Texas Governor George W. Bush has just touched down at Portland International Airport. The word is out on talk radio: Bush will hold a rally at Memorial Coliseum at 7 pm. Halloween in the year 2000 dawned with the eternal chance of showers that make a Portland fall forecast, and Kyle Waldenburg wonders why W is bothering. It’s common knowledge that the Rose City is the progressive capital of a state Bush has no chance of winning.

That doesn’t stop the Reagan Republican divorced father of two from rounding up his children, Lance and Lindsey, fifteen and nine respectively, after getting permission from ex-wife Kay to take them out of school early.

“You never want to miss a chance to see a president,” he’d told her.

“I’ll agree to this,” Kay had replied, “but God forbid that man should become the president.”

On the freeway heading downtown he repeats his line about never missing a chance to see a president. Lance says, “He’s not president yet.”  Kyle’s first-born has listened to his father complain about Bill Clinton for as long as he can remember paying attention. He’s listened equally as much to his mother defending President Clinton. Lindsey’s just miffed, having left her classmates and a fourth-grade costume party. She stares out the car window with concern about how this political field trip is going to affect Halloween night. Kyle’s lawn sign is in the trunk: BUSH-CHENEY

Seen through grime-coated Interstate 5 rails is their objective, Memorial, an anachronism of sixties minimalism, home now to RV sales events and performances of The Muppets. Kyle takes the offramp, visualizing an open space in a parking structure rising six stories dark against a setting sun. In haste, he almost rear-ends a white Mercedes stopped at the ramp’s red light. When the light changes he gathers that the platinum blonde in the driver’s seat is headed for the Coliseum as well. She has an apparent stream of questions for the parking attendant, who leans out and points from his kiosk.

“Come on, lady,” says Kyle, drumming the steering wheel with his palms.

It’s his own fault for assuming that W’s Monday night stopover would be a nonevent. The announcement had come only that morning, and he’d anticipated a slam-dunk traffic-wise. But the ramps and streets leading to the Coliseum are thronged with vehicles and pedestrians. Maybe the desire to see even a possible president is universal, because Kyle has always believed that you’d have trouble filling a booth at IHOP with Bush supporters in the city President H.W. Bush called “Little Beirut.” He relaxes after paying the parking fee and finds a column-crowded space down one of the parking structure lanes. Retrieving his lawn sign from the trunk, he checks that Lindsey has her coat and that Lance leaves behind his hand-held gamer. They move toward the piss-scented stairway, and the first political rally of the Waldenburg children’s lives.

On Memorial Plaza it’s shades of Van Halen, with a huge demographic difference. Instead of the stoned and the restless, a growing multitude of patently sober people are descending on the venue’s phalanx of swinging glass doors. They’re damming up several feet from those doors however. Kyle cranes and sees the hang-up: body searches. Every one of the thousands looking to get in will get a rock-concert pat-down.

Makes sense, Kyle thinks.

From way back of the line some hoarse dude yells, “We want Bush!”

*

“How long are we going to wait?” asks Lindsey. She looks pale, and Kyle has a twinge of

regret about bringing her along. He miscalculated, assuming they’d waltz through the doors of a sparsely attended rally for the politician Portland loved to hate. Now they’re trapped in a crush of rustling coats, heat-conserving fleece, and lined cargo pants, including four-foot Lindsey, her chin skyward, gulping occasional droughts of wind blowing off the Willamette River.

The line moves and Kyle can see the besieged body-searchers, patting and moving people forward as if caught in some show-us-your-papers nightmare. If they can just get in, get to a seat, maybe buy some water. Lance is on his toes, having calculated that this surprise field trip is better than an afternoon science lab. There’s blessed movement, and they surge close enough to see that the body search is not the last hurdle to entry. Men in suits too perfect for Portland on a weeknight look on. Whosoever survives the pat-down gets a laconic visual once-over from professional-looking crowd-scanners that Kyle assumes are Secret Service.

Lindsey’s complexion has gone from alabaster to a shade of dove gray. Someone wearing an Al Gore mask roves the plaza, inciting cheers and jeers. You can purchase Clinton, Bush, or Gore at the local Fred Meyer Halloween aisle.

All Hallows Eve falls slate-orange over the west hills.

*

People are still coming, the intersections gridlocked, the crosswalks filled like for Blazer games. Portland finest is on full array, their cruisers and black-and-white SUVs lining the plaza. Media vans with snaking cables take up positions. A helicopter circles the tired Coliseum and swooping new Rose Garden Arena next door. His head on a swivel and Lindsey leaning against his left leg, Kyle wonders again why W is bothering with Oregon, a state whose electoral votes he cannot hope to win. Somebody somewhere must have run a model that says it’s possible. Possible with enough Eastern Oregon votes, and enough like those thronging now, anxious to be searched and passed through the doors. Maybe Karl Rove himself thinks Oregon might be up for grabs.

A clammy sheen appears on Lindsey’s forehead, and for a long moment she seems propped up only by the pressing coats. Kyle hands the BUSH-CHENEY sign to Lance and lifts her off her feet, a weight only months ago he could hoist easily. She’s experienced a growth spurt over the summer, and there’s a limit on how long he can heft sixty-five pounds. “Take some deep breaths,” he tells her. Just then the line moves and seconds after Kyle sets his daughter back on her feet the pat-down artists are laying hands. They skip Lindsey, search Lance and relieve him of the lawn sign. Finally, the Waldenburg family minus Mom is on its way in. It’s been close to three hours since Kyle signed his kids out of Forest Hills Elementary and Forest Park Middle School respectively.

The hoarse dude seems to have gotten closer with his “We want Bush” bellow. Behind him they’re piling up like doomed Who fans.

*

With Lindsey in hand and Lance following closely, Kyle moves quickly through familiar glass doors and onto the main concourse. Through another set of heavy steel doors, the hoary panorama of the Coliseum unfolds. The legendary planks of Terry Porter’s windmill dunks and Bill Walton’s strategic passes are long gone.  On a modest stage with last-minute written all over it sits a podium, lined-up folding chairs, and a collapsible Formica table on which sits plastic drinking cups and a pitcher of water. An American flag and Oregon state flag bookend the arrangement.  The autumn heat of charged bodies is slow to penetrate gloomy corners where seats meet rafters and truss-work holds echoes of the Grave Digger’s monster-truck roar.

A claustrophobic knot for Kyle and family again, this time on the stairway leading to midlevel seating. The nosebleeds are closed off by hand-burnished leather ropes, but the overflow is already jumping them. An African-American usher in a burgundy coat works his way up through the crush, as if called in for unwanted overtime. He unhitches the ropes with a tired air that suggests he’s been opening those upper levels for as long as there has been people to fill them.

It’s tight, but Kyle spots three midlevel seats that offer a good view from stage right.  Just as he, Lance and Lindsey plant themselves between a couple of older marrieds and what looks to be two nerdy Asian brothers, The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” pipes over the enervated sound system, disembodied and virile. The song ends with its famous five-barrel spurt, and to a rustle of mass impatience a cohort of local GOP lights come out from stage left and take seats in the row of chairs.

Kyle recognizes one of them, the blond in the Mercedes he almost rear-ended at the off ramp.  She goes to the mike, introduces herself as a state congresswoman from somewhere called Central Point, and gushes,

“This is amazing!”

*

You never want to miss the chance to see a president, or a possible president. It

was such thinking that inspired Kyle and Kay to join the mob for Governor Bill Clinton at Pioneer Courthouse Square in the summer of 1992. It had proved a portentous outing, because they’d both crossed party lines to vote for what they’d assumed was a “good old boy” version of beloved President Reagan. Implicit was a thumbs-down signal for Bush 41, his broken “no new taxes” pledge and cluelessness about the price of milk. Kyle had returned to the fold with a vote for Dole in 1996, but Kay stuck with “Bubba.”

It wasn’t the sexual shenanigans that brought him home. Kyle accepted that presidents had affairs, even Republican presidents, and one way or another lied about them. No stranger to libertine behavior before his marriage, he could forgive consensual failings, flings, even mistresses. Although Kyle welcomed Newt Gingrich’s midterm Republican Revolution in 1994, he’d been vaguely embarrassed by his own party during the Clinton impeachment. What unequivocally worried him in 1996 was the emboldened liberals riding the coattails of the man some called the “first black president in history.” Hillary-Care seemed socialist, illegal immigration was tilting America’s overloaded boat, and the first intimations of infectious, global-centric, multiculturalist political-correctness had entered the national bloodstream.

Now, long months since W strutted out of the Governor’s mansion and declared his candidacy, the tide was set to turn. Gore had sighed his way to losses in the presidential debates. As reluctantly as Kyle had cast his ballot to dump the sky-jumping Herbert Walker Bush, he relished his chance to reverse the trend with a vote for the dynastic Texas table-turner, the hard-drinking prodigal son returned.

The blond congresswoman looked offstage, as if getting a cue. A quad of secret service agents came out from the curtained wings.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she says, “Please welcome the next president of the United States!”

*

Wearing a dark blue suit and Red State power-tie, W lets the hysteria play out. If he doesn’t seem presidential just yet, there’s an aura of inevitability. Kyle knows the stump speech by heart, but there’s a different ring tonight. Tonight, the Harvard man seems relaxed and neighborly, as if he’s fixing to invite all rally-goers to his back deck in Crawford for a Tex-Mex barbeque. He might just be tired,Kyle thinks. As a new millennia dawns, and America’s political divide grows deeper, it is easy to foresee a time when the quest to win the highest office in the land will continue inexorably, will never end.

Bush talks about the importance of a strong defense in a volatile world. There is welcome vilification of those twin Harpies of confiscatory evil, the death and marriage tax.  He doesn’t miss the obligatory shot at trial lawyers. His final promise is greeted with a foot-stomping frenzy. “We’ve got to get back to the principles of Ronald Reagan.”

Kyle is big-time ready for it, fed to the gills with the Friends of Bill, the entitlement crowd, the environmental-loons, the undocumented invasion, the social-justice warriors now entrenched at all levels of the government. The wrong crowd got too comfortable while Big Bill was in the closet with Lewinsky. It was time to straighten things out, both at home and around the world, and Bush was the man to do it.

Lance is clapping respectfully. Thankfully color has returned to Lindsey’s face. The Asian boys on Kyle’s right arm are smiling and clapping. Mom and pop to the left seem ready to mark their ballots right now. A baby yawns three rows in front of Kyle, a Bush/Cheney button pinned to her bonnet. That hoarse Bush fanatic from outside has made it in.

A bottled-water vendor appears, somehow gotten wind of the event, working the midlevel aisles.  Kyle gets his attention long enough to purchase three for six dollars. As he watches his kids hydrate, W makes his final pitch.

“Friends, I’m here to ask for your vote. We need to change things in Washington. I hope and pray that you are with me. Thank you, Portland, God bless, and God bless America.”

The cavernous Memorial interior has finally reached room temperature. A wall-of-sound quality cheer goes up, last heard in these parts during Hulk Hogan’s glory days. As Bush leaves the podium Kyle wolf-whistles over the crescendo, and swears, would swear from that day forward that W heard it and looked right at him.

Lance nods at his father, “not bad, not bad.” Lindsey, her water bottle one-third down, looks strong enough to face the egressing masses and get back to what matters: Halloween. As they move down and into a becalmed stairwell, Kyle ruminates on the governor’s immediate future. They’ll hustle him out the back, whoosh him into a limo, whisk him out to PDX. There might even be another eleventh-hour campaign stop tonight.

But W isn’t heading into the wings. He’s gone to the stage steps and, remarkably, with caught-unawares secret service agents scrambling to keep up, starts down.  “Look,” says Kyle to no one in particular. They all watch incredulously as Bush plunges into the crowd.

They’ve seen the next president, and they’re not going to miss this, a chance to get close, make eye contact with, maybe even shake hands. Down, down the steps from midlevel, with Lindsey working dutifully to keep up. Once on the floor there’s a different vibe, the vulnerability vibe. The governor is lost in a crush of people who all have the same idea Kyle has. The agents who protect W stand taller than him, so Kyle can track his movement from outside the scrum. There’s a flash of white collar, right there, a longhorn cufflink. Only a few arm lengths away now.

Lindsey can’t make it, doesn’t have another human crush in her. It’s going to have to be Lance. Game, that’s what the kid is, a gamer both electronically and physically. Constant hours with his PlayStation console, and never a missed basketball practice. If anyone can get the handshake, Lance can.

“Go in,” says Kyle, “try and get close.”  Lance disappears into the sea of packed shoulders and reaching arms.  Try to get the handshake of a president.

*

Holding Lindsey’s hand, Kyle glimpses of Bush’s perspiration-glazed forehead. There’s a hub-like murmur coming from the center of the vortex. Unscientific. Ominous associations form unbidden in Kyle’s mind, dark gunshots from the souls of small, dangerous men. How foolish to think that only the conservative and curious had shown up for W’s splashdown.

Anyone could have gotten in here. 

Kyle and Lindsey turn instinctively as a rumble of conflict pushes through the crowd toward them. A burly, bearded man is being hustled away on the double-quick, captured in the arms of two impeccably-suited secret service men. Lindsey is directly in their path; at the last second Kyle shoulders in front of her to absorb the inevitable blow. The captors and their captive are not able to avoid clipping them sharply. Kyle is able to keep his feet, but Lindsey is thrown back and tumbles to the grimy concrete floor. Amidst a sea of shuffling feet, she screams. Kyle reaches quickly down and pulls her to her feet. She stands in a brief moment of shock, and Kyle knows the tears are coming, and that grief is coming for him once this tale is told to the ex-wife.

He kneels down and lets Lindsey cry into his shoulder. “Can we please go now?”

A burgundy-jacketed member of Coliseum security, an African-American woman

who trails the ejectors, stops, mumbles code in to her phone, then asks if Lindsey is OK.

“Yes, I think so,” says Kyle.

From somewhere on the arena floor a steel door carved into the concrete wall booms closed. There’s a catcall here, friends calling friends. The hoarse dude lets out a final bellow of support. The governor has left the building.

Lance comes out of the dissipated crowd sporting a catbird’s smile.

“High-five, baby, I got a high-five.”

*

The man in the Al Gore mask still haunts the plaza. Some young Republicans are good-naturedly encircling him, as if to rip the mask off and expose the evoker of four years under a pedantic, cardboard leftist, whose best joke involves standing stock-still and asking about “The Macarena” dance craze: “Do you want to see it again?”

The Waldenburgs keep moving. Halloween waiting, one that may go down as one of the most memorable Halloweens ever.

A klatch of protesters has assembled around Memorial’s concrete-chunk plaque, holding hand-scrawled signs and a professionally printed Ralph Nader banner. Old hippies, the David Crosby conjurers, always willing to turn out for action. Resentful young dissidents, inflamed with hate for America. Always a few Russian Army fatigue-wearing, Marxist subversives, steel-eyed, mingling with the Green pacifists. A malignant distaff voice brays out of the protest ranks.

“Hey, Dad, how was the rally?”

Kyle stops short, and Lance and Lindsey stop with him. Hard-fast rule: don’t engage with the street element if you’re with your kids.But the woman, who Kyle notices has a chromium post telescoping the dead-middle of her tongue, isn’t finished imparting her invective.

“Just what are you raising your kids to believe?”

“That’s none of your business,” Kyle answers.

Now a man comes front and center, different, this guy. Kinetic malice, slept-in destitution, I-did-not-get-a-meal-today menace. He’s white, with sandy dreadlocks, in dirty denim.

“You’re raising your kids to be fascists.”

The epithet meant to shame and cower, to end the possibility of further discussion. Everybody here knows there’s no chance for conversation, no possibility for meaningful exchange of beliefs, values, ideology. Uncle Sam must be brought down, from within or without, whatever is necessary. Kyle’s standing as a father who can entrust American patriotism to a new generation marks him as an enemy of the leftist state.

The dreadlock guy burns a stare across the ten feet between them.

Kyle is surprised at the vehemence of his own response. “Keep your hammer and sickle, motherfucker, I’m sticking with the red, white, and blue.

Kyle knows what his adversary is thinking. That a dude who rolls out “motherfucker” in front of his children might be just as radical as anyone come to confront the evil Bush. Somebody in the Green crowd says to his dreadlocked comrade,

“Come on, man, we’re not about that.”

Lindsey has grown pale again. That urine scent again. Lance punches the grimy elevator button.

*

Crisp, cool, no precipitation. Portland Halloweens don’t get any better. Kyle rolls down the window on the ride home, half listening as Lindsey gives a whitewashed blow-by-blow of the evening to her mother on Lance’s cell phone. She doesn’t recount the falling down part, or admit that she cried, at least not yet.  It’s a canny nondisclosure aimed at ensuring the rest of the evening goes her way, door to door, collecting candy. A scent of wood smoke in the air once they get outside downtown. In their neighborhood the amber hues of streetlights illuminate covens of acquisitive goblins. Lindsey says, “Hurry, Dad.” But Kyle actually slows down as they hit their own block, trick-or-treaters ahead, ghastly creatures in the latest video game tie-in horrors. From the very beginning his daughter has coveted the Pocahontas outfit from K-Mart, and soon she’ll be wearing her faux-buckskin dress with its beaded headband. At their bungalow she dons her costume in record time, adding a pair of brown woolen leggings Kay has insisted upon against the chill.

Lance’s costume isn’t much different from his usual garb, a skateboard, a Berserker t-shirt inspired by Clerks, and blond hair gelled into spikes. He flips on the porch light and the doorbell starts ringing. For the next half-hour, three-fourths of the Waldenburg family takes turns handing out the grab bag of chocolate bars Kyle picked up at a 7-Eleven the night before. Leaving the remainder of the chocolates on a front porch honor system, they head out.

Door to door they go, to familiar neighbors. Jeff is the union representative at his wood chip processing plant. He turns the tables on the plaza’s Gore imagery when he answers the door wearing a Bush mask. “Have you ever seen anything so frightening?” he says. “Out” Republican Kyle has to laugh.

Back on the street, the kid’s bags start to bulge, Lance is cleared to join age-appropriate friends. Kyle delivers his usual admonition, “Make good choices,” and then says, “Today you saw our next president,”

“He’s not president yet,” says Lance before loping off toward the mini-downtown of Hillsdale. Kyle and Lindsey visit three more houses and she’s done. At the dining room table, the old rule comes into play: check everything. Kyle has read on the Internet that contrary to urban legend, cases of poisoned or booby-trapped candy are extremely rare. Kids are way more likely to get hit by a car on this spooky night of nights. But Lindsey pours out her booty. The checking of the candy has become ritual, a ceremony of assessment which in its suppositions about the human race fit inextricably with the night God-fearing cultures have called the Feast of Souls. Kyle pulls a couple of his favorites out of the pile, Almond Joy, with Lindsey’s approval, and she sweeps the rest off the table and back into her bag.

He tucks her into a blood sugar crash. Before she fades he comforts her. “I’m

sorry you got knocked down.” She looks up, a strangely wiser child. Next Halloween

she and Lance will spend with their mother.  “Dad?”

“Do you think there will ever be a woman president?”

Kyle has a twinge about Hillary. “I absolutely, positively believe that will happen someday, sweetheart.”

*

The roar of a jet lords over the scarified streets. The ghoul-infested high school gymnasium dances, and the homes of the evangelists who find no place in their scriptures for this holiday. Over people who didn’t know Bush was in town, or didn’t care. People appalled at the notion. East coast lefties, homegrown rural righties, militant cyclists, flag-sticker construction workers, apolitical slackers. Cool blonde California transplants in gas-guzzlers. The Pink Mafia, and enough cocooning neocons to fill several IHOPs. Portland is not yet considered a major metropolitan area at the turn of the millennium, but does shape up as a microcosm of changes that have conservative Americans frightened, and progressive Americans impatient for something they can’t yet define.

Kyle remembers waiting up late with his mother and father in 1960, praying that

John Kennedy would beat Richard Nixon. The napalm and nukes-driven Johnson-Goldwater showdown in ’64. Then Bobby, going the way of John. The Nixon Landslide, 1972, Kyle’s first vote at age nineteen. Jimmy Carter, a dangerous veer into malaise.

The Reagan Revolution, Kyle’s ticket, never looked back.

Above the bungalow the fade of the big jet resonates down.  Kyle looks out the front door’s leaded glass windowpanes. If he leaves the porch light on there might be some stragglers. He thinks back to Halloweens past, when he’d broken the rules, stayed out past curfew, scavenging forbidden streets and blocks far enough from home to constitute a parallel universe. Nothing lurks in the darkness, no trailing Reaper or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.

Midnight, November, yet blessed with no rain.

By next Halloween–Kubrick’s 2001–George W. Bush will be the 43rdpresident of the United States. There is nothing they can do to stop that. Bring it, bring it, Bush’s watch will be Kyle’s watch too.

 

THE END

****

Photo by darf_nicht_mehr_hochladen (Pixabay)