“I can only guarantee you five minutes.”
In the middle of a park in Sierra Madre, on an absolutely perfect fall Sunday morning, Sharon Jimenez, senior adviser on the West Coast for U.S. Representative Dennis Kucinich’s campaign for president, is laying down some ground rules. We are surrounded by volunteers, who busily set up chairs, sort placards and stack fliers for the congressman’s speech and fund-raiser. Twenty feet away, at a lopsided picnic table beneath a lopsided tree, sits Kucinich, wearing a ginger-colored blazer that immediately makes me wonder how many Winnie-the-Poohs had to die to make it. With his familiar squint and little-boy haircut that always appears as if it has been combed with a hot buttered roll, he nods in response to the conclusions of a Pasadena Weekly reporter.
“I thought you were going to get me a ride-along with him to the airport,” I say to Jimenez.
“Oh, well,” she says, smiling and shrugging her massive shoulder pads.
“But I don’t have any five-minute questions,” I say, holding up my notebook. “All my questions are conversational — they’re Bill Moyer questions.”
“Like I said, I can only guarantee you five minutes,” she says, looking at her watch. “The congressman goes on in about eight minutes, and then he has to be in San Mateo for a straw poll at 2.”
Jimenez’s uncanny resemblance to the band manager and lovable curmudgeon of The Partridge Family, Rubin Kincaid, allows me the grace to forgive her persnickety manner as having less to do with me and more to do with the character that I imagine her to be playing.
“Which airport is he going to?” I ask. “LAX?”
“No, Burbank,” she says, drastically shortening even the drive time I was hoping to get.
“Burbank?” I flip through my notes, looking for short-answer questions, wondering if I’m wasting my time and trying to remember why I came in the first place.
Dennis Kucinich carries around a miniaturized copy of the U.S. Constitution in his pocket as if he’s a 13-year-old virgin with a condom that he hopes to use one day. It has become his trademark prop, like Bob Dole’s pen or Charlie Brown’s bag of rocks. Once you get past the initial embarrassment of pitying the metaphorical 13-year-old who believes that his orgasm is verging on the greater legitimacy of happening outside the self-aggrandized confines of masturbation — perhaps even clearing his skin and broadening his shoulders and deepening his voice into the confident baritone of whatever the political version of Barry White might be — you must admire his unabashed, dweebishly patriotic enthusiasm for what many assume to be the blueprint for American democracy, really an assemblage of Pickwickian axioms insisting, in the grandest tradition of existential absurdity, that the best way to experience freedom is through strict adherence to the claustrophobia of rules, rules that, in this case, were written down more than 220 years ago with a feather and then immediately rendered completely meaningless by myriad ever-present prejudicial hang-ups, the usurping of the government by private corporate oligarchies organized on tyrannical and virulently anti-democratic business principles, and, finally, the perpetuation of gargantuan economic and social disparities among the population.
You have to admire Kucinich, because few politicians seem to be as genuinely moved by their own political peacockery as he is. It’s charming. And then it’s as depressing as hell.
“Here we go,” Jimenez says suddenly, shooting past me in the direction of Kucinich and trailing perfume like a tuna casserole enticing a pack of cats.
“Congressman, this is Dwayne Booth from the L.A. Weekly — I promised him five minutes.” She says this last phrase in a hushed tone, as if I were from the Make a Wish Foundation and were there to ask Kucinich to grow a third nut for me in the hope that the magnanimity of the gesture might send my mucopolysaccharidosis into remission. The congressman sighs and looks at his watch.
“I know, I know,” Jimenez says, like a ventriloquist.
“All right,” Kucinich says, weakly shaking my hand, “five minutes.”
“Well, actually,” I say, sitting down with him at the crooked picnic table, both of us moving slowly like two people lowering themselves onto either end of a seesaw, “I had been promised an interview with you on your way to the airport. All my questions are pretty long-winded, and five minutes isn’t enough time.”
“Oh, well, then let’s do that,” he says, calling past me to Jimenez. “He’s going to ride with me to the airport!” I turn to see Jimenez cup her ear. “He’s going to ride with me to the airport for his interview!” he shouts. “Put him in my car.” Jimenez nods.
“All right,” he says, looking at his watch again. “We got five minutes — do you have a short question?”