One of the delights -- and banes -- of having your mug in the newspaper regularly is that people react to you differently than when you are just a byline. They say 'hey' at the supermarket and call you on the phone when they are angry, or depressed, or when they want attention or need help. They also send e-mails.
Lots of e-mails.
Some of the e-mails are thank you notes for a column, or just for a turn of phrase. Plenty of them are angry, too, like the one who responded to a recent story on the marriage amendment by wishing that my kids turn out gay so that they catch AIDS and die.
Sorry pal, I don't have kids, but enjoy the holidays anyway!
Some writers are regulars, including quite a few who rarely agree with me on the issues.
I got a note from one of those critics just before the election. It was a thoughtful little "musing" that asked more questions than anything. It ended like this:
"Have a sane election eve. Tomorrow we receive our presents or a load of coal. Either way we will simply have to deal with it. Some people want the coal because they are planning a bonfire. Peace to you."
It was from a guy named Don Wicklander, and from previous exchanges I knew we disagreed on a lot. But he was always cordial, often philosophical, and open to discussion. Once, when he forwarded one of those Internet hoaxes on Muslims, I pointed out it was a well-known fraud from years ago.
Wicklander did something unusual. He apologized.
So, before I knew how this election would turn out, I invited Wicklander to lunch at Perkins on Wednesday to talk about the results and whatever else he had in mind. He demanded we meet in person so he could "read the nuances of body language and tone of voice."
Wicklander, who grew up in Minneapolis, now lives in St. Francis. We split the difference and met in Anoka.
I'm happy to report no fisticuffs were involved because even though he's 79, Wicklander's in pretty good shape.
He's a vet, worked in insurance and volunteered as an election judge on Tuesday. Wicklander went to Macalester but says he escaped with a conservative view because "they taught me critical thinking without knowing it."
"I'm patriotic. I like the Constitution. I like the Bill of Rights," Wicklander said. (No argument there.) He thinks the country is "going the way of Greece and Europe." (Argument there.)
"I think the next four years will be even worse than the first," he said of Obama's win. "What ticks the devil out of me is that he said he would bring people together and he didn't. He's divisive."
I pointed out both sides seem to have the divisive gene in spades, and he didn't disagree with me.
In fact, we agreed on quite a few things, it turns out. There's too much money in politics. Elections are too negative.
We both grew up in similar circumstances in south Minneapolis, both feel lucky to have gone to college. We both have a healthy skepticism of government.
Mostly we agreed that we're glad the election is over.
Wicklander and I disagreed on plenty, but it was OK. At times, we seemed to be working with "facts" from parallel universes.
As Wicklander put is, "We will simply have to deal with it."
As we were leaving, I told Wicklander to write to me, even when he's mad at me.
"Not mad," he said with a smile. "Concerned."
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