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Sex in the Sub-City
How I Infiltrated the Democratic Debate

I am lifelong Democrat. Some of my earliest memories involve playing on my front lawn, trying not to upset the "Jimmy Carter for President" sign. So when I found out that one of the Democratic debates was going to be held in New York, I simply had to go. I called CNBC, who was airing the debate, and tried to pass myself off as a legitimate reporter - as opposed to an online columnist/hack - to no avail. Then I contacted the Democratic National Committee, John Kerry's people (whose campaign I contributed to - five dollars but still), Wesley Clark's people (who I plan to give five dollars to), but still nothing. My last resort was to contact Pace University, where the debate was being held, and to try and pass myself off as a former student. As an alumnus, and a financial and emotional supporter of the school, how could they not let me attend?

So I called the main hotline, and gave them my spiel. I was then transferred a number of times, until I finally managed to speak to a woman who was actually involved with the debate. Unfortunately, she was only an assistant, and her boss was out of the office. So I told her to have her boss call me as soon as she could, that it was extremely important I speak with her, because as a lifelong Democrat and a longstanding supporter of Pace, it seemed only fair to let me into the debate, etc. The woman called me back the next day and I reiterated my strong desire to witness democracy in action, to which she was extremely receptive. In fact, she told me that all Pace alumni had actually been invited to attend the debate via e-mail weeks ago.

Well, I told her, I must have not gotten the message, but of course would still love to go, provided there was room. She said that there was, and then asked me to give her my information, to find out why I wasn't informed about the event. I gave her my name, and she told me to hold on while she checked her records. A few minutes later she returned, and said that they had no record of my enrollment. I told her that this was very odd, and that I certainly did graduate from Pace. She asked if I attended the downtown campus, or their satellite campus. Oh, the satellite one I said. Well that probably explains it, she said. I'll contact them and then get back to you, she told me, and then wished me well. All day I waited for a response, and all the next day, but none came. I assumed that this was because there was no record of my attendance, and that she was on to me.

What I should have done, and what I did at that moment, was to access the Pace website and find someone with a similar name to mine who I could impersonate. After searching through their records, I came upon a Roy R. Joseph, who graduated with a B.S. in Computer Science in 1988. This was close enough for me to call and explain that the reason I never got my e-mail was that they had my name wrong in their records, and so I did.

I got the woman's assistant on the phone, and told her that they had made a mistake, that my middle name was Roy, first name Russ. She totally bought it, but then for verification purposes asked my birthday. Unsure of what to say, I gave my real birthdate - June 10 - and she said that they had my birthday as being June 16. Well, that's pretty close, I told her, but like the rest of my information, quite wrong. Somehow, she believed me, and told me to e-mail her my updated information, and that she'd send me a confirmation for the debate. I couldn't believe my luck, and immediately did as she asked. But no confirmation came. This was on a Friday, and so I assumed that maybe it wouldn't go into effect until Monday. But when Tuesday rolled around (the debate was on Thursday), and still no confirmation, I was pretty sure they had figured me out and the jig was up.

cheap shot of the month

But the next day I got a call from the woman in charge, who was responding to a message I'd left her the week before (she'd forgotten that she had already talked to me). I told her who I was, and how I had e-mailed her assistant my information and had yet to receive a confirmation. Her response was that they couldn't confirm me because there was still some discrepancies in the information I'd provided for them. This time, however, when she asked me to verify some things - birthdate, year of graduation, etc. - I knew the right answers. I thought I had it in the bag until she asked if I was married. No, I told her, and I could hear the disappointment in her voice. Quickly, I told her that I used to be married, and that I just hadn't gotten around to updating my information. Somehow, this was enough for her, and she promised me I'd get a confirmation that afternoon. And I did. And the best thing about it was that it was in Microsoft word. So instead of: "Russ Roy Joseph, welcome to the debate," I changed it to: "Russ Josephs." I only hoped they wouldn't scrutinize my name when I showed up at Pace.

But they didn't. I got there super early so I could get a great seat, and was immediately given a nametag (Russ Roy Joseph), complete with my graduation details. Keeping my current age in mind, if indeed I did graduate in '88, it would have meant I finished college at age 16. If anyone asked, I would tell them that I looked young for my age, and that I was one of those super-geniuses who graduated early. Luckily, no one questioned this. But I was soon met with a question that was even worse. When I was led into the debate area, I was greeted by a woman in charge of alumni affairs. She took a look at my nametag and asked me what I had a degree in. I told her Computer Science, and she gave me a startled look.

"But the Computer Science program didn't begin until 1990," she said. I didn't really know how to respond, so I excused myself and hightailed it to the bathroom. Once there I tried to come up with an explanation, but could think of none. So I just decided to ignore the woman for the rest of the day. Instead, I chatted up the other alums, all of whom, I noted, were a good twenty-plus years older than me. I asked one of them when we were allowed to enter the debate, and she gave me some bad news: we weren't going to be viewing the actual debate, but a simulcast.

"What?" I cried. "But no one told me that!"

"That's what it said in the e-mail," she replied.

"But I never got the e-mail."

"Then how did you even end up here?"

"It's a long story."

I spent the next few minutes trying to decide if I should stay. All this work for nothing. I could just have easily have stayed home and watched it on television. If I remained, I would have to keep up this charade, lying to old people, and for what? I was just about to leave when another alumnus approached me. I told her about how I had expected we were going to be in the actual debate, and she said that she would have liked the same thing, except that there was a large group of high school students down the hall, and that some of the candidates had promised to address them. She explained that we were allowed to be there when they did, and could even ask them questions. This certainly changed things. It wouldn't be as good as the actual debate, but at least I could get close to some of these guys. And that was why I was there in the first place. The debate to me wasn't about winning (they were all winners in my book); it was about being in the proximity of these Democrats, these people who believed in what I believed in, and, more importantly, were determined to get Bush out of the White House.

So I decided to stay. Over the next hour and half, making sure to carefully avoid the nosy woman, I chatted with my fellow graduates. I must have spoken to a dozen people (including the dean and the president), and again, no one was close to my age. When the debate was about to begin, we were ushered into a small conference room, outfitted with a buffet, round tables and tiny gift bags everywhere. I greedily tore into my bag, and was disappointed to find a pen, a toy ball and an alumni newsletter. At least there was free food. As I was digging into some hummus, word arrived that John Kerry was going to be addressing the highschoolers. I dropped my food and pushed past my elders to get a good spot. Seconds after I showed up, the man himself entered. I was the first person he saw upon arriving, and while I was too far away to shake his hand, I did give him a little head nod, which I am happy to say he returned. Once he passed me he grabbed the microphone and gave a quick, though stirring speech about the evils of the Bushies and what he would do as president. At the finish, I again tried for a handshake, but he was moving too fast. All I was able to do was to give him a quick pat on the back, which was better than nothing.

For the next few minutes I hung around the high school students, waiting for someone else to arrive - please be Clark! - but no one did. It was at that moment that I eyed their buffet, which was a virtual smorgasbord of food. Way, way better than what they had put out for us. I was about to help myself to it when I was told that the debate was about to start and I had to return to the retirement room.

I took my seat just as it was starting. The moderator came on and said: "Welcome to the Democratic debate, live from Pace University." At this, everyone around me cheered. As to fit in, I did the same thing. For the rest of the debate, every time Pace was mentioned we would all cheer. Just to make sure no one found me out, I cheered louder than everyone.

The debate itself was okay - a few attacks at Bush, a few at the other candidates, a nice soundbyte or two - but nothing extraordinary (for the full transcript, go here: http://election.rhetorica.net/docs/debate_25_september_2003.htm). It would have been, of course, if I was actually there, rather than holed up in a room with my grandparents. One of the main reasons I had wanted to attend was because of what happened at the last debate, where several people had heckled the candidates. If someone dared disrupt the proceedings this time, I would be in their face, smacking the shit out of them and dragging them to the door. I wanted to do my part for democracy.

More importantly, I wanted to support my boys (and girl). While I want Kerry or Clark to win, I have positive feelings about all of them. Dean is admirable because he's a fighter and speaks his mind; Gephardt is a good man and a longtime favorite; Lieberman is annoying but smart and outspoken; Sharpton is extremely outspoken, and good for comic relief; Edwards looks good and will be president someday, when he's better prepared; Braun is a sweetie, a den mother and a pioneer; Kucinich is cute in a Gizmo kind of way; and Graham, well, he I don't really like.

During a break I rushed over to snag some food from the highschoolers, but saw that most of it was already gone. When I returned, the debate was starting up again, and it was gang up on Dean time, everyone trying to take down the leading Democrat. I'm not super crazy about Dean, but I respect him, and I didn't like what was going on. He totally rose above it, however, by criticizing his fellows for attacking him, rather than their true enemy, Bush. Then Lieberman, discussing Bush's tax cuts, came up with a zinger: "While the foxes are guarding the foxes (meaning the rich), the hens (middle class) are getting plucked. For the record, I did say 'plucked.'" The guy had basically said that under Bush the middle class was getting fucked. How awesome is that?

Next it was Sharpton's turn. While talking about trade, he said that "African-Americans are a result of a bad trade policy." Then: "What you've got up here are eight career politicians, an officer (gesturing to Clark) and a gentleman (gesturing to himself)."

When the debate was over, the provost of the school, a former economist, passed out information about all of the candidates' economic policies, and led us in a discussion about what we had just witnessed. I stayed for about half of it, and then bailed. Outside, there was a small Kerry rally bumping up against a small Dean rally. TV reporters were everywhere, interviewing anyone they could get their hands on. I walked past it all, grinning like crazy. Even though I didn't belong here, and didn't really get what I wanted out of the debate, it was still a good time. I loved seeing the excitement on the faces of my faux-alumni, the palpable feeling in the air that something important, something meaningful was happening.

Politics is a crazy, seedy thing, and most of us regard it as a sham and a circus, as we should. But it's nice to know that in some ways it still matters, and that a good, old-fashioned debate can still excite people. If nothing else, it can get them to see that there are alternatives to evil and deceitful retards like George Bush. That in and of itself is a wonderful thing.

When I reached the subway I realized that I was still wearing my Russell Roy Joseph nametag. I took it off and pocketed it, and then got back to my real life.


--Russ Josephs

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