Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Gum Cards And Senator Al"

When I was a kid – and you can tell how long ago that was when I say that my allowance was a dollar a week and that that modest sum quite easily met my pecuniary requirements – I would leave school at lunchtime for nearby Weltz’s Delicatessen – where the hot dogs cost a dime – and purchase what we called “Gum Cards.”  (A pack of “Gum Cards” cost a nickel.)

“Gum Card” packs included a stack of five or so various genres of trading cards, plus a two-by-four inch slab of super-sweet pink gum that had this powdered white stuff sprinkled over it.  The cards varied, often seasonally, from baseball cards to hockey cards.  My all-time favorites, however – sold all year round – were “Scoop Cards.”

The “Scoop” in “Scoop Cards” referred to, like a newspaper “Scoop”, each undersized card chronicling a “Stop The Presses” story, only with “Scoop Cards” the stories covered, with colorful pictures on one side and a thumbnail narrative the other, “Memorable Moments In History” – Julius Caesar assassinated in the Forum, Marie Curie discovering Radium, Bell and his telephone, The Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk.  I cannot imagine a more indelible-izing “Teaching Device.”  I can still remember the “Tecumseh” card.  That was one scary Native American.

I enjoyed collecting “Gum Cards.”  But I hated the gum.  So when I returned to the schoolyard, I would simply pass the gum out to my classmates.  My contemporaries viewed this gesture as generous.  To me, it was throwing away gum, using my classmates instead of a trashcan.

Very quickly, I became popular.  The moment I returned from my Weltzian excursions, I was surrounded by my new-found friends, waving their arms frantically and going “Me!  Me!” 

I would dispense with my unwanted slabs of gum – I’d buy five packages of gum cards at a time – like a beneficent emperor scattering coinage amongst the populace.  For a while, at least, until the novelty wore off, I was the darling of the playground.  Whatever went on, I was inevitably included.

Now, of course, hanging over the proceedings was the looming question, “Was it me the kids liked, or was it my gum?”  Fortunately, I was not the contemplative sort and this concern rarely entered my mind.  If they liked you, they liked you; that’s as far as it went.  And even when the reality did pop up, I would disinterestedly shrug it off.  The situation was “Win-Win.”  I was getting attention, and getting rid of gum. 

Watch me make a sharp right turn here.

I worked with (now Senator) Al Franken for almost a year (1998-99), consulting intensively on his (and co-creator John Markus’s) half-hour television series Lateline.  It is arguable that Al Franken and I were friends.  We hung out together.  Our families once shared a Thanksgiving dinner.  We would hug when reuniting after extended separations.

Al unquestionably respected my writing abilities.  He might resist my suggestions at first – as deviations from his original direction – but the final drafts reflected his “second thought” acquiescence to my original proposals.

There was less love shown for my political observations, all of which Al listened to with the barely controlled impatience of an astronaut listening to a ten year-old discuss space. 

The prevailing perception:  Al was an expert.  I was an idiot.  

I have described on other occasions reclining in bed, frequently not entirely clothed, watching Al Franken presiding over the Senate, the thought floating through my brain that one of us might possibly be underachieving.  The distance between us has grown.  We had spoken only once since we had worked together – in 2005, I was in New York for my daughter’s (Sarah Lawrence) college graduation – and I asked Al if I could come to the studio and observe him taping his Air America radio show.  Today, we communicate exclusively via his fundraising committee.  They call a couple of times a year, seeking additional contributions to his upcoming election’s war chest. 

And here is where my two stories “artfully” combine. 

I would love to talk to Al today.  I have fantasized asking if I could come to Washington sometime and watch him work.  It is hard for me to fathom how a man famous for digging in his heels in order to have things his way – people who imitated “Al Franken the Comedy Writer” would simply bellow the word “NOOOOOOO!!!!” – can successfully participate in the hyper-polarized institution that is the dysfunctional Congress we all know and have an 11 percent “Approval Rating” of.

I would love to ask him about that.  And about how Republicans are never called on their unspoken agenda. 

I mean, the deeply religious sliver aside, people against abortion and against birth control (a significant reducer of the need for abortions) are actually against sex. Aren’t they? 

And people who oppose “Entitlements” on the basis that we can’t afford to pay for them who were also opposed to entitlements when we could afford to pay for them seem to be transparently opposed to “Entitlements.”  Don’t they?

And people legislating (or arguing in the courts) against “Voter Fraud” offering solutions that would disproportionately inhibit the opposition’s supporters’ ability to vote when there is no substantially detectable “Voter Fraud” appear merely to be trying to disproportionately inhibit the opposition’s supporters’ ability to vote.  N’est pas?

And if a significant majority of American people favor reasonable gun control legislation and Congress is unable to pass any reasonable gun control legislation how then is Congress representing the will of a significant majority of the American people?

And other questions along those lines of an equally common-sensical nature.

The thing is, I can’t talk to Senator Al about those or any other issues that might pop into my mind because, the way things have changed, until Al ultimately leaves office, I am no longer Al’s friend and former colleague.

I am now a “Potential Campaign Contributor.”  Hardly an enormous one, but a contributor nonetheless.

Given this new arrangement, even if by some miracle my wish was granted and Al and I got to spend time together, how would I ignore my awareness of our reconfigured “donor-don-ee” relationship? 

The uncertainty would taint everything.  In the back of my mind, I’d be thinking, “The guy’s nodding and going “Uh-huhn”, but do I really have his rapt attention?  Or do I have his pretend rapt attention, in his hopes of garnering my appreciative support?  Who knows?  I may actually have his rapt attention.  But how would I know that for sure?  He could be just terrific at faking it.

A potential one-on-one with Senator Al would be irretrievably contaminated by the nagging question I did not care about when I was a kid:

“Is it me…

Or is it the gum?”
This post was accidentally published on April 1.  When you work alone, you are required to play April Fool's tricks on yourself.  My apologies for the redundancy.  Though I did make a few changes.


Al Tucker said...

You got a dollar per week? No wonder Franken wants your wallet! I believe my brother and I got 50¢/week but no taxes. The Topps baseball cards also contained a slab of bubble gum that was used as a throw-in when trading the cards.

Now may be the only time Al ever talks to you, when he wants your allowance. If I were you, I'd slip him some gum.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I know I only read this blog for the gum.


Frank said...

Perhaps after he escapes noble office Senator Al will ink a deal with HBO for a political satire about a conniving comedy writing senator named Earl.