Editor’s note: This column first appeared in 2016. I’m reposting all my old columns before they disappear from my former employer’s website, which has totally happened once already.
My friend Micah and I were trolling around campus the day after the 2004 presidential election, looking for trouble while we waited for “The Simpsons” reruns to come on at 5.
We sauntered over to the college bookstore — the place that sells you the book your professor published and makes you buy — where a rather lively Iraq war protest was underway. Bullhorns, placards, free soup, the works.
I hate talking about politics, and I don’t really want to hear about yours — unless you believe in your inalienable right to carry an AR-15 into Starbucks. Then I’ll know to stay away from you.
But my brother was in Iraq at the time and had already been shot in the face, so we figured it wouldn’t hurt to join in.
We were handed placards and had been there for all of two minutes when a duo of khaki pants and polo shirt-clad chaps and their girlfriends sidled up to the picket line and began screaming at us immediately.
“Bush won,” the men screamed in unison. “Why don’t you stop crying about it!”
I was taken aback, because my sign said something like “No War for Oil” in big, easy-to-read letters.
“This is a war protest,” I answered softly, wondering if they had read the sign.
Before I was done speaking, both chaps removed their shirts and wrote, “Fuck John Kerry,” on their chests with their girlfriends’ lipstick. They also chanted this sentiment, repeatedly, but seemed to grow bored after a few minutes and marched away, barking out, “Bush Rules!”
The next day, the college paper ran a front page photo of Micah standing impassively as one of the painted chaps, pink polo shirt in hand, jammed a finger into his face. The caption said something about Micah being told by the painted chap that he was wasting his time. (Micah had failed to mention to me that a photographer had approached him at the protest.)
I felt that the caption didn’t represent the level of unrestrained jerkiness the painted chaps had displayed. I took to my laptop, mashed out an angry letter to the editor, printed it, signed my name and marched it to down to the paper.
When I saw it in print the next day, I fell irreversibly in love with seeing my name in print. I went back to the newspaper the next day wearing the sheepish grin born only by someone who just insulted someone else and now needs a favor from them.
After giving me an expression that said, “Oh, you’re the guy who just told us we suck and we should learn how to write a caption,” the editor hired me. It paid 30 bucks a day, had 14-hour shifts, free coffee and a lax attitude toward my surliness, which has served me well. It’s been a glorious slow-boat ride to oblivion.