back to the Black Table

 Never really cared too much about politics, as you know. The horse-race aspect of it is moderately interesting, and the baseball fan in me loves the statistics aspect of exit polls and early returns. But other than that, politics just never seems to matter too much to me.

Whether it’s Clinton or Carter or Reagan or Bush or Pinochet in power, I still can’t figure out how to program my VCR and I still can’t get women to talk to me. If a politician can make promises to fix those problems, I’ll be the first in line to volunteer. Heck, I’ll even go knocking door-to-door, as long as I get the sororities shift.

Nevertheless, when my roommate called me from work the other day, suggesting a spontaneous trip from our Greenwich Village apartment up to Harlem to watch the presidential debate between Al Gore and Bill Bradley, I decided to go. Even though, in the vaguest sense of the term, my roommate and I are considered members of the media, we didn’t have press passes or anything, and we didn’t have any real chance to even get into the debate. But my only other entertainment option for the evening was reading Dave Eggers’ book, and I didn’t really feel like getting any more depressed about how poor of a self-referential writer I am in comparison.

So we hopped on the subway and arrived at the Apollo Theater about an hour before showtime. My roommate is a big Bradley supporter. Of course, he was also a supporter of Michael Dukakis, Garth Brooks’ Chris Gaines album and Crystal Pepsi. I know a doomed cause when I see one. As much as I admire Mr. Bradley’s stances on the issues and his stately nobility, no man with that horrific a chin will ever hold the world’s highest office; did he ever consider a beard?

Bradley’s a wretched campaigner - he waited until he had already been blown out of the water by Gore to announce that he had an endorsement from Michael Jordan. Bradley is the political equivalent of that uncle who is a nice enough guy but who can’t seem to hold down a serious job and never brings a girl home for Christmas and is rapidly balding and developing a serious beer gut. You love the guy and you hope he eventually figures out a way to succeed in whatever the hell it is that he does, but he’s so clearly a loser that you just hope your genes came from the other side of the family. And you make sure you’re never standing next to him in the family photos.

Anyway, it quickly became apparent we weren’t going to weasel our way into the debate - though I did briefly, and accidentally, I assure you, brush my hand against Whoopi Goldberg’s ass as she was whisked into the auditorium by security - so I pointed my roommate toward a tall, red-headed geek with braces and a tweed jacket. “Bradley staffer,” I said, sure of it. “See if he can get us in his post-debate rally. We’ll go watch it there.”

The red-headed dork, apparently psyched and convinced that he was actually contributing something to the campaign, gave us two passes, and we headed down the street, deftly avoiding the dissenting soapbox - it was literally a soapbox - set up by Lyndon LaRouche supporters, to the lobby of a local African American museum that would host the rally.

There were three TVs set up in front of a chairless floor. We took off our coats, and I began to survey the room. As I suspected, Bradley volunteers and supporters who made the trip to Harlem were of two groups: liberal white suburban girls who walked around with a perpetual scowl on their face, and liberal white suburban boys who followed them around.

There was a bar. It cost four bucks for a bottle of Budweiser, which told me all I needed to know about the current state of the Bradley campaign. (Don’t tell me George W. isn’t rolling in the kegs).

Finally, we plopped our bony asses on the hard wooden floor and watched the debate. It was pretty much as you’d suspect: Bradley would dutifully, with dogged sincerity, bring up a legitimate issue or a legitimate complaint, and Gore, because he’s such a monumental prick, would completely turn it around and throw it back in Bradley’s face, and Bradley would sigh and wonder why he didn’t just go into sports broadcasting. You just feel so badly for Bradley; he really means well, but he essentially ends up with the dignity of a guy who just knows that his close female friend will eventually realize that he’s more than just a friend, that they’re perfect for each other, if only she’d break up with that jerk Rick. You want to hug him, but only because you know it’d be really, really easy to steal his wallet.

The Bradley crowd reacted to Gore’s attacks with exasperation; then they just went back to their normal mopiness. The debate mercifully ended, and after a sweep of the building for explosives - I doubt the Secret Service was able to do this without busting into giggling fits - the party was ready to begin. This is why I was really here. For reasons unbeknowst to me, a bunch of celebrities have lined up in Bradley’s corner, and they were all scheduled to appear for a photo op. It’s not every day you get to be in the same room as Johnnie Cochran and Phil Jackson, so it’s best to stay at utmost attention when you have the opportunity.

My roommate, who probably also roots for the Clippers, desperately wanted to get in the background of the inevitable shot of Bradley and his celebrity supporters, but the Bradley staff members - who, I swear to God, were all at least 6 feet tall - weren’t having it. My roommate had a bookbag with him, and when he set it down, a staffer told him, “A Secret Service dude is going to kick your ass if you don’t pick that up. No offense.” A soulful band was inexplicably playing James Brown - Bill Bradley should never, ever be introduced with “Sex Machine” - and the candidate finally entered, trailed by such luminaries as Spike Lee, Willis Reed and Usher.

Bradley, obviously exhausted and depressed, tried to sound enthusiastic, which isn’t easy to do when your debate opponent just called you desperate and you didn’t really respond. The celebrities showed up on stage, stood there for the 45-second speech and then bolted, zipping out to their awaiting limos, doing their best to avoid the grimy proletariat. I would trash some of them for making their only trip to Harlem for a debate between two white presidential candidates, but, hell, it was my first trip to Harlem, too. And I haven’t been back since.

Usher was the one celebrity who stayed to shake hands with supporters, but he’s young, doesn’t know any better and probably is trying to get people to forget that ill-advised movie career. I’d never expected to be in the same room as Usher, let alone have the opportunity to speak with him, so when I bumped into him unexpectedly, I mustered up all the courage I had and told him, “Excuse me.”

After the crowd had hurried out - it didn’t take long once Spike Lee and Phil Jackson were gone - my roommate and I hopped on the subway back to the Village. I consoled him on yet another sorry Bradley performance, and we pontificated on the possibility of the Republicans accepting CNN’s invitation to debate in Harlem, as well. That would give us a chance to support Alan Keyes. Given a choice between poor boy Bradley and psychotic nutjob Keyes, this columnist will take the loon every time. At least he has the good sense to grow a beard.



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