Journo: Exile in Wonderland

"If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn't.

And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn't be, and what it wouldn't be, it would.

You see?"
Alice, Alice in Wonderland

If we're being perfectly honest, and why shouldn't you and I be since we are obviously so close as writer and reader, freelance reporting is like the prostitution of journalism. No, seriously, it is. As a freelance writer I'm always out on the proverbial stroll, trying to get the next story, trying to pick up another newspaper. It's like Pretty Woman except with memo notepads.

Anyway, recently a hipster friend of mine alerted me to the possibilities of a new writing opportunity. I'll pause now to say that he would undoubtedly disown me as a friend if he ever knew I described him as a hipster but his Tim Burton pale face and skinny jeans and extensive Chuck Taylor shoe collection begs to differ that he has nothing to do with those asymmetrical bang sporting, Catcher in the Rye loving, forever quoting The Smiths as their status messages (So-and-So is a light that never goes out) creatures that haunt the downtown scene.

But back to the story at hand, shall we? He gave me advice that a local weekly paper with an artsy fartsy bent was currently on the search for new writers. Being of both artsy and occasionally fartsy mind, I sent a bunch of clips. Since I've spent the past two years toiling away as a freelance government reporter for a tiny rural enclave, it was, to say the least, difficult to find any clips that could fit the milieu of the paper, but with slight trepidation I sent my best reporting to show that I was at least capable of fashioning stories.

What is it about waiting to hear from jobs that reduce us to junior high kids? A perfectly reasonable adult on the mere hint of hearing back will stay chained to his Hotmail In Box just waiting to hear back from a gainful employment suitor.

After an eternity (read: a week) I heard back from the weekly paper, in a pleasant little e-mail asking if any of the following stories interested me:

1. Go to a speedway

A little too Days of Thunder for my taste.

2. Cover a gun show

Too Michael Moore.

3. Attend a Republican Tea Party


Honestly, I agreed because going to a Republican Tea Party was going to let me indulge in a My Life on the D-List misadventure my life has always needed.

"Of all the silly nonsense, this is the stupidest tea party I've ever been to in all my life. "

Alice, Alice in Wonderland
So there I was, on a very pleasant Labor Day weekend with my little leather messenger bag in hand, searching for this tea party. I figured I was in the right place when I saw a large Black Hummer with a pink "Don't Blame Me, I Voted for McCain" across the back.

The strains of patriotic music lured me to the confines of a Oktoberfest shelter were a large number of people were milling about in their red, white and blue clothes.

A young man in his probably late 20s was working the propaganda t-shirt/chicken-cue station, discussing the art of putting together a table for the event.

"Originally when I was putting everything together this shirt here," he said, holding up a t-shirt, "was in the center. But then I decided to rethink that because I didn't want to anchor the table with a Gerald Ford quote."

While lingering around, waiting for people to show up this tea party, an older gentleman in a wheelchair and oxygen mask came rolling towards me. As Pomp and Circumstance inexplicably played in the background, he asked me about myself in a friendly yet accusatory fashion which I would soon learn was the modus operandi of the tea party.

"So where are you from?"


His eyes narrowed more than just a bit. "Originally?"


"How old are you?"


A long pause while looking me up and down.

"I thought I knew everybody. I remember when there was only one colored in this town."

He said it in such a casual manner, like the way I used to say, "I remember when we didn't have an Old Navy," that all I could respond with was a slightly brusque, "And there it is" before his wife came and wheeled him away.

At a neighboring table there was a girl, most likely in her late teens, who was selling t-shirts with her parents. Through her pronounced braces, she gleefully detailed the various "Americans Fed-up" products that one could purchase, including drink cozies and bumperstickers and t-shirts with such pithy phrases like, "Democrats only believe in the second amendment for people with criminal records, everyone else is screwed!!!" The black "Americans Fed-Up" baseball caps, she noted, had sold out for the time being but they had plenty in a popular camoflauge style.

"How adorable!" squealed a woman as she picked up a button.

She wore a shirt that said, "Christian, American, Heteroseuxal, Conservative, Any Questions?"

One has to wonder how the American Revolution had gone if both sides had had message t-shirts at their disposal.

Circling around the place as well was an African-American pastor from the Milwaukee God Squad who, according to their t-shirts, were "Born to raze hell." I personally had nothing against the God Squad. I think I have a few of their action figures that come with self-righteous kung-fu grip and Biblical truth decoder rings. The pastor was with a, how shall I say this, more "urban" looking fellow dressed in an oversized Rocawear jacket and a large beige Band-Aid across the side of his face, who spent the afternoon passing out copies of the Constitution to people.

The pastor had apparently spoken at the Sheboygan tea party that drew thousands of people, substantially more than the couple hundreds at the shelter that Sunday afternoon.

"It's probably because of the holiday weekend," the organizer said to me, before starting the program.

Before the singing of the National Anthem, there had been only what I could describe as an audio version of Behind the Music as they played a dramatic reading of how Francis Scott Key came to write the tune of great patriotism. After the tape, a young blond woman in a red shirt and a jean skirt came up and did a proficient rendition of the Anthem.

She was then followed by a short, Danny Devito-esque man who apparently was the host of an internet radio program called Halls of Valhalla, which is sort of entertaining on multiple levels. It seemed so on-the-nose appropriate that soliders in the culture war would have their campfire chats of sorts to a program named after Norse mythology of a place where people go when they died in combat.

As he told the enthusiastic crowd, the event was being broadcasted that very moment on his internet show, proving that even though the revolution may not be televised, it will at the very least be live-streamed.

"It would be so nice if something would make sense for a change."Alice, Alice in Wonderland

As the day wore, speakers came and went. Reporters appeared and left as well, doing their brief segments for the local news programs.

And there I stood, seated at the Mad Hatter's tea party as the discussion was centered on about what happened in the Soviet Union with their health care and people drifted about with their plates of chicken and green beans and their Rush Limbaugh "Ditto Heads" t-shirts.

I eventually crawled out of the proverbial rabbit hole and left the tea party, walking along side the water that ran along side Copeland Park.

It was a bit like coming out of a surreal dream, to be totally honest.

But there was little time to dwell on it. I had finished my story and now it was back out to the corner, out to find the next big thing.

Today a tea party, tomorrow the world, my lovelies.
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