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Philadelphia, August 3, 2000
Note to Al Gore: Whatever you do in LA, do not give your delegates yard-long inflatable penises.

Instructions at the base of ThunderStix read, "TO INFLATE: Hold plastic open with thumbs and fingers. BLOW IN HERE UNTIL FIRM."

On the last night of the Republicans’ Philadelphia convention, George W's followers, male and female, young and old, were provided plastic phalli known as ThunderStix, which they diligently blew up and banged together with pre-Freudian abandon. Believe me, the full bacchanalian scope of that night did not come across on television. I found myself deep in the heart of the Texas delegation, pressed up against various body parts and sweat-soaked garments belonging to men and boys in ten-gallon hats. Stoked into a frenzy of compassionate conservatism, the Texans screamed and flailed wildly, inadvertently beating me with their ThunderStix for three solid hours. Thankfully, ThunderStix are the least menacing of all the long, narrow objects that Republicans are accustomed to wielding, including baseball bats, rifles and fetuses in jars.

MH wanted to know if "alternate" delegates to the convention were disappointment by being so deemed. One alternate produced his badge of alternativeness. "I think a medal that says ‘Alternate’ is kind of amusing. I guess it’s better than a certificate that says ‘Honorable Mention.’"
—Tom Stallard
Alternate Delegate and Supervisor of Yolo County, CA

When I had first arrived on the floor, there was no shortage of air or space. I ambled around at will, noting that each empty chair was bedecked with a flat, oblong, plastic casing in either red, white, or blue. Little did I know. I focused on the handmade signs, all bearing suspiciously similar messages, paint strokes and coloring techniques. I traced the work of one anonymous artist from his or her "Montana Bush" to "P.R. Bush" to "W.V. Cheney." The best homespun poster: "Coherent Foreign Policy."

By 8:00, I was struck by the overwhelming smell of hard liquor. The show had started, and most of the delegates had taken their seats and were gripping their newly inflated plastic sausages. I caught the following exchange between George W and Laura on the arena's gigantic video screen:

GWB [to Laura]: You're an intellectual—
Laura [laughing]: I was one.

"Virtual unknown who’s going to crash on the scene like a meteorite."
—John O. Matson, a Rhode Island delegate speaking about his friend Bob Tingle (pictured), a candidate for the House seat representing Rhode Island’s second district.
George W's ability to suck the brain power from anyone he touches in person or in video was demonstrated during the roll call: delegates responded to each state's declaration by thrusting their kielbasas and whooping or chanting at any mention of basketball, wedgies or Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I was now standing in an aisle surrounded by people who were all wearing white cowboy hats, with the exception of George Stephanopoulos, his producer and cameraman. I realized a little too late that Stephanopoulos and I, as the least enthusiastic and the shortest people in the Texan mash, had much to fear when the Lone Star state got its moment of roll call glory. Indeed, the people around me started screaming and winging hats as high as they could, and all I could do was watch the projectiles spin towards the stadium ceiling and then pick up speed as they fell towards my head (which I couldn't shield because my arms were pinned to my sides by the crowd). Only one hat actually hit me, and its plastic faux-straw weave hurt just a bit.

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"I’m a democratic delegate, but I’m two weeks early for the party."
—Freddie (pictured), a delegate from Trapper’s Creek, Alaska.

"I would have had to sit next to Fred."
—Robert Shipley, alternate Alaskan delegate, finding a silver lining in not being a full-fledged delegate.

Meanwhile, Stephanopoulos was trying to deflect a florid, middle-aged Texan who was glaring at him and saying what seemed to be words of drunken menace that I unfortunately couldn't catch due to the twanging of penile balloons and the chant "Help is on the way." Once the ABC crew escaped, four boys crammed in front of me, and I saw that one of them held a sign clearly painted by him personally that read, "Bush is Bueno." I had about fifty of Modern Humorist's more subtle campaign stickers with me, and I decided to risk distributing them. The stickers were such a hit that the boys put them on their white hats.

ABC anchor Peter Jennings shortly before exchanging off-camera pleasantries with Philadelphia Mayor John Street. "I’m Peter Jennings. Thanks for the hospitality. Your town is great." A floor access page standing next to MH asked, "Was he being an asshole?"

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After Governor Tom Ridge (R-PA) and Brooks & Dunn ("If you're a country fan of any type at all, you'd know them," explained a Texan), and one last compassion video, He appeared. In the flesh, He looked tiny and dull after the Ten-Minute Love we had just seen on the big screen. I may have been alone in this observation. The sight of Him sent everyone else into a panic. They waved hats, signs, and yes, the ill-advised dildo balloons. Hooting, hollering, clapping, whistling, stomping, squealing, whooping, chanting, ThunderStixing, BushBushBushBushing—the display made me question just how much difference there is between political expression here and in Iran.

Soon George W hit education, declaring, "local people should control local schools." One of the boys exclaimed, "I love that point." But when W delved into the tax code, the boy, whom I will now call the Pundit, hunched over his cell phone and crowed, "I have four new messages! That's people telling me they saw me on TV, I betcha." His attention later returned to the speech when W intoned, "my administration will deploy missile defenses to guard against attack and blackmail." "That's what I want," said the Pundit. He also heartily approved of the way W was delivering the string of "risky scheme" jokes. "It's good that he's not smiling because that means he's serious."

But even zealots grow weary. When W said that his administration would give "low-income Americans tax credits to buy the private health insurance they need and deserve," I saw a sixtysomething woman in a red, white and blue sequined vest and baseball cap nodding off in her seat. The poverty and homelessness part of the speech wasn't going over well with the Pundit either. "Think this is a little long?" he asked. "Yeah," replied one of his buddies. But the spirit returned when W uttered the magic words "life of the unborn." My boys let out a sustained "Yaaaaaa!" with their fists pumping in the air. It was then that I spotted an abandoned ThunderStick on the floor. I bent down to fetch it, my fear of getting squashed outweighed by my need to bring proof of this deeply unsexy fertility rite to the outside world.

From partial-birth abortion on, W paused for scripted mayhem after almost every sentence. The mob presciently chanted "It won't be long now" about fifteen applause lines before W said that slogan himself. Meanwhile, the boys were readying their cameras for the final release: the red, white and blue balloon storm. I stopped taking notes and did the same—it seemed more important to prepare for things dropping on my head than to listen to the end of W.

The confetti blizzard hit first, then the balloons started flowing to the tune of "Signed Sealed Delivered," which was syncopated by the pops of thousands of balloons as they slipped between bodies and under cowboy boots. As the closing prayer was delivered, I experienced the new and uncomfortable sensation of sticky legs and ankles resulting from standing up to my waist in balloons. The throng started loosening up, in body count (as some headed for the exit) and in body language (as those who remained squirmed to Chaka Khan's rendition of her 16-year-old song "I Feel for You.") The boys pushed towards the stage, where the speakers and presenters from the entire convention were now milling around awkwardly the way the cast of "Saturday Night Live" mingles at the end of a show. Besides Chaka's backup singers, the only one on stage who could dance was Windy Smith, the 26-year-old with Down's Syndrome. Unlike those around her, Smith comes by her retardation honestly.

As I pushed my way towards an exit carrying my notebook, my red phallus and the sweat of Texans, a woman wearing a patriotic vest adorned with a rhinestone Bush 2000 brooch gripped my shoulder as I passed. "I had a very terrible time," she said. "I hope you had a better time."

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