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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:
Bar of the Café of the rue de Rome (c. 1886)

"The tiny moments in tiny rooms might make all the difference."

The Muse and I are not regulars at any bar and grill, though we almost know our way around that society; she learned at Marskies, a tiny South Dakota bar in the half-horse town she grew up just outside of. I never learned but am still learning, entering every bar wary and uncertain of the rules of engagement. I slink around half-invisible as if my fake ID teetered on the edge of discovery and I was tarnishing my reputation. In some places, especially tiny towns, the bar might be the only retail establishment in the city. So it is with TheTux, a social club center of the universe place in tiny Prescott, Washington, population 377. No tuxedo has likely ever graced this space. This town represents a considerable portion of the county, though. Our canny candidate understood she dared not avoid it, so she asked Doug, the local Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, if he might introduce her. He invited us to an evening at TheTux, specifically Wednesday Taco Night, which qualifies as a weekly local celebration.

The tacos are crap, two bucks a pop, and well worth, at best, a quarter of that.
We had not come for the food. I went for the ambiance because I love tiny town institutions. They're all the same and each very different. They feature signs hung back just after Prohibition, each representing a part of a proud tradition. "I speak sarcasm because beating the living shit out of you is illegal" "Helen Wait is our credit officer. If you want credit, go to Helen Wait." We've all seen them before, and they lend a familiar warmth. A muted TV in one corner stokes insurrection, tuned to Fox News, while another in an opposite corner, also muffled, plays Seinfeld reruns. The patrons look like farmers, spouses, or hands.

Once we finish our meager tacos, I ask The Muse if she will work the tables. She could have said, "No," and turned to go. She seems so at ease in public, but I know she sometimes questions her presence. She's not as naturally gregarious as she so often seems. I'd asked to frame the choice. She claims to want to work in bigger rooms, though each big room challenges her. That might well be their purpose. Feel the fear and do it anyway, they too blithely say. She dared not turn away.

So she and Doug get up and approach the first table. Soon, I've become invisible, watching from across the suddenly bigger room as she performs the impossible. She seems to find something in common with everyone, and far from feeling intruded upon, people appear genuinely pleased at her interrupting. I snap a photo or two for later publicity and watch while she works. After almost an hour, she returns to report that she met someone who grew up across the street from where I grew up in that Walt Disney movie on Pleasant Street, so I amble over to meet my counterpart, a dozen years my senior. The house he grew up in was derelict and torn down shortly after my family moved in, but he provided some history I'd never suspected about the place I considered my childhood playground.

We had hesitated to engage in this place since very near the beginning of the race. If you want to feel like a genuine alien in your home county or state, go to the smallest place there and try to relate. You will not be able to help feeling like a genuine alien. Our host had only lived in the town for fifteen years, so he was considered a newcomer. The founding families—and people do keep track—go back six generations and damned well know it. Anyone simply stopping in thinking that they might get noticed will get noticed and then some. Anyone believing they might fit in should consider getting their head examined, but The Muse somehow managed to fit in.

I swear that she's a chameleon. She enters big rooms and finds her space in there. She dragged me along, for by the end of the evening, even I felt as though I might belong. Even though one corner of the bar was spewing muted hate speech by streaming Hannity, I found little insanity leaking out of the patrons. Two people were celebrating birthdays, so everyone sang Happy Birthday, led by one of the servers. Doug, an old Peace Corp volunteer, spoke fluent Spanish, and The Muse had brought her Spanish language fliers, so even the table where the Hispanic family was celebrating a birthday warmly welcomed her. They left, shaking her hand again and thanking her.

Perhaps the biggest rooms The Muse has worked through this campaign have been in the tiniest places. Larger venues tend toward performance, which enforces insidious uniformity and little creativity or connection. She can spew her elevator speech without ever becoming present. The tinier places encourage more humanity, deeper engagement, and better connections. The conversations while canvassing and those before or after an actual speech have provided the firmest links between voters and this candidate. So much of candidacy amounts to performance, and while that’s essential, very little of that really matters. The tiny moments in tiny rooms might make all the difference—twelve days and counting until the votes get counted.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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