(Sean McCabe / Los Angeles…)
I first saw a picture of the man who would be my husband on an Internet dating site. I took one look at the tattooed arms, the flinty, Steve McQueen-like stare, the sardonic twist of his smile, and I yelled over my shoulder, "Mom, check this one out! I think this guy's looking for me."
Mom, out visiting from her retirement in New Mexico, ambled up to assess the candidate on the screen. "Yum, yum," came the verdict. Then she added, "But he's probably a Republican."
Coming from her, that was like saying the man beats his dog when he's not in prison. As far as my family is concerned, God himself is not only Irish, he's a Democrat. Great-Aunt Ethel and Great-Uncle Jim O'Brien's idea of home decor was to hang framed pictures of the pope and JFK on the dining room wall. During the last seven years, Mom has forsaken most major news outlets for fear of coming across the latest pronouncements from George W. (Bad for her blood pressure, you understand.)
My response: Ha ha. Very funny, Mother. Why do you always have to find fault? Or words to that effect.
Of course, the joke was on me. Four months later, I found myself seated at a swanky fundraiser for the California Republican Party, deep in the red heart of Orange County. The tattooed bad boy named Jimmy Camp was indeed a Republican. Not merely a Republican, but a well-established campaign manager and political consultant for the GOP. He'd even run U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch's bid for president. That is to say, relative to my politics, I had fallen in love with Darth Vader and was dining aboard the Death Star.
After Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's speech to the 500 or so assembled faithful, but before conservative radio talk-show host Dennis Prager took the mike, my love and I slipped outside to share a cancer stick. Jimmy had forgotten matches, so he bummed a light from a woman puffing on her own cigarette. The two had worked together on campaigns and fell into easy shop talk, but the woman's eyes narrowed as she began to dish about the governor's chief of staff, who evidently leaned too far left to suit her.
"It's Maria's influence," she hissed. Did I imagine it or had her eyes hardened as she looked at us and said, "That's what happens when our Republican men hook up with liberal women."
Jimmy immediately became very interested in lighting another cigarette. Meanwhile, I smiled, said nothing and thought, if this woman knew we drove here in a hybrid she'd have me burned at the stake. Today Jimmy's driving a hybrid, tomorrow he might work for Al Gore, all because of her--when will it end?
This would be the first of my many trips to the minefield at the junction where love and politics meet. Jimmy is not an elected official, but being married to him has given me a sliver of appreciation for the pressures couples feel and the judgments they provoke when they move in the world of politics, whether or not they sit on the same side.
My friends--Westside-Topanga-artist-former-Peace-Corps-writer-multicultu ral-all-is-Zen pals--first questioned my sanity, then became angry. After my buddy Rachel was sure I wasn't kidding about the whole Republican thing, she demanded to know how I could even stand to be in a room with someone who had worked for anti-choice candidates. Laura and Veronica were concerned: Was it hormonal? Was I that desperate to find a straight, employed, single man in Southern California? Maybe I should watch "The Secret" again? Other longtime acquaintances rescinded a dinner offer when I told them whom I was bringing. And when Rachel--now having met Jimmy and been assured he didn't have horns and carry a trident straight from Hell--invited him to play his guitar at a reading, the promoter tried to ban him, saying, "A right-wing fascist playing the club? Not on my watch."
If I had been dating, say, a conservative lawyer, they would only have been amused, but Jimmy represented the Political System. When it was clear this wasn't a passing fling, everybody tried to make sense of Sam and Jimmy, to understand the logic of our being together . . . forgetting that once love comes in the front door, logic goes out the window.
Love, of course, is not rational, but then neither is politics. The difference being that we pretend politics is. Maybe this explains why political couples offer a near-constant source of irritation and fascination: They're expected to represent--and purport to be--stability itself, but the very nature of their union makes things messy, unchartable.
What they really embody is the passionate and ultimately unpredictable essence that ends up running government. And who wants to consider the implications of that, huh? It's like thinking your own house is built on the San Andreas fault.
Oh. Wait. It probably is.