I’M SITTING with the photographers at the Republican National Convention. Fifteen, maybe 20 feet from the Nominee. I wait on high alert for the moment I’m sure must be coming: when the slogans, morals, numbers, attacks, and anecdotes finally crystallize into something more than the sum of their parts. When Mitt Romney finally connects.
The moment never comes.
Still, I sit, listening, gazing up intently at the radiant mannequin before me. Perfect hair, high IQ, and generic good looks. I understand the words, take copious notes, and yet, just after it’s over, I remember nothing. As if my brain were bleached, the memories drained of all color. If there was even any color there in the first place. Nothing resonates. Neither a policy nor a well-placed blow. Not even a bold statement. Nothing but a soggy glut of cliches, pandering and withering ideals, propped up and left for dead. Maybe it’s the mushrooms, I reason. (Repeat viewings of the speech prove otherwise.)
Turns out the truth was right in front of me, just where it had always been: Mitt Romney is an empty shell. And based on the week’s steady diet of milquetoast, it appears he’d prefer to stay that way.
Not everyone in attendance, however, will be so easily let off the hook.
ON PAUL RYAN
Paul Ryan trots on stage to accept the vice-presidential nomination like the show horse he is: ready and willing to be bought and sold—as long as he's ogled.
At night, this Little Boy Blue dreams of being sent out to stud. There he—the most precious of all God's creations—will be unshackled from tyranny, free to plant his seed in even the most unsuspecting mares.
Indeed, Ryan is the culmination of every quick-witted, good-looking, clean-cut winner in high school who learned early on that—with an apparent deference to the rules, a sharp tongue, and the right family—he could get away with... anything. Which explains why, here, in Tampa, Florida, before his family, party, and the country, Ryan is comfortable lying straight through his perfect pearly whites.
Unlike Romney, whose quest for the presidency appears more Oedipal driven—and as such, more pitiful, perhaps even understandable—Ryan's life of striving is fueled by pure high-octane narcissism. He has everything to gain and nothing to lose. Even if Romney is crushed in the fall, Ryan will profit. And like everything he's done before, this is only a means to an end.
THE POLICE STATE
Downtown Tampa in this last week of August is desolate and lifeless and constricted, choked by roadblocks, fencing, dump trucks, and cement barricades. Heavily armed cops are everywhere, skulking around like wolves in packs of 10 to 20. These are the ones I can see.
There are local and neighboring police, sheriffs and troopers, National Guard, Army, and US Secret Service. They ride bikes, drive patrol cars, golf carts, SUVS, armored personnel carriers, helicopters, and speedboats. Is this Romney's approach to law and order?
"Excuse me, sir," I say, official press credentials hanging in plain view. "I wonder if you can tell me how far south street parking is closed?" He does not respond. I ask again, ever more politely. Slowly he lifts his head and our eyes meet. He stands still, silent, eyes fixed on mine. Staring through me. He doesn't blink. Just breathes. Cold blood. As if to say: "Just gimme a reason. Just gimme a reason to bash in your fucking skull, you twisted little pinko faggot!" Over the week this expression becomes familiar.
But then, this security presence isn't just to control the folks from Occupy. The Republican Party is rife with right-wing lunatics drunk on paranoia and worse. A few racist images or twisted viewpoints on "legitimate rape" from their own fringe risks a far greater torpedo to Republican causes than Occupy could ever imagine.
ON ANN ROMNEY
In person Ann is warm and pretty. In old photographs she's gorgeous. Soft, milky, and compassionate, every bit the counterpart to the serrated teeth and gnashing jaws of Sarah Palin.
When Ann says Mitt is a good, caring man, I believe her. I don't believe it when he says it about himself.
But when she talks about their humble beginnings, I wince. Perhaps they did eat cans of tuna on the ironing board in their basement apartment. They might have struggled to pay the bills, too. But never did Mitt and Ann Romney face what could ever be construed as a mild threat to their family security. With rich, prominent, and powerful parents behind them, the bottom could never have fallen out. If Mitt died in that car crash in France, she probably would've married a Kennedy.
"Romneyville" is the home base for Occupy at the Republican National Convention. It is easily contained in a city block—and it is sad. Despite a lot of determined souls, lovely ideals, and blessed intentions, it might as well not exist. For 99 percent of convention goers, it doesn't.
I arrive after Romney's closing remarks to a camp defeated. There is no sense of a job well done. There is no sense of a job done at all. A boy with the body of a man is sobbing. He is 6'4", 210 pounds, and 22 years old.
"I'm so sick of being silenced," he cries. "Why do we have to live in these makeshift FEMA camps?" But no one really cares. They want to go to bed. The boy is learning, for the first time. And so it goes.
Occupy is not a movement. It was moment.
Politicians have changed the way they deal with protesters. It's time protesters do the same.
GAYS FOR ROMNEY?
"A Romney/Ryan administration would be better for gay Americans," insists GOProud Co-Founder Jimmy LaSalvia at Homocon, a party for gay conservatives at the Honey Pot, a two-story gay nightclub in Tampa's Ybor City.
"I support civil marriage for gay couples," LaSalvia continues. "Marriage is important. But before you get married, you need a date—and everybody knows you can't get a date without a job." Attendees are cheering.
Audience support isn't so great, however, when Co-Founder Chris Barron eulogizes conservative firebrand Andrew Breitbart. A smattering of boos are heard when his jabs at Obama become especially barbed. After their remarks, when the ripped boys in shredded jeans take the stage, I ask Barron how he and his group can support politicians who remain fundamentally opposed to his lifestyle and rights.
"We've sat down with Congressman Ryan," Barron says. "We talked about how his policies are good for gay people." Barron insists that jobs, taxes, and the economy are "gay issues." To me, they seem like issues gay people also have.
On the porch outside, I meet two guys, one from Oregon and one from Jersey. Both are hesitant to throw full support behind GOProud. I tell them of my conversation with Barron and the guy from Jersey butts in: "If he's so fuckin' keen on tax cuts, why didn't you ask him where the tax fuckin' cuts are for gay couples who can't get married?" I wished I had.
"Look, bro," he says, "I don't know about all this Romney shit—but show me another gay bar in Tampa that's giving away free drinks right now."
Tune in next week when Andrew R Tonry reports back from the Democratic National Convention.
[Here's more web only content from Andrew R Tonry's escapades during the Republican National Convention!—Editor]
I return to the hotel to finish a story. The WiFi doesn't reach my room, so I go to the lobby to file. Just as I hit "send" a man approaches the table carrying a stack of manila envelopes overflowing with brightly colored, handwritten scrawlings and a two-and-a-half-foot, brown animal horn. It is hollow for blowing and repaired with purple duct tape. He thumps it down on the table.
"The name's Preach," he says, offering a shake. Firmly he clasps my hand with both of his and looks me in the eyes, asking, "What's your name, friend?"
"Well, Andrew, would you mind if I sit here for a moment?" The rest of the lobby, some ten tables and 30 chairs, is completely empty.
"Sure," I say, a bit confused.
"Thank you, Andrew."
Then suddenly he's out of the gate. Just blazing, a million words a minute. "God brought us here together today, Andrew." He opens one of the pamphlets. "We've got the biggest newsletter in the world right here." It is poorly photocopied and written in his own shaky hand. Sentences and designs run wild until running out of space where they turn the corners, sloping up and down the sides of the page.
"Sarah Palin gets this newsletter. Glen Beck. Now, what I want to do, Andrew, is I want to read you this right here," he points to a passage, seemingly at random.
"I heard the phrase, 'mark of the beast,'" he reads, failing to finish the thought. Preach cannot seem to finish a single sentence or thought before tumbling head-first in another tangential rabbit hole. Over and over, deeper and deeper he falls.
"Now, that was when my grandmother, who was a prophetess—she came from the Worthingtons, who owned half of a giant cement business in Greenville, OH, which back in the '20s was the central hub to all the territory east of Chicago and West of Philadelphia, and my father, who went on to own 78 companies...."
He goes on and on like this, never stopping to breathe. He peppers in Bible verses and strains slightly before recalling the specific book, chapter and verse. I am only able to speak when asked if I'm familiar with said passages.
"Now, Andrew, you know Luke 12:4, right?"
I nod because whether or not I know them has no bearing: Preach was going to recite them to me regardless.
"Fear God only," he recites on the way to his next rabbit hole.
On and on he goes, occasionally dangling strange, scintillating details from his life between bits of paranoia, scattershot religiosity and bygone Americana.
"I was in prison for 12 years..." "I had a chemical distribution company with 175 employees..." "That Nissan race car out there is mine..." "My father disowned and resented my mother because of how she could speak with God and tell the future..." "I played in a rock band, played keyboard, held the whole thing together..." "My father was grooming me to be President..." "I remember hearing about George Romney's kid growing up..." "Skull and Bones..." "Bilderberg Group...." "New World Order..." "It all stopped when they offered me a suitcase full of money—I turned it down..." "The whole financial fraud charge was a set up..." "Cold Fusion..." "The electric company should be paying you..." "I knew Ted Turner before he was famous..." "CNN helped set me up..." "My children think I'm off my rocker and that I need medication..."
"Jesus himself came to me in 1980," he says. This one stands out. "We spoke for two-a-half hours..." It takes me some time to get Preach to finally circle back and tell me the story without wandering off.
In the midst of some drinking, shitty profiteering and being loose with his dick, a business partner forced Preach's hand into attending a weeklong revival meeting.
A mega church in 1980, somewhere in Texas. One of the big ones. The highest hair and reddest cheeks, tears that belie hidden, shameful hard-ons. Real high falutin'. Where they speak in tongues and paraplegics stand from their wheelchairs to run screaming down the aisles. Jesus cures cancer! He makes blind eyes true.
Preach thought it was mostly bull. He had religion drilled and languishing in him already. But he never spoke in tongues. That seemed like the devil's business. After a few days he was ready to leave. His business partner begged his to stay for one more.
"OK," Preach told him. "One more day."
That final day a dead body is brought to the church. In tow are 15 doctors. All testify that the man is, indeed, dead. Cancer. The body lay there, beneath a sheet. Preach is just twelve rows back from the altar. The Reverend begins hollering at the heavens, from the front to the back of the arena, Preach hears his words echoing and they make his head spin. The Reverend puts a hand up to the sky and bellows:
"In the name of the one true God, let this man live!!!" He lowers it, placing it on the body. "Live!!!"
The man beneath the sheet sits up. The 15 doctors lurch forward to see before bowing quickly—bowing down at the feet of this miracle, their faith in science shaken. Preach jumps literally over the 12 rows of chairs and people before him. He kneels upon the altar and is overwhelmed by a great white flash. A dove lands on his head. As he feels the dove's claws enter his skull the bird dissolves into him. There is a great rumbling. The world shakes and Preach is sucked into a wormhole. Suddenly, he is in heaven. Laying on his back. Unable to get up. The trees are towering and silver, like giant stalks of asparagus. It is marvelous. Jesus is laying next to him and they began to talk. For two-and-a-half hours they talk. Which is only a very short amount of earth time. But in heaven, it's two-and-a-half hours. Jesus tells Preach he must dedicate his life to God. To give up money and lust and self-interest.
"Suppose I do not want to," Preach says to Jesus.
"Then when you die and you will go to hell," Jesus says.
"Well surely, Jesus, I do not want to go to hell."
Jesus tells Preach that he must start 278 music centers, half in America, half in the rest of the world, all in the name of God. Jesus tells Preach exactly how much it will cost.
Once Jesus finishes explaining the finer details of the plan, Preach feels the wormhole open up again and he is zapped back to earth. Covered in sweat, he comes to on the altar. Everyone in the arena is in a similar state. Preach removes his coke-bottle glasses to find he no longer needs them. His vision is perfect.
Ever since then Preach has had the power to manifest the power of his words. He tells me it was he who told the hurricane to go left and spare Tampa.
It's been over an hour now, talking to Preach. But in earth time it felt pretty much like an hour. Yet I am amazed with his stamina, rapid-firing synapses, circuitous knot-tying, vigor and compassion. He would go on as long as I'd let him. Finally I have to cut off his one long sentence.
"I've got to get going, Preach," I say, tip-toeing backwards. "Just tell me one last thing: Why here? Why the Republican Convention?"
"I'm here to meet with one of close advisers of the King of Spain..." "Cold Fusion..." "The electric companies will be paying us..." "Unlimited energy..." "Bilderburg Group..." "Also to meet you, Andrew..." "To share God's word..." "Many already know..." "Sarah Palin is one of the Prophetesses, one of the Doves, who will literally float into the air above us and sprinkle God's seed upon the earth..."
"I'm don't know who the other will be," Preach continues. "Maybe Michele Bachmann. But I'm just not sure yet."
With Monday's events cancelled and work done I decide to drive out to Fort DeSoto, where I plan to camp on the white sand beach.
Almost there, something obstructs my path: a giant truck parked across the lanes. The Park Service. Fort DeSoto is closed. "Isaac took back all the sand they've been trucking in," I'm told. It is the one thing in Tampa that the hurricane actually destroyed. Driving back I punch the ceiling and shout his name:
"Dammit Preach!!! Why couldn't you have spared the park!!!"