Maybe it was

Maybe it was because he had nothing to lose. His newspaper career was winding down as well it should. It had been more than fifty years since he walked up the creaking wooden steps of the building on Henry St. in Binghamton to the second floor and his first job in journalism. A long time ago and it began with the kind old obit writer Al Hanks regaling him with stories of cops and robbers and home wreakers and prostitutes some of whom Al penned the death notices for when people like him were still employed to do that sort of thing. He thought of himself now in 2017 as the Jack Nicholson character Warren Schmidt in About Schmidt, the washedout actuary sitting in the cold office whose implacable but anxious stare at the outset of the film is fixed on the overhead clock as it ticks off the minutes until the hour hand strikes 5 and he can bolt. Maybe it was because he had always held his tongue and let others do the talking. He was by nature a reticent man with no particular urge to dominate the conversation. He didn’t mind letting others have the floor although it tired him just to hear them ramble on. “Maybe it’s time,” Jake Pearce thought, “for me to speak up.” Susan Blank had come out of her cubicle which in itself was an occurrence to make you take notice. He had never seen an advertising sales manager stay sequestered behind her desk for such a duration. Sightings of her were rarer than spotting a bald eagle. It irked him that she wasn’t a more frequent presence, like the man who had preceded her in the job, who was so good at firing up the troops before they went out on the road with their rate sheets in hand to visit the car dealerships and furniture stores and gift shops and restaurants. Jake couldn’t understand why Susan didn’t try harder to instill enthusiasm, like Rob Stephens had. Even when Jake stayed late and the night security guy turned off most of the lights he could still see Susan in the same place, her head bowed over monthly or quarterly performance reports by the glow of a small lamp. Now she was within earshot of him however and chatting with several sales reps who had volunteered to help her in her campaign for mayor. Jake couldn’t think of anyone less qualified than Susan Blank, a colorless woman except for the rouge on her cheeks, whose perpetual pleasantness was in his opinion a generally endearing trait but also a disqualifying one in someone with political aspirations. He had seen no evidence that she possessed the vigorous spirit he’d observed in JFK. It was JFK who had initially sparked Jake’s love of politics, who had prompted Jake to buy the record of the new president’s Inaugural Address and to play it over and over and over on the turntable and then some more. Susan Blank was no Benjamin Gilman either. Jake had stumped door to door for Gilman as a member of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and so had done his part to help Gilman win a New York state Congressional seat. Nor did Susan Blank impress him as being as sincerely driven as onetime or current Worcesterarea candidates he knew personally like O’Sullivan and Ryan and Economou and Evangelidis and Coleman and Rosen. Susan and her confidantes were exchanging what passed for strategy when Jake, catching the drift of their remarks, stood, eager to have his say. He couldn’t believe they were hung up on such insignificant particulars as which telephone poles to attach posters to. He thought of Teddy Roosevelt waving to thousands of adoring citizens from the rail of a ship pulling into New York Harbor on his return from Europe; of Robert F. Kennedy rumbling through the heartland on a whistlestop tour; of John Monfredo using the reading bandwagon as a springboard to election to the School Committee; of George McGovern and Eugene McCarthy and Bernie Sanders and Tom Menino and “Honey Fitz” and “Boss” (Chicago’s Richard J. Daley, as profiled by Mike Royko), of Reagan declaring “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall!” and even Barry Goldwater for whom his followers felt such passion. “Frank Skeffington” too, “the last of the great big-city Irish political bosses” in Edwin O’Connor’s Pulitzer Prizewinning The Last Hurrah. Blarneyspouting, charming, witty Frank Skeffington making his final run for mayor, fighting hard to keep his city from “reverting to government by pigmies.” Jake cleared his throat to get Susan Blank’s attention. “You are going about this all wrong!” Jake said, surprised at his bravado. “Susan you need to be out there (he pointed toward the street)! You need to be issuing position papers so fast and furious that your opponent doesn’t know what hit him. You need to be holding rallies. You need to be on the radio with Jordan and Jim. You need to be attending VFW meetings and church suppers and wakes. You need to be conspicuous at neighborhood block parties and the Senior Center! You need to be in a convertible with a megaphone, blasting your message from one end of the city to the other.” Jake saw Susan’s jaw drop and consternation fill her eyes. He could tell she was boiling but he couldn’t help himself. “This is the most pathetic excuse for a campaign I have ever seen,” he said.

Then he sat down.

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