I was exposed to politics at an early age–6 to be exact. My first foray was quick, decisive and an utter failure. It was time to choose a first grade class president in room 102 at P.S. 186 Queens. Since we didn’t have a class president in kindergarten, I was thoroughly unfamiliar with the process. I didn’t even know what a class president’s duties were, but it seemed better and more prestigious than class clown–an office I already held–unofficially, of course.
My parents always took me with them to the polls so I imagined electing a class president would be a similar process, you know, with votes. But our teacher, a severe spinster who was also the school’s music teacher and broke out in spontaneous operatic arias, was having none of that. In her mind first graders were not mature enough to choose their own leader so she discarded any sense of democracy, standing in front of the class and barked, “Who wants to be class president. Raise your hands!”
Well…we all raised our hands, with at least one kid named Steven vocalizing, “ooooh, oooooh, ME!” for emphasis. That was my first exposure to overt campaigning. But our operatic instructor ignored Steven and chose another boy…because he was tall. That was my first exposure to what I later came to know as “optics.” Turns out the tall boy was a wuss. He was supposed to keep the class quiet when the teacher had to leave the room but he was deposed in a coup carried out when we launched a barrage of pencil erasers and the ceremonial dumping of a 64-pack of Crayolas. Teacher was nonplussed and simply asked the class, “well, who wants to be the NEXT president?”
This time none of us were stupid enough to raise our hands so she chose a girl in a pink dress who immediately began to cry. Since she was cute and apparently had no political aspirations we didn’t give her any crap when teacher left the room and vowed never to run for political office in the future, choosing instead to consider transferring to Catholic school where students had no say in anything. Ultimately she remained in our class when her family’s rabbi took issue.
Politics remained a part of my life when my mother became very active in the Eastern Queens Democratic Club. She rose to a leadership position, supporting Democratic candidates for New York City Council, NY State Governor and the Legislature. We helped her fold flyers while my father muttered, “why are you helping that asshole?” He considered all politicians as assholes and my father, a highly intelligent chemical engineer, was rarely wrong in his assessments.
My mother’s political connections did hit paydirt for me during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college. She landed me a total political patronage job in the New York City Comptroller’s office. It was an awesome job in one of the majestic Municipal Building. It’s that flat building you see as you cross the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. Everything about it was over done, including the men’s room. The urinals were about four feet high and about a foot wide, and you had to step up on a slab of marble to get to them. Every pee was like a performance on your own little stage.
Anyway, my job was to type, on an old Royal typewriter, checks to people who had successfully sued the city for pothole damage to their cars, or heath issues when they received slipshod treatment at a city hospital. I typed maybe five checks a day. I spent the rest of the time reading the papers and studying for the FCC license I would need to pursue my career in broadcasting.
Once, out of boredom after lunch, I attempted to file some case folders but I was almost tackled by one of the regulars who said, “we don’t file in the afternoon in the summer. It’s just too hot!” She ordered me back to my desk which was in a long row like in a classroom. I sat in front of an old dude with a gray crewcut named Higgins. His entire job was rubber stamping the date on a stack of papers. He’d been doing it for 20 years and aspired to nothing. Yup…gotta love those political patronage jobs. By the way, I did study enough to earn my FCC license.
After that, I’ve attempted to avoid any sort of active involvement in politics although I follow it closely. I did watch the debacle in Iowa with great interest though, because who doesn’t love a trainwreck..especially if only politicians are casualties. After all, as my late, wonderful father always said, “why help those assholes?”