The top-ten responses given by passersby to this New York City street canvasser working for the Democratic National Committee’s “Beat Bush” fundraising campaign:
“I love Bush!”
“We love Bush!”
“Why don’t you people get a clue already?!”
“I licked Bush this morning.”
“Beat Bush? Got a stick?”
“Beat Bush? I’m going to shoot the motherfucker!”
“Kerry’s a fag.”
I was standing under an awning on 8th Avenue between 52nd and 53rd streets in Manhattan, and having a tough go of “Beating Bush” with my canvasser’s clipboard; most pedestrians scampered right on by with barely a glance in my direction. It was a grim and rainy afternoon. In a moment of big-tent reverie, I imagined Teresa Heinz Kerry pulling up in her limousine and taking care of me and my fellow drowned-rat canvassers. “C’mon boys, come in out of the rain and get a taste of the ‘other America.'”
It was a day for daydreaming the impossible, since canvassing in this spot, in these conditions, was rather a waste of time. Sure, I had banged a “hundo” (that’s a hundred-dollar donation in canvasserspeak) from a bi-coastal professional pianist making his great white way down the avenue, but that was before the big rains came. Now it was pouring and windy, it was Monday, people had spent all their disposable income over the weekend (or didn’t have any to begin with) and, in any event, we were posted about two blocks from a busy Midtown unemployment office, information given to me by a gracious and easygoing black dude who came ambling by.
My canvassing crew was hustling bucks in a part of town with a famously grungy pedigree; “back in the day” this area was identified more with SROs, porn theaters and pot dealers, rum-blasted sailors, false-prophet street vagrants, strutting gangsters, wild-eyed crackheads, transsexuals, wandering-eye geniuses, punks, drunks, travelers, junky poets; all those nameless witnesses to that hoary old New York. Now there’s not much more than a bunch of so-so restaurants catering to the tourists.
The crew was not happy to be out here, and I, as “team leader,” shared their unhappiness. We had already lost the young Polish-American student who’d been assigned to the group. She claimed female troubles moments after we deployed, gave me her clipboard, and was never seen or heard from again (at least I never saw her again). I was left with two teenage boys, one wearing flip-flops (with nary a whiff of irony) and boasting an eyebrow piercing, who wore his red DNC shirt like a hat. He was just about the last person you’d give your money to, and hardly anybody did. Both kids were just out of high school (local fancy-pants schools) and were headed off to college in the fall. By 2:00pm they had raised between them something like 20 bucks and were trying to cajole me into an early bailout. They took long lunches; they recognized as I did that this was a wet and wearying fund-raising scenario compared with the big DNC blowout at Radio City Music Hall a few nights previous. We were the nickel-and-dime gritty-city crew; never had I felt so much a part of Part II of John Edwards’s “two Americas” as I did that afternoon–the poor, wet, huddled part. I told the two of them, “Go disappear into Starbucks if you want.” I started to hate John Kerry. I quit not long after.