Navigate to News section

Winner Take All

When politics trumps porn

Shalom Auslander
January 31, 2008

The thing is, as long as Obama keeps it close in high-delegate states like New York and California and wins enough of the smaller states and rural areas, then I think he can stay in reach of Clinton on February 5 and possibly close the deal in the remaining states after that. Support for Clinton seems to have eroded on the left, while support for Obama has grown, and while it’s true that Obama is still an unknown in many parts of those larger states, Clinton’s potential base seems to have maxed out while Obama’s continues to grow. Now before you tell me I’m crazy, let me just tell you one thing: I don’t care about any of this. I’ve never voted, never even registered to vote until last week, and though I donated a small amount to the Obama campaign last month, I’m pretty sure none of this crap makes a bit of fucking difference. Gore would have gone into Afghanistan just as quickly as Bush did, and if enough polls said Iraq should be next, he’d have gone into there, too. “Whoopsie—no savior. The role of Messiah will be played tonight by, well, no one. Good night everybody!” The trouble is, though, that I’ve downloaded pretty much all the pornography on the internet (“Seen it,” I thought as a recent clip began playing, and then, “That can’t be good…”), and I desperately need some new distractions to keep me from writing. If the pornography industry isn’t going to keep up with me, how else am I going to waste my time?

“We’re at a historic moment,” said Obama.

“Get involved!” shouted Kos.

“This time it’s important!” implored Sullivan.

Okey-dokey, I thought. I’m fired up!

I have some writing ideas, some notions, some characters I work on here and there, but they’re not right, they’re not core to me. They’re peripheral. There’s something else. Something in me wants out. I don’t know what it is, or what it looks like, but I can hear it sometimes. It groans uncomfortably when I work on something that isn’t quite it. It kicks when I spend my time on personal essays or magazine articles. It sounds a bit like my three-year-old son, tossing and whining in the middle of the night as I listen to him through the child monitor beside the bed. A moan, a rumble, a grumble.

What is it saying?

What does it want?

What am I afraid of?

I want to find out, really I do—and I will, just as soon as I’ve checked The Huffington Post. Bill Clinton might have just said something that could possibly be interpreted as maybe meaning something else, and Arianna’s got the video.

* * *

When I was young, my mother told me I had thin skin. She told me that I was too sensitive. It was her strategy for coping—or not coping—with our emotionally impaired family. The problem wasn’t the fighting, the hitting, the shouting, the punching, or the kicking; the problem was me. It wasn’t that the war was bad, it was that I was bad at war. Karl Rove has nothing on dysfunctional parents. The hope, I suppose, was that after my father threw a left hook or my brother threw a right cross, I would say to myself, “You’re too sensitive. Toughen up!” and instead of crying, I would steel myself and realize that nothing bad was actually happening. The plan backfired: As the tears filled my eyes, I thought, “She’s right! I’m too sensitive! I’m a sensitive person! I can’t take this!” and I would crawl underneath my steel-framed bed and curl up on my side and press my face into the baseboard radiator and lie there among the dustbunnies and lost coins and wonder how anybody with skin as thin as mine was supposed to make it through this horrible shithole of a world. Some people, I thought, are good at living. And some, particularly the ones shivering in fear beneath their beds, are not. I had a toy at the time, an action figure whose torso was made of clear plastic and when you pressed a button on his back, you could see the blood running through him, all the way out to his hands and feet, courtesy of plastic tubing running the length of his limbs. I knew how he felt. That’s me, I thought—skin so thin you can see my blood.

So when I came home one day last week and my wife said to me, “They found a lump in my breast,” we hugged and tried to stay calm and decided that, there was no point in freaking out until the mammogram came back and that after all, the doctor thought the prognostic indicators were good and anyone using the term “prognostic indicator” probably knows what they’re talking about. Then we fed our son and put him to bed and then we went to bed, too, and pretty soon my wife fell asleep and once she had, I climbed quietly out of bed, went into the living room, sat on the couch, cried, and thought, “I can’t handle this.” If there’d been a steel-frame bed around, I’d have crawled underneath it.

It’s purely anecdotal, of course, but everyone I speak to in New York is pulling for Obama, and I’m not talking about New York City, I’m talking about upstate, so maybe it can go either way.

* * *

Another good distraction from writing is reading about writing, and one thing nobody seems to discuss much is courage. Tone, character, structure, voice. But not courage. Maybe that’s why I also don’t read many books that seem all that courageous; on the contrary, most new books I read seem pandering, desperate for respect and admiration, but nothing that seems like a risk, nothing that seems like the author just went out there and said, “Fuck it, this is what I feel. Be it sick, be it wrong, be it contrary to everything I ever wrote before.” Maybe I’m reading the wrong books. Maybe we talk about plot and character because we can’t talk about courage, because there’s nothing we can do about it, because no amount of pages or instruction is going to help you when you sit down at the computer with all your pride and dreams and insecurities and fears, with all the faces of all the people you’ve ever met staring over your shoulder and waiting to see what you do. Because no book or article is going to get you to crawl out from under that bed, thin skin and all, and walk with your head up through this horrible shithole of a world.

* * *

Friday afternoon, my wife phoned to tell me that the mammogram was clear and the ultrasound looked good, too. We went out to celebrate that night, and celebrated again last night with some other friends.

“I haven’t been able to think about anything else,” I confided to my friend Guy.

He handed me a glass of wine, and we had a toast to my wife’s good health.

“At least now you can get back to writing,” he said.

We got home about an hour ago, around midnight, and I’m sitting here in bed with my laptop. The babysitter has left, the dogs have gone to sleep, it’s quiet in the house and a perfect time to write. Unfortunately, John Edwards just announced he’s dropping out of the race. Greg Sargent at Talking Points Memo thinks Edwards supporters will mostly break for Obama, Politico has video of his speech, and Andrew Sullivan is linking to a post somewhere else that links back to his post about the post he posted earlier about that other poster’s post.

It’s going to be a long night.

Shalom Auslander is the author of Foreskin’s Lament, Hope: A Tragedy, and most recently Mother for Dinner. His new memoir, Fehwill be published this July. He writes The Fetal Position on Substack, so make that seven Nazis.