Tuesday, December 16, 2008


(Vol. 2, No. 3)


Bradley David Williams

“Hi from Eureka Springs, Arkansas -- the funkiest little town in America and perhaps the entire world.”

December 7, 2008

Happy Holidays!! And we have a LOT to be happy about, kids. In fact, I’ve been going around telling people that this is one of the happiest times of my entire life. Barack Obama’s stunning triumph has given me such hope and made me so proud of my country. I wasn’t sure we had it in us. One of my main justifications for supporting Hillary early on was that I truly didn’t feel that Barack Obama was electable. Last fall on my crazy 19-states-in-23-days road trip, I was a guest on my friend Stephanie Fraser’s radio show in Vermont (you can listen to the 10-15-07 interview online at www.personalandpolitical.net), and I went on and on about how I didn’t think this racist country would elect a black president, especially one with a first name that rhymes with Iraq, followed by the middle name of Hussein, then a last name that sounds like Osama. In this post-9/11 world, I thought Obama’s name alone would prevent him from being elected. I have never been so glad to be wrong. It was such a gift from Baby Jesus that we had the economic collapse during the election, which focused the media and the electorate on our pocketbooks rather than making the election an ugly referendum on “Are you gonna vote for THE BLACK GUY?” In this age of dumbed-down, sensationalist media coverage, it would have been so easy for the election to have devolved into endless man-on-the-street interviews asking the absurd question -- “Do you believe Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim?“ I’m a Born-Again Atheist myself, but I loved Colin Powell for posing the question, “So what if he WERE a Muslim?“

I told everybody I saw on Election Day, “This is one of the happiest days of my life.” For everybody who has ever felt marginalized in this country and for all the folks who have fought for progressive causes like gay rights and women’s rights and the environment and world peace and ending racism and classism and all the other -isms, November 4th was an astounding victory. So, too, was it a crushing defeat for all the bigots and small-minded conservatives and religious nutcases in the land, and that alone is reason for jubilation.

I did lose a lifelong friend because of this election. Ever since my twentieth high school reunion a few years ago (Class of ’86 -- Woo-Hoo!!!), I have been on the email list of one of my classmates -- I’ll call her Lucille -- and in the months leading up to the election, I was bombarded with daily anti-Obama emails from Lucille, some of them blatantly racist, almost all of them quite offensive to me. I held my tongue day after day, and I wanted to keep receiving the emails just to know what kind of garbage was out there on the Internet about Obama. The straw that broke the camel’s back was an email that I awoke to exactly one week before Election Day -- a “Letter From A Black Christian” on why he could not support Obama. Of course it was some religious wack-job who, in his letter, felt compelled to outline the five gruesome steps of the partial birth abortion procedure. Changing the subject at one point, the man wrote, “There is a REASON the homosexual community is supporting Barack Obama.” Yeah, it’s called EQUALITY. Well, this sent me over the edge. I wrote a pointed email response, which I thought was going out to the whole email list, but it turned out that my entire exchange with Lucille was just between us. Lucille’s hostile email reply caused me to pick up the phone and give her a ringy-ding at her place of work. With a few choice words, I called Lucille out on her hypocrisy, which I can’t go into without violating her privacy more than would be ethical. Let’s just say I threw a devastating blow Lucille’s way, ending this lifelong friendship, whatever was left of it, with a major flourish. It felt so liberating. As I wrote to Lucille, John McCain and Sarah Palin couldn’t say anything that might be perceived as blatantly racist, but every time they talked about Obama “pal-ing around with terrorists” and called him “anti-American” and “unpatriotic” and implied he might be a “Marxist” or a “socialist” or a “communist” or a “community organizer” -- all of that was designed to play on the small-mindedness and bigotry of a lot of people in this country. If anything had happened to Obama during the campaign, there would have been blood on the hands of John McCain and Sarah Palin for the dangerous words they used day after day in inciting their supporters. But somehow, America mobilized behind this remarkable man and said NO to the divisive, “God-fearing,“ anti-intellectual, “Family Values,” race-baiting, gay-baiting politics that we have come to know from Karl Rove and the Republican Party, which we have seen crumble before our very eyes. This is a HUGE moment for our country and for the world. Obama’s victory has inspired me to be my best self and dream big and strive for greatness.

All of this will constitute one of the central essays in the book I am working on -- what Obama means to me and to the world, my adventures at the Democratic Convention (SEE my last blog -- Vol. 2, No. 2), and the exhilarating demise of the lifelong friendship. Oh, and about the thrill of getting a fabulous email from Arianna Huffington herself on Election Eve, thanking me for the print-out I had sent her of my Denver blog. My self-imposed deadline for finishing this memoir is April Fool’s Day. I want a 2009 release date, hopefully launching the long-awaited fame and fortune that people have always predicted for me. I have NEVER had a beard or mustache (or been attracted to them, for that matter), but I decided two months ago to stop shaving until I finish the book. I may have a long, unruly Ozark beard before all is said and done. Whatever success the book achieves, I’m just happy to finally make creative use of all the rich material I’ve been collecting throughout my crazy life.

We’ve already had our first snowfall here in Eureka Springs, and it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Enjoy this moment, and embrace the spirit of hope that 2009 promises!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Denver Diary -- A Mile High With The Obama Nation

Denver Diary -- A Mile High With The Obama Nation

email from the Ozarks

(Vol. 2, No. 2)

Bradley David Williams

“Hi from Eureka Springs, Arkansas -- the funkiest little town in America and perhaps the entire world.”

October 2, 2008

Here in the alternate universe that is Eureka Springs, where “Kill Your T.V.“ is a popular slogan, folks don’t normally fret too much over whatever is happening in the outside world -- but this is BAD, ya’ll. As we teeter on the brink of a 21st Century “Great Depression” -- my grandparents, all of them great storytellers, filled my childhood with vivid first-hand accounts of bread lines and rationing and hoboes -- I cannot think of many places (on the American mainland, anyway) I would rather be than this already-surreal Ozark village that I‘m calling home. I‘m not the first person to write about this historic spa town -- people have been trying to describe Eureka for over 125 years, and the best description I‘ve heard so far is “Mayberry on acid.” We’re just hoping for a decent October, which is peak tourist season around here, when “fall foliage” freaks from near and far descend on our town to see the gorgeous mountain backdrop dappled with flaming reds and yellows and oranges. While it’s hard not to be distracted by the beauty of Eureka in autumn and by all the nightmarish “breaking news“ on CNN, my Obama blog can wait no longer!

I invite you to put down the razor blade, take a break from rearranging those deckchairs on the Titanic, and enjoy this madcap recap of my trip to Denver for the Democratic National Convention. Much of this stuff will make its way into the closing essay of the book I am writing here, so consider it a sneak preview. We’ll know on November 4th how the chapter ends. (Unless it’s a tie again. Weren’t we going to finally get rid of the Electoral College after Gore won the popular vote in 2000 and lost anyway to the pathetic embarrassment that is what‘s-his-name?)

So I left Eureka Springs for Denver on Friday, August 22nd, in what now seems like a very innocent time, before anybody had ever even HEARD of this cartoonish moose-murdering evangelical “family-values” super-heroine from the tundra… I have a LOT to say about Governor “Abstinence Only“ (“THINKS, but NO thinks!”) with the knocked-up 17-year-old and the bastard grandbaby on the way, but I better muzzle myself because, “Families are off-limits!” Yeah, and I have a “Bridge To Nowhere” I’ll sell you real cheap...

I drove up through Missouri (pronounced Missour-UH in these parts) and across southern Kansas, one of only eight states I had heretofore never set foot in. I loved the flat, wide-open prairies and embraced the nothingness of it all, stopping in Eureka, Kansas to check my email at the town library (no Blackberry or laptop for this low-tech, impoverished scribe!). Telling the librarian where I was from, I said, “I guess there’s probably a Eureka in every state.” “No,” she said. “Only in 19, I believe.”

I was thrilled to see I had received a bunch of fabulous emails with positive feedback on the blog I had posted the night before, all about my beloved Hattie Nichols -- the black woman in Bonham, Texas who helped raised me -- and how I would be thinking of her in Denver, where I would hopefully get to be there in the flesh to see a black man accept the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Especially intoxicating were the e-responses from several of the more high-profile people on my email list, such as: Marion Winik, the celebrated memoirist and frequent voice on NPR (I knew Marion in Austin, where she and her late husband Tony were the subjects of my very first “big deal” published feature article, which made the cover of a respectable gay rag called the Texas Triangle, circa 1993; btw Marion’s new book, “The Glen Rock Book of the Dead,“ is available on Amazon); Celia Morris, the writer, feminist and former wife of the late literary lion Willie Morris (Celia lives in D.C. and has invited me to the party she is already planning for Obama’s inauguration); Crescent Dragonwagon, authoress of children’s books and cookbooks (her latest is “The Cornbread Gospels“), and co-founder of The Writers’ Colony At Dairy Hollow (which brought me here to Eureka Springs a year ago); Rosemary Daniell, the acclaimed poet, essayist, writing coach and founder of Zona Rosa (www.myzonarosa.com), a network of empowering writers’ groups for women around the country; and -- I saved the coolest for last -- Martina Navratilova, tennis legend and pop culture icon, who wrote in her reply, “I would have liked Hattie.” (How cool is it that I know Martina, my childhood idol???)

But I’m not one to name-drop… ;p

Another half hour down the road, I stopped in El Dorado (pronounced Duh-RAY-doe), the Kansas town where Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, lived until age 13, when her family moved to Seattle and eventually to Hawaii. I have become semi-obsessed with Ann Dunham, who died of ovarian cancer at age 52 in 1995. This free-spirited single mom was highly intelligent -- an anthropologist who had finally earned her doctorate three years before she died. She was eccentric and relentlessly curious about the world and, according to her best friend in high school, an unapologetic atheist, even as a young teen. I’m fascinated that she died so young, having no idea to what degree her son would go on to conquer the world just a dozen years later. She was a dreamer and an intellectual, and I am very curious about her role in shaping her son’s world view.

There’s no “Home of Barack Obama” sign anywhere, though he drew a big crowd at a rally in El Dorado last January, his first-ever visit to the place of his Dunham family roots (btw, he also has distant Arkansas kinfolk, including the Bunch family in Eureka Springs!). I stopped at the tourism office and talked to a woman who had done a lot of research into Obama’s connection to El Dorado.

Then it was on to Garden City, Kansas, located in the far southwest corner of the state, where I overnighted at the Wheat Lands Motel, the very hostelry where Truman Capote stayed when he was there researching “In Cold Blood.” I was half-awake all night, tuned in to the middle-of-the-night coverage on CNN of Joe Biden’s imminent ascension to the ticket.

I’ll write much more on Garden City and my Truman Capote connection in my book, but let’s get to Denver already!

I arrived in the Mile High City on the eve of the convention, and before I could even find the place where I was staying, I saw a tent with Obama merchandise set up in a gas station parking lot, manned by an entrepreneurial out-of-towner. A friend in Eureka Springs had given me money to bring her back a poster and a button, so I stopped. Purchases in tow, I continued on, using my mapquest.com directions [lucrative blog product placement!], and when I looked up in the rainy sky, there was a fantastic rainbow, which would prove a symbolic foreshadowing of a near-perfect convention experience.

I arrived at my friend Todd’s lovely home, greeted by sunflowers as big as your head growing near the front door. Todd, a Michigan native, and I were exchange students together in Germany as youngsters and have somehow stayed in touch all these years. I visited Todd and his wife Carol when they were living in Boston in 2000 (when I got to go to Martina‘s induction at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI), and now they are in Denver with two adorable little girls, Maya and Lily, and a fabulous guest bedroom in their basement that they very generously offered for my use during the convention. From their house, I was able to get to downtown in 20 minutes -- a beautiful drive through old Denver residential areas, avoiding highways altogether.

I had only ever been to one national political convention -- sixteen years ago when I was just a few years out of the University of Texas and working as something of a Junior Press Aide (I reject totally the title “clerk“ -- surely one of the tackiest and most demeaning words in the English language!) to the Governor of Texas, Ann Richards. Ann was tapped by the 1992 nominee, her buddy Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas, to chair his convention at Madison Square Garden in New York, and as part of Ann’s staff, I got into the hall every night, enjoyed some of the best parties, and even scored a free ticket to a Broadway show.

Without my “I’m with Ann!” automatic entrée and no press credentials (I had missed the deadline by about five months), I knew the Denver convention experience was going to be very different. In many ways it turned out even better. My strategy for the week was simple -- not to worry about getting into the Pepsi Center for the first three nights of the convention, but just to concentrate on getting into Obama’s big speech on the final night at “Invesco Field At Mile High” (this, I learned, is the corporate-publicity-whore of a stadium built seven years ago when the old Mile High Stadium was imploded in favor of more luxury skyboxes at a site just up the street).

When they first announced that Obama would open up the convention to the masses and give his acceptance speech in this 75,000-seat stadium, I had thought, “Great, surely with that many tickets, I don’t have to worry about getting in.” Oh, how tragically naïve… When the “community credentials” became available, over 100,000 online requests were received within the first 48 hours. I have had a lifetime of what I used to call my unbelievable “ticket karma” (before I quit believing in karma), but Obama’s speech in Denver would be the hardest ticket I have ever had to score!

I spent the first three nights of the convention watching the speeches on a movie screen at the Starz Green Room, a special media hangout near the Pepsi Center. Taking over a tri-level art-house cinema located on a college campus, the Denver Film Society and several other entities hosted this operation, which included intimate panel discussions with movie stars and media personalities, screenings of presidential-themed films (“Being There,” “The Candidate“) and the latest political documentaries, and a LIVE feed from the convention stage projected onto a movie screen in a sleek lounge featuring a fabulous catered buffet, open bar, comfy furniture, and famous people everywhere you looked. For a political junkie like me, it was HEAVEN.

Most of the programs at the Starz Green Room were sponsored by SeaChange Communications, an L.A.-based firm run by Victoria Hopper (wife of actor Dennis) which “unites prominent entertainment figures with key players in national politics.” On the first day of the convention, there was an 11:00 a.m. panel discussion on the Blogosphere, featuring Arianna Huffington, that I did not want to miss.

I have long been fascinated by Huffington, the Greek-American dynamo who evokes Zsa Zsa Gabor with her over-the-top glamour, beauty and exaggerated European accent, dahling. But unlike Zsa Zsa, Arianna is a major intellectual, who was president of the prestigious Cambridge Union debating society in college (she was Arianna Stassinopoulis then) and later won acclaim for her biographies of Picasso and Maria Callas. After moving to the U.S. in 1980, she married and had two daughters with Michael Huffington, a Dallas-born oil heir who eventually became a Republican congressman from California (he barely lost the 1994 U.S. Senate race to Diane Feinstein). They divorced, he came out of the closet as “bisexual,“ and Arianna made a huge about face in her politics, going from conservative Republican to ultra-liberal Democrat (although she had been involved with liberal California Governor Jerry Brown before she met Huffington).

Arianna became a familiar TV personality with her frequent appearances on Larry King and Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect,” then ran for Governor of California in 2003 in that crazy election that resulted in Governor Ah-nold (she came in fifth out of a field of 135, even though she had dropped out of the race a month earlier). And in the last few years she has sky-rocketed in importance with the Huffington Post, now the number one political website, and was named in 2006 one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People in the World.” In Denver, she was very much the belle of the ball amongst the assembled media.

Finding the Starz Green Room just in time for Arianna’s 11 a.m. panel, I was extremely frustrated not to be able to get past a security checkpoint and threw a minor diva fit. Even though my name was on the list, I didn’t have my credential for the Starz Green Room, which they told me I had to pick up at another location downtown. “How am I supposed to get to the Arianna Huffington panel discussion that starts in five minutes?” I demanded. “Who ever heard of credentials not being available AT the actual venue?”

The security for the convention was breathtaking, with mean-looking machine gun-wielding officers patrolling the streets and large areas of downtown completely closed off. The Starz Film Center is located on something called the Auraria Campus, home to three different colleges -- the Community College of Denver, Metropolitan State College of Denver, and the University of Colorado at Denver. The entire campus was shut down for the week and fenced in, with just a single footpath open for the media to access the Pepsi Center (and the Starz Green Room, which was half-way between the security checkpoint and the arena).

Several hundred yards in another direction from the security checkpoint was a circular drive where all the media got dropped off in their chauffeured SUVs and sedans, and there I was able to hop a Starz Green Room shuttle van to go pick up my credential at a downtown art gallery they had taken over for the convention. (Starz, by the way, is the L.A.-based entertainment company that owns the cinema in Denver as well as the Starz and Encore cable movie channels, etc.)

So I made friends with the cute twenty-something shuttle driver, Cameron, who would shuttle me throughout the week. Credential finally around my neck, I was able to get through the security checkpoint and catch the last twenty minutes of Arianna’s panel, which also included Newsweek columnist and talking head Jonathan Alter. I bolted down the aisle of the theater to an empty seat in the third row, and Arianna, sitting in a director’s chair, looked at me and smiled as if I were a long lost friend. I had never met her, but when I approached her after the panel, she greeted me as though she knew me. I told her about how I had interviewed culture critic Camille Paglia fifteen years ago and we had talked about Arianna Huffington, who was a fairly obscure figure then. (Camille scoffed at Huffington’s book on Picasso because, “She said he was a bad artist because he was mean to his girlfriends.” When the two women appeared on a TV show together, Camille was “prepared to HATE her,” but instead they had totally hit it off.)

“Oh, I loooove Camille Paglia,” Arianna said. She told me to come to the “Oasis” -- the lounge she had set up in Denver for the media to come and relax. I also got to chat up the Huffington Post “Style Editor” Kira Craft, and we discussed how retro Hillary’s pantsuits are, like the ones our mothers wore in the 1970s.

I visited the Oasis several times during the week. Arianna is very “New Age,” which was reflected in the offerings at the Oasis -- all the free massage, yoga, smoothies, and pistachio nuts you wanted. The Oasis was set up in an office building downtown, adjacent to “The Big Tent” -- a two story structure, sponsored by Google, that was convention headquarters for the Blogosphere, with bloggers blogging and panel discussions being streamed onto the Internet. This was the first national political convention where the Blogosphere played a major role -- the blog phenomenon was still in its infancy at the conventions four years ago.

On the second day of the convention, Tuesday, I was at “The Big Tent” taking advantage of the chair massages being offered near the entrance. Just as I had gotten comfortable in the chair, with my face looking down through the padded oval, the very nice massage therapist from Boulder said, “You may want to look up -- Katie Couric just walked in.” Katie was there with a CBS film crew to check out “The Big Tent” and came directly towards us. Set up next to the massage area was a Youtube booth where anyone could make a video and immediately upload it to the Web. After she made her video, Katie’s film crew captured her getting a chair massage as she talked through the padded face rest. “Brian Williams would NEVER do that,“ I said, and she laughed. I told her I had met her in New York years ago at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and I asked her about her encounters with Ann Richards over the years. “I miss her, too,” she said.

The entire week was just one celebrity sighting after another. I saw Gary Hart walking alone down the street, on his cell phone. I ran into Chris Matthews, who I watch every day on MSNBC, at the famed Tattered Cover Bookstore. And I got to meet a slew of Hollywood stars -- Susan Sarandon, Ellen Burstyn, Anne Hathaway, Alan Cumming, Angela Bassett, and Annette Benning -- at a brunch celebrating a new documentary, “14 Women,” narrated by Benning and featuring the women of the U.S. Senate.

During the week, I also got to talk to a number of VIPs attending events at the Starz Green Room -- Dan Abrams of MSNBC, actress and anti-cancer activist Fran Drescher, director Cameron Crowe... Amongst the big names I saw, but did not bother trying to meet, were Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, Josh Brolin, Andrew Shue and Dee Dee Myers.
On the first night, watching Michelle Obama’s speech on the big screen, I chatted up a friendly, good-looking guy who I would see hanging around the Starz Green Room all week. It wasn’t until two days later that somebody told me it was Troy Garity, son of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden, whose gorgeous wife Simone Bent was there working on the staff of SeaChange.

“I can’t believe I didn’t know who you were,” I told him.

“Why would you know who I was?” he said.

“Because I read your mother’s book, and you were in that Showtime movie ‘Soldier’s Girl,’” I said.

I remembered seeing his mom accompanying him to the Golden Globe Awards several years ago, when he was nominated for “Soldier’s Girl.” He played the lead in this true story of a military man who was beaten to death for having a relationship with a woman who was a male-to-female transsexual.

Also on the first night, I struck up a conversation with an interesting woman who turned out to be Grace Guggenheim, daughter of famed documentarian Charles Guggenheim. She was at the convention, along with her brother Davis (who won the Oscar for directing Al Gore’s ’An Inconvenient Truth’) to appear at a screening of their father’s famous documentary about Bobby Kennedy. It was the 40th anniversary of the film being shown on the floor of the 1968 convention and televised LIVE on all three networks. I was there at the Starz Green Room on the last day of the convention, when many of the Kennedys, including Ethel, showed up for the screening.

On Thursday morning, having asked around throughout the week with no success, I began my search for the coveted Obama ticket in earnest. I first popped my head into the historic Brown Palace Hotel, where I found Teresa Heinz Kerry, the glamorous diva who almost became First Lady four years ago, as well as Mark Shields, the commentator for PBS’s McNeil Lehrer. Shields has a house in Austin and I had met him ten years ago at a funeral, so I didn’t hesitate to approach him. “I’m desperate to get in tonight,” I told him. His suggestion was to go to the Oxford Hotel, where the Finance Committee was headquartered. “They’ll have tickets,” he said.

I got on the public transportation and made my way to the other side of downtown and found the Oxford Hotel, only to be told that the credentialing for the Finance Committee was at the Hyatt Regency. I got back on the public transportation and went back across downtown to the Hyatt. The first person I ran into, exiting the hotel through a revolving door was Henry Cisneros, the dashing former mayor of San Antonio and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Clinton. He actually remembered me from Texas but couldn‘t help. I found the Finance Committee set up in a ballroom on the third floor, and they said I could fill out a “Special Request Form” for a ticket but that it did not look good.

The hotel lobby was hopping with VIPs like Chris Matthews and Keith Olberman of MSNBC, as well as politicians like House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina and the gorgeous former congressman Harold Ford, Jr. of Tennessee, now head of the Democratic Leadership Council. I asked until I was blue in the face, but no luck.

Then I ran into Arthur Schechter from Houston, who was Hillary’s top finance guy in Texas. He said he had just come from a finance meeting upstairs and that I might find somebody with tickets up there. I found a roomful of Democratic fat cats but nobody I asked knew of any extra tickets.

Back in the lobby, I begged a couple of Jewish ladies with a stack of tickets to please let me have one. “Are you a member of Hadassah?” one of them asked me. I should have just said, “Yes,” but I’m a bad liar. Nothing doing.

Then somebody told me that the people with the tickets were the “D-Triple-C” -- the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee -- and that they had an office across the street in the Convention Center, the massive building that had been used all week for caucus meetings (I had gotten to hang out with the gay caucus there and had also seen Hillary Clinton there the day before when she met with her delegates and officially “released” them to vote for Obama). I made my way across the street and through what was like an airport security check (you had to take everything out of your pockets and get wanded). After much effort I found the D-Triple-C office, set up in a small room in the bowels of the Convention Center. I walked in and saw two young women, probably college age, behind a table.
“I worked for Ann Richards when she was Governor of Texas,” I announced with over-the-top authority. “You probably weren’t even born then, but I am desperate for a ticket for tonight and somebody told me to come here and beg.”

“Who told you to come here?” one of them asked.

Without thinking, I blurted out the name of the biggest fat cat I knew -- “Arthur Schechter.”

“Oh, OK,” she said, handing me one of the “community credentials,” featuring a hologram with Obama’s face and the American flag.

Mission accomplished. It was after 1:00 p.m., just hours before the program was due to begin at Invesco.
I walked to the stadium, where it took me a full hour to get from the end of the line to the entrance. My credential said Section 539 (seating was first come, first served within your assigned section), and when I looked up and around the massive stadium, I saw that my section was on the very top tier and behind the podium, where I knew I would not be able to see much. So, as I have done so many times before, I just walked around to where I wanted to sit and found a perfect seat, half-way up the first tier with an unobstructed view of the podium. I sat between a college student from Massachusetts who was volunteering for the campaign and had been stationed in Colorado Springs, world headquarters of the Religious Right, and a woman from Michigan who was the wife of Hillary delegate.

It was an incredible night. Everything came off beautifully, from Stevie Wonder’s crowd-pleasing performance of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I‘m Yours” to Al Gore’s powerful address to the dramatic fireworks display at the conclusion of Obama’s soaring speech. In a stadium that seats 75,000 for football, there were 84,000 people crammed into every seat, including the delegates and media down on the field, and VIPs like Oprah hidden away behind glass in the luxury skyboxes. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, when you know you are witnessing history. It was a great moment for Barack Obama, for America and for the world. And whatever happens on November 4th, it was a moment that can never be taken away.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Reluctant Blogger Returns...

The Reluctant Blogger Returns

email from the Ozarks

(Vol. 2, No. 1)

Bradley David Williams

“Hi from Eureka Springs, Arkansas -- the funkiest little town in America and perhaps the entire world.”
August 21, 2008

I’m leaving in the morning for Denver and wanted to post the following essay about the convention, which I just read tonight at Poetluck, our monthly community potluck and literary salon at The Writers’ Colony At Dairy Hollow. It was the writers’ colony that brought me to this amazing place from Houston a year ago -- I spent six weeks in residence at the colony and am now in a wonderful living situation here in Eureka Springs, continuing work on a book of personal essays (it’s coming along slowly, but I’m hoping for a 2009 release date). I remain incredibly ambivalent about the whole blog thing, but felt inspired to share. And I promise to blog again with an update after convention. Enjoy…

President Obama and Me…

I stuck by Hillary through thick and thin, stomaching all the awkward moments and ugliness, most of it apparently caused by a few infantile fools in her inner circle. I wanted desperately for her to bow out on May 7th, the day after she lost in North Carolina and barely won in Indiana. That’s when the math became impossible, and I kept thinking how much better all those millions of dollars could be spent instead of continuing a campaign that had already been defeated.

But no, we had to have this “dance” -- where Hillary could take a second place victory lap and get the respect and recognition she clearly deserved and bow out on her own terms. There was apparently fear amongst the dinosaurs of the Democratic Party that if Hillary suddenly got out the minute the math became impossible, her most maniacal waitress-voter fans and aging “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” feminist sisters might take to the streets, or at least refuse to get behind Obama in the fall.

I don’t agree with the pundits who say Hillary blew the race. Yes, her campaign was often a mess, but NOBODY could have predicted the Barack Obama phenomenon, something unprecedented in American politics. As for the general election, obviously a lot is going to happen in the next two months -- a month is an eternity in politics -- but if the Democrats manage once again to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, all hell is going to break loose and the Obama Nation may well demand sovereignty (I propose annexing all of New England).

I have decided to go to Denver for next week’s Democratic National Convention. I have an old friend in Denver I’ve been needing to visit (free place to stay!), and I need to make a brief, long-overdue return to Aspen, where I spent three crazy months in the aftermath of John Denver’s 1997 death in an ill-fated quest to write the definitive biography of the iconic troubadour (but I have very rich material for the John Denver essay that will appear in the book I am writing).

But I have a very personal reason for wanting to be in Denver to witness this historic event. I have had so many important women in my life, and right up there with Ann Richards and all the other divas I have somehow become personally acquainted with, is Hattie Nichols. Hattie, who died at age 96 in 2002, was not a diva, however. She was a humble, dignified, black woman in Bonham, Texas who helped raise me. She cleaned house for my family and for my maternal grandmother, Granny, who was born in 1904, the same year as Hattie, and who would say things like, “Yes, we love Hattie, but she’s always known her place.” Hattie always sat in the back seat of the car when Granny drove her home.

Hattie’s mother had worked for Granny’s parents, and her daughter worked for my mother for many years, and we think it’s likely that the history of Hattie’s family working for my family goes back to slavery. (Granny, an avid genealogist, would often say, “We were always good to our slaves. When they were freed, they didn’t want to leave.”)

I grew up hearing my mother tell the story of when she was a little girl and the family would take off in the roadster for a summer vacation in scenic Colorado. They would take Hattie along and drop her off in Denver, where she had family. On the long journey to and from Colorado, when they would stop at a roadside restaurant to eat, Hattie had to stay in the car and they would bring her food out to her. Some motels would allow “negro servants,” but only if they were dressed in uniform.

Hattie had a quiet elegance about her and was as sweet as anyone I have ever known. Far from the stereotypical southern mammy, she was tall and thin as a rail in the simple white work dress she wore, but she enjoyed making our family FAT with her amazing feats in the kitchen. Every Tuesday of my childhood summers, I got to have lunch at Granny’s and savor Hattie’s cooking. In these, my pre-vegetarian days, I lived for Hattie‘s specialties, which I would later come to know as “soul food” -- decadent staples like fried chicken, smothered steak, salmon croquettes, macaroni and cheese, creamed potatoes with gravy, apricot fried pies and her famous biscuits, which were small and delicate and sublime.

I was determined not to be a racist from a very early age. I have never understood racism -- especially the racism I have seen in the gay community -- because I identified so much with Hattie and all the black kids I went to school with. While I wouldn’t fully figure out my sexuality until years later, somewhere deep down I knew that I too was different and at odds with the bigots of the world. I admired Hattie Nichols as much as anyone I knew and the fact that she had been treated her whole life as a second class citizen, or worse, just did not compute.

When I was a Junior in High School, I chose Martin Luther King as the subject of my term paper. I worked very hard on it, got an A, and was very proud of it. I remember leaving it out on the dining room table for Hattie to see when she came for her regular Friday shift at our house. Years later, I would visit Hattie at her modest home and we would sit on her porch swing, talking about the changes she had seen in her life.

In the fall of 1990, when I was working on Ann Richards’ historic gubernatorial campaign, Ann traveled to Bonham for an event at the Sam Rayburn Library (Rayburn, the legendary Speaker of the House, was and is Bonham‘s claim to fame). I raced home from Austin to be there and was thrilled to see Hattie at the ceremony. My college friend Denise, who had accompanied me, took a fantastic photo of me introducing Ann to Hattie. I had it blown up, and Ann signed it, “To Hattie Nichols -- I loved meeting you in Bonham. Thank you for doing such a good job helping raise Brad.” It still hangs in Hattie’s house, where her daughter Bettie now lives.

So I will be thinking about Hattie in Denver when a black man accepts the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, something Hattie probably never even dared to dream possible.