Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Raising Kaine -- missing scenes from a political life

Democratic candidate for governor Tim Kaine’s official biography mentions a compelling moment in his childhood:

When he was 10, he recalled watching television with his elderly babysitter, a woman he called his "surrogate grandmother," when word came that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot.
"She said, 'Serves [him] right,' " Kaine recalled. "I got this chill. Wait a minute. I thought you were one of the good people. I thought you were perfect because you loved us and all of that."
Kaine said he thinks of that moment as the death of his childhood innocence.

Salt Lick remembers, too. On the day Martin Luther King died, the young Salt Lick entered his family’s home to find their black maid, Willie, clearly devastated and sitting in a rocking chair, staring at the television, holding her purse and ready to go home. He asked, “What’s wrong, Willie?” “They killed him,” she said. “They finally killed him.” “Who?” “Dr. King.” Salt Lick fled back outside from the awful adult pain and awaited his parent’s return home. He will never forget Willie’s face.

Nevertheless, with regard to Tim Kaine, our reporter Salt Pork has uncovered a little-known side-effect of "the day," one that apparently reverberates in this year's governor's race. Below is Salt Pork's interview with a Kaine childhood friend who asked to be identified only as “Unidentified Friend Of.”

UFO: “I hate to say it, but Tim’s babysitter was actually an old guy named Tinsley Pink, not some surrogate-grandmother. I think Tim has suppressed that. Mr. Pink had this real high, effeminate voice, so maybe that’s what Tim’s focusing on. He'd moved to Kansas from somewhere in the South, so he had a languid drawl, too. Sounded kind of like Truman Capote, if you ask me. Tim stuck up for Mr. Pink even though the kids made fun of him -– at least until he said Dr. King deserved to be shot. After that day, something changed in Tim Kaine.”

SP: “What? What changed?”

UFO “Well, the very next day a couple of us were watching “Hollywood Squares,” and the moment Paul Lynde started talking Tim just walked out of the room. It was odd because he’d always liked the show, but he never watched it again.”

SP: “Never?”

UFO: “Never."

SP: "What else?"

UFO: "He started arguing with the teachers about really odd stuff. I remember one day we were studying Thomas Jefferson and Tim just stood up and said, “Jefferson was weak, ineffective.” Everybody just stared at him, and Tim said, “He had a high-pitched, reedy voice. That was his problem.”

SP: “Are you sure? Thomas Jefferson is revered in Virginia.”

UFO: “He’s pretty well thought of in Kansas, too, but it didn’t matter to Tim. It was the voice thing.”

SP: “What else?’

UFO: “Well, Tim was a good athlete, a team Captain, and generally a nice fella, but after ‘the day’ he’d never choose any kid for his team that had a high voice, which almost got him beat up because our class had this kid named Bubba Callaway who later became an all-state defensive end, but he walked around the halls singing falsetto, so Tim would never pick him.”

SP: “Sounds like he was very focused.”

UFO: “You know what was really peculiar? He developed this thing about his own voice, too, wanted it deeper. I remember in high school he was the only kid in our class who was actually HAPPY when his voice started breaking at puberty. The rest of us were embarrassed and awkward about it, but Tim, why he said he couldn’t wait for his voice to get deeper. Helped it along, too.”

SP: “What do you mean he helped it along?”

UFO: “Well, it was kinda funny, but Tim got the idea that tight underwear made you talk higher.”

SP: “Wait, are you saying...”

UFO: “That’s right. He was the first kid in Kansas to switch from briefs to boxers. He took a lot of ribbing about it – this was back in the 70's, you know, when almost everyone wore white briefs. Of course, no Fruit of the Loom for Tim. He said the name was weak.”

SL:“But Mr. Kaine was a good student?’

UFO: "Oh yeah, he was good at everything – scholastics, PE, debate. He was even good at choir until the teacher put him in the tenor section.”

SP: "What happened there?”

UFO: “Well, Tim said tenors were weak, ineffective people, which again almost got his ass kicked by Bubba Callaway. Tim ignored the teacher and walked right over to stand in the bass section. He got away with it the first year, but everybody said he sounded like a redbird peeping in a bucket of bullfrogs. When Miss Glymspickle took over choir, she wouldn’t put up with that. So he quit.”

SP: “And after law school in Missouri, you lost track of him, right?”

UFO: “Right, but when he became mayor of Richmond, I had business over here and gave him a call, asked if he could get together for old times sake. He said he had to attend some kind of official “hillbilly redneck” function at the Museum of the Confederacy, but he could meet me for a few minutes during a break. To tell you the truth, I hardly recognized him.”

SP: “Why?”

UFO: “He had this new swagger. And he kept cracking his knuckles and he was smoking a cigar. I thought maybe he was trying to show support for Virginia’s tobacco industry, but now I think he hoped it made him look like a strong and effective leader. When he spoke he held his chin down and after a while I realized he was holding it that way to make his voice deeper. The thing was, it made the cigar tilt up and burn his nose.”

SP: “That must have hurt.”

UFO: “Yeah, I thought I saw him wince a few times, but he’s tough.”

SP: “So what did you talk about?”

UFO: “He was agitated. He said, ‘You know, one of those old Virginia biddies in there thinks she’s Scarlet O’Hara, lays that dumb Southern accent on thick. She went on and on about how Longstreet lost Gettysburg. Look, I’ve studied these hayseed’s history and even I know it was a Virginia General named Dick Ewell who lost Gettysburg – didn’t take Seminary Ridge on the first day.’

Being from Kansas, I didn’t know much about such things. I just looked at him kind of blank and he said, ‘Ewell had a high voice, you know. He was weak, ineffective. People said he sounded like a peeping bird. Can you imagine how that would sound with a Southern accent? Probably more like a duck.’

I said, “Oh yeah, now I remember, but wasn't he really brave, had a leg wounded and amputated and ...”

‘And he had a lisp,’ Tim added.

Before I could answer, this distinguished-looking black man came out the door and smiled at Tim like the Fox might have at seeing Little Red Riding Hood. I found out later the man was your ex-
Governor, Doug Wilder. Apparently, he and Tim weren’t getting along at the time. Wilder walks over to us, smiles this sh*t-eating grin, and says in a real deep voice, ‘Timmy, did you get my present -- The Three Tenors CD?”

Tim just glared at him. His chin went down and the cigar went up. I couldn’t stand it. The tension. The smell of burning flesh.

I just left.”

(To be continued ...)