A riddle was posed to me recently. What’s the difference between expanding and exploding? The answer, I gathered, is the rate of change.
This all started the weekend before Tuesday, November 6th, Election Day. I was at a bar surfing a red wave, of sorts. What I mean is, there was this disgusting, red “Pumpkin-Fest” beer my friend, the bartender, was trying to pawn off on me. He tends to just hand me any beer, and I usually drink it without complaint. This one, however, was revolting.
“Why did you serve me this?” I said.
“You’ll drink anything,” he shrugged. “Plus, we need to get rid of it.”
“Is there a discount?” I asked.
“Shit, you can have it for free.”
Ever the fiscal conservative, I pinched my nose and powered through it. As these things go, the second beer wasn’t as bad as the first, and eventually I got used to the smell. The air was thick with political commentary headed for the upcoming election. Everyone had an opinion. There were the fatalists, the idealists, the anarchists, the jingoists, those allergic to the toxic political climate, the undecided, and one Phd candidate, all sitting around me. Or to put it another way: Sleepy, Happy, Grumpy, Dopey, Sneezy, Bashful and Doc. I wanted no part of it. I’m a Mugwump, traditionally, and I was beginning to feel like I was trapped in a cage with unruly parrots. Like my beer, I pinched my nose and powered through it, and eventually I got used to the smell.
It’s an uphill battle for reasonable people these days. Fostering an informed public with fear-stoking, naked aggression, open hostility, and a calculated exploitation of raw facts is like trying to get someone interested in camping by warning them about the Blair Witch Project.
“There is no more important election than right now,” said the PhD guy. I sagged and tried to shove my whole head into my beer glass. What a stupid thing to say, considering this election would be the ONLY election we can vote in right now. I sure as shit can’t go into the past and vote for something that has already been decided. Likewise, casting a ballot for a future race would be frustrating at best. I imagined myself walking into my polling place on Tuesday and demanding to vote in the ’68 election between Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. I would be immediately stripped of my voting rights, as the little lady behind the desk grabs my registration slip and mashes a big, red “Mentally Deranged” stamp across it, (which is only half true).
The whole scene was getting to me. I realized I was very drunk.
“What’s in this stuff?” I said, peering into my glass.
“I think it’s embalming fluid mixed with, like, cinnamon,” said the bartender.
I walked outside, intent on securing a ride home. I would grab an Uber and leave my car in the parking lot. I was about to summon a driver when one of the Grumpy crew, a casual acquaintance, walked past me.
“Need a lift?”
“Nah, I’ll Uber.”
“Nonsense. I’ll drive you home. I’m going that way.”
Since it was close to Election Day, I “elected” to accept the ride. It was, I thought, a reasonable choice. Then I saw his car. The damn thing was the size of an egg, and probably about as delicate. I had made my decision, uninformed, and now I was nervous. I had cast my lot, though, and so I climbed into what was probably a very fuel-efficient death trap.
When sitting in a tiny car, all other cars seem to take on an enormous and very menacing aspect. I felt like a chihuahua surrounded by a bunch of pit bulls. Grumpy punched the gas pedal and we took off like a rocket. The car was insanely fast, or maybe just so small that, like an electron around an atom, it could kind of defy normal physics.
Grumpy likes jazz, and so Charlie Parker was wailing out of the radio, a frantic soundtrack that perfectly matched the buses, SUVs, and pickups whizzing and crisscrossing around us. Grumpy, who may have been drunker than I was, began to lecture me on the corruption of political power. From the origins of ex cathedra and papal infallibility to twentieth-century totalitarianism, puppet democracies, castes and class suppression, Grumpy, or Drunky (the eighth dwarf), railed at my mental lassitude, my passive acceptance, my timid consent to the ruling elite. Terrified at the sight of a large truck bearing down on us, I happily agreed with everything he said. Subtlety is wasted on a drowning man, and I felt like I was swallowing five gallons of water.
“I’m trying to expand your mind!” he shouted at me.
“Or explode it!” I said.
“What’s the difference?” he asked.
“The rate of change,” I countered as the massive semi-truck missed us by micrometers.
Eventually I made it home. Blood pressure: 180/150. Heart rate: Same tempo as The Rolling Stones song Paint It Black. Breathing: Labored. Resolve: Shaky. Bladder: In need of release. I lie awake that night, trying to calm down. I considered my seemingly reasonable choice that came very close to getting me killed when all the other factors came into play.
Elections, after all, are a thrilling and risky business.