I was gone again. Motionless, mouth agape, eyes glazed, I sat in my faded leather chair and watched the ridiculous ricochet off the preposterous, tumble over the edge of disbelief, and crash into a giant pool of misrepresentations, half-truths, and outright lies. I wanted to turn it off but couldn’t. I took hit after hit off what a political junkie like me considers the most mind-numbing crack pipe of them all: the Republican National Convention. I do it over and over, even though I’m painfully aware of the negative, destructive consequences.
I begged others to take a hit with me. They couldn’t; they wouldn’t; they ran out of the room. There was a pint of Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk in the freezer but I was nauseated. There was a bottle of 12-year-old Glenfiddich single-malt scotch whisky in the cabinet, but I knew my brain-cell reserves were so depleted by this assault that even an ounce of ethanol would have turned me into a cabbage. I was alone, helpless, and hopeless.
And then it happened.
Oh, my dear sweet Lord, you do exist! The divine light of redemption appeared right before my eyes and slowly ambled up to the podium on that convention stage in the form of a tall, craggy-faced, disheveled, white-haired, elderly gentleman. The Man with No Name stood beside an empty chair. The moment he began to speak, and haltingly informed us that President Obama was sitting in that chair, my recovery began. And in the arid style of his cinematic alter ego, he told that chair a thing or two — and damned if that chair didn’t give as good as it got.
It mattered not one bit that he was attempting to carry water for the Republicans; he was wry, flawed, disjointed, and human. On a stage and in a setting that made The Truman Show seem real, he was the vision of authenticity, unplugged, unhinged, and far beyond their control. He infused the imaginary President Obama with an uncensored, profane humanity that could never be shown in the political farce that has come to represent American politics. Instead of setting the stage for the wonderful, pure, caring, compassionate, and terminally handsome nominee’s crowning moment of moments, he pricked the balloon of buffoonery and let the hot air out of that room.
I understood my addiction for the first time. It wasn’t a flaw in my character; I wasn’t hooked on the toxicity of never-ending lies and obfuscation. No, I was desperately searching and waiting for an end to the pain — for one soft, dissolvable capsule of truth.
This won’t be the end of moments like this, as some have prophesized — it’s only the beginning. Over time, more will speak the truth, and to chairs full of people. Regardless of which political party the speaker is attached to, we can handle the truth — it’s essential to recovery. What’s the truth? What we really believe — who we really are. You tell me; I’ll tell you. We’ll figure out ways to cooperate, and compromise, and solve our complex problems.
I sat through the nominee’s scripted, self-satisfied performance and felt a pang of compassion. When one begins to recover, feelings return, even toward Republicans. Following Marco Rubio was easy. Following The Man with No Name? Forget it. Nevertheless the balloons floated down from the rafters, the pundits pontificated, the families embraced and smiled through glittering teeth and perfect hair, and the convention was done. But the pretense had been undone — by an actor. Sweet irony.
Clarity is not easy to come by in these crazy political times, but this night made something crystal clear: Fantasy is a permeable membrane — eventually reality will seep through. Or it will ride up in the form of a dark and shadowy figure with a leather hat down over his eyes and a well-chewed cigar protruding from the corner of his mouth. He came to clean up that convention and then rode out and disappeared into the heavy air of a Tampa night.