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The Texas delegation, which in 2004 distinguished itself by wearing Band-Aids with inked-in hearts on them to mock John Kerry’s service to his country—in the cause of a man who went permanently AWOL from the Air National Guard—was wearing not only the plastic cowboy hats they always favor, but little, red-and-blue matching uniform tops yesterday. They sat together on the campaign floor, looking less like the pep squad at a high school basketball jamboree I’d initially thought than like a brilliant costuming idea thought up by Corky St. Clair.
This Republican convention seems strangely down-at-the-mouth compared to the one in 2008, and shabbily organized compared to the last one I attended in person, in New York in 2004. No one seems to know how to navigate the various blocked-off staircases and escalators of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, a small, undistinguished hockey arena decorated everywhere with the lightning-bolt insignia of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
Up on the fifth level, by the cheap seats, is what is designated a “Prayer Room.” It is little more than an indentation in the wall, with a flimsy curtain around it, more of those oh-so-Christian lightning bolts, and a couple of very old and battered Bibles.
No one is praying or reading scripture, though. Instead, they mostly mill about, trying to find their seats, or else refreshments. One middle-aged, balding man in a raspberry-colored polo shirt demands to know where the Republican National Committee cocktail lounge is at. This baffles the unfailingly polite young ushers, and he strides off, silent wife in tow, gnawing aggressively at the end of an unlit cigar. Strangely, in an arena with thousands of people in it, I spot him three times in forty-five minutes, in increasing states of agitation as he searches for his elite watering hole.
“Like Diogenes before him,” Jack says sadly, “he searches for the last open bar.”
More from Kevin Baker:
Appreciation — June 26, 2014, 8:00 am
From Johnny Cash to “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”
New York Revisited — June 19, 2014, 8:00 am
And how it foretold the 2008 financial crisis
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”