On a shelf in Kevin E. Hooks' West Hollywood office is a photo of the PR executive hanging out with Hillary Clinton.
On another is a framed letter that says: "Dear Kevin, Happy Birthday! Hillary and I send our very best wishes."
It's signed by Bill Clinton.
And then there's the application Hooks has filled out to be a delegate at the Democratic National Convention. In 1992, he attended as a Bill Clinton man. On his application this time, he has circled "Hillary Clinton" as his choice.
So she's a shoo-in for his vote on Super Tuesday, right?
Nope. The application has "been sitting on my desk for two weeks," Hooks says. "I can't bring myself to send it."
Hooks, 37, who is African American, says he has never had so much trouble making up his mind in a primary. It's critical, he says, because the Democratic nominee is likely to become the next president.
I met Hooks almost seven years ago at a mayoral debate. He liked Antonio Villaraigosa then. But at Tolliver's, a South L.A. barbershop where the tongues are sharper than the razors, the elders told him he had to vote for Ken Hahn's son, Jim, because Daddy was a friend of the black man. Hooks decided he needed to see both candidates in person before making up his mind, and he went with Villaraigosa.
The presidential primary has a little deja vu in it, Hooks says. Some elders in the black community are backing Hillary because they liked Bill. But Hooks is still his own man, and once again he wants to see the candidates square off in person before deciding. Clinton is solid on policy, Hooks says, but Obama is inspirational.
"Black people are not ashamed to tell me directly, 'You should support the brother,' " he says. His young secretary, for instance.
Did the Clintons call to thank him for his support in the past, and ask him to come through again?
No, Hooks says.
Then vote for the brother, I tell him. But Hooks wants to vote for the candidate who will make the better president, and that's what he can't figure out.
"If I felt the next president should be focused on repositioning the U.S. brand globally, I think Barack Obama is best-suited," Hooks says, given Obama's opposition to the war and his outsider image.
"If you believe the most important thing the next president can do is to repair the infrastructure," meaning to focus on nuts-and-bolts domestic issues, then Hooks thinks Clinton's experience makes her the better choice.
Personality-wise, Hooks says, it's no contest. Clinton is cold and hard-edged, while Obama has a Robert Kennedy-esque knack for winning over a room. But he can't be everywhere at once on Super Tuesday, and, as Hooks points out, inspirational prose about unity doesn't necessarily translate into action in Washington's sausage factory.
Obama seems to have cast a spell on some of the barbershop regulars, though, as we discover when Hooks dials Lawrence Tolliver and asks where the barbershop stands.
They've all but printed up the bumper stickers, Tolliver says: "Vote Obama, or I'll slap your mama."
Hooks' ticket to the debate fell through at the last minute, so we'll both watch it at Tolliver's, and then we'll see where he stands.