How to Touch Michael Dukakis's Left Hand | Our Town | Chicago Reader

How to Touch Michael Dukakis's Left Hand 

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At 5 PM on a Tuesday, have someone tell you that a person you want to interview will be speaking at a Dukakis fundraiser that night.

Call the Dukakis office, where someone tells you it's $1,000-a-plate at the Chicago Hilton and Towers and closed to the press. Consider asking, "And what if you bring your own plate?" Or: "So, he doesn't want the press to learn the secret party handshake?" Instead, since you did give your name, say thank you and good-bye.

At the hotel, find the nearest bathroom. Wash your hands. Wait for a woman you can follow out. Be amazed that people take so long to primp.

Follow a sleekish young woman with blond hair. End up with a cluster of disgruntled Democrats who walked out of the dinner and won't be allowed back in for 20 minutes. Don't associate with the waiting press. Take a mild interest in a TV reporter's interviews with some sort of officials. Look a little irritated to be missing out on your rightful meal. Look as if you are separated from your party.

Watch enviously as a man says his white ticket was taken from him and the woman at the table gives him a blue one. Wonder if you could get away with that.

When they begin to let people trickle in, one at a time, wonder what you will do. Will you fumble? Will you say you are at table seven? Will they check for your name on a list? Consider various names to use. Note that some press people are walking out. Find yourself in a beige dungeon room with a few other press people nibbling at a tray of food. One will tell you that no press is allowed in to hear the speech.

Walk out. Go downstairs, then up. Follow a well-dressed woman to the bathroom. Inside, find a blue ticket on the floor. Take it as a sign. Cover it with your purse. When a panicky woman returns, consider for a moment saying nothing. Then assume it is some sort of divine test and lift your purse and say: "Oh, look. Here it is." Follow other women out and into the room. There. No one asks for tickets.

See a long raised table with familiar-looking people at it. There he is. Dukakis, right next to Senator Paul Simon. Senator Alan J. Dixon seems to be in charge. It is bait and switch, with each local official introduced as a great this or that, with a tremendous windup.

Fail to be charmed by Simon's down-home "He's good people." Listen to Simon refer to Vice President George Bush's criticism of Dukakis for not pushing the Pledge of Allegiance and hear Simon ask rhetorically, "Who is going to live up to those words 'with liberty and justice for all'?"

Hear Dukakis yet another time talk about his immigrant father. When he says, "What an incredible country this is," think that he probably might believe it.

Listen to all of Dukakis's secrets revealed to the people who paid $1,000 for them. Note that he declares that the current policy in Central America is a failure and that what needs to be done is to "stop the killing and get behind the peace process." Wonder if he means in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, or all of them. Assume he must be speaking in code, and that if you had entered through legal means, you would have been given a simple method of deciphering the vagueness.

Be proud of him that he's more relaxed than he was during the debate and that he moves his arms around. Arm gestures seem to be good things.

Move your lips only slightly when the time comes to sing "God Bless America." Note that Alan Dixon seems to be the only one who is enthusiastic about the song. Wonder why "God Bless America" is OK and the Pledge isn't, since "God Bless America" is much more offensive to the agnostic in you. Be surprised that Dixon is so ebullient (you've never seen him before), because he always struck you as wishy-washy because he's wishy-washy about aid to the contras. Realize that personality and political stances are un-related.

Feel almost a little sad, or feel a desire to feel sad that none of the rhetoric has moved you to stamp or cheer or clap. Feel guilty about your cynicism because there has never been any doubt you will vote for Dukakis because Bush is against nearly everything you believe in, and all you fault Dukakis for is being moderate and vague.

Wait for your interviewee to speak. This never happens. Follow your intuition, which says you will find this person at table 14. Wend your way there. Find it empty. See the person's name listed as a contributor on the printed cards on the tables.

Pick random items from tables, including handwritten notes that say things like: "Dukakis is exactly what he appears to be. Short & boring. P.S. Silk suit?"

Response: "There's a lot of short people at this table."

Feel a strong urge to shake Dukakis's hand and think how silly it is that candidates stand on street corners and el platforms and press the flesh and it works. Wonder if people want to touch hand to hand in order to make the famous seem real, or in order to become equal, or to establish a false connection via this ubiquitous sign of greeting and friendship. Stand in the receiving line and reach. Watch the Secret Service guys on all his sides, their eyes at waist level, expressionless, shuffling as he moves.

Reach. Try to move forward in line. Finally touch the curled fingers of his left hand. Feel a satisfaction. Say "Congratulations," without even thinking, because this is a receiving line and people were sitting at tables and festive Greek music is playing and after all you're wearing the dress you wore three years before to a cousin's wedding.

Think back that the most inspiring speaker of all, the man with true passion, was Illinois Attorney General Neil Hartigan, who spoke of human dignity, lost jobs, and arrogant Republicans.

Later, listen to a friend tell you that the reason it was closed to the press was so TV cameras wouldn't focus on this dinner and instead would have to show the Duke working the blue-collar crowds in Melrose Park and Peoria. Smile and practice the secret handshake.

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