It's not about the house.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

We Carry On

I don’t know if you would’ve heard or not, but my state recently lost its senior senator.

We’re not real big on term limits around here. Our Junior senator – well, I guess he’s Senior, now – has held that seat since 1985. The Lion we just lost has been there my whole life, plus seven years. I don’t know a world without him in it. Although I do distinctly remember a time – oh, this was probably in’92 – when, in a nonbinding referendum, the people of Massachusetts voiced resounding support for the idea of term limitations, while on the same day, on the same ballot, handily electing Teddy Kennedy for the sixth time. We went on to do it twice more after that, and would have kept on doing it forever if he hadn’t gone and died.

I don’t know who your Senator is, or how much you know about him, but one thing everybody here knows about old Teddy is: he did stuff. Not only in the Senate, although you’ve no doubt been hearing plenty about his record there these past few days. But also behind the scenes, on scales both grand and small. He single-handedly kept newspaper presses running, quietly forced companies to stay in town, and if you think we’d have a President Obama now without him, you’re confused. Even President Obama’s fully cognizant of that. And yet, if your grandmother was having trouble with her medicare, all you had to do was call his office. Ted would assign a staff person to cut through the red tape, and then he’d follow up with her, at random intervals, for years.

I’d venture to say everyone in this state is just a degree or two away from someone Teddy personally helped. A kid with cancer. A 9/11 widow. A serviceman or woman whom George Bush told to take the bus home from Indiana after a two-year tour in Iraq.

For me, my closest degree is Johnny.

Well, there was the time he came into the Friendly’s that my mom worked at in high school, and he tipped her $20 on a $7 check. But considering how old Teddy would have been at that point, and the reputation he had in his younger years, I’m going to assume his intentions were not exactly philanthropic there...

Anyway, Johnny never meant to move to America illegally in 1986 – in fact, he never meant to move to America at all. But the person he came here with on vacation (I hesitate to call this person “friend”) stole everything that Johnny had, including his ticket home, and disappeared. Four years later, Ted Kennedy pushed through an immigration bill that became known as the Green Card Lottery. It was supposed to disqualify countries that were sending lots of people over, but because Teddy was involved, Ireland didn’t end up on the list. Johnny put his name in, and two years after that, he got the call.

But there was a catch. You weren’t actually supposed to be here yet. A lot of people were getting the call, flying to their home countries for interviews, and then getting denied their visas because of their illegal residence and never let back in.

On a tip from someone, Johnny called Ted’s office. He told everything to the staffer that he talked to. Explained how he wound up here, said he had nothing in Ireland to go back to. She stayed on the phone with him for a half an hour asking questions, said she’d pass his information on, and told him to call back before he got on the plane. A few weeks later, when he called, she said “You’re all set, Mr. Conroy. When you get there, just make sure to tell them the whole truth like you told it to me.”

Johnny flew over. Watched other people have three or four interviews over a series of days and get denied. But when his turn came, his single interview took twenty minutes, and just like that his visa was approved. It only occurred to us now as we were hashing out the details of this story that, a couple years ago, when his green card was up for renewal and they rubber-stamped it without so much as glancing at the paperwork we spent a week and a half chasing down, that might have been because there’s probably still a Teddy Kennedy check-mark in Johnny’s file.

So if it weren’t for Ted, I wouldn’t have a husband. Johnny, though, if I know him like I think I do, would probably still have a wife. Some poor Irish girl would be listening to him snore, smelling his farts, eating his endless pots of lettuce-soup and wearing t-shirts redolent of his dirty socks. If it weren’t for Teddy Kennedy, goddamnit, I never would have bought the AssVac. I might still have a real job, with paid time off and non-poor-people health insurance even! But then, if it weren’t for Teddy Kennedy, I wouldn’t have an agent, either – or a romantic-farce of a life worth writing down.

For that, then – plus for all the other grander, civic reasons – when Johnny and I heard Ted would be waked at JFK we said we’d go. We changed our plans a few times as schedules got solidified, and then I dicked around (by which I mean: I worked diligently on my Project) a little longer than I meant to Friday morning. So it was almost noon before I emerged from my office and told Johnny I’d work out for half an hour, shower, and by 1:00 I hoped to be ready to hit the road.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

I swear, these days, that boy’s mind’s so full of holes I could toss beanbags through it and win a prize.

But by the time I was done working out, Johnny was showered and shaved, with his hair spit-combed and parted in the middle. By the time I was out of the shower, he’d polished his shoes, pressed his shirt and picked out his own tie. This, from a man who’d be late to his own funeral, and who has to be reminded (every single time) that Levi’s are not appropriate wedding attire. And despite the fact that we’d checked out the live feed from the library and determined people weren’t bothering to dress.

Now, my fancy-clothes options are sorely limited these days. I don’t have summer-weight blacks (although that investment, come to think of it, might not be such a terrible idea) and I don’t think the spaghetti-strapped blue velvet or the sleeveless hothouse-flower-print would have come across as suitably severe. So I convinced Johnny to wear Levi’s after all with his dress shoes and shirt and tie, and I wore black jeans with a grey long-sleeved shirt and brown Frye boots.

Hey, man. Teddy wouldn’t give a shit, so why should you?

We had a little to-do in the car regarding whether we should drive or take the T – we knew there were shuttle buses running, but we didn’t know how often, and since calling hours stopped at 3:00 we were already cutting it kind of close. But then the idiot light on the dash came on and we’d already passed the last gas station on the way, so public transport it would have to be. That’s all right, we told ourselves. Teddy would have wanted it that way.

So we paid $5 to park Chuck (TFT) at North Quincy station, and then $2 each to take the ride. The inbound train was just arriving so we took the stairs at a trot and made it just before they closed the doors. We flopped across from each other in the single seats at the end, and the conductor-lady came over the intercom.

Waa-waa-waa shuttle buses,” she said. “Waa-waa-waa one o'clock. Waa-waa inconvenience. Have a nice day.”


The only thing we could figure was that the shuttle buses must have stopped running for some reason, and if so then we’d just have to take a cab. When we got off the train, though, and before we left the station, we decided to ask three orange-pinnied employees we found loitering on the platform.

“Oh, yeah,” they said. “There’s a 2½ hour wait to get inside. The shuttles stopped running at 1:00 because they have to be done by 3:00. You could still go, if you wanted, but you’d never be able to get inside.”

I thanked them, silently, and crossed over to the outbound platform.

“Why are you crying?” my husband asked, incredulous.

“Because,” I sniffed, “I wanted to say goodbye. Because I wanted to thank him. And because they should have told us this before they took our money and let us get on the train – but who are we going to call up and complain to about it now?”

That last was, I’m not ashamed to say, a plaintive wail.

“Ah, shore,” Johnny said, putting his arm around me. “It’s just money, love. It's just nine dollars. It would’ve cost you that to see him, anyway, so now all it did was cost you that to not.

"Everybody pays respects in their own way," he went on, "and so did we. We fuck things up, my love, that’s what we do. Couldn’t organize a pissup in a brewery, we couldn’t. You and me, we’d fuck up a wet dream. Couldn’t score in a brothel with hundred-dollar-bills pinned to our collars. Useful as a fart in a windstorm. Worse than a nun with a bag of mickeys, what?"

That last one made me laugh so hard I snorted. "Gross!" I said. "What would a nun be doing with a bag of mickeys?"

"My point exactly," he answered with a wink. "C’mere, we’ll hit the Irish Pub on the way home and raise a glass. I know you’re not supposed to be drinking these days, but if you can’t have one to send off Teddy Kennedy, sure you might as well be in the ground yourself.”

And so we did.

Thanks for my husband. Really, Ted. May you be in heaven forty years before the devil knows you’re dead.

At which point, if we're very lucky, we'll still be re-electing whichever poor sucker steps up to try to fill your noble shoes*

* Update, January 19, 2010: Um, if we're even a little lucky, no we won't.


12ontheinside said...

I have read lots of things about Ted Kennedy this week. I've rolled my eyes and turned the page on most of them. This however? A rather moving account of why it's big news - for lots of little reasons.

Anonymous said...

My husband (an admirer of quality coloring) had never voted for a democrat in his life before Teddy. When out daughter was severely burned as a todler, his office called our insurance company to tell them how concerned they were about a denial of coverage. The insurance had told me I'd get their decision on my appeal in 2 weeks. Teddy's office called them and I got a call in ONE HOUR telling me everything would be covered. I can only hope someone else will try to step into those big shoes. Beautiful tribute Erin, and I'm joining you in raising a glass to old Teddy.

Khurston said...

I think you also have the house you grew up in to thanks Teddy for. I'll have to confirm with mom & dad, but I believe that after they bought the land, the developer absconded with their deposit for the contruction. He may have bankrupted, I don't recall for sure. Dimes were tight then, and I'm pretty sure we'd have grown up on Tilton St if mom hadn't decided that she couldn't like with 'sorry, nothing you can do,' so she called Kennedy's office. Again, I'm fuzzy on the details, but I know they were able to get back the $$ they'd lost and find a new contractor. Darn nice house they built, too, even if the pain job looked they used turquoise jewelry as a paint swatch. Zoinks.

Poppo said...

Even us EGE!! Way back when you were still toddling we had placed a deposit on a HUD 235 house and when the developer delayed to the point that we backed out and he refused to return our deposit it was Teddy's office that got us our money back. In those days $1,000 was a lot of money, especially to us. Even though he was the Lion of The Senate he still espoused tip's "All politics is local" theory.

Khurston said...

aha and that is the...


of the story.

Jenni said...

It is all the little things that add up to huge accomplishments.

The little things are the ones the make the most impact on lives and are remembered for a lifetime.

It is sad that most elected officials would not give a second thought to those little things.

Teddy would have like your tribute at the Irish Bar.

Oh and I just saw the Princess Bride linky over there. It made me laugh. Thanks. I like that you change those out every now and then.

Penelope said...

Very moving tribute. I am very sorry for your loss, for your state's loss, and for the nation's loss. I am also very sorry that my state has inflicted the anti-Teddys (Sens. Coburn and Inhofe) on us all.

Long live the memory of Teddy.

Hubert said...

I suspect that Johnny and Teddy would make a superb musical. Something mixing the howls of Rodgers and Hammerstein and the strangeness of Highway 66. Both noises that I associate with Johnny - one more favourably than the other.

I saw Dave today - who (in his unique way) mentioned Johnny and Kennedy. He told me he heard "Rivendell" when he heard of Kennedy dying. There is a connection to Johnny - who was never going to fart cabbage in the Northside. "Rivendell" was one of the songs on the tape Dave made. Sadly, he has given up music now. Which is a bad thing.

Whatever their faults, both Kennedy and Conroy are rare moments of human history to treasure.