I went to Red, instead of him coming to me. Couldn't help myself. I could have taken this to my liberal friends, my enlightened friends, instead of him. But it wouldn't have been the same. My liberal friends knew it was coming, welcomed it, anticipated it. Maybe even prayed for it. But Red? I had to see for myself. Up close. I had to see what effect the resolution to 400 years of our sourest history would have on someone who could never, ever, admit our history had anything wrong with it.
I caught up with him in Nampa, at a Sarah-Palin-on-Saturday-Night-Live-watching-party. "We are so close, Red. So incredibly, deliriously close. I never, not until a few months ago, believed there was a chance I would see it in my lifetime. But here it is. The flame that has boiled America's blood from even before we became a nation is about to be doused. And we will see it! You and I, Red! Doesn't that just send shivers up your spine?"
"Cope, id's be yew what's sendin' chippers up m' spine, an' ah don' e'en know what's yews talkin' 'bout. What's yews talkin' 'bout?"
"A black president, Red. We're going to have an African-American president. Just think about it."
I can't say whether he was thinking about it or not, but I can tell you his face turned the same color your thumb does after you smash it with a hammer. "You going to be OK, buddy? You look like you have a buffalo wing lodged in your throat."
I'd never been to any party like this, that's for sure. Every woman there with hair long enough had it stacked up in a Sarah P. bun, and even a few of the men were wearing a set of those Elton John specs like hers. One guy was pulling around a heavy-duty septic line snake and was telling everyone he met, "Hey there, average white working American. I'm Joe the Plumber, and I'm here to Roto-Root all the liberal gunk outta our pipes!" He was the life of the party.
"Yew's jumpin' a mighty tall gun der, Cope! Y'r ain't'n gotten no Avrilcan-'Merican elected pres'dent yet. An' ah hopes yew put the hoogly-boogly jinx on Barbamba a'cause y'r already braggin' 'bout 'im winnin'."
"Don't believe in jinxes, pal. And I'm not bragging. I'm just here to point out how remarkable it is. Just since we were kids, we've seen it go from 'Whites Only' everything to this. There's not another place in the world where this could have happened so fast. Or at all, maybe. I gotta say ... I've never been prouder of my country."
A woman overheard. She was wearing a Sarah-ish outfit: high-collared silky jacket, butt-enhancing skirt and calf-high boots—or what some might call a "Frederick's of Hollywood business suit." She said, "You sound like That One's baby momma, dude. Who are you, anyway? You don't strike me as Nampa material."
Red spoke up. "Dis here's Bill ..." She didn't let him finish.
"Ayers!? Bill Ayers! God Gawd in Heaven! Hey everybody! We got that Bill Ayers terrorist dude, right here in Wilma's kitchen!"
Lucky for me, nobody listened to her. Turns out, she was known from one end of Nampa to the other for being gratuitously excitable. Plus, most of the people there were laughing their heads off over Joe the Plumber's "liberal gunk in the pipes" schtik.
"Ah's been al'ays proud o' m' country, Cope. Never weren't a time whens ah weren't prouder'n all get out o' m' country an' ever' t'ing about id."
"C'mon, Red. Some parts of America were bound to make you prouder than others. Surely, you haven't gone through life equally proud of everything. That hardly seems natural."
"Yuh, s'pose y'r right. Some t'ings 'r' bedder 'n' udders."
"Then tell me ... like back in '57. You know ... when they integrated Little Rock High? Were you more proud of Eisenhower for sending in troops so those seven kids could get into the schoolhouse without being torn apart? Or were you prouder of the hillbillies outside who cursed them and spat on them as they passed?"
"Yews playin' a trick queshun on me, Cope! I weren't no more'n 10 yurs ol' when dat happened."
"How about in '64? Were you proud of both the Freedom Riders who went south to register black voters, and the thugs who murdered those three boys and buried the bodies under a dirt dam? Or how about the four little girls who were blown to bits when some Klan monster bombed a church? Which part of that America made you the proudest, Red? And I'm sure you were proud of Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo and Martin Luther King Jr. But were you proud of the men who gunned them down, too? Were you proud of Bull Connors when he turned his police dogs loose on peaceful protesters? Were you proud of the people who lynched Emmett Till? Were you proud of the America that threw Rosa Parks in jail?"
The woman had returned and was listening in closely from over Red's shoulder. "Red Sweetie, did I hear him say 'register black voters?' He's one of those Acorn nuts, isn't he? Hey everybody! We've got one of those Acorn nuts crashing our Sarah-watching party!"
"Cope, dat stuff yews takin' 'bout ain't 'Mer'ca. Dat's jus' sum stuff what sum people did in 'Mer'ca."
"Someday, when all this blows over and things settle back down to normal, you'll have to explain to me how you manage to keep what people do in America separate from what America is. In the meantime, I think I'll head back to Meridian. Your show is about to start and I wouldn't want you to miss it."
Besides, I was a little worried that a few of the party-goers were starting to take the ersatz Sarah seriously. Even Joe the Plumber was looking at me not a bit funny.
"One more question, Red. Let's say he does win. Will you be able to live with that?"
He sighed and gave up. "Cope, in mah lifetime, ah done got yoos't Charlie Pride. Ah got yoos't Jackie Rob'sin an' Sydney Poi-tyer. Ah got yoos't that Flap Wilson feller an' d' Jeffersons an' Cuh-ream Abdool Jabbar an' Moo-ham'd Alee an' Jimi an' Redd an' Oprah an' Tiger an' Colin an' Condi an' Denzel an' a lot, lot, lot more. Ah s'pose ah c'n get yoos't y'r durn ol' Barbamba, too."
"Red, that's all I wanted to hear," and I headed for the door. "Oh ... and buddy? I know it wasn't easy for you. You should be proud of yourself."