. Are you the only one voting? Who died and made you King? You’ve taken the whole thing on your shoulders and it is driving me crazy. I don’t care! Do you understand that? I have had enough?”
I sat there stunned at how angry she had become. I thought she had some empathy. I thought she understood. Did she have to throw out my dinner?
She didn’t stop. In fact she was just getting started.
“Do you really think the world ends when one of these clowns becomes President? Has every Presidential election been clear cut? If Clinton wins does it mean that we won’t be able to buy groceries or go out to dinner? If Trump wins does that mean we can’t have the family we have been planning? Have there ever been any candidates as risky? You are one vote! I know it is important to you but your obsession is ridiculous.
You can’t sleep. You’re distant. You don’t talk to me unless you are lecturing about their latest dirt. The last sweet nothing you whispered in my ear was Bill Clinton’s latest sexual conquest.
I don’t care, enough is enough!
The canal is 100 yards from the front door. Go. Take a stroll. Don’t come back, I repeat, don’t come back until you have worked it all out. Do you understand what I am saying?
You are a smart man. Please, put this in perspective. Analyze. You must come to a conclusion tonight. I don’t care if you flip a coin but get it solved. Don’t come back till you’ve decided or you can sleep by the canal.”
I sat there absorbing her words. Of course she was right. I had to solve this dilemma one way or another. I only wished that she, or anyone else, could know how it felt to be so torn.
“OK, as long as you promise not to throw out the rest of the chili. Oh, and keep the beer cold?”
We both laughed and embraced. I headed for the door.
“Be careful. The fog is unusually thick and heavy tonight. I don’t want you falling into the canal just as you’ve settled your problem. And you WILL settle it tonight!”
“No worries, there’s my cement bench at the big curve with a street lamp nearby. I will be alone so no interruptions. If all else fails I do have a coin. I won’t be too long.”
“Take as long as you need. Now leave!” she said, pushing me out the door.
It is advertised, by the Chamber of Commerce, that Little Havana got its name from the charm of hundreds of palm trees dotting the complex, the quaint Cuban architecture of the tiny cabana bungalows and the romantic sound of the flowing water pressing against the canals sides. Shut your eyes, the Chamber’s literature says, and you will find yourself transported to within a stone’s throw of Cuba’s picturesque Havana Harbor. The truth is, however, that hundreds of Cubans were once shipped across the border to end their days harvesting in foreign fields. The odor of overcrowded shacks, the stench of meager bathing and waste facilities, the daily cooking of pork, rum and taro root and the certain death which came to all of its entrapped inhabitants left a smell that time could not erase. On any given evening one might hear the sounds of the past floating through history on the winds of the same oppressive heat that the Cubans had known. I was never sure if it was real or something out of my vivid imagination. But there was never a doubt about the smell. It hung as a constant reminder of another time and someone else’s real anguish. They called it Little Havana. A reminder of their homeland, which they knew they would never see again. Sometimes the truth is neither quaint nor romantic. The name, Little Havana, has stuck to this day.
Early October is a time when the weather starts to break. Humid, one hundred and fifteen degree mornings and afternoons give way to sixty five degree nights. The mixture of the two extremes, hanging heavy over an ever moving watery canal, can create a fog so dense that one could expect to see Sherlock Holmes or Jack the Ripper be brought back to life.
Last night was no exception. As a matter of fact it seemed as if the fog had a life all its own. My wife was right. It was thick and heavy. It clung to my skin like a shirt that is a size too small. As I walked I felt as though I had to cut a path to just move forward. I was not able to see anything in front of me but didn’t feel concerned as I knew the path from so many times before. I kept my feet shuffling along the dirt and stone which led from my bungalow directly to the canal. Gradually I could see a feint outline of the solitary street lamp off to my left. I knew I wasn’t far from the big curve and the safety of my bench. As I slowly moved forward I felt the dirt give way to tightly packed gravel which was just right for all the things other people do. This was my indication to now change direction and move towards the light and the security of my bench.
The sounds of the canal seemed to be amplified and gave me pause to think of the life that this stream of water brought to the valley. I thought that no matter who became President the need for this irrigation, like in the past, will not change. The delivery of the water will continue and the canal will go on as it always has. How many other things in life are the same as the canal and will not change regardless of which candidate is elected. Perhaps my wife is right.
As I thought about the significance of that truth I found myself, surprisingly, about to step into the moving waters of the canal. At that moment the heat, the sound and the smell all came together to remind me of my wife’s words “don’t fall in!” I laughed, then shrugged and thought, “Not tonight, there is too much to resolve.”
As I moved closer to my bench I wasn’t prepared for my next surprise of the evening. The single concrete bench had been replaced by two ornate, old fashioned wooden and metal benches. But the real surprise was that I would not be alone. Sitting on the farthest bench was a man who had his head buried in his hands.
I paused in the covering thickness of the fog and was certain that he was unaware of my presence. I debated as to whether I continued on or I returned to my bungalow and came back another evening? Once again I heard my wife’s prophetic words ringing in my ears “or you’ll be sleeping by the canal.” I pressed on.
I christened the man occupying my territory the “Squatter.” As I emerged from the depths of the shadowy grey I began to whistle as a signal to the “Squatter” of my approach. He never moved. I slowly took a seat on the bench closest to me and continued my whistling. He still didn’t acknowledge my presence.
The two benches were no more than six feet apart. Yet the hanging fog gave the “Squatter” an undefined appearance. I felt like I was looking at his silhouette.
“Good evening.” He said nothing and remained with his head in his hands.
I again said, “Good evening.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, good evening. I apologize. I was just wrestling with a decision.”
After his few short words he resumed his pose of knees bent, head and chest bowed and his face covered with both hands. His body language said that this was a man who was obviously struggling with a difficult decision. My obvious curiosity about his dilemma nagged me a little but I was there to unravel my own confusion not someone else’s.
As I tried to make myself more comfortable I noticed the many carvings that were on this replacement bench. Lovers initials in hearts with long ago dates. I thought that each carving represented its own story and probably had an interesting tale to tell.
“They must have found these things in the archives,” I said loud enough for the Squatter to hear me.
“The benches, they’re comfortable, but relics from another era. I’m use to the concrete.”
He looked at me as though I was speaking a foreign language.
“They’ve always been here. How do you carve your initials in concrete?”
As he resumed his position a hint of cool air made its way through the choking, ever present murkiness. I longed for the cooler night air that would surely come.
I wanted to ask the Squatter what he meant by his remark but before I could, he turned toward me and spoke.
“Have you decided who you are voting for? I can’t seem to make up my mind. I can’t sleep. It’s all I talk and think about. My wife thinks I am nuts but I take this seriously, probably more than I should. But this could change everything for years to come. It’s like I have the deciding vote and I better get it right. Sorry I just had to get that out.”
Bill, “what are the odds that on an October evening, sitting on an out of the way bench, near an isolated canal, I would meet someone who is as troubled about this election as I am?”
Finally, I thought, someone who understands what I am going through. I wanted to say that I can’t make up my mind either, that my wife thinks I’m also crazy and that this is that important. But before I could get one word out of my mouth the Squatter rose and started arguing with himself.
“This election could change everything.”
“On the one hand there’s experience. So, what was done with that experience, a pardon. That should never have been done. It should have been jail time.”
“The unemployment, the inflation and the war that never seems to end, will anything ever change?”
Yes, yes I wanted to scream, finally someone who gets it. But then, Bill, my new found ally totally lost me. Pardon?
“Yes, the new guy has been involved in politics but at heart he’s still just a small time peanut farmer.”
I have heard Donald Trump called many things but a ‘small time peanut farmer’ was not one of them. The Squatter never looked my way. He simply threw his hands up in disgust, an action I understood very well, and started walking away toward the canal but not before he stopped and looked directly in my direction.
“The more I try to sort this out the more confused I get. Corruption, greed, war and all along the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Can the new guy really change things like he says he can? I don’t know. Do you? I just don’t know. So, which one has your vote, Jerry or Jimmy?”
With those final words he turned and disappeared into the night without giving me a chance to answer, let alone ask him who in the hell he was talking about. That certainly was bizarre. Then, just as I thought I would have the rest of the evening to myself, I heard another voice coming at me from the same direction in which my Squatter had left. Please, I prayed, don’t let this guy sit down. Just make him keep on going. He came out of the fog and had that same perplexed look that both the Squatter and I seemed to have. He stopped by the lamp post and lit a cigarette. He started talking to no one in particular and not especially me. Once again it was as though I was not even there.
“I am not going to vote for that bastard for another term for President, twice is enough. All of his promises go up in smoke. Planting trees doesn’t really feed my family.”
“I certainly like him but do I trust him. This lend lease thing is going to get us into war no matter how much he says differently. He has turned out no better than that last one who promised ‘a chicken in every pot.’”
What was he talking about? I wanted to speak but found that all I could do was listen to someone else’s frustration.
“She thinks I’m crazy! Maybe I am. But this Presidential election is going to change the world. Besides how can I vote for someone named Wendell.”
He threw his cigarette to the ground and disappeared into the night.
It had been a long day. Perhaps the heat and the continuing rhythm of the canal had lulled me into a half asleep dream like state. The visitors, that seemed to be from another time, must have been a creation of my imagination. They had the same issues with their wives. Their dilemma was the same as mine. They talked of jobs and war, money and corruption and the always broken promises. Who would any of us vote for? But they said Wendell, Jerry and Jimmy not Donald or Hillary. My imagination was taking the present and mixing it up with the past and other Presidential elections. Or was it? As I noticed the thin vapor of smoke coming from the cigarette by the lamp post I faintly heard two voices. The men seemed to be coming toward me yet I saw no forms. The thickness of the fog was unrelenting. As they talked their voices got louder.
“This is the most divisive Presidential election in history. I just can’t make up my mind. How about you? Have you come to a decision?”
“No, I haven’t. My wife told me that if I kept this up I’d have to sleep by the canal tonight.”
I understand your problem I wanted to say. I continued to listen carefully, not wanting to frighten anyone. The voices seemed closer but not even their outline was visible.
“The press calls him a baboon. He has absolutely no knowledge of foreign affairs.”
“Yes I know. He’s always telling stories and doesn’t seem to be able to stick to any subject. But what really scares me is that if he is elected the blacks could rise up and then there would really be hell to pay.”
Yes, I agree. I wanted to scream. Just look at Charlotte, Baltimore or Chicago. But what about Hillary and all her issues, can you vote for her? I felt that I should be a part of this conversation.
“So who are you going to vote for?”
“I still don’t know. But one thing is certain. Everything is a powder keg. This election will change history for the next fifty years. The constitution is being ripped to shreds and it seems that the Little Giant could care less.”
He called Hillary the Little Giant. It was a term I hadn’t heard used for her before
I leaned forward to listen for more talk. There was none. The men had passed. Yet, as though they were answering an unasked question, I faintly heard, “If the Republican is elected then there will be a secession, then a war.”
Bill, each person that I saw, heard or talked with last night, shared my concerns. They were as troubled as I was. We all had been burdening our spouses with our anxiety and our search to be right. But each one talked about someone different. And these last said the baboon and the Little Giant. Had I fallen asleep? Was I simply imagining these people? Would I come to any conclusion this evening? I decided to leave and beg my wife for a little more time. As I did, another visitor emerged from nowhere. He quickly walked to my bench and sat with his shoulder touching mine. He then put his arm around me. This was obviously no illusion nor was it a dream. The man’s touch was very real.
“I’m sorry for any inconvenience but I need to know. Have you made up your mind for the Presidency yet?”
I started to pull away but he had me in a grip that I could not break.
“I know it is prohibited for us to be discussing this but I need to know. I will take the chance. Who’s your choice?” he whispered.
“I haven’t decided y…”
“Shhh, keep your voice down. They will hear and then it’s big trouble for both of us.”
He looked around as though every word was being recorded and moved his head an inch away from my ear.
“No way I vote for the Yahoo droid. The creators don’t have any real idea about the police state that they will build. The idiots that created the Google droid think the only answer to economic hardship is war. So who does that leave, only the Microsoft droid. I think it can be programed to give us a hint of the past but still take us forward with total technology and no war or police state. They say that will be good for everyone as long as we carry a food and income card.”
“Do you think I am being too naïve,” he said as he unlocked me, rose and walked quickly toward the canal. He stopped before disappearing into the fog. As though he were talking to someone who would be making a report, he casually said, “I hope you make that decision on what to name that new baby of yours. Glad I could be of help.” The Presidency, for anyone listening, was not the topic of conversation.
As I made my way back to the bungalow the fog seemed to be lifting. The cool night air had finally arrived. Upon reflecting of what had happened to me I mused that it must have all been a dream. That would have been the simple explanation. Yet I had been touched, had been questioned, and been involved with the same struggles that others had been wrestling with. Then there was that discarded cigarette. The manicured gravel below my feet gave way to the occasional rock and worn dirt path. The fog was lifting quicker now. As I looked back, the light from the lamp post was sharper and my cement bench was clearly outlined.
I continued forward and the lights from my bungalow showed brightly. I stopped when I got on the porch. I knew full well that waiting behind the door was my wife. She was expecting an answer that would put us both at ease. At that moment as I approached the door it seemed that the fog was trying to exert itself once again. It wrapped itself tightly around me and seemed to whisper “You know the answer.” All the events of the evening flashed before me in one instant. I could see nothing yet I thought I heard the strains of people singing a Calypso melody. Then for the first time everything in my mind was clear. Things made sense. Trump or Clinton? Ford or Carter? Roosevelt or Wilkie? Lincoln or Douglas? Yahoo, Google or Microsoft?
In that instant I understood that men, good, decent and caring men, of all generations, had always struggled with the decision as to who should lead this great country and they always would. I was not alone. I also realized that as dire as everything seemed there was always another day and another election. No matter how difficult things seemed, either now or then, we always found a way to go forward and make the best of whatever happened by whoever was elected. We had survived Civil War, Depression, World War, Scandals and so much more. We always had and, God willing, we always would. The canal would keep on flowing regardless who was President.
I also knew who would get my vote. It was now very clear to me. At that moment the fog released its grip, broken by a cool fresh breeze. The Little Havana smell was stronger than ever. I reached for the door knob and turned it slowly. I walked into the living room a different man than when I had left.
“Hi” I said. “Yes, I sorted it all out thanks to a little help from some unexpected friends. I know who gets my vote.”
“Now let’s eat the rest of that chili!”
Footnote: After telling me his story John immediately left. I have not seen or heard from him since. He told me to do with the story as I wished since no one would believe it anyway. We all come to our decisions in different ways. John’s way just happened to be a little stranger than most. That is why I decided to share it with you.