A Vote for Courtesy

Kamala Harris. Photo by Gage Skidmore
Kamala Harris. Photo by Gage Skidmore

Early in the assembling of the Democratic candidates for President, I remembered Kurt Vonnegut’s observation that we are no longer a society, but rather an “audience.” Who among the Democrats could challenge the Entertainer-in-Chief? I put my hopes on Senator Kamala Harris, who first came to my attention when she questioned Bret Kavanagh with razor-like precision. I could imagine her twisting the polemical knife in debate with the Twitter-man. Her retort to Joe Biden in the first debate showed she was quick, and her comment “I was that little girl” who benefitted from school busing earned attention and sympathy.

I had donated $5 to her campaign, but when the stakes were raised to a minimum of $10 I had to retire to the sidelines. When her campaign asked for volunteers to get signatures to put her on the primary ballot in Indiana, I was happy to offer my help. A few days later I got a call from Maya Rodriquez from the Harris campaign, who came to my house with petition forms. Ms. Rodriguez was a pleasant, professional young woman who gave me instructions. Those who signed the petition to have her name on the primary ballot were not required to vote for her. Signers had to list their name, address and the county they lived in. A separate sheet was required for each county.

I decided to begin at The Red Key, where I was most likely to know people and be known. I got the permission of Jim Settle, the owner-bartender, to ask fellow customers to sign the petition. (Jim carries on a gentler version of the strict Rules established by his founder-father, the legendary Russ Settle.) There were a handful of customers I knew who readily signed, and maybe others who saw them figured it must be OK; I emphasized that signing did not mean voting for the candidate, but only insuring her a place on the primary ballot in Indiana. Two pleasant women admitted they had never heard of Senator Harris, but signed in the spirit of giving her a chance.

After The Red Key, I hung out at the Cornerstone coffeehouse at Moe and Johnny’s, where owner Chuck Mack himself signed the petition and others followed. In the second and third debates, other candidates got more attention and publicity than Senator Harris, but none of the people I approached mentioned the debates, and I didn’t bring them up. I even got some of my pals who work the cash registers at the check-out lines of a local grocery to sign,

I took my petitions with me whenever I went out, and on a Saturday night I carried them to meet a friend at Fat Dan’s delicatessen. I arrived early and saw a table outside with about ten people, a potential coup for my petitions. I smiled and made my pitch, assuring that signatures didn’t mean votes, but offered an opportunity to take a small part in our democracy. Most of those at the table looked at me blankly, but one woman turned toward me with a kind of wince of disdain and said, as if explaining to an alien –
“We’re from Carmel.”
“Oh,” I said.
I wanted to ask “Is that in the United States?”

There were better times ahead. I was asked to speak to a meeting of a book club at the big back table of The Red Key, and after discussing a piece I had written, I closed my remarks with a pitch for putting Kamala on the primary ballot. A perceptive bunch, they all signed.

Maya Rodriguez came by to pick up my petitions, and I was proud to contribute thirty-six signatures. I later learned it takes 500 signatures from each country to qualify for the primary ballot. My well-intentioned efforts were a drop in the bucket, which made it all the more surprising and gratifying when a week or so later I received a handwritten “Thank You note” from Maya Rodriguez, with return address in Senator Harris’ national campaign headquarters in Baltimore.

I tried to remember the last time I received a “Thank You note” from anyone. I have covered a lot of people and events for magazines, local and national, and in the nine years I have been back in Indianapolis I have given dozens of talks to clubs, libraries, schools, universities, and religious groups. Many people told me of their appreciation and thanked me, but to the best of my memory the only “Thank You note” I’ve received was from Maya Rodrigues of the Kamala Harris campaign.

Senator Harris has been outshined in the last two over-populated debates (Please. if you’re a Democrat and want to be President, try to control yourself!) I wish her well in the round-table, free-for-all discussion and the ones to follow, but no matter what promises others may make, I am voting in favor of a quality that I feared was lost in our national politics. I am voting for courtesy. I am voting for it in our in our politics and in our everyday dealings with one another.

I emailed Maya Rodrigues to ask if she was related to Kamala Harris, whose sister is also named Maya. Ms. Rodriguez said no, that was only a coincidence. I doubt it’s a coincidence that Senator Harris hired a young woman who writes Thank You notes to volunteers who collect only a handful of signatures for their cause.

Maybe Senator Harris asks all her organizers to write Thank You notes to anyone who helps. I am voting for that as long as I have the chance. I am voting for courtesy.

Thank you, Maya Rodriguez. Thank you, Kamala Harris. You have elevated this campaign.

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Dan and Edie Vonnegut

Dan and Edie VonnegutHere is a great photo of me and Edie Vonnegut in front of her painting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of  Eden that hangs in my living room wall. It has hung on my living room wall wherever I have lived since I bought the painting in 1971. Since that time I have lived in Boston, New York, Hollywood. Miami and now Indianapolis and the painting has always been on the living room wall wherever I lived.

In 1971, with the royalties from my novel Going All The Way, I bought a townhouse in Boston on Beacon Hill. (If I had never sold it I would now be a millionaire. So it goes.).

The first person I invited to see the house was Kurt Vonnegut. It was really “the house that Kurt built,” because his backing of my novel with the publisher and his great review of it in Life Magazine made the book a best-seller. When I showed Kurt the house I had not moved in yet and there was nothing on the walls.

“You have a lot of empty wall space,” Kurt said “And you need some paintings. It just so happens that my daughter Edie is a painter now and she has some paintings to sell. You might want to buy one.”

The next day I took the first shuttle flight to New York, went to see Edie, looked at some of her paintings and loved the one of the Garden of Eden. I bought it and she had it framed and shipped it to me.

I had not seen Edie since the time I bought her painting forty years ago until today (Sunday): when she came to town to join the celebration of the opening of the new Vonnegut Library building. She and her husband John Squibb came for breakfast, which was catered and donated by “Taste of Havana” who supplied fabulous pastelitos of strawberry, guava and coconut, plus the wonderful Cuban espresso that George serves to every patron at the end of a meal.

Edie, John and I talked non-stop for almost three hours while scarfing down Cuban pastries and talking about Kurt Vonnegut. I wish he had been there. In a way, he was, as we conjured up memories of his words, his humor, his kindness. As he sometimes said in punctuation to his novels:

“Hi ho!”

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Honors for Alan Hague and The Gazette

Alan Hague

Alan and Heidi Huff-Hague

Not many neighborhoods in the city or the state or in the entire United States, have their own historian who provides the current history of the place – as well as reminding us of its past treasures. Alan Hague fills that unique role as publisher of The Broad Ripple Gazette, which he founded in 2004. He has just been honored by The Indiana Historical Society with The Hubert Hawkins History Award, given to “a local historian for his or her distinguished service.”

As a reader of the bi-weekly Gazette – and a graduate of School #80 (now a condo at 62nd and Guildford) – I am most entranced by its features that delve into the neighborhood’s past, like a history of The Vogue theater, which brought back memories of the countless Saturday afternoons I spent watching double features, newsreels, and serial episodes of long-gone heroes like Buck Rogers and The Lone Ranger.

The Gazette’s series on The Canal was not only informative on every aspect of that waterway, it dredged up memories of my Cousin Junior, who used to take a bamboo pole with a hook and a line and go fishing there.

In the very issue of The Gazette that was out when Alan Hague received the Historical Society award he published Part Two of “The History of Car Dealers in Broad Ripple” that is being told by his cousin Glen Hague – who was my classmate at School #80.

Note to Alan Hague:

Please tell your cousin Glen I was having chili in The Red Key last week when four people came over to my table to ask me “Were you a student of Miss Day?”

They had all been students of Roxie Lingle Day at School #80 – I was proud to answer that I was in the very first First Grade class taught by Miss. Day – and so was Glen Hague, cousin of Alan.

It’s a neighborhood with a deep history. We are lucky to have our own award-winning historian.

Of course, there is far more than geezer-bait history in the Gazette’ pages – as The Historical Society’ award notes, there are “stories on education, entertainment, transportation” and the never-ending zoning battles. And to keep you up to date on where to go and what to see, the ubiquitous Nora Spitznagel is “Buzzing Around Town.”

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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield