I was about to start writing about this squirrel I saw in my backyard. It was the cutest little fella, and we were just staring each other down, and then I got a text message. It was from one of my editors.
“Hey DC,” he wrote, “Can’t wait to see your column about the presidential debate. Everyone in town is talking about it.”
I responded, “Aw, that’s old news. Besides, I have a story about a squirrel. Readers really seem to respond to the funny stuff.”
Before I could hit “send,” I got a Facebook message. “David, my ears are still ringing from that debate disaster. Those two bozos practically wrote your next column for you!”
My response was, “Yeah, that’s what you would expect, but I’m not going to write about that. I’m already trying to forget about it. I’ve been sitting in the backyard exchanging stares with a squirrel.”
And on it went. By phone, by email, even face to face, people insisted I comment on “Bully Trump,” “Sleepy Joe,” and “Cranky Chris Wallace.” Each and every time, I said, “I’m not going to write about that.”
Who wants me to rehash this nightmare? I was a child of politics. I got to know all the candidates in my county at my family’s general store, and my dad became a county commissioner after he retired. I attended every political rally, made scrapbooks of the newspaper stories about each presidential campaign, and looked forward to the debates even more than the Super Bowl.
It would be ridiculous to write about a debate as childish and offensive as the one I watched last week. I could go on and on about how I hope children didn’t watch it. Had I seen a travesty like that when I was a kid, it would have scarred me for life.
Besides, people love animal stories. Like my friend who told me, ”We watched the debate, and even my cat was stressed out. He tore up an entire roll of toilet paper. We have lived in this house eight months and he has never done that!” See, that’s what I’m talking about. My squirrel story beats anything I could write about Trump and Biden.
Another friend told me, “My parrot left the room right after the yelling started. He said he had to go smoke a cigarette. I know he was lying. He’s bad about drinking, but I’ve never seen him smoke.”
So why should I write about something so negative, when we need light, not heat? Y’all expect better from me, and that’s why I’m sticking with the squirrel story.
Before I get into that, I must tell you about my friend who had quadruple bypass surgery two weeks ago. He’s a political junkie, and quite opinionated about this election. His doctors gave him strict orders during recovery: “DO NOT watch the news. DO NOT watch Fox, CNN or MSNBC. Your heart can’t take the stress.” He texted me the morning after the shout-fest. “The doctor just called, and said he knew my heart was acting up again. I’m not even connected to anything. But he knew. And I only watched the first 15 minutes, I swear!”
The same day, I visited an elementary school. The principal cornered me. “What did you think about that mess last night?” Before I could formulate a response, she said, “You should write a story on kindergarten teachers. Talk to them about kids bullying, talking over each other, and insisting it’s always their turn. That’s what my teachers have to deal with every day!” I guess I could, but who would want to read about that? Certainly not compared to a laser-focused little squirrel.
Then at my TV station, a co-worker in his early 20s asked me if presidential debates had always been like that. I tried to change the subject, but he really wanted to know. I had to be honest. “Nope,” I said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Not that many years ago, one candidate spoke, while the other one listened. Then it was the other person’s turn. Occasionally there would be a clever, memorable response, like Ronald Reagan’s comeback to Walter Mondale’s concern about his advanced age (73): “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
“Believe it or not,” I told my co-worker, “That’s how it used to be. I was named after President Dwight David Eisenhower. He was president for eight years, left office with high approval ratings, and few people can remember anything he ever said out loud.” My young friend said, “Wow, imagine that.” I nodded in agreement and said, “But I don’t want to talk about that debate. Let me tell you my squirrel story....”
David Carroll is a Chattanooga, Tennessee, TV news anchor and author. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.