Id heard there were people who still like Bush, Hector Schechner told me over late-night coffee and oatmeal at Dolores Restaurant. But I didnt know any, personally, even among my Republican friends. So I figured Id go try and find some. In a very small car, Schechner traveled 48 states contiguously, for two months solid. Mixing with the reddest necks he could find. Eating their food. Performing in their nightclubs. Attending their high-school plays.
It was the weirdest fuckin thing, said Schechner. I couldnt find even one not one person, in the whole country who still likes Bush.
No way, said I. I know someone who likes him.
No you dont, said Schechner. Listen. Every day Id eat three meals at three different truck stops, the kind where you expect to find burly guys wearing Kill Em All, Let God Sort Em Out T-shirts, stuff like that. But they werent there. The T-shirts, that is. Id sit at the counter, read the paper, strike up conversations with truckers and waitresses. Horrible music on the radio. And out in the parking lots thered be 18-wheelers with Lets Not Elect Bush in 2004, Either and Support Our Troops: Impeach Bush bumper stickers.
Bullshit, I said. Everybody has to love Bush. Its in the Bible.
No bullshit, Shulman! Not one person in this country believes that cracker Fundamentalist Puppetboy anymore! Not one! They know hes a lying sack of shit, and they resent his fucking with their heads! Waitresses at the counters wore Impeach the Moron T-shirts and Buck Fush buttons! Schechner took a deep breath and dug into his oatmeal. It was very encouraging, he mumbled.
I pulled out my notebook, sipped coffee and scribbled while Schechner ate. Schechner is a strange man, but he doesnt lie without telling you that hes lying. Even when hes performing: He wears a toupée and a mustache onstage, but everyone knows theyre fake. Offstage, hes a clean-shaven beige man in his 60s or 70s, of medium build and with a full head of closely cropped hair, black, white and gray. Schechners as ethical a man as ever Ive met; he speaks with authority but not arrogance, and readily admits when hes wrong. Good people.
He also reads well upside-down.
Thats nice, Shulman speaks with authority but not arrogance, and readily admits when hes wrong. Jesus. Is this for Readers Digest?
Its just a first draft. It wont make it into print.
Fuckin-A, it wont, said Schechner. Why not just change it to Schechners wise beyond his years. His every gesture reveals the Wisdom of the Ages?
Or I could just take out the bit about you not being arrogant.
Listen, Schechner forged onward, ignoring me. Do you want to know why its finally happening?
Why whats happening?
The end of the Bush spell.
Yes, I said. Yes, I do.
Schechner leaned in. Region-specific souvenirs.
Region-specific souvenirs. People buying souvenirs for friends and family back home. Its just like food-combining. You know a garbanzo beans one thing, but a garbanzo bean with macadamia nut oil and mung bean sprouts is something entirely different. Likewise, certain combinations of region-specific souvenirs usually some kind of food, some kind of cleaning product and something utterly useless can subliminally enhance ones ability to perceive, in general, and, in specific, to more efficiently detect bullshit.
You lost me, I said.
I didnt say it would make sense, said Schechner, straightening up and putting his towel on the table. How old are you, now, Shulman? Thirty-five?
Forty-one in October.
Lets round it up to 42. Ive seen America, Mr. Shulmanat42. And I dont just mean this road trip. Ive been doing standup comedy all over this country since before you were born. And if Ive learned one thing, its this: In America, high-level bullshit-detection is almost always rewarded with poverty.
And if you plan on growing old in the U.S.A., you better learn to respect penniless wisdom more than wealthy ignorance. Because when you get old in this place, thats all youve got.
Our waiter added fresh hot stale coffee to our cold stale cups. Its the same waiter Ive seen at Dolores Restaurant since the early 80s: probably about Schechners age, polite, articulate. Excellent waiter. I think hes maybe a manager, but it always amazes me that anyone could work a night shift in a restaurant for 20 years.
We creamed and sugared and shlurped our coffees. I said, So I need to respect penniless wisdom, or move to a better country.
Thats right. Im trying to give you a compliment, he said. Youre a bright enough guy, with no marketable skills. By the time youre my age, you might be wise. But youll definitely be poor.
Thanks. Does this have something to do with the souvenirs?
Schechner shrugged vaguely toward the hills of Brentwood. You see all the assholes living easy, eating well in big, clean houses?
Not all assholes. Plenty of people with money who arent assholes.
True. But most are. Assholes faking their ways through life, generating money and little else. These are not wise people, Shulman. Theyre addicted to competition. Theyve forgotten how to perceive correctly. Their lives are like game shows. Hi. I make money by telling other people what to do with their money. So now that I have money, I need to pay someone else, so they can tell me what to do with mine, because otherwise what is life? You see what Im saying?
I thought about it for a second. A few seconds. No.
In the parking lot, Schechner presented me with hot sauce from Louisiana, alligator-shaped soap from Florida and an inch-long cow-shaped something from Wisconsin. Or Iowa.
Thanks. Bush bad. Souvenirs, good. What the hell is this one? I asked.
Thats the cow, said Schechner.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
The cow. A cow. Its a fucking cow.
I can see its a cow. But what is it? I mean, I appreciate that you bought it for me, but if I wanted to buy another one, what would I refer to this as?
Stumped, we checked the cow for clues. It was mostly white, with black blotches, yellow horns and red nostrils, collar, cowbell and lipstick. It shared a clear plastic envelope with a two-inch square card. On the card, only the words COLORED GROWING DO NOT SWALLOW EXPAND 600% OF SIZE.
Schechner shrugged. Cow, we said in unison.