6:01 p.m. October 12, 2012

Big Bird, Mike Huckabee and Casual Sexual Assault

Mitt Romney threw a victory rally in Asheville, NC, and I, your humble Sex and Science Editor, put on my James Kotecki mask and covered it. To say I was out of my element is a hilarious understatement.

I’d never been to a political rally. I prefer to do my politics like a grown up: Googling candidate voting records and showing up at the polls on the first Tuesday in November. Also, I’m a card-carrying introvert. I like being alone. Let me repeat, because this is important: I really, really like being alone. There is too much humanity for me at the grocery store: I try to shop in the dead of night. I like hiking in the middle of nowhere, I prefer dive bars in which no one talks to each other, I’d rather spend the evening alone in the lab than crash a party.

So no, I’d never been to a political rally. And then Mitt Romney and the gang came to Asheville.

Rookie that I am, I showed up to the venue 15 minutes after the doors opened and started the long walk to the back of the line. Seven or so city blocks later, I was snugged up in the rear of a conservative flesh train that was actively seeping blind liberal hatred from the head end to the caboose. I was embedded.

It was time to get to know my neighbors. I started with flaccid small talk, commenting on the horrendous line and gorgeous weather. Within fifteen minutes, I was getting an impassioned lecture on how Obama was, "literally", Hitler. Here’s the logic on that one: Obama, like Hitler, inherited a terrible economy. And Obama, like Hitler, hates a lot of things, namely freedom. And Obama, like Hitler, is indoctrinating our children about the smell of Jews? Honestly, her reasoning didn’t really check out and she lost me in the froth of her persuasion.

I soon learned that conservatives really like to talk about how much they hate liberals. The majority of the conversations I started with people quickly devolved into how much they hate the “smelly”, “unwashed”, “unemployed”, “pot-smoking”, “retarded”, “Muslim” liberals. The fervent vitriol with which they spoke of their blue brethren surprised me, but then again, I’ve never hung out with the rally crowd before. Asheville is bluer than blue, surrounded by the deepest reds, so I imagine that the culture clash had something to do with the passionate anti-liberal sentiment I was marinating in. In fact, no one that I talked to was from Asheville, save for one family; the rest of the guests had driven in from the surrounding counties to support their candidate in the heart of this southern butt sex haven.

Tired of nodding along to the Occupy-bashers, I decided to mix things up with some Mormonism chit-chat. Turns out: no one cares. I located the loudest Evangelical Christian I could find (she was screaming “READ YOUR BIBLE” at a protester dressed like Big Bird) and asked her, as politely as possible, if she was concerned about Romney’s mormonism. In short, no, she was not. She assured me, repeatedly, that it was okay because it was Jesus’s plan. I offered a few facts about Mormonism that were irreconcilable with Christian ideology, and each one was met with dismissive optimism. Her preacher said it was God’s plan. It’s just the liberal media trying to get good, hard-working Christians to question their faith. Then she informed me in a very matter of fact manner that the liberals in this country would accept sharia law.

My head was starting to hurt. I moved on to a new group of people. I discovered very quickly that if you offer a personal detail about yourself, people will unleash a torrent of their own personal beliefs and opinions. I told this group that I was a mother. They told me that they hated Mexicans.

It was a long wait. Here are the highlights from the hours on a sidewalk.

  • A very large woman telling her very small daughter to “suck in her stomach” because it would make her need to pee less. That kid had my sympathy.
  • The rally appeared to cover the diverse and exciting demographic of middle class white people. There were a lot of brotastic white dudes in pastel polos and large, bilateral diamond earrings. At least a quarter of the crowd was in their Sunday best. I saw an alarming number of oversized cartoon character shirts on oversized people. A small, but not insignificant portion of the crowd was in head-to-toe camo.
  • Some dude tried to pick me up by telling me that I “proved those scientists right about Republican ladies being hotter than everyone else”.
  • Several people expressed discomfort and blatant distrust of the QR code technology on the tickets. I’m not sure why, and no would I asked would elaborate beyond “you know what I mean”. I didn't press the issue because it seemed batshit crazy to me and I didn't want my face to betray me.
  • Some faceless asshole got a big ole’ groping handful of my ass then disappeared into the crowd. Additionally, the man behind me in the line for security kept pressing his chest and pelvis against me with more and more enthusiasm until he was practically dry-humping my back. It didn't matter that I told him to stop it, he didn't stop, no one around me said anything to him, and security gave absolutely zero fucks. Reminded me of being felt up on crowded trains as a teenager. Jesus christ, I fucking hate crowds.

After what seemed like an eternity, I was through security and on the floor of the arena. I spent the next 20 minutes being as polite and small as I possibly could and shamelessly flirted my way through the crowd until I was within an arms reach of the stage. The man next to me was leaking Drakkar Noir and kept hitting me in the head with his sign. I didn’t care. I was tantalizingly close to being finished with this nightmare and I would be damned if I was going to let some pushy bastard compromise my vantage point for this heehaw pep rally.

Romney was due to speak at 5:30 p.m. It was a quarter til six. I was readying myself for the long wait and sending a pithy text message when a familiar orange-tinted face started bounding towards the stage, followed by a tottering, sweaty, round man.

Oh shit, it's John Boehner and Mike Huckabee!

Boehner gives terrible stump. His stump speech was like a warm beige presence, as rousing as a piece of refrigerated toast. Not only do I not have any Boehner notes, I don’t even remember anything he said. Just that he looks oranger on TV and was probably the most polite person I’d listened to in three hours.

Huckabee was up next. His stumping was better. He made a Kim Kardashian joke that I didn’t get and told the crowd to slash liberal tires on election day. He then laughed at his tire comment and offered a mealy-mouthed “only kidding”-type remark. Huckabee also made it a point to tell the crowd that we could believe his pro-Romney rhetoric because he was a Southern Baptist supporting a Mormon. The crowd went nuts at that one. The bald spot on his head was distracting and shiny and the sweat on the back of his neck glistened with the promise of a new America. The mob loved Huckabee.

And then, after the stumping foreplay was finished, and at an alarmingly punctual 6:15 p.m., Mitt Romney strode into the arena to deafening applause. The man next to me was frantically smacking his inflatable noisemakers into the side of my head. I think the lady behind him might have peed herself. Romney’s security guards took their place directly in front of me and began surveying the crowd with expressionless, dead eyes. I kept making accidental eye contact with them. One of the them looked directly into my camera when I took his picture.

It was finally Romney time. He strutted onto the raised stage in a white collared shirt, sleeves rolled up to his elbows. A thick, black carpet of arm hair provided just enough everyman contrast to his perfectly starched shirt and immaculate hair. As he flashed his politician grin and surveyed those who came to cheer him, I felt like I was in the presence of a beautiful sociopath. They loved him. He enjoyed that they loved him. He gave a terrible speech. No one minded. The roar of the crowd, whipped into a frenzy by hours of waiting side-by-side with their philosophical teammates, fed Romney a priceless diet of adoration and support. When the big story in his speech involved a group of boy scouts watching the Challenger blow up as it carried their flag into space, it became very clear that I do not understand political speeches.

As Romney began screaming “I love this country!” to his faithful base, his speech nearing its climax, I was already sneaking out of the arena. The rally was over and I wanted to beat the crowd.

Back channel chatter

There is a scribble about this dispatch in the backroom, with three contributors.