Barry Friedman: Election memories–live and on tape

Barry Friedman writes the column, “Barry Friedman At Large” for Tulsa People Magazine, is a  stand-up comedian, and the author of two books, “Road Comic” and “Funny You Should Mention It”.  If  he doesn’t overdose on fruit slices and diet soda, he might become a regular contributor to the OK Policy blog. Barry’s website is at

Scene 1: Delray Beach, Florida

Aunt Marilyn, 89, is yelling at Mitt Romney, yelling at the television as he talks about investment income.

“We don’t have any,” she says.

My dad says Mitt Romney looks constipated.

Uncle Leo, 91, eating fruit slices and pretzel M&Ms says after it’s over, “I think Obama got him.”

Leo is liberal, Jewish, a Democrat, and a member of the NRA who’s for stricter gun control laws. He also has macular degeneration.

You heard right.

Marilyn gives me a bag of fruit slices, unopened, and three cans of Coke as we leave. Driving back to the Best Western Plus in Boca Raton, we pass by one billboard of Obama bowing to a Sheik and another which says “Obama: Oy vey.”

I break into the fruit slices.

Next day, we go see my father’s friends and relatives in Boynton Beach: Ida, Selma, the two Pitsys (yes, there are two), Jerry, and Marvin Koralchek, who lives north of here, in Royal Palm Beach.

Marvin worked an election precinct in 2000. He saw the chaos.

He’s doesn’t vote anymore.

Palm Beach County, Broward County. Here is where people voted for Buchanan when they thought they were voting for Gore—my relatives did that, my relatives are the hanging chads.  Now, who knows? They like Romney on Israel; they like Obama on everything else.

Mostly, they talk about death and pain and dinner

Scene 2: Las Vegas, Nevada

In Jeannette’s trailer park community, near the Orleans Hotel, there is a Halloween Costume Party in the clubhouse.

Jeanette is my dad’s girlfriend. Like Marilyn, she hands me cans of diet Pepsi.

(Why do all these old women keep giving me soda?)

They are all on Medicare; they would all be dead without it.

Fidel Castro is dancing with Pocahontas, as the Elvis impersonator, the Master of Ceremonies—it’s his sound system—changes the song from Staying Alive to On the Sunny Side of the Street.

Women, friends of Jeannette, arrange the potluck supper.

It’s strangely beautiful, strangely sad.

All these faces, all these memories, all this America.

How did they all get to a trailer park in Las Vegas?

The Greatest Generation is eating ice cream and rum cake.

Gayle, who’s wearing beads and in a wheelchair, tells me she’s a princess and gives me the secret to Keno.

“Don’t change your numbers,” she tells me, insisting she’s played 2,3,11,12,13,22,32,34 for the past thirty-five years.

She misses her husband.

“He was lucky,” she said.

I ask if I can have her numbers.

The contest finalists are announced: baskets of fruit, a bottle of wine, a gift certificate, kitchen items are given away.

Castro was robbed.

“The last stop on the train,” my grandmother said about this age.

Those in Delray; those here.

For many, this is their last presidential election.

The country did right by them.

And I got five cans of soda.

Later that night, at Orleans, I play Gayle’s numbers.

I lose eighty dollars.

Scene 3: Chicago, Illinois (November, 4, 2008)

You go back to go forwards. It’s election night and Representative John Lewis of Georgia is standing in Grant Park. He is wearing a hat, a fedora—I  remember—and crying as the president gives his acceptance speech. On television, you can see the tears roll down his face—tears so thick, so relentless, they have to be about something else, someone else: Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Fred Shuttlesworth, Medgar Evers and C.T. Vian … those beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge with him in 1965 …  those at home who watched the dogs and water cannons on television, including those now in Delray and Las Vegas—including, perhaps, a four-year-old boy on a living room floor in Hawaii.

That moment in Chicago belonged to all of us; that moment when he got his head cracked open in central Alabama did, too.

We all built it—all of it.

The tears don’t stop.

This too: Between that election and the one last Tuesday, Lewis got a gift from that little boy: an autographed picture.

“Because of you, John–Barack Obama.”

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Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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