I spent my day in the southern part of the state talking to some high school journalists, so this is a bit late. On the way there, I had to take some of the more rural highways to get from point to point, winding me through the various hills and valleys around the farms and small towns along the way.
I used to love these drives, as the farms were idyllic and the occasional “FOR SALE” signs on junky trucks and old muscle cars led to flights of fancy in my mind. I often loved the way in which the weaving roads and the sound of the engine kept me thinking about how lucky I was to live in this area.
This time, every turn was another bout with crippling depression. Instead of the cars and trucks on the sides of the road, all I saw was “WE STAND WITH SCOTT WALKER” signs.
They were everywhere, each one larger than the previous one.
In spite of the recent polling data that showed an almost dead heat between Walker and Mary Burke, the scenes on the side of the road were unrelentingly bleak. In watching the debate tonight, I don’t see this getting much better over the next three weeks.
(SIDE NOTE: You have a virtual sausage fest here on the panel and they’re all dick smacking each other to try to come up with the most horrible sports analogies as part of their really bad questions. Swear to God, the Wisconsin Broadcasting Association needs to post a “Your IQ must be this high to ride the debate” sign at the door of this place…)
Burke might be a great person, a smart person and a savvy business person, but she really sucks at energizing people or giving me any hope that she’ll win. Walker is slicker than buttered snot and every time I hear him speak, my blood pressure goes up by five points and I just want to scream, “You lying brainless cocksucker!”
And that’s just after he says, “Good evening.”
Given his slashing of education budgets, the slaughter of public unions and the general sense that he’s beholden to the rich, I have never felt more fearful of an election than I am right now. To recast a John Oliver-ism, anyone with a brain should understand that if you had to choose between Scott Walker and the minions of Hell, you choose the minions of Hell. I don’t understand how people can’t see this. It’s one of those things that seems so patently obvious to me that I can’t believe people wouldn’t see it too.
It makes me fearful of what state I have come home to.
About seven years ago, we decided to come back to Wisconsin. We left ten years earlier but we always considered this to be our home. Both of our sets of parents were here, as were our grandparents. Our moms both taught in the schools of the state, our fathers both worked in blue-collar jobs.
As we lived away, our grandparents died off one at a time. Our parents were getting older and sicker. We realized we needed to make a decision, so we packed our stuff and we came home.
What we found was not the “purple” state we left. What we found was a red-and-blue, oil-and-water separation that was more hostile and more hateful than ever before.
We saw pay freezes. We were furloughed. We were battered by public opinion.
I still can’t get several conversations out of my head that just left me dining on ashes.
When my wife was hired at the U, a friend (who wasn’t an idiot) told her she must be happy now that both of us were at the U since that meant we weren’t paying taxes.
Stunned, my wife asked her what the hell she was talking about.
“You guys don’t pay taxes. You’re the takers. It’s the rest of us who pay taxes.”
There was the one where people were raging at my mother about her pension.
“You don’t deserve that! Why should you have that pension when I don’t get one?” was a common refrain.
Well, you didn’t seem to mind it when they didn’t take the raises they could have had and put a bigger strain on the economy and instead took it as deferred compensation.
There are so many things I love about this state: Saturdays doing estate sales, Friday-night fish-fry options a-plenty, snow neighbors… And yet nostalgia can’t make up for pay freezes and those “hihowaya” waitstaff at local diners can’t make up for the unrelenting bile that people hold in their hearts.
It’s this kind of thing that has us pondering how long we can stay and what else we could do. It’s like we’re plotting the great escape, talking to friends at universities far and wide while holding out hope that somehow, some way this will get better.
If not for the family we have and love, we’d be gone by now, abandoning this frozen hamlet for other pastures and the only argument we’d be having is how far south is too far south. We still have parents here. We have our kid’s godparents and we are godparents as well. Because of these people we love, we cling to the idea that family matters so much to us that we can live with almost anything to maintain that ever more fragile bond.
A long time ago, a palm reader told me that my family line and my career line were joined up to a point and then they would separate. I would eventually have to make a choice as to which mattered more.
When we managed to come home, I thought maybe I’d managed to yank the lines together and things would be OK.
Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right. Maybe you can’t go home again.
Or maybe you just can’t stay there.