V I E W P O I N T S
I live at the center of the universe and I like it! Everybody’s so nice here!
That was the epiphany I had at Saturday night’s debate for candidates in local political races, televised live at the Highway 11 studio of Trenton radio/TV station KWN. Today’s Republican primary will decide every contested seat in Dade County, so the debate was my last best hope to suck any drama at all from what has got to be the dishwater-dullest local election season in the history of democracy.
If readers have been stunned with boredom at The Dade Planet’s election coverage, imagine how The Planet feels! The plan was to launch this paper with sizzling, up-to-the-nanosecond coverage of the candidates’ bitter scrabble for supremacy. Instead, almost nobody registered to run for office in the first place; a couple of the few who did dropped out after paying their money but before taking their chances; and one candidate for Dade’s top office evinced so little interest in it, I recently called him to make sure he hadn’t fallen and couldn’t get up.
And then Saturday night! There were a few interesting minutes as sitting coroner Johnny Gray made grisly pronouncements about what we were all fixin’ to die of (whatever our parents did, apparently, and I kept thinking, but what if they were run over by a bus?); but when we got to the sheriff’s candidates I was again sick with disappointment.
What I’d been counting on was a repeat of 2012, a bitter, hard-fought sheriff’s race that made neighbors stop talking to each other at the grocery store. What I got was a couple of buddy cops tap-dancing to a duet of “Tea For Two.” “We’re brothers in law enforcement.” What in hell am I supposed to do with that?
So I should have left that debate ready to throw in the towel and get a job selling insurance. Instead I went home with a spring in my step and a song in my heart. I was right where I belonged, doing what I was supposed to do, at the throbbing heart of the universe!
What do I mean with all this happy horse patootie about the center of the universe I keep spouting? It’s the whole concept behind this newspaper and I wrote an exhaustive treatise on it when I began The Planet as a blog in 2014. You can read that if you’ve got time in the ARCHIVE section of this website but here’s a short version.
For some reason, people tend to think of where they live as nowhere in particular and reality as somewhere else. They think the important stuff is going on not here but in some far-away place they see on television or even—and this is the interesting bit—television itself.
I think this is one part humility and one part growing up watching sitcoms and sci-fi that showed what a wonderful life those attractive people inside the flickering box were having, what nice clothes and perfect bodies they had, how wise their parents were, how tidily they found love, adventure and fulfillment in their nicely decorated living rooms or starships before the end of each episode.
The inference was always that the TV folks were doing it right and we were doing it wrong, that they were the way people were supposed to be while we were gross, flawed, failed, irrelevant.
When actually everything about television is glaringly, openly fake while real life is right before us to see and touch and smell. This is where we live. This is where it’s at. This is it.
Which has to do with the first part of my epiphany. The Saturday debate was at KWN’s television studio in the Gross Furniture shopping center. (BTW, the day I see that truck barreling down 11 advertising GROSS FURNITURE on the front and it doesn’t strike me as funny is the day Johnny Gray can pronounce me dead.)
Anyway, I had never been in a television studio before. Here is what I found: A big, bare room; indoor-outdoor carpet in some indeterminate noncolor; wood paneling like in my parents’ basement in 1975—in short, pretty much like any other building of its age around here, except that at one end there was a big sheet of black rayon pinned to the wall with two artificial palms in pots in front of it and a camera pointed at it.
The debaters sat between the black backdrop and the camera and we audience members further back in the room. The emcee as he spoke looked at neither them nor us but fixedly, sincerely, into the middle distance. I followed his line of vision and realized, oh! He’s making eye contact with the camera!
Just like the black backdrop with the potted palms was to make it look to you, the TV viewer, as if the people on the air were someplace more interesting, which is to say someplace else, the moderator was pretending to be talking to you, the viewer, to help you pretend you were there, too.
You weren’t but I was! For me, the two realities had for once merged, TVland pretend-reality and the “real reality” of little old Dade County, Georgia, and if that ain’t the center of the universe I’d like to know what is. So I am here to report to you what reality’s like.
Stranger than sitcoms, that’s what! We had Wes Hixon, running for county exec—sort of; his only overt campaign effort so far had been to pay his qualifying fees—claiming he knew, but would not divulge, the name of a firm that had secretly audited the county government.
Do what? I know from reporting on it forever that the county is audited every year, a long, grueling process that sometimes gets hands slapped or even asses fired but not one that can be performed without the county knowing about it, any more than you can have a no-anesthesia colonoscopy and not notice.
Hixson is the original “un-candidate,” a big-game hunter whose heart I suspected at last month’s debate of being in the heelands a-chasin’ the deer because it sure as hell wasn’t at the debate. He asked for every question to be repeated, including Please introduce yourself. He did a little better Saturday night (only asking for a repeat of Please make your closing statement) but he hasn’t been to one county commission meeting, which further indicates to me he’s just not that interested in the job of running it.
So (a) I didn’t believe he had the dope on any secret audit and (b) I felt impelled to ask him if he really even wanted the job, if he wanted to stop leading safaris and start leading Dade. His answer? He said he didn’t know, that it was a complicated question, like Do you want to marry me?
(An aside: You gotta wonder if, when he asked or got asked that one, anyone asked for the question to be repeated.)
But here’s the thing, here’s my point: The “secret audit” was as close as we got to a campaign-season scandal and it wasn’t that damn close. Wes Hixon was as close to a controversial candidate as we got but the only reason he was controversial was that he wasn’t participating; mentally he was off chasing the wild hind or something.
And here’s the other thing: when I asked Hixon my impertinent questions he was nice to me. In fact, all the candidates struck me as nice. And the guy who runs the TV studio was nice too, he got me a bottle of water. And meanwhile, in front of the camera, our sheriff was not just being nice to his rival for sheriffhood but talking about how many compliments he got on the jail trusties out on work details. See, in Dade County, even our convicts are nice!
Georgia’s former governor, Lester Maddox, was famous for replying, when asked how the state’s deplorable prisons could be improved, that what he needed was a better class of prisoners. He should have asked Dade.
Anyway! As we close out the 2016 election season I will confess that as a fledgling cyber-rag I sure could have used a major scandal here, a little bitch-slapping there. On the other hand, this is where I live, this is my universe, and I must say I enjoy living where reality is so darn nice!