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Cover Story


The Secret of Political Power



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 Len stared out into the gray, dripping Sunday afternoon.

“There comes a time in every man’s life,” he said melodramatically, “when he must run for public office.”
 
“You might wanna write that down,” I said. “Might use it in a speech or something.”
 
“Uh-huh, uh-huh,” he nodded crisply. “You’re right. Let’s get to work.”
“Isn’t Cindy gonna help?” I asked. “She said she’d help.” Cindy was Len’s on-again-off again love interest.
 
He shrugged. “She’s got something else going. Tutoring math, I think.”
 
So it was just the two of us that afternoon with poster board and large Magic Markers, making political signs that said “Vote for Len. He Knows All” and “Vote for Len. Don’t Be Completely Stupid” and “Nobody Else Wants the Job. Vote for Len.”
 
The situation was this: Nobody wanted to run for the office of social vice president. And here’s why. That person ended up planning banquets that everyone complained about, camping trips that got rained out, evening bonfires that sent showers of red sparks into the crowd. Basically, the social vice president was the person who got dumped on. It was definitely not as cool as being Student Association president—or as cool as just sitting back and griping about everything the Student Association (SA) planned.
 
Since nobody wanted the job, Len decided he had to step in. He really didn’t want the job either. He was just one of those disgusting people who makes A’s without trying and gets bored easily. Running for “social vice” was a way to keep himself entertained.
 
His plan: Make a complete nuisance of himself running for office, get elected, then resign.
 
Campaign mania
On Monday political signs sprouted all over campus. Wendy somebody was running for SA president against Greg Ollman; Terrance was up against Anna for treasurer. A couple other people were locked in a race over sergeant at arms (which sounds like an office that allows you to pack heat). In all, there were eight offices up for grabs.
 
I was Len’s campaign manager, which meant that I marched around with a roll of tape and a stack of our ridiculous posters, looking for empty spots on walls.
Immediately Len got two reactions. People either loved the campaign (the sophisticated, witty types, in our view) or hated it (the earnest, noncreative dim bulbs).
 
Len’s greatest asset in the campaign was his bullhorn. He actually owned one. And on Monday morning, as students made their way to 8 a.m. classes and I put up posters, Len stood in the window of his dorm room honking political slogans through the bullhorn.
 
“Vote for Len Weedim. He’s the only one who wants the job!”
 
By Wednesday nearly everyone realized that Len’s campaign was a joke. That provoked a certain amount of alarm in Mr. Reger, the SA sponsor. He cornered Len in the cafeteria.
 
“We really need someone to fill the job,” Mr. Reger said, his eyebrows locked together, sincere and concerned.
 
Len shrugged. “Well, I’m running.” “Yes, but from what I hear, you plan to quit as soon as you win.”
 
Len turned to me. “Man, the gossip around here.”
 
“I need to know if you’re serious about this; otherwise, we have to come up with another candidate.”
 
Len sighed. He was bored, but he wasn’t heartless, and Mr. Reger seemed edgy. “It couldn’t hurt,” Len responded. “Competition is always good.”
 
You could see Mr. Reger trying, without any luck, to understand what was going on inside Len’s head. Finally he finished what he was eating and wandered off with his tray.
 
“Wonder who they’ll get,” Len said. 
 
Too close for comfort
Later that day, as I left the school library, I caught a new sign among the blitz of others: “Cindy Cyjack for Social Vice. Wouldn’t a Real Candidate Be Nice?”
I hurried back to the dorm with my news. “Cindy!” Len bellowed. “Cindy is running against me?”
 
“But you’re not really running,” I said. He paced across the room several times with the white bullhorn in his hands. “Cindy? I don’t believe it.”
 
“Len, you weren’t—” He was at the window with the bullhorn.
 
“Vote Weedim; he knows how to party. You want another stupid Sound of Music Valentine’s banquet? No! For a good time, vote Len Weedim.”
 
He paused. Outside, people drifted across campus toward the cafeteria for supper. Len was watching someone. When I moved to the window, I could see it was Cindy. She and a friend were affixing a sign to the cafeteria’s glass door, just above one of our signs.
 
“She really is . . .” he murmured. “I can’t . . .” He shook his head. “I can’t believe it.”
 
The bullhorn went to his mouth again: “Cindy Cyjack, Cindy Cyjack.”
 
From across the campus, I could see Cindy looking around. She had to know where the unearthly voice was coming from.
 
“Put down that Scotch tape.” Len continued, “Put down that sign. You haven’t got a chance. Don’t be a fool, girl.”
 
At that point our dean appeared on the sidewalk below. The bullhorn disappeared.
 
What a riot
That night after supper the candidates made official campaign speeches in the gym. It was more like a variety show than a somber political event. A couple speeches were serious, like the people running for pastor or treasurer. People take religion and money to heart. But most were in the form of performance art. One guy running for sergeant at arms did some kind of Steven Seagal skit with guys in fatigues and squirt guns.
 
Len and I dressed up like the Blues Brothers, in black suits, white shirts, and sunglasses.
 
Off the top of his head, Len delivered a funny speech about the worst banquets of his life.
 
After he finished and we sat down, there was silence. It was Cindy’s turn, and people started to get restless. Then the lights went off, and the theme from The Lone Ranger came blaring over the speakers, and then Cindy appeared, riding through a side door on a horse.
 
A spotlight picked her up. She wore a radiant white outfit, and everyone laughed and clapped with The Lone Ranger music.
 
Len scowled. 
 
Behind a great politician . . .
Voting took place on Friday. And when the day dawned bright and chilly, the entire campus was surprised to see one last campaign tactic.
In a fog of sleep I heard a groan. Then a groan and a shout and a fist banging on the desk.
 
“Shut up,” I said, trying to stay asleep. “Look at this!” Len exclaimed.
“What?” “Look. Just look at this.”
 
I pried myself out of bed and padded over to the window. Outside in the center of campus hung a sign no less than 40 feet long that spelled out “Cyjack for Social Vice.”|
 
Now he seemed genuinely depressed. On Sunday night at supper they announced the results of the voting. Cindy Cyjack was going to be our next social vice president. (Len hadn’t even come to supper.)
 
I ran into Cindy after the announcement. “Where’s my opponent?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Sulking, I think.”
 
“If he really wanted it, he shoulda, you know—”
 
“I know, you’re right.”
 
“I mean, no one else wanted it. He coulda had it.”
 
“Yeah, I know.”
 
She winced in sympathy for him. “I should go talk to him.”
 
“Maybe so.”
 
I saw the two of them later, as the evening set in, sitting on the steps of the guys’ dorm. She was chugging him on the shoulder and joking with him, and Len, as usual, was pretending that nothing affected him.
 
In the room afterward he seemed upbeat again. 
 
“You talked it over?” I asked.
 
“Mmm-hmm,” he nodded, rummaging through his desk.
 
“And?”
 
“Well, I got everything I wanted. What’d you expect?”
 
I paused, a little bewildered. “How’s that?”
 
“Well, I never really wanted the job.” He shrugged one shoulder. “I had this all worked out from the beginning.
 
She’d win, and I’d be the power behind the throne.”
 
“So you had this planned.”
 
“From day one.” He found his chemistry book and settled down on his bed.
 
I snorted and laughed. “You are the weirdest person. I swear. You are genuinely strange.”
 
“No, see, the point is not to be the person in office,” he said, his voice low and confidential. “The point is to control the person in office. See?”
 
“I think so,” I said, smirking. He frowned into his chemistry book. “It’s the secret of political power. Ask anyone.”
 
 
This story originally appeared in the November 19, 1994, issue of Insight. At that time Andy Demsky was the “Big Kahuna” in public relations at St. Helena Hospital in Deer Park, California. He’s now a writer and communications consultant living in Napa, California. His latest project is coauthoring Charlotte Stewart’s memoir <i>Little House in the Hollywood Hills</i>.
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