"Roller Derby Debates"
The parking lot is sparsely inhabited, though the handicapped spaces are already half full. We meet here most Saturday mornings before the onslaught of eager shoppers starts to clog the hallways of this sprawling, climate-controlled, mini-metropolis. In titanium-lightened wheelchairs and battery-powered transporters, we embark on a scripted journey, trying to enjoy dwindling scraps of independence before chronic diseases rob us of even this limited exercise of freedom.
Our trek typically begins near a line of hip, tailored sales clerks impatiently waiting to get their fix of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and powdered heart attacks, before hustling off to slumbering shops.
Other Saturday regulars pass by as we slowly make our way along the mile-long trail that snakes in and out of a half-dozen echoing corridors. Seventy-something Danny ,who crams in three laps before manning his kiosk, never fails to stop to tell us how bad business is – even during the Christmas crush. An ever-smiling,toothless man of indeterminate age offers his standard greeting – a barely discernable Red Sox followed by a fist bump – before decamping to an unknown destination. A limping gray-haired man and his wife slow almost imperceptibly to exchange greetings, then resume their urgent aerobic regimen. Even the Portuguese-jabbering cleaners give us a nod between their relentless wiping of germ-collecting surfaces (think escalator handrails) and floor mopping.
After a couple of laps, we stop at a small chain restaurant to refuel.
“I’ll have the usual” we say to the smiling young lady at the serving counter. Custom-made breakfast sandwiches wrapped to go (the eating area too cramped to accommodate three wheelchairs and an over-sized scooter) soon follow. We then alight around an oversized easy chair in the mall lounge area, mostly to use its wooden arms for drinks and pill cases.
But our sustenance is not breakfast delectables, nor caffeinated drinks, nor casual chats with strangers. Rather, we thrive on impassioned conversation amongst ourselves (and occasionally a shopper resting on a near-by sofa) on a variety of topics :health, of course, and family, too. But mostly politics – raw, uncensored politics.
Our organizer, Nick, identifies with the right – Tea-Party right – though he maintains his views are not rigidly conservative. Paul – a soft-spoken, former banker – is a fiscally moderate, socially liberal mainstreamer, while John’s views are a sometimes head-scratching hodgepodge of unionism, self-reliance,and religious doctrine. And me? I’m a Bernie Sanders progressive suckled on anti-Vietnam War activism and socialistic idealism of the ‘60s. If you were to describe our group, mishmash would be an appropriate label.
It works better this way – too much consonance in our views on how the nation should deal with the many cross currents of society would grow tiresome, like a fifth helping of sticky buns.
So we sit and nosh, and often gnash teeth at each other’s idiosyncratic ideas about how to charge up the economy enough to placate Danny, or fix the inferno spilling out of the Middle East. Some of us come armed with non-partisan studies thinking we can win the day with a barrage of data. Others rely on more visceral arguments, forsaking numbers for a fervent belief in eternal truths. In other words, some of us are NPR, others Fox News.
Occasionally we make progress; other times voices rise in exasperation. But every now and then we hit on a topic on which we all agree – where right and left converge in a mutual distrust of conventional wisdom. When we do, we quickly abandon this path to plunge back into the maelstrom of points and counterpoints that can power us through a couple more mall circuits.
Eventually,other commitments drive us back to the parking lot, at which time we quickly drop ardent advocacy to inquire about mundane events scheduled for the week ahead, like doctor visits and rehab sessions. Then we re-store our mobility aids in spacious vans and SUVs, and depart with a definitive “See ya next Saturday,” when we’ll again passionately debate the weeks’ most explosive events in a confounding display of camaraderie.
Rick Blum has been writing humorous essays and poetry for more than 25 years during stints as a nightclub owner, high-tech manager, market research mogul and, most recently,alter kaker despite fingers that move unusually slow due to MS. His writings have appeared in Humor Times, Boston Literary Magazine, and Bohemia Journal, among others. He received first place in the 2014 Carlisle Poetry contest, and honorable mention in the 2015 Boston Globe Magazine Deflategate poetry challenge.