Back in the summer of 2000, on the eve of the 54th quadrennial presidential election, Fred Mauney, a homeless man with few possessions other than the clothes on his back, a secondhand bicycle, and an American flag he’d “liberated” from a shuttered Coca-Cola plant, set out on a transcontinental political crusade. What Mr. Mauney DID have going for him was a great, all-purpose slogan. TAKE BACK AMERICA! read the sign on his back. As he pedaled his way across the heartland, people waved, car horns honked, strangers cheered and handed him money. From time to time reporters would flag him down and ask for interviews, transcripts of which are long on passion albeit mostly content free. I, myself, had no idea what Fred was going on about.
In Washington, Fred peddled up and down Pennsylvania Avenue and around the White House towing a billboard. PIGS AT THE TROUGH, it read. Again, people on the pavement cheered. In Boston, a limo with opaque passenger windows pulled alongside Fred’s bike. Green party candidate Ralph Nader offered his hand. “I like him,” declared Fred afterward. “I’m gonna vote for him.”
In November, Al Gore collected a majority of the popular vote, after which the vote recount in Florida was suspended and George W. Bush was appointed president. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader received one vote.
I haven’t heard from Fred lately, but I think of him whenever I see on television an orange raccoon wearing a baseball cap that reads MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. It’s a slogan that seems to resonate with many of the same folks who were inspired by Fred Mauney’s slogan. But why? Looking back over my own 73 years, I’m hard pressed to think of a time when I was better off than I am now. Never once have I envied the rich, least of all the spoiled-rotten rich. Matter of fact, I feel sorry for the poor bastard who can’t even compose a complete sentence, let alone a coherent paragraph.
As for the upcoming election, may I refer you to another homeless vagabond friend of mine: Floyd D. Eaton, resident and self-appointed constable of the West Wendover city dump. If anyone had known hard times in America, it was Floyd, and if anyone had a right to complain, it was also Floyd. Yet he was always in good humor and content with his lot. As for politics, citizen Eaton was resolutely unaffiliated. “I’ve never voted in my life,” he once told me. “When it comes to putting gangsters into public office, I want no part of it.”