JIM DODSON: Just an Average Week in America
I was in the kitchen last Wednesday evening, making my world-famous spaghetti sauce, when a pollster called.
She pleasantly identified herself as "Kim" from a national polling organization conducting research on key "battleground" states. I got pretty excited because frankly I've been a registered voter for more than 30 years and once covered three consecutive presidential campaigns as a reporter, but had yet to be interviewed by a national polling organization.
Our conversation went more or less like this.
"Hi!" the caller said. "My name is Kim. We're conducting a poll to determine what's really on the minds of average Americans here on the eve of the last debate and in the final few weeks before this historic presidential election. You have been identified as an independent swing voter in a key battleground state in this year's election. Do you have a minute, Mr. Dobson, to answer a few really important questions?"
"Sure," I said, putting my sauce on simmer. "But it's Dodson, Kim. And I am indeed a registered independent -- though I'm hardly average."
"Beg your pardon?"
"My theory is there's no such thing as an average American, Kim. What is average? Aren't we all unique? A nation of rugged individualists? Can't anyone be vice president of the United States? Besides, don't you think we've had enough name-calling for one long political season?"
There was brief silence on Kim's end. The sauce simmered nicely on mine. Then Kim cleared her throat.
"Well, sir," she said, "that's just a basic term of reference we use to identify the feelings of everyday, ordinary Americans -- the people who, you know, make this country work." She laughed in an offhand manner that made me think of a certain vice presidential candidate who likes to call herself a regular Joe, a six-pack Annie.
"If you were concerned about my feelings, you wouldn't call me ordinary, either," I pointed out to her. "You've obviously never tried my world-famous spaghetti sauce. The key is fresh porcini mushrooms and a nice red wine. I just found a cheap but interesting Cabernet hidden in the basement. This sauce is going to be special."
"Uh, right. OK. Well, anyway, here's the first question."
She asked me how the current financial crisis was affecting our household budget and lifestyle.
"We're eating at home more often," I answered truthfully. "That's why I'm making my world-famous spaghetti sauce. My wife is working late, and I'm going to surprise her with supper. She's well above average, by the way. She'd probably make a great vice president. We could dine at home and save the American people a bundle of dough. My wife bakes, too. She could make the inauguration cake!"
I heard Kim sigh. In the parlance of pollsters, I was what's known as an "eager talker," someone who refused to clam up long enough to give simple answers to complex questions. This perhaps explained why no pollster ever bothered to ever track me down -- this and the fact that I move around a lot and they think I'm a Dobson when I'm actually a Dodson.
Before I could get this off my chest, though, Kim hurriedly ticked off several issues believed to be important to this year's critical independent swing voters. She mentioned higher taxes, the wars, the vanishing middle class, the ballooning deficit and maybe something or other about Sarah Palin lipstick choices and Barack Obama's oversized ears.
"Who do you think most average Americans blame for the financial crisis this country finds itself in -- Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Congress or President Bush?"
"There you go again -- calling names," I said, borrowing a famous line from one of the presidential campaigns I covered way back when. "Between you and me, Kim, I'll probably vote for whoever does the least name-calling."
"Do you plan to watch tomorrow night's final debate?"
"You betcha," I replied, dumping the rest of the cheap Cabernet into my sauce.
"Thank you for your time, Mr. Dobson," Kim said pleasantly, hanging up as if she'd mistakenly phoned some average kook who'd fallen into the cooking sherry.
By lunchtime on Thursday, this "average American" thing was starting to bug the daylights out of me. Some friends and I went to Dog Nation in Aberdeen. I decided to see if I could actually find any so-called "average Americans" in Aberdeen. What's more all-American, I ask you, than a couple of dogs all the way for lunch?
Our waitress was a lovely woman named Dee Riley. Dee was such a friendly and upbeat person you half expected her to give you a hug to go with your lunch. In my book, Dee was far above average.
But just to be on the safe side, I asked her bluntly, "Excuse me, Dee. But do you think of yourself as an average American?"
"Of course not," Dee answered. "I'm a Southern waitress."
She explained that this meant she was naturally polite and friendly and fully prepared to give you a hug if and when you needed it. But she also admitted she had learned some tough economic realities in the waitressing racket.
"There's no such thing as a free lunch in America anymore -- unless you're a kid," Dee explained, handing me the bill.
"You're good on your feet," I pointed out to Dee. "You'd make a great vice president. You could waitress at your own inaugural party!"
"Wouldn't want the job," she shot back. "Long hours. Lousy tips."
That afternoon, I talked to two more people to see if they knew any average Americans who might make a good vice president. One was a dude painting our building. Another was the nice lady at the dry cleaners on the way home from work.
"I used to think I was just a pretty average Joe," the building painter admitted during a break, adding: "But then I got a new bass boat. Now I'm murdering the fish."
"Move over, Dick Cheney!" I told him.
"The average customer, if there is such a thing," allowed the nice lady at the dry cleaners, "likes his shirts lightly starched and on hangers. But it may be trending the other way toward no starch and folded. People are becoming much more sensitive to the environment. That's a good thing."
"You'd make a great vice president," I proposed to her. "You could do all the White House dry cleaning and save this country a bundle!"
"Would I have to work weekends?" she wondered.
Kids Are No Help
That night, before the big debate, I phoned both my kids. They're in college, both poised to vote in their first presidential election ever, one way up north in Vermont, the other over the horizon in Elon.
"Hi, honey," I said to my faraway daughter, Maggie, "Do you think of yourself as average American? And, if so, would you like to be vice president of the United States?"
She laughed. "Dad, be serious. I'm not old enough yet. " Then she asked me for a new pair of Uggs. She's personally doing her patriotic best to keep America's retail economy afloat.
"Hi, Junior," I said to my son Jack, who has a growing interest in national affairs and a very cute girl named Natalie.
"Say, do you think of yourself as an average American?"
He laughed, too. "No, but Natalie might," he said. "I may see the most average political candidate ever tomorrow, though." He explained that he was planning to attend a Sarah Palin rally on Thursday afternoon. "Doesn't she call herself Jane Six-Pack?"
"I think the correct term is Caribou Barbie," I corrected him. "But she's hardly your average vice presidential candidate." Most of those looked like Dick Cheney.
My politically astute son couldn't chit-chat long. Debate night in America was beginning. Or maybe he needed to go make out with Natalie.
How About Joe?
In any case, a little while later, the most unexpected thing happened at the final presidential debate when John McCain started talking about "Joe the Plumber," an "average Joe" from Holland, Ohio, who was worried about his taxes going up under Barack Obama's proposed income tax plan. The Republican candidate for president mentioned Joe the Plumber four times more than the Iraq War.
By the next morning, "Joe the Plumber" was a household name across America. He had his own page in Wikipedia. I turned on CNN and there he was, hairless Joe Wurzelbacher, standing in his driveway giving his ordinary opinions to a grateful nation.
"I'm just an average guy," Joe explained to the scrum of reporters, "a single dad with a kid, a house, a dog, several rifles and a bass boat." He used the opportunity, however, to let America know what was " on the minds of Average Joes everywhere," which included cutting taxes, downsizing the government, and putting undocumented immigrants on a bus he would personally drive back across the border. I half expected Joe Wurzelbacher to announce he was running for vice president.
The next afternoon, with my grand political theory about there being no such thing as average Americans all shot to pieces by the spreading fame of Joe the Plumber, I walked over to Broad Street to watch the Pinecrest Homecoming parade.
That seemed like the ideal way to end just another average week in America.
In the excitement before the band fired up and the parade started, I asked a cute cheerleader if she thought she might, in fact, be just an average cheerleader. After all, "average" is suddenly "in" and a former cheerleader had recently served our nation as president of the United States.
"No way," she declared, shaking her pompons in my face. "Go Pinecrest! Beat Hoke County!"
It made a formerly above-average guy like me pretty proud to be an ordinary American after all. But I have to tell you, fellow voters, my world-famous spaghetti sauce really is to die for.
Jim Dodson, writer-in-residence at The Pilot, can be reached by e-mal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story