It's important that I keep my composure, so I squint my eyes closed and casually rub them under my glasses with one hand. I can't look scared or anxious. It's important everyone take this seriously, but I can't be too serious or they might worry it's true. I have to maintain focus.
"It's ridiculous." Chris is young, but all the best media consultants are. Young people learn about traditional avenues, old methods, in school, and they understand new media and trends in a way the previous generation never can. "It's a classic last ditch effort -- a divisive issue aimed at conservative swings. It'll never fly."
Paul agrees. "It's so transparent Helen Keller can see through it." Even Murray smiles at that one. I let myself smile too, and Jessica relaxes a little. "Still, you know what they say about the two things that can kill a political career..."
"We've all seen True Colors," Chris laughs. The others join him. You can't pretend to be all wise with a quote from True Colors in a room full of 30 year old aspiring politicians.
"I get to be James Spader," Jean says, jutting her hand in the air. More laughter. The seriousness is rapidly draining from the room.
"Nobody gets to be James Spader," I say. "If I can't be James Spader, nobody gets to be James Spader. And I refuse to be John Cusack." They laugh more, but now I've got their attention. "Seriously, how do we respond?" I let my eyes relax, so they are inquisitive but unconcerned. In the background I'm monitoring my heartbeat, keeping it low and calm. I don't do yoga anymore -- too many people think it's weird and it colored every poll they ran early on, but I still employ the subtler tricks I learned.
Murray speaks now, finally. "I don't think we should."
"If we come out now, before the story gets to any substantial press..." Paul is all for preemptive maneuvers. It's saved us before, and I nod with him.
"No. It's too ridiculous. If we come out now, we can't say it's ridiculous, because it was obviously important enough for us to jump on it," says Chris. His eyes look to me and to Murray for approval. "Let's wait to see who picks it up."
"Besides Drudge," Jean adds.
"Besides Drudge," Chris concurs.
Jessica touches my thigh lightly. "Do we really think it's that big a deal? I mean, a rumor? In 2004? In California? It doesn't seem like that big a deal." She's not naive, but sometimes so idealistic you can't tell the difference.
"I'm an upstart liberal contender vying for an open seat in a district that has gone solid Republican in the last 4 elections, in 10 of the last 12, and I'm winning by a hair," I say. "This could well be very serious."
That's Murray's cue. "Jean -- I need a draft in two hours. It's ridiculous, it's all politics. don't make it sound too serious, but don't be too dismissive."
"And don't be offensive," I add. "It's important that the community know I continue to support the rights efforts and ... you know. I'm just not gay."
"Not that there's anything wrong with that," Paul injects, and Chris laughs again. Jean makes a show of polishing the "DYKE" button on her jacket with her sleeve. Jessica laughs a little, too, which makes me feel a little more relaxed. Murray stops the laughter with a look -- he's all business.
"Reach out to blogs and stuff -- start with our friends." This is directed at Chris. "Don't be specific, but find out where the story is flowing from, and where it's going. Names, if possible. It shouldn't be too hard to be vague: 'four days out, just wanna take a pulse of the upcoming stuff, any good gossip, can we get a heads up?' Shit like that."
"Otherwise, we just wait and see?" Paul asks.
"That's the plan," says Murray.
I look at Murray. He didn't even ask me if it was true. I don't know if he cares. Maybe he has his suspicions -- it's not outside the realm of possibility. He's met some of my college friends. I wonder if I've retained my cool enough around him. Jessica is easier -- she wants to believe it's not true. It's easy to play with someone who wants to believe. Michael Murray is ambivalent. All he wants is enough factual information so that he can take appropriate action. He's the perfect campaign manager, the perfect political machine. He's also a hell of a guy. He should be running in my place. He's charismatic enough, but when we first discussed getting off our asses and actually doing something about the state of affairs, he made it clear he didn't want to spend all of his time glad-handing and kissing babies. He wanted to actually do stuff. So I got to be the candidate, and Murray the campaign manager. If this works out, he'll be chief of staff. We've all seen enough West Wing episodes to know that's where the real power resides. Not that the California State Senate is the White House, but there are some parallels.
"Let's go." Murray gestures for everyone to get out of my tiny office.
My brain clicks twice -- now's the time. "Paul -- wait." Everyone leaves except Murray, Paul and Jessica, who has stopped in the doorway. Wife's prerogative. "I think I know someone who can help. Can you track down a Gary Modesto? Last I knew he was in Woodland Hills."
It comes out of Jessica's mouth first, but they are all saying it. "Who's Gary Modesto?"
This is the important part. This is the part that makes me a good politician. These three people, especially Jessica, especially Murray, know my tells. My ticks. This is the part where I prove my quality. "He's a guy I knew in college." That takes care of Jess. I met her two years after college. I met Murray after that, but he's not so easy. "Not super well, but if this thing does get rolling, he may be able to help stop it."
Murray is all cool and calm. "Why don't we know him?"
"He's not a politician." Truth and lies, mixed together, that's the trick. Important to make them sound the same. "But he has -- had -- some friends at the Times. I dunno. Maybe he can help us shape the story if it gets out of hand."
"When's the last time you saw him?" Murray is skeptical, but he would be under any circumstances.
"Is he a Democrat?" Paul asks obvious questions. He's here 'cause he's a way easier mark than the other two, and that helps diffuse the situation.
"Six years? Seven? I dunno. And yes, he is. Or, he was. I can't imagine he'd cross over."
Paul shrugs. "I guess it can't hurt."
"As long as we can trust him," Murray adds.
I nod my head. "I think we can trust him."
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