The Vaccine Project

One of my favorite volunteer jobs was being one of the Buyers for the gift shop in the visitors center of our beautiful public gardens, The other buyer was my dear friend, Susan Lipstick. (as we shall call her here on the Blogosphere) Susan and I were sent twice a year to the Big Gift Fairs in NYC to do the buying. We created themes each season for all the tables…and we did all the display. We planned all the special events and sales. We had such a great time creatively, that,in time, Susan and I left to start a business of our own….that keeps us busy and creative today.

One of my favorite people at the Gardens was Don, one of the custodians…who was a great help to us, especially on the long, tedious days when we were unpacking box after box of tissue wrapped and styrofoam-padded Holiday ornaments and creating a lot of trash to be carted off. Don liked to talk politics and he was very well read. In the months before the 2004 presidential elections, he and I fell into having frequent but enjoyable debates.

He didn’t like John Kerry, he told me, but he could never vote anything but Democratic. Why?… Because he was a Union guy, he said. I would tell him this was ridiculous. What about his Union membership kept him from free choice? I told him he sounded like a Monk talking about why he had to take daily communion. I had regularly voted for our Democratic Congressman and I was more often than not a Republican. Choose the man, not the party, I’d tell him. Get yourself free. He would laugh and start in on some talking point about how he didn’t have enough money to vote for any Republican.

And so it went. But it was always cordial and I could tell he enjoyed our “debates” as much as I did. He’d see me in the Hall and say…”Joan, so what do you think about this issue or this scandal?” And the conversation would be off again.

We liked each other….that’s certain.

And so the days went by and the election of 2004 drew close….soon within weeks. This was during changeover time, when Susan and I were redoing the whole shop for the Holidays and getting ready for the Big Open House first week in November. Susan and I were putting in long hours.

One day, Don pulled me aside as I arrived. “You haven’t gotten a flu shot, have you?” No, I hadn’t, I replied.

“Well, don’t, he said.


“Because good sources tell us at the Union that “they” are tampering with the flu shots to keep people from the polls.”

I think we both stood there a few long moments in silence. I was waiting for the big smile, the punch line from his joke. I think he was waiting for me to grasp the gravity of the situation.

I honestly don’t remember what I finally said. I was dumbfounded that this intelligent man believed this type of bunk. But he was serious. He did. We both just finally walked away…disappointed for different reasons.

A few days later, I was rushing out of the Shop at noon. Around the corner came Don. “Hey, you’re leaving early.” he said. “Must be important…to pull ya away from this place.”

I hesitated a moment….and then it came to me.

‘Oh,it is important. I’m volunteering over at the Bush campaign headquarters this afternoon.”

“Mailing those propaganda fliers? He smiled.

“No, I have a more important job.” I told him. ” I’ve been assigned to the vaccine tampering project.”

He didn’t laugh. Nor did I. He gave kind of a sad half-smile and walked away.

How has it come to be that we believe such things of each other? How has it come to be that partisan politics has so degenerated that we are a nation of suspicious mistrusting cliques…Union vs. Management, “rich” vs “poor”, Black vs, White”, feminists vs. Grizzly Mamas? We don’t simply disagree, we distrust to the extreme. We are willing to believe the most despicable rumors, the most degenerate depictions of each other. The other side is not simply misguided but evil. We don’t try to compromise or find middle ground because American politics has become for both sides..a Medieval Morality Play. A struggle between Divine Good and Unmitigated Evil.

I believe we have been programming this way by our respective parties. Hate and Fear keep us in line,keep us filling the coffers, and allow the Political Class to keep us in the ranks, no matter how THEY betray us. I believe , for most Americans, there are still common principles we could all agree on. There are common objectives we want our government to achieve. But as long as we are not trusting each other, or talking to each other, or happily despising each other…we all settle for the disastrous status quo. That emboldens the Political Class to do less, stash more, and work in their own interest first, not ours.

Years ago, I was hospitalized for several days and I shared a room with a Black woman around my age. We passed the time by talking about our children, our home-town, and the flaky, lazy nurse that had been assigned to our room. She didn’t answer bells, or help us getting out of bed. Finally, one day, I raised a fuss and reported her. The Head Nurse appeared with our Room Nurse in tow. I made my complaints. The Room Nurse then asked her Boss to quiz my Roommate.
“Sister,” she said “Haven’t I answered every bell and done everything I needed to?”

My roommate looked her straight in the eye.

“I’m not your sister and you are one lousy nurse.”

In that hospital room, our mutual situation and care improved greatly after that.

Our country has the kind of grave problems now that require we shrug off “sisterhood” and Union Brotherhood” and Members-of-the-Club-hood…and identifying only with people “like us.” We have to see the way the parties have exploited us and resist so we may re-frame the conversation…and demand results.

I read this last night about Democratic strategy for Midterms.

“But Begala understands that narrative architecture requires a villain. And every one of Obama’s transformative initiatives has had a designated villain—from greedy insurance companies, to big banks and fat cats on Wall Street.”

It will be the same in the Republican camp.

Buzz words like “Sister” that call up old allegiances, old bogey-men, old hurts, old fears. Buzz words strong enough to make us settle for the poisonous Political Inertia of Now.

Well, I don’t know about YOU…but if anyone can somehow safely tamper with the Flu vaccine to just open minds and stiffen spines and finally start to move forward TOGETHER…Give me a call.

I will gladly and…really…volunteer this time.


2 Responses

  1. Mr. cks and I are at different ends of the political spectrum in many though not all areas. A child of privilege, he was involved in successfully organizing grad school assistants in Canada so that their hours and pay (marginally) were better. His parents were Republicans through and through. I grew up in circumstances that were straightened though by no means penurious (seven children in ten years does take a bite from one’s income) – though it is only in hindsight that I realize how closely pennies were counted – when growing up I knew that we were not rich but we always had more than enough food to eat, my parents owned their home (ok, they and the bank), and if we needed something for school we got it without question. My parents grew up on both sides with the wisdom of the Democrat party instilled in them. Of course, I became a Republican.

    To say that the dinner discussions (and breakfast – though we tend to spend the breakfast reading the paper – my husband The NY TImes and I the WSJ though we read each other pertinent sections and editorials that we think will enlighten the other) are interesting would be understating the obvious. And although we can both get a bit exercised at times, we know that in the end, we can agree to listen to each other’s points of view, agree to disagree….because, being married to each other for as long as we have, we know that the “other” is never the Devil Incarnate nor Mother Teresa – but somewhere, hopefully more toward the Mother Teresa side than the devil’s. Perhaps budding politicians should be required to marry someone of the opposing view – a more balanced view of the world’s problems and the solutions to them might then be possible. It is worth a try.

  2. “Perhaps budding politicians should be required to marry someone of the opposing view – a more balanced view of the world’s problems and the solutions to them might then be possible. It is worth a try.”

    I’ll vote for that, cks.

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