I think I’ve written before about the fact that I’ve volunteered to send texts to the Biden campaign. Most days, now, I spend at least an hour (and often quite a bit more than that) sitting at my computer, accessing a website that lets me send off messages by the score.
We’re sending these texts to people we think to be Democrats. Somewhere along the line, the owners of those numbers have identified themselves as blue voters, and we are busily reminding them to vote and telling them how to check to see if they’re really registered.
Naturally, we often don’t get the right person. People move, or they get new phones and new numbers, or whatever. And so, not meaning to, we frequently get Republicans on the other end. Mostly they are polite. They explain that they are not who we think they are, and ask to be removed from the call list. We apologize, wish them a pleasant day, and hit the “opt out” button, which means they don’t hear from us again.
But, sometimes…not often, but sometimes…we get someone who is really quite angry at us, and more than a little abusive. I’ve had three such. First was a man who responded to my text with a string of obscenities and racist epithets (n-word this, n-word that); second was an individual who larded his return text with images that were, shall we say, less than artistic; and, third, was a woman…who was a patriot. By her own admission.
Her, apparently, and by her own admission...
The third one, the patriot woman, happened when I send out a text to what I thought was a person named “Earl.” But it wasn’t Earl who answered. ’Twas her.
This, she wrote, was her son’s phone! And he was only a teenager. How did we get his number? What did we want?
I attempted to reply. (Asking myself, though, if it was his phone, and he was no longer a child, then why was she going through his messages?) I explained that we got the phone numbers from lists of voters and sometimes we were in error. And so sorry if we had disturbed her.
She responded, furiously, in a flash. Hers was, she said, a Republican household…a decent household…a Christian household…and, most of all (this was repeated twice), it was a Patriot household. These were followed by a barrage of emojis — US flags, crosses, churches.
I must confess, I was a little startled by her fury. I actually thought about answering her…that is, writing something myself rather than using one of the canned responses we are supposed to employ. For a moment, I thought about writing, “Fine…but why do you think we can’t be patriots, too?”
I didn’t, though. I just did what we’re supposed to do. I sent her a “have a nice day” message, and went to the next number in my list. No sense in wasting time with someone who couldn’t be convinced.
Yet, as time has gone on, I’ve thought about the encounter. Why was it, I wonder, that it meant so much to her to distinguish herself from me? And from Liberals and Democrats? Why was it so important that she defined herself as clean, and moral, and …a Patriot? All these things, apparently, the antithesis of everything I am.
It wasn’t until this morning that I came up with a possible answer. I was out for longish walk across the top of a local dam — the Georgetown Lake Dam, to be precise. It is quite pleasant, there. A place of birds and sun and the sound of boats in the distance.
And it struck me, as I got to the mile mark, that there was an excellent reason for her to define herself as a patriot. It made her life…interesting. Better. An adventure…a Manichaean struggle of absolute good and absolute evil….
In her fantasy, she wasn’t just a normal person…an ordinary woman in a middle class suburb of some Texas city. No. She was the protagonist of a great adventure story, in which she (and a few dedicated friends) stood firm against the Forces Of Oblivion…the Antichrist, perhaps, or Cthulhu in all his tentacled glory…in any case, Satan and his minions, meaning...
I suppose, on some level, I ought to be flattered. I didn’t ask to be cast in such a role. I didn’t audition. I never learned my lines. But, here I was, in spite of that, surely in line for an Oscar for the role of villain, like, say, Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, but not so tall, and without the silenced shotgun.
And, really, I was in a much better position than she was. Because, you see, I can always give up my role. At the end of an hour or so, I log-off, and leave the texting to someone else. I become what I was before: Martha’s husband, David’s father, Hazel’s grandfather…a half-way decent man, in my own estimation, and as good a patriot as I can be.
No. She abandons her fantasy at her peril. For, if she did give it up, she would be forced to confront the fact that her life is not so shining, not so brave, not so heroic as she would like to believe.
Or to put it another way, she would come face to face with the most fatal of all forms of self-awareness, that is the knowledge of her own banality…
And she would have to admit that hers is not a life of glory, but, rather…as with most of us…
Of quiet desperation…