Joe and Kamala’s Big Ideah: A Children’s Illustrated

“I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.”

– The Bard, “My Back Pages” (1964)

Hope and change are dead. And that’s a shame. Americans are unlikely to support a politician making similar promises in the future because Obama has made them impossible to believe.

– Conor Friedersdorf, “The Decline and Fall of ‘Hope and Change’” (2014)

As this old babyboomer gets older, inexplicably, I feel hipper, more in tune with the cosmos than ever before, and yet friskier than ever with the activist thing, the need to save the planet from the oil of dinosaur’s revenge and the slick dinosaurs in DC intent on taking us down with them — like Lost Weekend alcoholics rushing toward the bottom of the bottle.

Having reached the cusp of the Quantum and the literally mind-blowing concept of multiverses, we search for a panic room in the postmodern darkness of Godisdeadville, and, finding AI and the Singularity, lock ourselves into the concept; and yet, paradoxically, the entire culture I belong to hurtles backwards in time, as if the universe we occupy had already started its inevitable collapse — in our minds — and like Benjamin Button, we are on what Katherine Anne Porter called, the downward path to wisdom. To a Vangelis soundtrack, Carl Sagan poignantly once said we are “star stuff,” and now science sells us graveyards of bone stars awaiting us ahead, like some unenlightened charnel house of false gods. Not even Rod Serling there to make sense of it all.

I was brought down to Earth from this bone-headed reverie by CNN’s breaking news that Joe Biden has picked his running mate! We are now to fawn over the Democrat’s choice for VP, Kamala Harris, ex-AG of California. I own that I don’t really know much about her. I knew she was of subcontinental Indian heritage, which I counted to her favor, remembering I read a poll somewhere one time that claimed Indians were, per capita, the smartest cookies on the planet. Coulda been a snark, though. And it didn’t hurt for an old hippy to be told he Dad was a rastafarian. Excuse me while I light spliff. Indian and Black. Sweet Jesus, yeah!

Of course, that was leavened with the chilling other read I had on Indians one time that said they went ahead and nicknamed their first nuke, ostensibly with Pakistan in mind, The Smiling Buddha. Jesus. And it made me think of a fella from Lahore I hung out with at grad school who kept pounding a table in a working class barroom in Troy, NY, emoting, “You Americans want to blow up the whole whorled,” while George Thorogood on the jukebox rocked the cavern with “I Drink Alone.” Jesus. And also, how would I know if her Dad wasn’t just another “bag o’ wire”? Oh-oh-seven at Ocean Eleven.

Alright, to discover more about Kamala, I did what we do these days and conjured up her Wikipedia entry, because I was told it always tells the truth. Coulda been a snark, though. All the usual political pablum and air-brushed biographical information that read like it was running for office. Still, there were interesting tidbits. Felony convictions skyrocketed; her enemies sneered “fire sale deals.” She was young, she was ambitious, favored long sentences and throwing the key away (like, say, William Barr, the King of Lock Them Up).

And other stuff. Sordid tales of “Ink-Stained Hell,” an imagined urban phantasmagoria of graffiti madness — prophet’s words in tenement halls, drawn conclusions on Dylanesque walls — that only Kamala could solvent. She condemned a Jew; and, washing her hands, charged him with 9 felonies; none of them false prophecy, however. Damn. Apparently, heeding Dad’s wise advice, she had “a policy of not pursuing jail time for marijuana possession.” Righteous. She prosecuted Charley Charles for arsonating his son, Dave Dave, over a custody battle. She’s been there for “Voice of God” crimes. She’s been there to knuckle sandwich “gay panic defenses.” She was there at the Cow Palace to ban guns. She hates death. Why penalize her for that? She got juvie recidivists Back on Track and sent on a one-way ticket to the GED and a chance at college. Teary stuff.

But the bit that had the most resonance for me was her effort to combat primary school truancy in Frisco. I own that I took this battle personally. I recall my years as a truant well. She was right to castgate the indifferent (at best) parents. Still, truancy helped make me what I am today. I’d spend hours at the library, reading. And Christ, the adventures I went on. I used to sneak onto the subway at State Street with a coat hanger down the coin slot, the station just under the spot where Crispus Attucks took one for the team in 1770. I’d ride to the Aquarium, make faces at the fishes. Cross the tracks over the 3rd rail. Slide down the escalator rails. Check out the buskers, including the beauty playing “20th Century Fox.” Step up secret train tunnel passages like Harrison Ford. But, also, I was sad for undisclosed reasons, and felt, a lot of the time like, Antoine Doinel, a boy in search of milk (and more than once a bottle fell off a truck outside Hood’s). Jesus.

Well, you can’t really draw much of a bead from Wikipedia entries, onnacounta their need to be all things to all people. Sometimes the entries seem to be trying too hard to get you to like them. You can’t see it. but you know there’s a Miss Congeniality smile lurking, probably subliminal, like those old Hidden Persuader ice cubes with sex in them. Luckily for all of us trying to figure out just who Kamala is — for herself, when no one else is around — she recently favored us all with a new illustrated children’s book, Superheroes Are Everywhere, that lays out her attitude and approach to stuff that even the dumbest shits amongst us can figure out what she’s on about. Community organizing, you know, like President Hope and Audacity. This is very helpful information before voting, a friend tells me. Unless he was snarking.

You could probably sum the thesis of the book up with — well, as Kamala herself does: It’s “a picture book with an empowering message: Superheroes are all around us–and if we try, we can all be heroes too.” It’s a wonderful Ideah she posits. I loved my superheroes when I was a kid. George Reeves, who played Superman on TV, was a hero, until he shot himself with kryptonite bullets, and took my levity with him. The book starts with happy lines:

Faster than a rocket ship! Stronger than a tidal wave! Braver than a lion! Superheroes always make the world better, no matter what goes wrong.

Jaded, I thought, we’re gonna need a rocket ship when the floods come, and nobody’s heard from Noah for a while, another hero, and authorities suspect foul play. Braver than a lion? Guess she hasn’t seen the Wizard of Oz.

Kamala then identifies her heroes. The usual suspects: Mom made her feel special with “secret recipes” in the kitchen; she formed a “dynamic duo” with her sister, Maya; her Dad would take her for walks and yell, “Run, Kamala, Run!” And she did, for office! and here we are at the cusp of something special. Her “grandparents in India and in Jamaica were superheroes for standing up for what’s right.” She had heroic friends who made her feel safe. Teachers are heroes (yeah, but why all the truancy then?). Mrs. Shelton was kind, and served biscuits and gumbo. Heroes explore with you. They’ve got a work ethic. Lawyers were heroes because they protect people. “Who protects you?” They make a difference. Heroes are you. (You talkin to me?) Yes, you. Learn the Hero Code. Read Hemingway, but stay away from guns. Heroes have timelines. Like Facebook. Heroes have lots of photos to sandwich their insipid text around.

Well, it’s heartwarming stuff, especially if you listen to the audiobook of Kamala reading Superheroes Are Everywhere. But not as heartwarming as the 8-minute illustrated children’s book Kamala’s niece, Meena Harris, put out just a couple of months ago, as if she had had a premonition of Joe Biden’s only real choice for running mate, her aunt. The book, Kamala and Maya’s Big Ideah, is a blueprint we can all understand for how Kamala gets things done (with help from heroes, of course), when others might easily have given up. In those several minutes, Meena tells the tale of other mom and aunt just not taking No for an answer. Kamala and Maya want to build a playground on unused land out back. The landlord says No to their ideah; their parents aren’t much better.

But then a hero comes along, Mr. Green (some say chased off the Reservoir Dogs set as an unwelcome extra), and offers his advice on making things nice, and even offers to help build it. Hooray all around: Parents are beaming, the landlord’s no longer saying, “You’re dreaming.” They even manage to install a slide discarded from a school. Well, sometimes, even heroes begin with a world of unhappy hand-me-downs that may or may not be safe. You can watch Meena read the minutes-long book on YouTube. You will be changed.

This is exciting stuff as we begin to support the Better of Two Evils ticket that will help us oust Donald Trump from office and return to the old New World Order. Kamala’s reading made me wonder where she got the ideah of politically influencing viewers by reading a book to children. (Oh yeah.) There’s an escaped goat that turned to tragōidia. Well, let’s hope it’s not a premonition of yet another pearl harbor event. Jesus. And probably reading too much into Superheroes Are Everywhere would just lead to massive paranoia.

I’m looking forward to Kamala Harris in office. I think it’s a great ideah. Her name means water lily, you know. We’ve had a Turd Blossom in the White House, but not yet a water lily. Maybe we’ll finally get that ‘kinder, gentler’ frisson we’ve all been dying for. In office, if we’re lucky, maybe Kamala will put some kind of toxic, sexy attractant in her hair and invite old Joe in for an inappropriate moment. She can reach around and hold his head down as he smells her coiff, give him a good whiff. With luck, he’ll quietly cark it minutes later in the Oval Office, and we’ll have our first Black Indian woman president. Jesus.

A real American hero.

John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.