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Conversation With A Candidate
Author: Will Berry

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     "Some people never learn anything, for this reason, because they understand everything too soon."
     -Alexander Pope


     "Hello, my name is Cloyce DeWitt and I'm running for President of the United States. My party is the Benevolent Socialist Party of America, and I would like to answer any of your questions. I won't bore you with a speech, simply answer your questions. May I sit down?"

     The question was directed to four gentlemen sitting around a coffee table in Bess and Betty's Rite-Spot Cafe in Holly Oaks, Iowa, a suburban community near the second largest city in the sttate. The four men eye Cloyce DeWitt. It was not unusual for political candidates to be running around the state of Iowa, an early primary state, even as early as two years before the national election. What was unusual was that one of them had finally picked Holly Oaks.

     "Heck, no, make yourself at home, son." The four men all thought alike. This could be very entertaining, the high point of their day as a matter of fact.

     Cloyce DeWitt is a handsome young man in an Ivy-League suit that doesn't fit him quite right. In other words, he looks like he belongs in Holly Oaks, a solid town of rural Republicans, unionized Democrats, and a growing number of Independents in its make-up. He sits down with the four men and is promptly served a cup of coffee by the co-owner, Betty McCumber, who wonders if he is married and rather hopes that he isn't.

     One of the men looks under the table to see if the invitee has on a pair of socks that match his suit. They don't. They aren't white, they are dark, but they don't match. The man winks to the others. Cloyce has passed the first test.

     "Now son, it's the Benevolent 'What' of America?"

     "Socialist. The Benevolent Socialist Party of America."

     "Never heard of it. Isn't socialist like communism or something?"

     "Not really. Communism, as we remember it, had to exist in a police state, and we have no desire for that. Yessir, our colors are good, old, North and South blue and gray, not red."

     A chuckle all around. Cloyce has taken off his coat. His shirt is definitely J. C. Penney and the sleeve length is one inch too short.

     "So, Mr. DeWitt, just what makes your socialism different from their communism, anyway?"

     "Civil rights, sir. Civil rights will always be protected, just as it is written in the Constitution and in the Bill of Rights. Proper jurisprudence, habeas corpus, it will all be protected, and I might add, passionately defended. Remember, we are benevolent socialists."

     Cloyce eyed the one man in the group of four that was dressed in a suit, much more expensive than his own, and continued, "And I might add, gentlemen, that calling ourselves benevolent socialists does not mean that we are some group of anarchists intent on redistributing the wealth from those people who have earned it and giving it to the poor. Far from it. We believe that if you let the wealthy alone, they will do more good for the poor through private enterprise than government ever could."

&nbs p;    The man in the expensive suit poured Cloyce another cup of coffee from the communal pot. He had a question of his own. "To come right to it, Mr. DeWitt, just what will your benevolent socialism do for us here in Holly Oaks?"

     "Good question, sir. That's what I like about you people in Iowa. You know how to cut the ear from the stalk, sort of speak." Another chuckle from the assembled, louder this time. "Well, I said that I would not make a speech and I won't. Basically, benevolent socialism is a grass-roots economic movement mandated to release this country from the God-awful gridlock it continually finds itself in. No more and certainly no less."

     The question was asked how Candidate DeWitt was going to stop the God-awful gridlock.

     "By controlling the interests that control you. That means lobbyists, gentlemen, those well-healed special interest groups that can dictate the ebb and flow of any legislation before the Congress of this country. Those are the groups that can strangle the work of any legislative body, and when that happens, they will hurt you, gentlemen. Yes, sooner or later they will hurt you. Sometimes only some of you at the expense of others, and sometimes, just about all of you. Well, darn, I guess that I did make a speech at that. Must be the nature of this political business. I'm rather new at it, you see."

     More laughter from the boys. "You do pretty good son. So, just how are you gonna put a lid on these special interest groups, anyway?"

     "By interpreting the Constitution the way it was written, the way it was supposed to be. I don't think you'll find any special interest groups in the Constiution, gentlemen."

     "Goddam right you won't, son." The boys were warming up.

     "Listen guys, all we want to do is streamline the legislative bodies at all levels of government and make them efficient so that they can really work for you. There are too many bad laws for both rich and poor and everyone in between, and the really good laws that we have can't work until all the laws that restrict these good laws are gone."

     The man in the expensive suit asked his question. "Now, did you say, 'at all levels of government,' Mr. DeWitt?"

     "Yessir, from top to bottom. Right down to your city and county government. After all, bad laws exist at every level of government, do they not?"

     "You got that right, son!" A man in bib overalls fairly yelled his response.

     Cloyce turned to the man in the overalls. "Sir, let me...."

     "Call me, Elmer...."

     "Ok, Elmer, let me give you an example of a law that exists right here in that big city next to you. Now let's say that you want to build a sun-deck on the back of your home. First, you have to get a building permit for the construction of the deck that will cost you 65 dollars, right?"

     "Right."

     "Ok, you build your sun-deck. Now, before the city will pass final inspection on that deck, they will force you, force mind you, to buy smoke alarms. Not just one or two smoke alarms, but enough for every room in your house. Have you any idea of just how much extra that will cost you, Elmer?"

     "Plenty, I'll bet."

     "Yes, and don't forget that your property taxes will go up for property improvement, so you are going to get hit three ways -- building permit, those smoke alarms, and property taxes. And all you wanted was a simp le sun-deck to grill a few hamburgers on."

     The boys let another round of laughter go. "Pretty goddam expensive burgers, Mr. DeWitt!"

     "Call me, Cloyce, please...."

      "Ok, Cloyce, now how are you gonna control local legislation all the way from Wahington?" The question came from a man in jeans and an old plaid shirt that should have been thrown away before the last washing.

     "This is the computer age, guys. We can ferret out all the garbage laws in the country in a relatively short time. Imagine, government computers that actually do some good for you -- of the people, by the people, and, FOR the people."

      "You sound pretty excited about all of this, Cloyce." The statement was made by the man in the expensive suit.

     "Yes, sir, that I am."

     "Call me, John, please."

     "Yes, John, I surely am. We can get this country moving again, like it should really be moving. I mean, moving out of this never-ending traffic jam that we always find ourselves in. Listen, John, I'm a political neophyte. I'll admit it. You can smell 'rookie' on me a mile away, but I really believe that benevolent socialism can do the things that should be done -- that have to be done. Know of anyone without health insurance?"

     "Me, goddamit." The response was from the man in the jeans and old plaid shirt and his voice was filled with venom. "I got no health insurance, because I got a 'pre-existing condition.' Pre-existing condition, my aching ass. My name is George, by the way, Cloyce."

     "Ok, George, you and 50 million like you. The special interest groups have determined that health insurance is a privilege rather than a right. That means you, George, have to suffer the all the financial liability for all of your illnesses, and we all know what that can mean to you, George, because everything you own is at risk. You live in this country, and you pay taxes, and you have no health insurance because someone somewhere with a computer has determined that you can't have it, and now you are assigned to being a second-class citizen. Is that about how you feel, George?"

     "Friggin'-A, it's how I feel, Cloyce. It's the tail that wags the goddam dog and I'm sick of it...."

     "Guys, all I can say is that benevolent socialism will take what is already in place, examine it, get rid of the bad, and get the good going again -- for George here, and for everybody, because everybody counts."

     John, the man in the suit, spoke at the now quiet table. "Son, that sounds like a campaign slogan, 'because everybody counts.' I like that and I like your style." The other men at the table were now focused on John. "Where are you from, Cloyce?"

     "Well, I was born and raised in Minnesota, but don't hold that against me, sir. I mean....John."

     Another bit of laughter as anything about or against Minnesota was good copy in Iowa. Cloyce continued.

     "Went to school up there, put myself through the U of M, served in the army, still in active reserve, got two little tow-heads, and I sure would like to get Rhonda and those kids down here."

     "What's keeping you from that, Cloyce," John asked.

     "Money, John. I'm not Steve Forbes."

     Laughter and then John spoke. "Well, who is, right, boys?" RIGHT, JOHN! "Man ought to have his wife and kids with him, Cloyce. I can imagine th at yours is a grinding life."

     "You are so right....John."

     "Do you have any campaign literature, Cloyce?"

     "Thanks for reminding me, John. Got it right here. Had to get it printed in one of those 5-cent copy places so it's not very professional looking I'm afraid."

     "Cloyce, you need to get an organization going, a grass-roots organization. You need above all, money. Money for brochures, money for radio and TV spots, money to rent halls for rallies, Christ, money for everything, and I think I can help you. In case you hadn't guessed, Cloyce, I'm the local banker here."

     "Anything you could do, John, would be very appreciated. I really need a manager."

     "Indeed. Cloyce, next Thurday I'm hosting a luncheon right here. Starts about 11.30. I'm going to have some influential people from around this part of the state come in, and I would like to have you talk to them. Now, do you think you could handle that, Cloyce?"

     "It would be an honor and a privlege, John. Let me write that down on something...."

     John gave him a little date-book that the bank passes out. "Ok, got it -- 11.30 right here on Thursday. I'll be early, you can depend on that. Well, guys, I've taken enough of your time, today, but you know, I've learned as much from all of you as I hope that you have learned from me. That's what these conversations are all about, I guess. Everyone learns from everyone else, and every time I meet with people like yourselves, well, I just get pumped up. Permit me to leave you with one thought: The United States of America, if you will examine it, is more socialistic than democratic, and has been for a long time. Your governments, local, state, and Federal, has passed laws, without your consent that has affected each and every one of us adversely. This type of democracy, if you will, is less a true representation of the people's will than is my socialism. People wonder why there is always such a low voter turn-out. Well, isn't it obvious? Everything is always a done deal no matter who is elected. You know, I saw a bumper-sticker the other day that sums it all up. It said, 'If God wanted me to vote, He would have given me a candidate!'"

     The boys let their feelings go. "Damn, where can I get one?"

     "Well, gentlemen, you've got a candidate now."

     "Tell them that Thursday, Cloyce. Just like you said it today." John made the statement loud enough for everyone in the cafe to hear.

     "You bet I will, John, and thank you so much."

     Cloyce DeWitt grabbed the coffee check but John had already waved to Bess Freidman who had been listening intently at the cash register not to accept the condidate's money. John was in control now. The candidate's eyes met Bess Friedman's eyes and he smiled the politicans smile but the senior owner of the cafe did not return it. Then, the candidate was gone, shaking hands as he went.

     "Damn, boys, now that young man is a winner!"

     "Oh, you think so, do you John?" Bess Freidman's voice was a well-aimed, head-seeking missile.

     "Damn right, Bessie. He's got ideas and knows how to present them. I can always tell."

     "What can you tell, John?" The conversation was now just between the banker and the storekeeper. "His ideas? Really? How about solid information, John? Did he give you any of that? All I heard was the glaze, the frosting, sweets all around, s omething for everyone. Now all you have to look for is some kind of a cake to put it on."

     "Bessie, the country needs a third party, no question about it. And this young man may be just the ticket."

     Bess had set her jaws. "John, the country already has a third party. It's called an informed and concerned electorate. But, John, I don't doubt that he could be your ticket."

     John let the insult go. He was used to that from her. "Bessie, the last time we had an informed and concerned electorate, we had silver money, so don't hold your breath."

     "Boys," she returned, "do yourselves a favor; go to the library in the big city and tell the librarian that you need a little help with your civics lessons and she will take it from there. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go upstairs to the storeroom. Could I get you all something? Rat poison for the coffee, perhaps?" Bess turned and went up the stairs.

     "Damn boys, aren't you glad you didn't marry someone like her?"

     "Who says I didn't?"

     The laughter reached Bess Freidman as she enteered the upstairs storeroom. She was working the alley side of the storeroom, and she looked out the window, she really did not know why, and parked down in the alley was long, black, Mercedes with smoked windows. It was an automobile not usually seen in Holly Oaks. Then Cloyce DeWitt came down the alley, looked around, and entered the Mercedes.

     And Bess Freidman knew that someone evil had come to her town. "

     Ah, Herr DeWitt, and how was your morning?"

     The questioner was a small, thin, man of very advanced years. His white hair fell over his forehead and he had an equally white little mustache. He wore an old double-breasted suit and dark glasses. His voice was very strong, a trained voice, and if you could see his eyes behind the dark glasses, you would say that they could burn you. Into his upper right hand was an IV and it was connected to a small monitor attended to by a man of middle years dressed in a rather severe, black, business suit. The middle aged man kept a constant watch on the monitor and to the small input tube connected to it and he rarely looked at anything else. One would note that there was a liquid going from the tube through the monitor and into the IV. In the front seat was the driver, a heavy-set man with an enormous amount of scar-tissue on his face.

     "Excellency, we are, as they say, 'in.'"

     Again, the strong voice. "Then the banker was 'enlisted?'"

     "Yes, Excellency, just as you predicted. Your information on the banker was extremely accurate, I must say."

     "They are a breed apart, Herr DeWitt, a breed apart. These money men, I knew them so well. Very pliable if know the right approach. Remember that."

     "I shall, Excellency."

     "Any other problems, Herr DeWitt?"

     "No, Excellency, it went very well." Then DeWitt laughed. "Except I got an evil-eye from some old Jewish hag."

     The upper lip on the old man started to curl. "Well, Herr DeWitt, we will hold that Jewish bitch in abeyance. For the time being. Our new Jews must be those special interest groups that you will be talking about. These lobbyists will be our new Juden, our ticket to power in this debauched 'democracy.'" His voice came down hard on 'democracy.'

     Cloyce DeWitt knew that mo re of the by now familiar speech was coming, but he still loved to hear it. The old man's voice had such a power, and always, always, maintained its hypnotic effect on him. The middle-aged man began to insert more liquid into the input tube and continued his watch on the monitor.

     "Yes, Herr DeWitt, it is the right time for us. We will be the instrument to bare the blame in this country, this Amerika, this place of softness, and economic inequality, and misplaced morals. We will start in the countryside like this little place and then we will go to the big cities just as we did in Germany. And there, Herr DeWitt, you will see the real rot in those places they call the 'inner city,' and it will be there that we will get our storm troopers from the ranks of those 'inner city' gangs, young toughs who will want to be united in common cause because they have been forgotten by everyone else, and we will get thousands upon thousands of them, who will serve us because we will give them a life of power unlike anything else they could have imagined. They say that the economy is still strong here. But is it? We have both seen the few, privileged, 'haves,' and we have seen a multitude of 'have nots' who struggle to attain what they would consider in this country to be 'essentials.' This is not a good economy but it is a rare breeding ground for us. It is history, Herr DeWitt, always the history that begs to be repeated, and it will ours, ours for the taking. Ours because we will know the past, and ours because we are strong, while others are weak and lazy. Ours because we will be united, while others are divided and indifferent. Always ours, always for blood and steel."

     Cloyce DeWitt had tears in his eyes. He loved this man with so clear a vision.

     "History, Herr DeWitt, it has all been written. Read history, learn from it, avoid its mistakes, and the future will be granted to you. This Amerika is perfect, my young friend. There is no Russian slavic menace here, there is only a breeding ground for the application of power supported by a base of people who will be only too willing to give it to you. Remember that, always."

     "Yes, Excellency."

     "And now we must go to another part of this state. We have another 'conquest' for you, Herr DeWitt, a wealthy entrepreneur who should be of immense value to us. Ach, more business men like Farben and Krupp, men of greed and empire. How well I knew them also."

     "Excellency, I must be back here by Thursday for a luncheon with the banker and his friends."

     "And of course you shall be."

     "And, Excellency, I must acquire a wife for people to meet."

     "A good thought, Herr DeWitt. Yes, it is time. They like Frauen in this country. Yes, a wife for you Herr DeWitt....blond and blue-eyed I would think. Martin, you may proceed."

     The driver started the engine, and the middle-aged man appeared satisfied with the readings on the monitor as the big Mercedes slid out of the alley.

     Bess Freidman watched the departure of the black automobile, and she was shaking, she could not stop shaking. She was remembering her parents, and how they had gotten her out of 1938 Germany just before they themselves had been interned by the Gestapo, and she would later learn that her parents had been forced to live a life of slave labor only to die in a place called Dachau in 1944.

     Years later, an uncle went back to Germany and to Dachau, now a monument, an empty, open, and hollow monument inhabited only by the creatures of the nearby forest. He had wanted Bess to go with him as he was an o ld man and he did not want to make the trip alone. But Bess Freidman could not go, she would not go to that place, and the uncle took another relative with him. Upon his return, her uncle had this, and only this, to say about Dachau: "Little one, the birds never sing in that place." And he never spoke of Dachau again.

     Bess Freidman opened the window of the storeroom. It was a fine Spring morning, and yet, she could not hear the song of even one bird.

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