Life framed by elections

And so ends another election. The Independent goes to press each Tuesday, so this column is being written before the results are in.

It has been a strange political season, to say the very least. I've been through quite a few of them in my 76 years on the planet. And during that span, I've learned one thing of universal applicability in life and politics: You don't understand what's going on.

I was born on November 5, 1940, the day that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to a third term. My father, a stanch Republican, was pleased that he had a son but dismayed that Roosevelt had won. He always referred to FDR as "that man," an early iteration of "He whose name must not be spoken." In those days, friends and family sent congratulatory telegrams to the proud parents, often suggesting appropriate names for the newborn. The overwhelming choice of his unhelpful friends: Franklin Roosevelt Hazlehurst.

Eight years later, Dad took me down to the DRG&W Depot to see Harry Truman address the crowd at a morning whistle stop. He disliked Truman but felt his son ought to see the president of the United States. I cheered lustily at the end of the speech, as did the partisan crowd. Given that my mother voted for Norman Thomas, the perennial Socialist candidate, my father probably thought it a step in the right direction.

In June 1960, the Colorado Democratic Party held its state convention in Durango. I tagged along with, Judge Austin Hoyt, my political mentor. Sen. John Kennedy flew in to address the assembled Dems, accompanied by his brother Ted. Jack amazed me — he seemed alive, real and human, not just another smelly old pol.

And Teddy? What a useless rich kid, clinging to his brother's coattails! Was I jealous? You bet.

Kennedy won the election by 531,000 votes, a margin so narrow that Richard Nixon thought briefly about contesting the result. I went back to college in Connecticut, escaping whenever I could to hang out in New York City.

One winter afternoon in early 1961 I was wandering around the Village with my friend Hardu Keck. We were a couple of dumb college kids hoping to meet some beautiful beatnik girls. We stopped at a coffee shop where a raspy-voiced kid our age was doing a bad Woody Guthrie imitation.

We ignored him, talking noisily and making mildly disparaging comments. After a few minutes he stopped playing, pointed at us and said, "Either they go or I go!"

[pullquote-1] The manager kicked us out. We couldn't believe it. Out on the sidewalk there was a placard: "Tonight only: the song stylings of Bob Dylan."

"There's a name we'll never see again," I told Hardu confidently.

Fast-forward to 1972. I was living in New York, after almost 10 years away from the United States. My native land seemed strange and foreign. Somehow I wangled tickets for a celebrity George McGovern fundraiser in Manhattan.

My girlfriend and I didn't rate celebrity treatment — or so it appeared. A nice, chatty couple greeted us at the door, ushered us to our seats and invited us to hang out later. Ellen was dazed.

"No one is going to believe this," she said. I asked her why.

"Don't tell me you didn't know who they were!" she said. "That was Warren Beatty and Julie Christie."

Sunday Nov. 1, 1992. Two days before the election, Bill Clinton made a quick stop at Denver's Stapleton Airport. I took my 16-year-old son and three of his friends to the event. We were standing at the rope line and there was Clinton — as young, energetic and charismatic as Jack Kennedy in 1960. The future seemed bright ... until a new age dawned on 9/11/2001.

We stumble through life, brush up against history and keep on stumbling. My father thought FDR would destroy the nation, and that Truman was a corrupt machine politician utterly unfit to be president. History proved otherwise.

Ushers, politicians, and folk singers — we see them as through a glass, darkly. So let's give our next president a break. She/he might actually be pretty good at the job. And if you've ever been thrown out of a bar by Hillary or Donald, my condolences.

I know how you must feel.