Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Slats: A Non-Origin Story

“Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again”

I am oft asked about Slats, my mentor (of sorts).  A recurring theme is, “Why didn’t he make it Big?”  “He could have been a James Carville, a Paul Tully (n.b.: look him up), a Lee Atwater (twisted, evil little freak that he was, he was a Talent); much better than that ghoul Bob Shrum.”  Yes, I have heard it all.  

Over the course of many besotted (in the archaic sense of the word) evenings, and some afternoons, both during and after my tenure at his company, I was able to piece together his arc.

You see, during the course of every conversation in a public place, Slats’ eyes would invariably wander to the nearest woman (or women) that he found attractive. This is hardly an unusual behavior for a heterosexual man of his (or any other) generation.  But it was not the glances there were the issue, it was the pursuit, which dominated a great deal of his time, off hours and on.

An obsession is a thought; a compulsion is an act.  When it came to sex, he possessed both the “O” and the “C” with a fervor that younger men found admirable…and more mature men recognized as problematic.  It became clear, to me at least, that he was pursuing something, and not someone…and that whatever feeling or state of being he sought, he would never catch it.  He believed, as he implied in moments of extreme candor, that his world could be made whole again, if he just met the right Someone (even when he was already married).  In his mind, he was <this> close to finding the One.  That whatever was denied him in the past would be restored. That his pain would be forever salved.

He did (rarely) find someone wonderful, yet he always seemed to bungle it, for reasons which I can scarcely fathom and I guess he may never comprehend…even in his dreams when the lies we tell ourselves are stripped away.

“Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping”

Of course one can never know what it is truly in the mind of another.  Message producer/message recipient…even in ideal situations, there is always static that impedes communication, to say nothing of the unambiguous fuck-ups in both word and deed.  But at some point, perhaps during the late hours during moments of solitude and despair, the idea of More (see: Schopenhauer) festered.  And it, perhaps, drove him.  Political consulting, a former passion of his, became merely a means to an end.  He was good enough, and better than most, when he applied himself.  Yet he was never fully “present” as the Vipassana folks say. Not 100% mindful.

“And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence”

And as he got older, I saw more of a feral desperation in his eyes.  An existential angst that was growing more intolerable as he sought to reconcile his fears with his place in the universe.  A fear that he would never be who he was supposed to become.  A fear that he would not only never be content, but that his troubles would become insurmountable.  That the choices he had made were demanding payment in full.  And even when he managed to make a correct decision, a self-destructive impulse would foil his better instincts.  This drove people, good people, away from him.

“In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone”

Of course, he labored in an era where prose and poetry meant more than data analytics.  Campaigns like Fred Harris ’76 were of a time and place, long before the rise of Big Data, back when Pat Caddell was idealistic, and not too far removed from college.  Segmentation overtook the craft.  And even bearing in mind some brutal campaigns in the early days of our Republic, it feels as though campaigning, and governing, have become coarsened.  Perhaps more transparent, but less illuminating.

'Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp”

Slats may be a living fossil. A T-Rex in a post-Cretaceous world.  Out of place, out of time. Eyes full of regrets and the “angel’s share” from a single-malt.  He must know, by now, that his number will probably never be called. He persists but with a creeping world-weariness that is veering into nihilism.  A few short years, perhaps, until the Flash and the Void.

“When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night”

Which, of course is why I bring up Slats MacCune, a living tragic figure and monument to another era. His obituary is already written, yet he draws breath.  The only variable is how Act III concludes, and when.  And then applause, and Fin.

“And touched the sound of silence.”

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