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Friday, March 22, 2013

Rand Paul, Puke, and Desperation

I’m angry. My anger has been building, like a tower of blocks that wobbles and threatens to collapse. One more block could send me over the edge.

But let me backtrack a little.

At the beginning of March Monty was still on his two-week work trip to South Africa, and I was doing my best to fulfill my job responsibilities while being a single parent for half a month. Life has become even more complicated since I took on a new graduate student, named Brad. I am second reader for his thesis, and he was demanding my feedback. Like Rand Paul on the floor of the Senate, he wouldn’t stop until I agreed to give him some answers. He wanted to meet at the end of the day, the only time neither of us had class or other meetings.

“I can’t,” I texted him. “I need to pick my children up from daycare by 5:30.”

His electronic reply was instantaneous. “What about after they go to bed? I’ll come to you.”

I let my phone drop from my hand and onto my desk. As a rule, I stay away from compromising the boundaries between teacher and student. I don’t go out for drinks with my students after class on Friday afternoons, I don’t talk much about my own life during lectures, and I don’t get involved in my students’ personal problems. But when my own personal problems begin to compromise my professional responsibilities, it’s time to make an exception. Besides, I was feeling worn down.

“Okay,” I texted back, and I gave him a time and my address.

That night I put the kids to bed as early as I could. Then I cleaned up the dinner dishes, and trying to ignore my queasy stomach, I listened to the little television in the kitchen. CSPAN had on live coverage of Rand Paul’s filibuster, and I figured my nausea was a physical reaction to the hypocrisy of a gun rights zealot worrying about drone attacks while getting tons of media play. I turned off the TV and was just powering up my laptop when I heard Noah cry. I went upstairs to check on him, and discovered that he had thrown up.

So it was with a screaming, puking toddler that I answered the door five minutes later to Brad.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I would have called you but this just happened.  I don’t think tonight is going to work.”

Brad’s shiny, bald head wrinkled in concern. His broad shoulders and long legs took up my entire doorway, so when he stepped in I naturally stepped back.

“Poor little guy,” he said. “I have a son myself, so I know all about little kids and stomach flu.” He put his large hand on Noah’s tiny shoulder. “Hey, buddy. Not doing too well, huh?”

And here’s the funny thing: at that, Noah stopped crying. He just looked at Brad with admiring eyes and a trembling lip.

“Umm…” I stammered. “If you want to give me your flash drive I can download all the comments I made. Then you could go over them, and we could talk later?”

Brad was still cooing at Noah, offering him a crooked smile, trying to make him laugh. He broke out of it and said “Sure. Do want me to hold him while you do that?”

Not only did he hold gooey, stinky Noah while I downloaded the files, he took him into the kitchen and washed him up as well. I had just clicked “Save” and was ejecting Brad’s flash-drive from my computer when my stomach decided to do some ejecting of its own. I barely had time to say a jumbled “I’ll be right back,” before I raced to the bathroom and puked. I was sitting on the bathroom floor, really regretting my choice of spaghetti for dinner, when Brad came to check on me.

“Wow,” he said. “Now you’re sick. It’s too bad your husband isn’t here. When does he get back?”

I cleared the acid residue in my throat, trying to get the words out. “Not for another week.”

“Do you want me to stick around?” He laughed self-consciously. “Not for a week, obviously. But for an hour or so? I could try and get him back to sleep while you lie down.”

I should have said no. But I was so tired my eyelids felt like cement, and my stomach hadn’t had its final say.

So I said that would lovely. Lovely in a really nauseous sort of way.

That’s nothing to be angry about, right?

But the other day I read that the assault weapons ban was eliminated from Dianne Feinstein’s bill, because if it was left in, there wouldn’t have been the 60 votes needed from the senate simply to discuss it on the floor. And yeah, sure, they want to add it in as an amendment later on, but I’m not too optimistic about that.

I really thought that after Sandy Hook, this would finally be the time to get some gun control legislation through. Now it seems that if anything gets passed, it will focus on background checks and increased security. Lame.

So I was fuming over the injustice and the misguided values of our nation when Brad stopped by my office. We’re friends now; I guess nothing bonds two people like puke and desperation.

“You okay?” He asked. “You look sort of tense.”

I rubbed at the joints of my jaw and tried to unclench. “I’m just so mad about the gun control bill!”

He raised his eyebrows in question, so I explained the issue.

“And can you believe this wasn’t even big-headline news? Yet when Rand Paul did his filibuster about hypothetical drone attacks, the media couldn’t stop talking about it.”

Brad rubbed his hands and wove his fingers together. “Actually, I didn’t disagree with Rand Paul. I thought he had a good point.”

“Oh please. Rand Paul is pretending to be something that he’s not.”

Brad opened his mouth to speak, but I continued before he could.

“Rand Paul’s filibuster wasn’t about John Brennan, and it wasn’t about the government’s power to use drone attacks against Americans on American soil. It was about Rand Paul.”

“I think that’s a little simplistic,” Brad interjected.

“Simplistic!” Now my blood was heating up. I leaned forward, pressing my weight against my arms. “The only time the government has had a policy of killing Americans on American soil was during the Civil War. Yet every day more and more innocent Americans are killed in random shootings. Rand Paul has an “A” rating from the NRA. He is more worried about protecting our rights to do bad things than he is about the bad things themselves.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Brad.

“Oh come on. He doesn’t care about protecting people.” I tapped my pencil against my desk, emphasizing my most salient points. “He says he’s for civil rights, yet he opposes parts of the Civil Rights Act. He wants to get rid of the department of education. And like every Republican, he supposedly wants to return to the party of Lincoln. But you know what? When Abraham Lincoln helped found the Republican Party, they actually promoted equality. And one way to promote equality today is through public education.”

Brad crossed his arms defiantly. “So are we talking about gun rights, civil rights, or education? Because I’m not following you…”

I sighed. “We’re talking about the hypocrisy of Rand Paul. Look. In Lincoln’s time, Republicans believed in setting limits, so that the wealthy slave owners couldn’t buy up all the land and leave the yeoman with nothing. They supported higher taxes to promote economic growth. Neither of those stances fall in line with Rand Paul’s platform. He believes in free enterprise and unlimited trade.”

I continued to tap my pencil against the desk with increasing intensity. “People call him a Libertarian, and Libertarians are against the government imposing on our personal lives. Yet Rand Paul is against gay marriage. He’s even supported the constitutional amendment against it, and now he’s proposed a bill to outlaw abortion by protecting the rights of the unborn. All these things add up to a guy who claims to be different and more diverse in his thinking than your typical Republican. But he is actually just a pretentious hypocrite.” With that I let go of my pencil, and without my tapping the room fell silent.

Brad looked away and took a moment before he spoke. But when he did, he looked right back at me. “You obviously know your stuff. But you’re being too concrete. Politics change with the time. So must our thinking.”

With that he got up and left, without telling me his original reason for stopping by. I sat for a moment, contemplating, and then I got up, went down the hall, and into my friend Sally’s office.

“You never told me that Brad was a Tea Partier.” She looked up at me in shock. “Is that why you can’t be his advisor anymore?”

“No!” she laughed. “And I don’t think he is a Tea Party guy.”

I stood with my hands on my hips. “Okay. But why did you have to quit?”

Sally bit her lip and her eyes darted around the room. If she wasn’t a good friend I would have really demanded answers.

“I told you I can’t say,” she mumbled.

I heaved a sigh and walked out. Now I’m trying to figure out if I’m helping a really nice guy start his career, or if I’m inserting someone ideologically opposed to me into the political arena. Maybe it’s both.

But I have figured out that Brad is more than what he originally seemed.

 I suppose you could say my anger is unfounded, or misdirected, or even unwarranted. But I don’t care. I don’t care if I’m letting my anger show like a bad, contagious rash. Sometimes you have to stop pretending, and just be who you are.