V O T E F O R M E !
© By Randy Attwood
Fred Underwood was driving his 15-year-old, once-white, now rust-speckled, Nissan pickup six miles over the speed limit on his way to deliver the head of a dog to the state’s vet school for rabies testing when several things happened to him.
He saw a sign announcing—as though proud of the fact—that gasoline at the upcoming station was selling for $4.15 a gallon. He looked into the rear view mirror when he heard a siren and confirmed that, indeed, a police car was chasing him. He uttered, “Shit,” but then felt his body swept with euphoria: he realized he had just been struck by an idea that would make him rich.
Waiting for the officer to run his license tag and wondering if he would also be fined for the red transparent tape that he had used to repair a broken tail light cover, Fred looked into his rear-view mirror to see his own broken and aging face. He needed new glasses. The scratched lenses of the mangled pair sitting on his thin nose gave him the look of a disgruntled teacher who had been fired long before retirement age, which pretty much summed Fred up. His hair had more salt than pepper, and pepper was losing that seasoning battle daily. The lines at the side of his mouth were deep and long, giving him a permanent scowl. Fred lowered his window as the officer waddled forward, and claimed to the cop, “I was only going five miles over the limit.”
“I got you at six,” the doughboy policeman replied, took the license and proof of insurance Fred had ready to hand over, and began to write the ticket.
“Why do you think they’re jacking up the price of gas so high these days?” Fred asked the ticket-writing officer.
“Because they can,” the officer said, handing Fred his ticket.
“I don’t trust the bastards,” Fred commented when taking the ticket.
“Neither do I.”
Exactly! Fred let the earlier sweep of euphoria transform his permanent scowl into an ear-to-ear grin.
After a third vodka and tonic he asked Zoe, the bartender, if she would be his accomplice. He knew she had been a political science major, a degree even more useless than his own -- English. She was cute in her black curly pixie haircut and pug nose. He was attracted to her; he rather doubted she was attracted to him. His tips bought him a smile, but he figured that would be about all it would ever buy him. Unless…
“What do you want me to do?”
“Run against me in the Democratic primary for this district’s seat in the State’s House of Representatives.”
That brought her up short and she twisted the bar towel in her hands as though wringing thoughts out of her brain.
“A Democrat hasn’t even entered the race for this house seat in, I don’t know, 30 years, let alone have two enter so there’d have to be a primary.”
And then Fred explained the plan and watched Zoe’s cleavage expand with her increasing lung intake and finally say, “Fred, of all the nutty ideas you’ve had, this is one that just might work.” She smiled at him and again he felt the distant hope that one day he might see—what he was sure had to be—the all-natural attributes creating that grandest of canyons.
Fred and Zoe waited until the last minute of the last day to pay their fees to file for office. The clerk looked at them as though she were certifying they were insane instead of stamping the documents affirming that one Fred Thomas Underwood and one Zoe Xanthe Quinn were officially Democratic candidates for the 27th seat in the State’s House of Representatives. Fred took the opportunity to hand the officious, gray-haired Medusa his first piece of campaign literature: a note card upon which he had written “Nationalize the oil industry. I don’t trust the bastards. Do you? Vote for Underwood.”
“So what’s MY campaign all about?” Zoe wanted to know once they had settled themselves back on their bar stools, clinked glasses and congratulated each other on their candidacies.
“What’s that Xanthe all about? What kind of middle name is that?” Fred asked.
“It’s Greek for blond. My dad had this hope that even though my mother was a black-haired Greek, she might have something in her background that would let me be blond, he being a red-haired Irish guy.”
“Those Irish. Dreamers to the end.”
“So what IS my campaign all about? Someone might ask.”
“Nothing. If you’re not for or against anything, then nobody can be for or against you. You’re just running because you want to be elected so you can be a public servant.”
And that’s what Zoe told the female newspaper reporter who reached her the next day asking about her candidacy. Zoe also added, “Bartending has given me a wonderful perspective on the needs of the common man.” (The poor saps, she thought to herself.)
Fred, on the other hand, went on a rant:
“Nationalize the oil industry. I don’t trust the bastards. Do you? Socialize medicine. Why is it other industrialized countries, even communist countries -- for God’s sake -- have national health care plans and we don’t? Outlaw handguns. What are they good for—other than killing people?” He could hear the reporter pecking at her keyboard. “Oh, yeah, I’m for abortion, too. If you women don’t control your own bodies, you’re nothing more than chattel! That means property, honey, as in slaves.”
Those comments made the front page, which meant the story made the newspaper’s website, which meant it popped up on the screen of a minion working at Witcomb & Dole & Associates, a D.C. public relations/lobbying firm employed by several oil companies to monitor any threatening activity against them. That resulted in a report that resulted in an analysis that resulted in a meeting to discuss a course of action.
“Do nothing,” one advisor advised. “It’s a Republican district; this Democrat Underwood goof ball hasn’t a chance anyway.”
“Let’s donate to the Republican and make sure,” a newly appointed vice president decided.
“He has Democratic primary opposition,” a young female intern of the blond-babe variety noted, being the only person at the table who actually had read the newspaper story.
“Then contribute to his primary opponent instead,” the new VP decider re-decided. “Let’s beat this idiot in his primary election.”
“Fred! Fred! Fred!” Zoe screamed when he walked into the bar after a particularly dreary day of document deliveries between law firms and banks. The fact that he had passed security checks to become a bonded delivery agent—given the many on-record facts of his own unreliability matched only by the disreputability of his truck—still amazed Fred. No wonder terrorists could fly planes into buildings. He caught Zoe as she came around to hug him, and he was more than ever assured that her ta-tas were real. “Three thousand dollars! They’ve contributed three thousand dollars to my campaign!”
“I don’t know. Ten people I don’t know have given me $300 each. That’s $3,000 dollars! It’s working!”
“Chickenfeed. Just wait,” he said, his face red with monetary and close-proximity- to ta-ta excitement.
The newspaper article meant a local service club took notice of Fred’s and Zoe’s unusual candidacies and invited these curiosities to speak at its luncheon. Zoe declined; Fred accepted.
“Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I want to take the handguns out of your possession and melt them to be transformed into shovels and hoes for community gardens.”
Calls to the National Rifle Association were literally instantaneous from cell phones in the audience.
“Fred! Fred! Fred! I just got $5,000 from some NRA action committee!” Zoe yelped. “What am I going to do with all this money? Can I buy…..”
“Not just yet, not just yet. We’ve got to do all this properly. Set up an account in your campaign’s name and write me a check because you’ve hired me to manage your campaign. I’ll cash the check and give you half,” he said, although he thought he really deserved more because the idea was, after all, his. But the smile on that pretty, pug-nosed pixie face was so broad he didn’t want any factors reducing her feelings of joy for him.
“Get me a drink. I’ve got to start making some bumper stickers.”
One of his deliveries that day had been to a local printer and he noticed they were throwing away blank bumper stickers because of minor flaws. He had grabbed the box.
Borrowing a felt-tip marker from the bar, he wrote in thick block letters upon one blank sticker: “NATIONALIZE THE OIL INDUSTRY. VOTE FOR UNDERWOOD.”
One long-time patron of the bar, a retired bartender himself who stuttered, came up to Fred and asked if he could have the bumper sticker to put on his own car. “I don’t trust the ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-bastards either,” he said. “Here’s a twenty for your campaign.”
Fred looked at the bill in his hand before he shoved it into his pocket. His first campaign contribution, and of the sweetest kind—cash.
“I’ll be damned.”
Back at Witcomb & Dole & Associates there was another meeting.
“This is a far more sophisticated campaign than you all realized,” one of the agency’s senior vice presidents declared as the group around the table was shown pictures of Fred’s bumper stickers on several cars provided by a private investigator they had hired to monitor activities in the distant city.
“Amazing. Those bumper stickers look like they were hand printed. Each one’s a little different. That’s a very expensive printing proposition. This jerk-off must have some serious money behind him. They’re trying to make this look like it’s a real grassroots movement. Let’s pump some more money to his opponent. And I think we’d better send our people out there to see what’s going on. I’d at least like to know who’s doing his creative.”
“Who would you like to send, sir?” The new vice president from the first meeting asked and realized it was stupid question because the senior vice president had slapped his hand on the conference table and declared:
“Do I have to do ALL the thinking around here? You send an intern babe to check out the guy. You send an intern stud to check out the female opponent. How the hell did you get beyond the intern stage yourself? What was your name?”
The new vice president decided he’d better start sending out his resume.
The intern babe of the blond variety learned the first lesson about contributing knowledge at a meeting – don’t. Otherwise you were likely to be picked, as was she, to go out and do the nasty field work (“being so knowledgeable about the political situation out there,” the now threatened vice president explained).
She really hoped the intern stud tabbed to accompany her would not be Oliver because she was very tired of Oliver trying to hit on her. But, of course, Oliver – good looking, black-haired, unibrowed, cleft-chinned, slimy, Oliver – was, indeed, picked.