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By Ian Murphy
The drive from Manchester to Buffalo was horrendous. Jones and I were suffering a nasty bout of Primary Fever, pained and sweating, tired and disgusted with our bodies and our body politic.
“Just don’t let me die,” Jones moaned pathetically when I asked if he needed help moving his stuff into the house.
“OK,” I promised. I let him take my room and I moved my few belongings into the cold, drafty attic. I slept for seven days under seven blankets. The phone rang.
BEAST publisher Paul Fallon had good and terrible news: he had a place for us to stay in South Carolina. Reporting from the nation’s first 2008 primary had nearly killed us; two in a row would be a suicide mission. I left immediately—without Jones. I’m a man of my word.
I hit the road, unprepared and broke as hell. It was five days before the Republican primary, the Democratic would soon follow. 800 miles to travel. I had a Mobil Speed Pass that my mother gave me for “emergencies.” I filled the tank of my beleaguered ‘96 Chevy Cavalier near the Pennsylvania border and bought some snacks and cigarettes. Guilt overwhelmed me as I used my mother’s money to increase the record-breaking profits of an enormous oil company. But I had little choice.
The Cavalier crapped out just south of Pittsburgh. It was 3 am. I slept poorly in the frigid backseat. The sun pried open my reluctant eyes. I called AAA for a tow, and rode into Pittsburgh in the passenger seat.
“You’re a long way from South Carolina!” the driver joked. I didn’t think it was funny.
The boys at the garage showed me the rat’s nest beside the engine block and the chewed ignition wires. I’d been thwarted by vermin.
I spent the morning wandering aimlessly around Pittsburgh on foot. I used the Speed Pass to buy a carton of cigarettes. I sold a mechanic five packs, for three bucks each, when I went back to the garage to assess their progress.
“We should have it up and running today.” He showed me his yellow teeth. I’d have to pay with my mother’s credit card. This was also entrusted to me for use in “emergencies.”
It was past lunch time. I walked my fifteen dollars to a joint called Primanti Bros. They’ve gained some notoriety for putting French fries on their sandwiches.
“Give me a coffee and a Reuben,” I told the waitress. “Hold the fries.”
“HAAA!” cackled a man at the next table. I didn’t look up. “Oh, you gotta get the fries—it’s best that way. That’s why I come here.”
“I just don’t want any goddamn fries, OK?” I pled with the stranger. I was in no mood.
“Hey, has anyone ever told you that you look like John Belushi?” he asked.
“Yes.” I imagined my self dead, face up, asphyxiated on my own vomit. I felt peaceful.
“Hey, that reminds me of that movie Animal Hut,” the stranger spoke.
“I think you mean Animal House,” I said, looking up and feigning a smile.
His mouth was a wide slit, sauerkraut dangled from the down-turned corners. His hair and moustache were unnaturally black and looked to be made of cheap velour. Pale locks protruded from the back of his wig. He wore dark sunglasses and an expression of incomprehension.
“HAAA!” He shot shreds of fatty corned beef across the table. “John Lithgow—now he’s a good director!”
“Landis! John Landis!” I barked at him as the waitress arrived with my order. “Look, I’m trying to eat here, man.”
“Um, Miss, excuse me, Miss!” I shouted at her fat ass. “I said I didn’t want any fries on this.”
“Oh, those are courtesy of the gentleman at table four,” she said, pointing.
“Christ.” I didn’t feel like arguing.
“Ha!” He showered me in spittle, pulled up a chair and sat down. “I see you got the fries—it’s best that way. That’s why I come here. Mind if I sit down? So, who do you like in the Oscars? I’m pulling for Daniel Ray-Lewis. He’s good. You ever see My Cleft Foot? Powerful stuff.”
I stared ahead hopelessly.
“Either him or Jeffrey Seymour Hoffman,” he added. “I have to know a lot about movies for my job…”
I didn’t look up from my sandwich.
“I’m a political analyst.” He opened his mouth as if he intended to eat my face. “I have to be cultured and able to make the appropriate analogies, so people will understand… politics is a confusing game,” he said, wiping his greasy hands on the table cloth.
“Oh yeah,” I said coldly.
“Yeah!” he spat on me again. “For example, Barack Obama is just like the Salieri character from Rock Me Amadeus. You see?”
“What?” I looked at the floor and put my hand to my forehead.
“I told you politics was complicated,” he reiterated. “You see, after Hillary’s upset in New Hampshire, he’s stuck playing second fiddle. He’s jealous. When she cried it was like a genius symphony—an ocular opus. He probably wants her dead, too. Centuries from now, they’ll have to exhume her corpse and check for poison. But they won’t find any.”
“Should you be out in public by yourself?” I asked him condescendingly. “Is someone looking for you—do you have medication that you should be taking?”
“HAAA!” he spat on me a third time. “Like Jack Nicolaus from One Jumped Over the Cuckoo’s Nest—did you know Ken Cheesy wrote that book while working in a loony bin? It is just like the current political narrative! You make a good point.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I wiped my face.
“Your point that Hillary campaign surrogates have busted out of the nuthouse, and now their causing all sorts of trouble for Obama—Nurse Hatchet… yeah, this place is a little out of my way, but they put fries on the sandwiches. That’s why I come here.”
“I didn’t say that…” I replied, massaging my temples and staring at the salt shaker. I couldn’t bear looking at this idiot.
“It’s all about momentum now,” he interjected. “Who’s got the power ranking and who doesn’t. February’s going to be Obama’s month, you’ll see—black history and all that. Then, Hillary’ll take the momentum in March—women’s history month. Two! Two months! Now that’s a big number…”
“Chris!” A goateed man in an overcoat entered the restaurant and walked toward us.
It was MSNBC political director Chuck Todd.
“We need to get back to New York, Chris.”
“They put fries on the sandwiches, Chuck. That’s why I come here.”
“Yeah, I know, buddy,” Todd said, rolling his eyes and throwing a crisp fifty on the table. “Let’s go.”
“It was nice analyzing politics with you,” the man spat on me a fourth time.
“Right.” I said, dumbfounded.
My car was ready after lunch. I drove back to Buffalo.
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