Grace Notes: Jumping Jack Flash

This column is about the Rolling Stones and my neighbor Larry in his yellow snow slicker. It’s not about politics.


The day dawned, and I was filled with focus and good intention. I moved though my paces, spit-spot: brew coffee, feed dogs, collect papers, pick up jacket, skateboard wrench and iPod ear buds left near the front door. I finally go to my office, second cup of coffee in hand.

“This column will not be about politics.” I’ve been thinking this all weekend. I check my notebooks; flip through page after page until I find a list of words I made some months ago: swither and swash are the first two. I momentarily get caught up with one, and then the other, trying to move down a linguistic road leading to some idea that has nothing to do with politics.

I sigh. My coffee is growing cold and gray-looking.

I go back to my notebook, continue playing with the list of words: Blunderbuss, whippersnapper, jolterheaded, flummery, feckless. Why, I wonder, do all my words sound like politics?

I finally admit that, this particular morning, I can’t think of anything except elections, so I give up and retreat to the kitchen. The birds have left the feeder, placed their bodies gently back and deeply into the blue spruce. Rabbits criss and cross snow-trails in the backyard. My littlest dog stretches on the back of the couch like a cat, watching. She’s chased various small mammals three or four times already this morning, so now she lounges, tracking them with her eyes half closed, drugged by winter sun coming bright through the window.

I put an unmarked CD into the player and out blasts music my neighbor Larry burned for my teenaged son: The Rolling Stones, in all their glory. I pull an almost month-old bag of cranberries out of the refrigerator. By some miracle they are still good and I’m suddenly convinced they will now go immediately bad; I must bake something instead of working. I sing “Between a rock and a hard place” badly.

All this while, I think about writing and message and voice and debate. I think about Larry, last night, walking his new beagle. My son pulled our car up. Fat snowflakes floated in and Larry’s beagle nosed at the inches building up on the sidewalk. Gabriel thanked him for the CD, and asked him to keep his eye out for an inexpensive used car. I piped in that it needed to be a teenaged-boy car that a mother would approve. My son frowned. Larry laughed. Snow fell and fell and when Larry’s yellow coat was frosted in white he moved on down the street, pulled by his dog, ready now to hightail it somewhere else.

I don’t know Larry’s politics; I don’t know how he feels about taxation, health care, corporations as people, super PACs, South Carolina, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul. I could find out quickly enough by just asking him; we’d stand on the corner and discuss it. He’d be polite, articulate, and calm. So would I. Because that’s how most people behave – across this state, across this country. And, even if he believes opposite from me on every issue, he’d still be Larry, my neighbor: a good guy.

I stir cranberries and sugar over medium heat and think about all the obfuscation and rudeness I’ve read or seen these past months. I realize my frustration and dread are partly this: These campaigns are playing to each other, to the media, and to the donors who dole out millions. Regular people don’t seem to be part of this election process. It has become a small and powerful game. And, we’ve become the people to manipulate, scare, fool, lie to, condescend to, climb up and over, all in the pursuit of some powerful position.

It’s become a reality TV show — in other words, not real at all, nothing to do with our real lives, our children’s lives, the well-being of our country. Our country.

What are we going to do?

I turn the Stones louder, eat raw batter from the spatula – reckless, risky. I air-guitar to “Jumping Jack Flash.” The dogs look at me like I’ve gone mad.

I wonder, what now? And, again, and then again, I wonder: What are we going to do?

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