Peck of Pickled Pollsters — “Necessary Stories” from The Jerusalem Report

Haim Watzman

illustration by Avi Katz
illustration by Avi Katz
Remember my friend Frank from Fifty-Ninth Street, whose feelings for fairness are so fine-tuned that any abuse sends him into an ardor of alliteration and assonance that invariably infects me every time we have a heart-to-heart on Hangouts? Frank requires forbearance and a willingness to lapse into his lingo. I can talk perfectly normally, and here’s proof, but you know how it goes with people who hold powerful political perceptions—if you can’t chant their cant, they negate your notions and insist you are insipid.

I used to try to contain his cascading consonants and viva voce vowels, but then relinquished all resistance. Frankly, I was happy that there had been a hiatus—for some four fortnights my Skype had been silent, but then belatedly on my browser, just as I was autographing my absentee ballot, his avatar aparated.

“Hey, Frank, wherya been?” I queried on my qwerty keyboard.

Post-pregnant pause, Frank formulated: “Brooding on the blight that plagues the planet.”

“As always,” I answered.

“I have been agonizing over William Butler’s legendary lyric: ‘a kind of chaos is unleashed on the universe, the blood-blinded tide is untethered.’”

“You mean Yeats?” I yammered. “But you revise his vocabulary.”

“Dare you doubt my veracity in verse?” Frank was awfully offended.

With a sad sigh I said: “Apologies, amigo. This señor is at your service.”

“I call with concern in connection with your far-off franchise.” My chum chided: “As our buddyhood began before our birth, I have grave grounds for goosebumps. Do you value your vote? Do you take your suffrage seriously?”

“Absolutely,” I affirmed. “In fact, my ballot is before me.”

“Can I be confident that you have chosen the chad of change?”

“It depends how you define it. I am in Clinton’s corner.”

A storm seethed Stateside, so intense I could infer it over the internet.

“The friend of big financiers! The vassal of vested interests! The companion of the captain of the Third-Way theory that poisoned progressivism!”

“Fair enough, she’s far from foolproof. But eizeh alternatives are available?” I asked, lapsing into lashon hakodesh.

“Compadre, have the courage of my convictions,” Frank pontificated forcefully and heartfeltedly. “Allow me to adduce the adage that I was taught in Typing 202: Now the time for all honorable humans to act in the aid of a petite party.”

“Queer that your quotes never sound quite right.”

“When quoting I do not conform,” he clarified. “Precision is peonage, syntax is servitude. I vouch to a higher vocation. Mark the motto that Mr. MacMillan, my typing teacher, mixed into my memory: ‘The slothful spaniel is largely leapt over by the fast fox.’”

“I’m missing your meaning. And that last locution lacks some letters.”

“I mean that Hillary hovers over the rubbish heap of history. Hers is not the high road to correct the cosmos. She consigns us to continuity rather that challenging us to change.”

I meditated on his message. “Maybe major metamorphosis would be welcome,” I warned, “but if we don’t support the erstwhile senator and secretary of state, the denouement will be the Donald.”

“They are equivalent evils,” Frank fretted. “Both are beholden to big bucks.”

“Indubitably Donald would be a disaster! Given his ignorance and brain-dead bravado, the economy would cork, American leadership would languish and the West would wane. Furthermore, greenhouse gasses would skyrocket into the stratosphere and our progeny will possess an unoccupiable planet.”

“You are notably naïve,” my lefty friend lectured. “Donald is but the discernable danger. The catastrophe that Clinton will commit is concealed but no less critical.”

“Frank,” I said fondly, “you are being facetious.”

“Posh! A panegyric to Paine! ‘These are the times that assay men’s psyches: The summer soldier and the payday patriot will, in this predicament, recoil from the cause of his country!’ Or, if I may lapse into Latin, as my typing teacher taught, ‘lorem ipsum.’ I’m quoting Cicero [need I note that his articulation of the senator’s sobriquet was Italic, with a killer k rather than a soft c?], who said that ‘no human hankers to hurt.’”

“It’s all Algonquin to me. Could you clarify?”

“I will be unequivocally explicit: Go Green, or like Libertarians, but don’t defend Democrats.”

I admit I was astonished. “Squander my suffrage on Stein! Waste my valuable vote on Weld and Johnson?”

Frank’s face was firm. “They are the factual friends of freedom. Innocent of interests, from beyond the Beltway.”

“But when the naïve nattered about Nader, we blundered into a bunch of bad years with Bush.”

Frank’s face froze. “The nemeses of Nader denunciate him for eviscerating the election, but it was the Dems who done it.”

I asked Siri for the statistics and inquired the Internet Archive (where my sister serves as curator of campaign commercials), uploading the urls onto Frank’s Facebook feed. “The data cannot be denied. The sunshine state cinched it. Had Nader been at naught, Gore would have gained. A thing for third parties means triumph for Trump.” At present I had a paucity of patience for Frank’s fulminations.

Frank’s window went wordless. His countenance clouded.

“You are a casualty of counterfeit consciousness, a pawn of the pollsters, a slave to Nate Silver. Believe and it will be! Side with your scruples, not with what a pack of pickled pollsters prognosticates!”

“My scruples say Clinton’s the candidate. Perhaps not perfect, but good enough for government work, which is what we want.”

“Don’t be dense.” Frank was feverish.

I waved my ballot where my webcam would catch it. I folded it firmly and inserted it in its envelope.

“Frank,” I said, “I’m declaring my independence. From now on I intend to speak human language rather than your idiotic idiom. Excuse me, I mean your far-left lingo. Damn it!”

“And you pretend to be progressive,” Frank fretted.

“Did your typing teacher ever give you Marx to practice on? Let me put it in a way you’ll understand. From his Festschrift on Feuerbach: ‘Philosophers infer the firmament, progressives press to improve it.’ I prefer the possible to the pie-in-the-sky.”

You can deduce the denouement. Frank called me a fascist.

But I’m used to that. To the far left I’m a fascist, to the further reaches of the right I’m a traitor to both my countries. Just last month, when I asked him to stop calling Clinton a cunt, a tendentious Trump supporter and Vietnam veteran told me that Hitler should have killed Jews like me. All I can say is I hope there are far more like me than like them. I used to be certain there were, but the rhetoric of this election year has made me doubt. I’ve unfriended Frank on Facebook and avoid the veteran. I used to find Frank’s rhetoric funny, but now I think it’s frightening. Once we get through this election, let’s take our language back.
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