When did politics become more important than sex? Every person I know isn’t just talking about politics, they’re breathing fire about it. I’m not apolitical. I have opinions. But politics has become like a demolition derby, except that all the cars have slush funds and great hair. Every political party conjures an ocean of facts and evidence to prove it’s right, and I’d almost prefer that we could just tell them to bring us the Holy Grail and then we’d listen to them. Honestly, if I could figure out which party was lying to us the most, I’d go to their headquarters, ring the bell, and leave a flaming bag of dog shit.
I took my pathetic political ignorance to the wisest man I know, Fat Mike, the owner of Fat Mike’s Rib Shack. It was 112 degrees in the shack, and Fat Mike was sweating like a horse after the Kentucky Derby. I bought a pound and a half of beef brisket and asked him to explain politics.
Fat Mike waved his flyswatter like a magic wand and said, “Bubba, the problem is that the thing people think is politics ain’t really politics. It’s actually policy. Whatever you think and want—that’s policy. The way you get it—that’s politics.” He nodded at me in dismissal and turned away to stir up two gallons of iced tea with the long end of a framing square.
I cleared my throat, and when Mike glanced around I gave him a look of gaping incomprehension. “All right, I see you’re slow,” he said. He flopped his sausage-like forearms on the counter and deigned to continue. “Imagine that you’re two years old, and you’re at the grocery store. You see some piece of crap plastic toy car, and you decide you need the thing. That is policy. Since your mom ain’t dumb and knows the car will fall apart after ten minutes in your destructive hands, she says no. You don’t like it, so you pitch backwards on the floor in the middle of the store and shriek like your testicles are being torn off. I mean, dogs in the street are dropping dead.” Mike leered at me and slapped the counter, smearing some barbeque sauce. “That’s your way of getting what you want, Bubba. That’s politics.”
Mike turned back to his iced tea and dumped in eight cups of Imperial Pure Cane Sugar. I waited, pondering what he’d told me. As Mike ambled back to the counter, scratching a hole in the belly of his stained wife-beater undershirt, he said, “Damn it to hell, are you still here?” I thought about the futility of telling him I was a customer, and instead I nodded. Mike shook his head and said, “All right, since you’re so particularly dim today, let me break it down for you. Policy and politics are important, ‘cause we got big problems right now. But if you don’t keep the two separate in your mind, it’ll hose you up every time.
“Before I found sanity, I had a corporate job,” Mike said. I would have been less surprised to hear he’d been a millionaire Cambodian transvestite. “A lady I worked with got an impossible project. Some people wanted it work, some people hated the idea, and that was policy, all fine and swell. But the Big VP who hated it the most got himself made sponsor of that project. However, my friend’s own boss VP wanted that project to work real bad, and he had some pull.”
Mike sniffed a pan of peach cobbler, poked his finger in it, licked the cobbler off and nodded. “My friend was real smart and worked damn hard. Whenever the Big VP screwed her over, she went to her own VP, and he’d give her some good advice. She’d go follow that advice, but that son of a bitch Big VP would just screw her up again. The project was going nowhere, and everybody was getting pissed at my friend.
Finally, my friend’s VP told her to just fire the Big VP as her sponsor. I tell you, she was pretty shocked. She didn’t realize she could do such a thing. But the project was going in the ditch, so she went to the Big VP and fired him. You cannot possibly imagine the shit storm that fell on her then. Everything happened to her except getting turned into a pillar of salt.”
Fat Mike leaned back against the far counter and jostled an aluminum tray, spilling a good trickle of bean juice down his Bermuda shorts. He said, “My friend’s career was ruined. She’d have to move to Guam to get a job washing the cafeteria tables. She went to her own VP weeping to ask what had happened and whether he could help her. He laughed at her and said, ‘I guess you won’t be on the Big VP’s Christmas card list.’ You see, her own VP never had given a crap about the project. The whole time he was just using her to make the Big VP look bad.”
Mike tapped a Camel out of its pack and lit it with a shiny Ronson. He sucked in a drag as if it was his ticket through the Pearly Gates and said, “That, Bubba, is politics.”