Remember When You Could Have a Private Email Server?

I am going to make a confession right now. When I was a cashier at 7-11 one summer years ago, I had a private email server. There, I said it. My actions were wrong and I am sorry.

When I commenced employment in that position, I had been provided with an email account on the store’s server installed right behind the Slurpee machine. But I hardly ever used that account. At work I had to stand up and sell people coffee, cigarettes, lottery tickets, and, of course, Slurpees. It was usually so busy that I had not any time to check email, and at the end of my shift at 10 p.m., I had to quickly bring that day’s leftover doughnuts to my friends who were starving and had money only for beer.

So it was a matter of circumstance that I hired a consultant to set up an email server at my home. Do not think that it was easy. I was still living with my parents and in the same bedroom I’d had since childhood, with the Disney character wallpaper, Superman sheets on the bed, and Thundercats light switch cover that I’d obtained as a favor in a Happy Meal. There was not a lot of space in the closet and I had to relocate my comic books and Boy Scout uniform at considerable inconvenience both to myself and my staff.

After a long day at the cash register I would return home to conduct my business. As you will see from the more than 40,000 emails that have been turned over to the State Department, I never discussed anything classified or that would compromise national security. The Saudis were interested only in some Power Bars, and the photos of potential drone strike targets were in fact from a particularly tense game of Battleship that to this day I swear I played with integrity.

Much has been made of Protocol 32, which mandates, in pertinent part, that all 7-11 business must be conducted on 7-11 servers. I do not deny the text of the rule, and since that time my staff and I have worked tirelessly to come up with a decent excuse. The reason I did not strictly follow the rule is that I did not read it. The package of materials that I received during orientation was shoved under my bed, and in the midst of all my duties and feeding my drunk friends free stale doughnuts I forgot about the rules, until my mother last year served me with a demand to take all my “junk” out of my old room or else I would face environmental clean up costs.

Nevertheless, my conducting of 7-11 business on a private email server was a violation of the rules, and for that I am sincerely sorry. But I assure you that at no point was the nation put at risk. I never told anyone how long the hot dogs are left on those rotating cylinders or who was really responsible for the irritating music that was always playing over the loud speaker. You can all sleep easy, and I hope that we can now all move past this, into a brighter future where my campaign for register clerk at Pita Pan will not be dogged by distractions that have nothing to do with the real issues.

Remember When Presidential Campaigns Did Not Go On Forever?

Presidential campaigns were going on forever.  No sooner would one president be sworn in than people would already start talking about the next president.  It was theorized that the problem was that the campaigns lasted so long that people got bored of all the candidates, including the candidate who eventually won.

So it was decided that the Presidential campaign would last one day.  No one was allowed to do any campaigning – no speeches, no debates, no visits to factories or bakeries or diners or ice cream parlors – until Election Day itself.

Several weeks prior to Election Day, anyone who wanted to be a Presidential candidate could sign up by paying a $2 fee to put their name in the hat.  Then, the day before Election Day, the Chief Justice of the United States would mix up all the names in the hat, and pick two.  These were the two candidates – one Democrat, and one Republican.  It did not matter what these candidate’s real positions were, or what party they had been affiliated  with during their career leading up to the Presidential race.  One had to be the Democrat, and the other had to be the Republican.

These two names were picked at midnight on Election Day, and the first debate was at 5:00 a.m.  The two lucky candidates had to quickly familiarize themselves with the platform that they were supposed to adopt.  The main task was to make sure that they didn’t agree on any issues.  So as they studied their positions from midnight to 5:00 a.m., they often called each other up.  “Hey, so are you against starting that war in whatever that place is?  Oh, you’re for it?  Okay, then I’ll be against it.  Glad I checked.”

After the 5:00 a.m. debate it would be time to raise money and run commercials slinging mud at the other candidate.  Given the little amount of time available to raise funds, checks could not be accepted because of the time required to clear.  Only credit cards, debit cards, and transfers between PayPal accounts would work as valid campaign contributions.

Then at 9:00 a.m., with all the money raised, the two campaigns would set out making TV and radio ads that would cast the other candidate as a totally incompetent and unethical hypocrite who cared more about himself or herself than the American people.  Because there was so little time to produce these ads, there was only time to take an existing ad and splice in the names of the candidates.  The ads were really identical except the two names would be in one order in one video, and the in the reverse order in other video.

Then at noon the two candidates would go on their book tours.  They would appear on talk shows with their new books where they discussed how their simple backgrounds and professional adversity had molded them into the perfect President.  Since there was only one day to appear on the shows, the candidates would have be guests at the same time, sitting at opposite sides of the host’s desk, each holding up their book and sipping from their mugs of coffee.  The host’s main job was to prevent the two candidates from talking at the same time, so the host would turn to one and say, “Now you talk,” while holding up a hand to the other, and then would turn to the other and say, “Okay, now you go.”

At 2:00 p.m. there would be another debate, usually featuring at least one scandal that had been leaked at some point during the day, and the targeted candidate would have an opportunity to look grim and admit that “mistakes were made.”  At 3:00 p.m. the candidates would eat a late lunch at a local restaurant, serving locally grown food on plates manufactured in China.  And by 4:00 p.m. the candidates would be shown at home with their spouses and children so that the American voters could see how ordinary and down to Earth they were.

Finally, at 5:00 p.m. the polls would open.  Americans could vote until 10:00 p.m., at which time the vote tallies would be open to legal challenge.  At 11:00 p.m. any legal challenges had to be ended, and at midnight the new President would be announced.

Everyone would watch the announcement with great excitement.  It would have been a very exciting 24-hours.  And just after the announced winner gave the speech thanking supporters and offering best wishes to the loser, the TV stations would automatically switch to a regularly scheduled program, and no one would speak of campaigns for the next four years.

Remember Election Night?

I’m watching a flat screen television, and on the flat screen television is another flat screen television that shows an image of all the states.  Some states are blue, some states are red, but all states are peppered with little dots that denote locations of Denny’s.  Next to the flat screen—the one on TV, not the one in my living room—stands a news reporter.

He touches one of the states, and the screen zooms in so that the state fills the screen and now all that state’s counties can be seen, some colored blue, and some colored red.  He touches one of the counties and the screen zooms in yet again so that houses can be seen, some blue and some red.  He touches one of the houses and now the rooms of the house fill the screen, some blue and some red.

He touches one of the rooms, and the room grows large so that now two people in the room can be seen.  One person is blue, the other red.  Then he touches one of the people, and now we can see inside the person’s brain.  Some of the brain cells are blue, and some of them are red.  Most of them are green.

A second news reporter comes over and tries to touch the screen.  The first reporter slaps the hand away.

“Only I can touch the magic screen!” the first reporter says, and the awkward moment  that follows is mercifully interrupted by an exciting ritual.  There are loud noises and fireworks, dancers and clowns, fire-eaters on stilts and acrobats, and above them all a graphic that reads “Projection!”  It is announced that one of the states is projected to be painted in a certain color even though only 2% of the votes have been counted.

The channel goes back to the reporters.  The first reporter toggles the screen between this election and the election of 1840, when there were fewer states and more log cabins.  The second reporter has a black eye but tells us that we are now going to hear from a correspondent in one of the voting precincts.

The image shifts to a large cat with a poofy face.  It has green eyes and white whiskers that radiate in perfect symmetry.  Behind the cat are people trying to clear a paper jam from the vote-card reader.

The second reporter speaks to the cat.  “Tell us, what are you seeing in terms of voter turnout?”

The cat licks one of its paws, and then rubs the paw over its face a few times in a circular motion.  Then it looks back at the screen and blinks.

“Yes, that seems to be the story we’re hearing all over the nation tonight.”

My TV goes back to the first reporter with the magic screen.  He is showing what the electoral situation might look like if Florida was rotated 90 degrees towards the Gulf of Mexico.

Then the image on my TV shifts to the headquarters of one of the candidates.  From the sequence of percentages that flash at the bottom of the screen, I can tell, using a slide rule, that this candidate is about to have a lot of free time.  But the people at the campaign headquarters still wave their arms and go “Whoooo” when they see themselves on the big screen.

I eat another piece of leftover Halloween candy.  There is a small mound of wrappers next to the bowl.

We’re back to the first reporter with the magic screen again.  The screen is frozen at the election of 2612, with water covering most of the coastal states, and their votes tallied by counting the bubbles that rise to the surface.  The second reporter is trying to help by sticking a pen into the restart button at base of the magic screen, a terrifying treatment for the first reporter, who apparently forgot to save his work.

Remember When Debates Involved Debating?

When I was in ninth grade and it was announced that we were going to attend a debate by the two candidates for class president, I was surprised to hear that we even had a class president.  Until that moment I had thought our class was governed by an oligarchy of characters from video games who directed the teachers to make us read things like Beowulf.

So one day, instead of spending third period in math class and discussing how a line was equal to itself, we were corralled into the auditorium so that two of our peers could talk about how they were different from each other.

The two candidates stood at podiums on the stage – one on the left, and one on the right.  The candidate on the left, a very nice young woman who until then I had known only as the girl with the purple school bag, was the incumbent president.  The young man on the right – rumored to be a jerk but good at math – her challenger.

After the two candidates each made introductory remarks, displaying their talent for speaking in a monotone directly into a piece of paper, students were allowed to ask questions.  The first question was, “As class president, how would you create more activities for students?”

The left-hand candidate had the chance to speak first, and she said, “Thank you for your question.  Activities are a very important part of a student’s life, and I know that you’re hurting for some activities.  I know what it feels like to have nothing to do.  Last year my parents took away my television privileges because they caught me smoking a cigarette.  All afternoon I had nothing to do except stare at a blank wall.  Eventually my parents realized how important television was to me and let me watch it again, and all was right.  So I know what you mean, and when I’m class president I’m going to make sure that students have lots of activities.”

Then the right-hand candidate interjected, “But student activities declined by over twenty percent since you took office at the end of eighth grade!  When I’m class president, we’re going to reverse that trend.”

Then the left-hand candidate said, “That’s not true.  You are not using accurate statistics.  You should do your homework.”

“I don’t need to do my homework,” he replied, “I’ve always been great at math.  I’m in the honors class.”

Then the teacher-moderator stopped the arguing and invited the next question from a student.

“What are you going to do about the quality of the school lunch?”

The right-hand candidate said, “Thank you for your question.  For years we have been under the oppression of the school lunch.  There is a central authority that decides for us what we should be eating, and it isn’t good!  When I’m class president, my plan is to create a marketplace of lunch vendors, so that students can decide for themselves what they want to eat.”

Then the left-hand candidate said, “Privatizing the school lunch might be nice if you get a big allowance.  But for middle-allowance students, a school lunch marketplace is only going to make an expensive lunch even more expensive.  The answer is to make the existing school lunch taste better.  And I’m going to do that as class president.”

“And how are you going to do that?” asked the teacher-moderator.

“Oh, you want me to elaborate?” asked the incumbent.  “We were told we wouldn’t have to elaborate.”

I couldn’t take it anymore.  It was time to ask these candidates a question that was relevant to our lives.  Activities?  School lunches?  These things were not important.  No matter who won this election, we would still have to go to class.  We would still have to get changed for gym.  We would still have to read Beowulf.  Before I knew it, I was standing at the microphone, clearing my throat, and asking my question.

“What exactly does the class president do?” I asked.

The candidates looked stunned for a moment.  I could hear some laughter behind me, and I sensed that I had asked the single question that everyone had wanted to ask.  My heart filled with such joy I felt close to tears.

And the next thing I knew, I was being escorted out of the auditorium while another student asked a question, and the candidates were articulating their five-point plans for implementing a more convenient schedule of late buses.

Remember When Ronald Reagan Was Elected to a Second Term?

Remember when Ronald Reagan was elected to a second term as President of the United States?

I do.

The year was 1984.  My parents thought it would be a good experience to take to me to the place where Americans choose their leaders.  They also probably could not find a babysitter.  Our polling place was the school gym, and it was weird to be at my school at night.

I also ran into a classmate of mine who had been brought by her parents who were also duty their civic duty.  It was one of my earliest experiences of that awkward feeling you get when you know someone from only one setting and you see them in a different setting.  Stranger still was meeting her parents.  Just like I did not think my teacher had a home, but stayed in the classroom all night, I did not think the other kids had parents.  I know that sounds strange, but I could not imagine that a person could have different parents than I had.  It was as if they were living on a different planet.

But the strangest thing all night was that my parents had firmly voted for Walter Mondale.  I distinctly remember telling them on the way over that Mondale was going to lose.  Just like I could not imagine having different parents, I could not imagine having a President other than Ronald Reagan.  He just seemed so…Presidential.

Since then I have gotten used to having different Presidents.  I have also gotten used to people having other parents.  I still think the teachers sleep at the school.