Between the Peoples’ Choice Tournament and my frantic scramble to finish a law review article on the New York City campaign finance system, this week’s Daily Nos is going to include some throwback articles. The following is an excerpt from my Denver dispatches, written after the Democratic National Convention, four years ago. It doubles as a preview for next week.
A Man Without A Laptop
Denver was the perfect host city, big enough to put on a full scale carnival in its downtown, but also small enough that the whole city was drenched in Convention, unlike Boston or New York, where conventions seem more like inconveniences than celebrations. The sun was shining, the band was playing, the free stuff was flowing. But not all was well in Obamaville when I walked glumly into the Big Tent on Tuesday morning.
My new buddy from the National Democratic Institute saw me first. Fresh off a tour of showing African dignitaries “how democracy works”, he needled me, “The Kennedy-Minh ticket didn’t work out, did it?”
“You’re damn right it didn’t. Supporting the ticket got me kicked out of at least two places.”
“That’s to be expected.”
“Of course it was. The country wasn’t ready for Kennedy, and I suppose they’ll never be ready for Minh. But I have bigger issues now, Greg. I’ve gotta find my laptop.”
“Shit man, it’s tough to blog with a laptop.”
“I know, but worst comes to worst I’m going old-school style- by hand!” The bloggers sitting by Greg looked unimpressed as I whipped out a crumpled little notebook. Greg shook his head, and as did the rest.
“Kennedy-Minh… That was some funny stuff. Pretty weird though…”
It was around two in the morning Monday night when I had found myself alone on a bus heading downtown, away from the action.Worse than that, I realized I no longer had the laptop I had started the night with. Still hobbling somewhat from my torn ACL, I scrambled from the bus towards the mall, where Paul was swearing at me for leaving him behind.
“We’ve gotta find my laptop man!”
“Where did you leave it?” My mind raced. I couldn’t recall having it for hours. The best plan was probably to retrace my steps. “Let’s go back to the bar.”
“You want to go back in? You must be joking?”
“I was just wondering if I could go in real quick to look for something I left back there.” “Hell, no. After that stunt you pulled…”
Our final destination had been some lame bar on 16th street. The bouncer was a tall blond punk, with a perfectly trimmed blond Mohawk. It wasn’t clear what decade he was supposed to be in.Paul and I had settled in with some locals, sipping on cans we had smuggled over from the Big Tent. Out of nowhere, the bouncer snuck up on me, grabbed my can and poured it out into the trash.No one at the table really knew what was happening, and even I was surprised when he crushed the can, slammed it in front of my face and snarled, “Why don’t you recycle that, bitch?”
Having seen this movie before, I calmly nodded, went to the bar, ordered something on tap, and carried on with my conversation.On our way out though, I let him have it: “You call yourself a punk! Is that what punks do? Going around crushing people’s beer cans? Is that what punks do? Hanging out in trendy bars with their fake Mohawks and designer clothes?! You’re not a punk, you’re a joke, and your bar is a joke…”
As the Disposable Heroes sing, “I’m not so proud, but I’d do it again.”
No sight of the laptop. On the way out I patted him on the back.“I’m sorry about earlier, man. No hard feelings.” He sighed.
“No worries, man. Things can get crazy, I understand.” Having made peace with the bouncer (who was still a suspect for theft as far as I was concerned), we headed to our previous destination, the Slate party.
Slate, or Salon.com, the difference was never really clear to me, had held some sort of book party on the top floor of a giant book store. My only solid memory of the party was Clint constantly reminding me and Paul, “Don’t fuck this up for me, I really want to work here.” As far as I know, I was on my best behavior- gin and tonic goes well with an endless sea of books to stare at absent-mindedly while munching on celery and dip. Paul wasn’t as sure, muttering, “I think I told Matt Cooper he was a loser, and he should have stayed in jail.”
If convincing the security guard to let us into the book store at the three in the morning (laptop wasn’t there) was a challenge, we knew the Mother Jones hotel party was out of the question. As I retreated home for the night, tail very much between my legs, a thought occurred to me. No one had ever seen me carrying the laptop since Laughing Liberally.
Hours before, after crashing a venture capitalist party (to aplomb and success, I might add) Clint and I had snuck Paul in to the Big Tent, and were enjoying the last hours of the free beer service. Just as we were getting feisty, however, they booted us up to the top floor, where they were still serving canned beer and forcing people to watch Laughing Liberally. Now I’ll doff my hat to the great Mr. Justin Krebs, founder of Drinking Liberally. It is a great organization that started with a simple premise during the low point of the Bush years- provide liberals a place to get together and drink every week. It has since expanded enormously as a franchise, to hundreds of cities and off-shoots, like Reading and Eating Liberally. But Laughing Liberally has never been in its strong suit. They were less than pleased when we took a couple Kennedy signs we had found and started chanting “Kennedy-Minh for President!” After accosting a few hapless audience members, who weren’t really sure if we were part of the show, for not supporting Ho Chi Minh, we were eventually booted out by Justin. We took off for the Mother Jones hotel room, and the rest is history. I was crushed the next morning to find that my laptop was not at the site of the Laughing Liberally Massacre. Pen and paper it would be.
The Tent was slow and hot that morning. Some news about rednecks trying to assassinate Obama being pulled over for driving around drunk and on meth with guns in the car. One of them was a neo-Nazi named Adolph, who sprained his ankle jumping out of a sixth-floor hotel window (super race?). As someone whose actually met George Bush, there’s no chance four meth-heads are gonna get within 100 yards of a presidential nominee, and even if they did, they’d get their heads blown to pieces by machine guns before they could pull their own triggers.
Having spent most of Monday watching a series of panels, this morning I decided to explore the Big Tent and its companion Colorado Alliance for Sustainability building. The scene was part library, part sports bar, part … Well the last part was just unique.
At any given time there were 100 or so bloggers at their laptops, some typing away, other lazily lounging on gmail, sipping on beer or munching on tacos. The dull noise from the panel being broadcasted or the afternoon Convention banter rose faintly above the humming of industrial fans and chatter about sharing electrical outlets. Woodstock it was not, but at least it was a place to call home.
“Blogger” is an ugly word, like “mold.” It’s one of those things I cringe at being called, like “hipster.” As it was, the Big Tent was crawling with video-journalists (Vloggers?) making short pieces about bloggers, and rather than risk the alienation of my Tent-mates, I gave several interviews on the impact of blogging, etc.
I will say this about bloggers though:
They are not all white young men living at home in their parents’ basements. While statistics have long shown this to be quite obvious, mainstream journalists, perhaps out of jealousy and fear, continue this idiotic characterization of the blogger movement. In the Big Tent, which was absolute blogger central, males outnumbered females by the same amount you’d expect in any political crowd (Washington staffers, campaign workers, D.C bar scene), at about 60-40. Though the group skewed white, it felt pretty damn eclectic, especially when assessed by age.
“They think we’re space aliens,” a middle-aged woman lamented to me. I know a thing or two about space aliens- I was accused of housing one in 2002- but the lady was right. Bloggers fit no stereotype; they are the most eclectically banal slice of Americayou could put under one tent roof.
“So what does one do in Denver during the Convention,” asked Paul. “I mean, besides go to Convention events.” The streets answered for me: Get Free Stuff. Within blocks we had been given free stickers, free tshirts, free condoms, free energy drinks.We were also getting delirious from the heat and fatigue- I thought I was hallucinating when I was almost run over by a series of chariots led by Captain Morgan and his pirate wenches.
“What more free stuff could they possibly give us?” Paul wondered aloud, just a middle aged man jumped out from behind the curb and yelled, “Who wants free bikes!” During the week of the Convention, there were about a dozen spots around Denver where you could pick up a bike for free, just showing your ID, on the condition that you return it to a drop-off location by 7pm. We biked around Denver living the dream.
At night I was back in the Big Tent to catch the speeches.Hillary was the main attraction, and as if to offer juxtaposition, an assembly of also-VP-rans were paraded out before her. Tim Kaine was mediocre, and his rantings in Spanish, cool as hell in person, seemed weird on television. Sebelius, my number one VP choice, delivered a hum-drum speech full of almost-Janos phrases like “saving the dream” and “to the stars through difficulty.” I much prefer “lying in the gutter, reaching for the stars” myself, although its prominence was far overshadowed during my Student Body President elections by the main slogan, “It’s hard to stop a moving train.” Sebelius did have one great line- “As we like to say inKansas, ‘there’s no place like home.’” Or, as John McCain puts it, “There’s no place like home, or home, or home, or home or home….”
Former Mayor Pena quoted Congressman Barney Frank, calling government “the name we give to the things we choose to do together.” It’s a nice way to think about government, after both parties have demonized the whole concept.
Mark Warner was supposed to be the keynote, but he was so terrible that most people in the Tent stopped listening half-way through, and Fox News cut the speech off entirely to go back to discussing Bill Ayers.
Hillary Clinton, at her best when she has nothing to lose, noted, “It makes perfect sense that in a week George Bush and John McCain will be in the Twin Cities, because these days they’re awfully hard to tell apart.” As it turned out John McCain did everything he could to keep George Bush out of the Twin Cities a week later, but that’s another story. There was definitely a buzz in the room that maybe it had been a bad idea after all not to make Hillary Vice-President, but there’s no need to dig through bad memories of days past to recall why that would have been a terrible idea, regardless of a good speech here and there.
After the speeches we went to a fancy hotel where I had been put on the list for a Moby party, and I was shocked when Margot and I actually got in. Not only was the scene wild and gorgeous, but there was free vodka and Sam Adams on the house, and I got a seat on a couch next to some rapper named Bazaar Land or something (it’s not Bizarre from D12). Fortuitously, Moby and his band began setting up right next to us. My knee was aching, and I leaned it on a speaker. This, again, fortuitously, gave a few people the impression that I was some sort of bouncer (I was wearing an army jacket and sunglasses indoors). A couple nervously approached me as Moby finalized his set-up. “Hey,” they asked meekly, “is it cool if we take a picture of Moby?” Realizing that I had become a de-facto bouncer, I gruffly replied, “Sure, but make it quick.” My status was set for the rest of the set.
Moby, by the way is a bit of a prick. At one point the music stopped so his female singer could shout, “Hey all of you shut the hell up! You can drink and talk to your friends any night, but how often do you get to listen to Moby?” The VIP crowd looked perplexed as she continued, “We’re not even gonna waste our time playing until you all quiet down.” But fully quiet down the young, drunk, excited crowd did not, and after a few minutes Moby and the crew begrudgingly continued their set. No worries, we were already scheming about after-parties.
Denver, unfortunately has the highest concentration of asshole bouncers between New York and Los Angeles (see: Monday night). After we failed to get into a party at a club using Congressman Clyburn’s name, a helpful staffer came out and clarified that we had actually been invited by State Senator Malloy, and that we were welcome. The big bouncer shook his head. “You said Clyburn. You can’t just go around saying whatever.” It made no sense. I was about to protest, but saw that Brett and Paul were already trying to get into the Arkansas Democrats party next door. The bouncers wouldn’t let them in either, but as the bouncer bumped Paul down the stairs, he led a fired up pack of Arkansas Democrats in a raucous chant of “Yes we can!” This eventually attracted the attention of a couple vans marked, ‘Sheriff’, and I retreated to a nearby jazz bar. Like secondhand Beats we bopped our heads to the music in the only local bar not filled to the brim with lame delegates.
The drummer was not amused by our chants of “Yes we can,” interrupting the band. “God damn it man, yes we can- give me some fucking cash!” We laughed, tipped the band well, and soon we were in a cab home, stopping at a drive-through Burger King, living the dream, and halfway through our week in Denver.