Sunday in the Park
October 24, 2008
This week a friend sent me an email talking about working on a project that made her feel smart, or "thinky," as she likes to call it. And I knew immediately what she meant. It has been week of being surrounded by mostly very thinky folks and one, well, less-than-thinky guy.
Let me give you an easy example the other night, David Letterman, who is himself a pretty thinky guy, had Sarah Vowell as a guest. If you don’t know this wacky NPR talent ("This American Life" and a boatload of very funny essays), maybe you know some of her books, say "The Assassination Tour." She was very smart and very funny and very dry, which made you work a bit for the smartness. Even Dave Letterman looked a bit like the old dog statue, listening in a head-cocked pose a couple of times. Much of her material was political because, well, why not? It will be at least four more years before there will be such rich material to work with And sometimes you just wanted to laugh at her quirky voice. She was, after all, the voice of Violet in "The Incredibles."
On Monday night, at Abravenel Hall in Salt Lake City, David Sedaris had us all roaring and clapping and snorting and guffawing at his delivery of his own material. No doubt, even if you don’t remember his name, you remember his seminal work, "The Santa Diaries," about his time spent as an elf for a major department store. On this night, we were treated to material from his latest book, "When You Are Engulfed in Flames," and an essay that is appearing right about now in the New Yorker entitled, "I’ll take the chicken," about the current presidential race. Reading what great writers have written is always a treat, but hearing that same writer read his own work, pause where he wants you to pause and imitate accents and characters, well, it was just so much fun. And being in a giant room full of laughing people who you knew were fairly like-minded is always good sport and a bit of a surprise in Utah.
Later in the very same thinky-rich week, NPR reporter/pundit Juan Williams spoke for an intimate gathering at the Goldener Hirsh on behalf of KUER, which is planning on expanding its signal in the Park City area. Juan looks nothing like his name sounds. As my friend said that night, "JUAN? All these years of listening to him and I thought his name was Ron." Huh? The very handsome black man with distinguished salt-and pepper-hair spoke about national and international politics and, of course, the current presidential election. We heard inside-the-Beltway observations and, when we asked him our own semi-tough questions, he gave thoughtful, insightful, candid answers. It was pretty heady stuff. (He thought John McCain should have picked Mitt Romney as his running mate, which led to a great discussion about his surprise at learning there was great Mormon prejudice in Washington and in the Bible belt.)
All of that wonderfulness of the week, however, did not erase the insult of picking up my Sunday Salt Lake Tribune and finding, attached, one of those obnoxious yellow sticky notes that is the lowest-common-denominator form of advertising. Regular readers of this column know my slightly irrational feeling about the color yellow. It annoys me beyond reasonable explanation. The combination of the color and the technique was especially obnoxious. Usually I just rip those notes off and summarily throw them away. But this one, with the bold letters at the bottom urging me to "Vote BOB D. for Governor," made me think I should read it. After all, this is a race we have heard little about. And, as it turned out, this guy is another Republican running as a write-in candidate.
For the record, I’d like my mother and Gordon Strachan to note that I am voting Republican in this race already. I am voting Republican because the incumbent, Jon Huntsman, is a decent man who is doing a fine job in Utah, largely in a bi-partisan way. The Democrat running, whose name I can’t even remember, has a platform I can’t even remember, so I thought I should, in the interest of informed citizenry, read this other guy’s note.
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The first sentences rang out like fingernails on a chalk board.
"Do U want Lower Taxes? Do U want more of your freedom back? Do U want no tax on food?" What I immediately wanted were the letters "Y" and "O" and the proper and consistent use of capitalization. The paragraph continued, in not-quite-cell-phone text style, to ask "Can U imagine what UT’s economy would be like " I could only imagine what our government would be like, and what our education system would be like, and our already-fragile out-of-state image would like, if BOB D. was, in fact, elected governor.
But I put that icky sticky yellow note aside and I kept it by my computer to remind me that BOB D. has voters, too. And later in the week, I imagined David Sedaris, in his trademark sing-songy, higher-pitched, Capote-esque voice, reading the sticky note. It made me giggle. Then I tried to imagine Juan Williams in his thoughtful, deep, resonant tones reading it and it almost gave the geeky thing credibility. Finally, when I imagined Sarah Vowell’s little-girl, smart-alecky tones, it was "just right."
As the rhetoric picks up in these last days before the election season is over, all the messages and all the voices and all the choices can take on a bit of a comic appeal. Because of lot of this posturing is downright funny. If it just weren’t for the fact that life as we know it is weighing in the balance.
Be a little thinky this week. Study the candidates and their positions in all the races, from the always-important local school board seats to the new form of county council government. Your vote always matters. Your privilege to vote, hard fought, long desired, greatly admired, is not a worldwide acknowledged right. Annoying as a lot of the too-long process has become, it still beats a dictatorship. Though your vote is private, remember the whole world is watching. That means I, for one, have a bit more studying of the issues to do, starting this very Sunday in the Park
Teri Orr is the director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation that provides programming for the George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Center for the Performing Arts and the Big Stars Bright Nights Summer Concert Series at Deer Valley. She is also a former editor of The Park Record.