Jewish World Review Oct 3, 2011 6 Tishrei, 5772
The Four Laws of Politics
By Roger Simon
You always look at the hands, an old-timer once told me when I was starting out as a political columnist in Chicago. It's the first law: Guy asks you about politics, you look at the hands.
Why? I asked the old-timer.
"You see if he's wearing a knuckle-duster or packing heat or just this," the old-timer said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a roll of quarters. "You wrap your hand around this, and one bap to the chin — wham! — a guy is down."
A lot of questions ran through my mind: Did I really want to be a columnist? Did I really want to cover politics? But I had a bigger question.
Where do you even get a roll of quarters? I asked.
"A bank," the old-timer said. "Whaddya think? You break into a parking meter and roll them yourself?"
So the years pass. And I find out that people do come up to you, especially at parties, and ask you questions about politics. And I am happy to make up the answers. But I always look at the hands first.
The guy who just asked me about Rick Perry has a bottle of Fiji Water in one hand, and the other hand is in the pocket of his chinos.
You got a roll of quarters? I ask him.
"A roll of quarters?" he says. "I didn't know quarters came in rolls. Who needs quarters? Parking meters take credit cards. Or you can use your cell phone."
I take it all in: the fancy water, the chinos, the fact that he is too young to remember coinage. So I know how to answer his question.
"Rick Perry," I say, "is George Bush without the brains."
The guy laughs so hard his Fiji almost erupts. "That is so, so good," he says. "What's your Twitter handle, man? I want to follow you."
I tell him I need to get to the bar. Second law of politics: Keep contact with civilians to a minimum.
The guy ahead of me at the bar is wearing a blue blazer with gold buttons and a pair of gray slacks that match the color of his hair. He is trying to explain to the bartender how to make a Long Island iced tea.
"You need Triple Sec, not tea," the guy is saying. "Don't be an idiot."
The guy turns to me. "He's an idiot," the guy says.
Yeah, I say, the plasma physicists all work the bar during the day shift.
"I know you," the guys says.
No, I say. Must be some other guy.
"No, it's you," he says. "So tell me about Obama. No way he gets re-elected, right?"
I look at the hands. Manicured nails, pudgy fingers, liver spots. Then I notice his cologne. It smells like bags of worn, hundred-dollar bills.
Barack Obama will be a one-term president, I tell him. At most.
The guy roars. He takes a thick, ivory-colored business card out of his blazer pocket. In raised black letters, it gives the address of a hedge fund in Antigua.
He writes a phone number on the card with a slim gold pencil. "I live in the Hamptons," he says. "Next time you're in the Hamptons, you give me a call."
I don't ask him which Hamptons. The only Hamptons I know were related to Lionel.
"And it's going be Romney or Perry, right?" he says.
A dream ticket, I say. Both hat and cattle.
"I don't know what that means," he says. "But I like it."
That's the beauty of politics, I say. It doesn't have to mean anything, it just has to sound good. And then I tell him that the bartender has his Long Island iced tea ready. He turns his head, and I beat it for the door.
As I elbow my way through the crowd, people shout names at me. "Cain?" "Gingrich?" "Christie?" "Hillary?"
Yes, I shout back. Yes and yes and yes! Which is the third law of politics: Always tell people what they want to hear.
The door is in sight. I feel a tug on my sleeve. It's the Fiji Water guy.
"I just wanted to say you have the greatest job in the world, man" he says. "You know that, right?"
I look at him, and I decide to break the fourth law of politics. I decide to tell him the truth.
Two old ladies are eating in a restaurant, I tell him. One says, "Boy, the food at this place is really terrible." The other says, "Yeah, I know, and such small portions." And that's how I feel about covering politics. It's full of loneliness, suffering and unhappiness — and it's all over much too quickly.
Fiji Water blinks at me.
Woody Allen, I tell him. "Annie Hall." You ever see "Annie Hall"?
Fiji Water shakes his head. "No," he says, "but it was my grandmother's favorite movie."
I blink at him. Then I tell him to stay right where he is while I try to find an open bank.
"Why?" he asks.
Need a roll of quarters, I tell him.
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