(Publication date: October 10, 2003)


Getting Away from Politics


We were days away from the recall election and, apparently, there was no escape. Just like you, I was
getting a stream of email from out-of-state friends, pointing at me through the bars of my modem and
asking what it’s like to live in a zoo. So I thought I’d head over to Solano Avenue to see. But Governor
Davis wasn’t dozing in the doorway of the library, Arnold wasn’t pumping hands in front of the No
Sweat aerobics studio, and the other, um, movie star in the race, Mary Carey, wasn’t anywhere near the
Albany Twin.

Nonetheless, politics found me one Sunday evening at the Safeway on Solano. It was late, and all the
shoppers with more brains than a monkey had long since left. I was reaching for a bunch of bananas.
“Kucinich,” said a voice. I was half asleep, and I stared at the bananas, wondering which one of them
had spoken, and why it wanted to talk about politics. Maybe it had said, “Spinach.”

“I was at a Dennis Kucinich rally today, and I was really impressed. I think he’s the one for president,”
said the same voice. That was way too many words for one banana, so I decided that I hadn’t fallen
asleep on my feet and wasn’t dreaming I was in a David Lynch movie about fruit. I looked up. There
was a woman in a long, dark coat and some sort of scarf on her head, picking over the potatoes. Wait a
minute. Maybe I was in a David Lynch movie.

She looked up and pinned me with a laser gleam, looking a little like the Log Lady in Twin Peaks, and
said, in accented but fluent English, “Kucinich makes sense, and none of the rest of them do. You could
just feel the energy at the rally.” I turned around to look behind me, hoping she was speaking to
someone else. No one there. I turned back. She continued to pick potatoes, but she was talking without
pause. I moved farther away, over to the oranges, figuring I could insert a quick breakaway comment
and make my escape when she took a breath. But she didn’t pause to breathe. She was giving me her
autobiography, something about being a doctor. I took up a defensive position behind the lemons. She
was saying she was going to help Kucinich, raising the horrifying prospect that she was about to hit me
with what I dread most during an election—campaign literature. I started wondering what Steve
McQueen would do if this conversation were taking place in
The Great Escape, and I thought about
checking to see if there were any handy trap doors over by the lettuce. Then she was off and running on
the Kucinich peace position. I began to feel an exhausted panic, thinking that I might not make it home in
time to collect my first Social Security check.

Finally, I blurted out, “Excuse me, I’m heading over to the ice cream aisle to pick up some Ben and
Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.” And that’s exactly what I did. She didn’t follow and I made it out. It wasn’t
quite as cool a getaway as Steve McQueen jumping the barbed-wire fence on his cycle in
The Great
Escape
, since I was just motoring down Marin in my minivan. But, after all, look where he ended up--
back in the prison camp in the cooler, whereas I was propped up with my pillows in bed, watching a
movie with Ben and Jerry. And vowing to stay there until election day.


Life Is a Movie