By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Bush in person (or, at least, from 50 feet away) is very much the incarnation of a Saturday Night Livesketch — only the presidential impersonator he brings to mind is not Will Ferrell but Chevy Chase. Approaching 58, Bush is still naughtily boyish with his quick nods and winks, while imparting a certain bit of Map Room gravitas.
Bush poked fun at his presumptive Democratic rival, Senator John Kerry, in a playfully restrained manner that boiled down to a tight, now-ubiquitous sound bite about Kerry being in Washington “long enough to take both sides on just about every issue.” The words “schools” and “child” also came up quite a bit in the president’s folksy, 35-minute talk, as though there exists a parallel, fictionalized Republican Party that cares about children and concedes that even renters have the right to vote.
It was a sanguine and effective speech, delivered in calm, measured rhythms that made pre-emptive war, the tearing up of international treaties, the stripping of environmental protections and the abolition of corporate taxes sound like accomplishments rather than a bill of indictment. Above all, it conveyed firmness — with a perplexed shrug as to why Democrats would even run against a candidate so fair and reasonable. No one in here but us normal folks.
The problem for the Republicans is that Bush isn’t going to be re-elected. Not because Americans are suddenly feeling a twinge of guilt for the damage their government’s appetites have inflicted on the rest of the world, but because Americans are breaking out of their gated planet of porno-tech toys, antidepressants and plastic surgery just enough to realize, however intuitively, that here is a president who regards most of them as Martians, and who is as clueless as Paris Hilton about the daily, flat-tire frustrations of his fellow countrymen.
Still, Bush has the golden aura that even vile presidents exude. Watching him perform, I thought of a long-ago sunny afternoon, when Richard Nixon’s plane landed at the Air Force base where my father served. I pedaled my bicycle onto the flight line and patiently watched as the president greeted a line of admirers, coming closer to me. I’d rehearsed some anti-war slogan — “Get outta Vietnam!” I think — but as Nixon approached, I decided a wiser course would be to simply shake his hand and civilly murmur, “Stop the war.” Nixon, however, didn’t make it to my end of the line, which was probably for the best.
Indeed, outside the Shrine, a hundred angry demonstrators yelled similar slogans, even as their placards denounced a different war and new gripes (“Get Your Bible Out of My Constitution,” read one), while the National Lawyers Guild’s Jim Lafferty coaxed them to disperse after Bush had left the building to attend a $25,000-a-plate GOP money orgy in Bel Air.
Back in the Shrine’s parking-structure elevator, a group of Republicans analyzed Bush’s speech.
“This time he was so great — so powerful and focused,” one woman said. “I wish he would speak like that all the time.”
“He does,” said another.
“No, he doesn’t,” her friend contradicted.
Then, as the elevator stopped and the group was about to separate, talk turned to caravanning.
“I’m driving a 500-S, like everybody else,” one of the men said.
“Great,” groaned the first woman. “How are we supposed to follow?”
It’s been nearly five months since I’ve entered a Vons. I went into a Pavilions once during the supermarket strike as a reporter, and had been startled by the dimmed lights, empty shelves and surreptitious glances from the few replacement workers and fewer shoppers — as though both knew they weren’t really supposed to be there.
Today, three days after the strike’s end, the lights are bright. Chocolate Easter bunnies grin from a central display. But there’s no sign of the Can-I-Help-You guy, the produce stocker so eager to help that I sometimes hid behind stacked cantaloupes to avoid his overzealousness. He was always stuffing a seedless grape into my mouth, pointing out particularly glimmering eggplants, beaming as he indicated half-price strawberries.
Okay, I miss him.
Although, any clerk at this Vons, on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Virgil Avenue, was just as likely to ask if you needed help finding something, or if there was anything else they could do for you.
But not today. Something is different.
No one is mean, but there’s a dourness in the air, and I’m thinking: Is it over? Is the union itself broken, not to mention the spirits of the workers, who had to accept health-benefit and wage concessions, even after a long wageless walkout, all in the name of competing with Wal-Mart? Is the Can-I-Help-You guy now a greeter for the heirs of Sam Walton?
Years ago, I was a Hughes Market guy. Then Ralphs bought Hughes, and even though they kept the Hughes name in big letters above the entrance for a while, my Hughes changed into a Ralphs almost immediately.
Then I found Vons. I discovered that if you weren’t too picky about the brand, ‰ Vons almost always had some version of your desired product on sale. And if it wasn’t on sale this week, you could stake out that aisle for two weeks and, sure enough, up would go the sale tags. Also, you could look at your receipt and see how much you’d saved. Ralphs parroted the concept, but Ralphs just wasn’t as committed to putting every kind of product on sale on a regular basis.