Several weeks ago I did a blog post entitled: “I was Mitt Romney’s Boss“. If you recall, in 1962 when I was 16 years old, I was a volunteer for the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Michigan, George W. Romney. They put me in charge of the mimeograph room where I worked for the summer. Shortly after I began, the candidate’s son, Mitt, joined me and we spent the next few months together cranking out campaign flyers and strategy notebooks.
The recent news about Romney’s “hi-jinks” as a teenager has brought up a pretty ugly memory of that summer, one that I have repressed for the last 50 years, but about which I can be silent no longer. I’m ready to talk about the day I was bullied by Romney.
It was mid-August. Always a hot and gritty time in Detroit. The campaign was moving into high gear. We were all excited about the new poll results that had just been released showing that George Romney was soaring ahead of the colorless Democratic candidate, John Swainson. To celebrate I asked my mother to take me shopping at Hudson’s to buy a festive outfit that I would wear to the headquarters the following day.
The next morning I put on my new lavender velveteen “smoking” jacket, attached the accompanying pink ascot to the collar of my shirt, and headed down to the Romney for Governor offices.
When I opened the door, I saw Mitt at the mimeograph. He didn’t look up. He was trying to take out some paper that had gotten jammed in the drum. Mitt was dressed in his usual clothes. Old jeans and a torn t-shirt with mimeograph ink smudges almost covering up the silk screened message: “Real Men Do It in a Rambler.”
Then, pulling out the jammed paper, he said, “Andy, dang it, I think we got it now.” He turned toward me. I was still standing in the doorway, trying to look nonchalant, just kind of waiting for him to tell me what a cool outfit I had on.
But that isn’t what happened. Instead Mitt did a double take. His mouth dropped just about down to his pupik. Then as if experiencing a gradual realization of something hideous, his visage turned ugly, even sinister; his expression changed into a crooked sneer.
“Well,” he snarled, “If it isn’t Liberace.”
I didn’t really understand the sub-text of his comment, so I said in all innocence, “Not really. I’ve never learned to play the piano. My mom took me shopping yesterday for this new outfit. I thought it would bring a little color to the mimeograph room.”
For the rest of the morning, Romney was silent. It wasn’t that he behaved with any kind of hostility. He just ignored me. Wouldn’t look me in the eye. When I tried to help him crank the machine, he pulled his hand away and gave me a dark look.
Finally, in order to break the ice a little, I told him that maybe we could take a break. I offered to buy him some brunch. At that point, Mitt completely lost it. He started screaming at me. I don’t remember the exact words. Something like: “You can take your domestic partnerships and shove them up your ass.”
Then Mitt grabbed me by my hair. It was long then, a shock of it came down over one of my eyes. With his other hand he pushed my head into the hollow drum of the mimeograph machine and started cranking it around.
Finally he stopped and yanked my head out. I backed away and looked in the mirror. What I saw left me grief stricken. Needless to say my ascot was unrecognizable, turned black by mimeograph ink, the lapels of my smoking jacket in tatters. We had been copying flyers that his dad was going to hand out at the Cadillac Plant in Hamtramck the following day. On my forehead there was a smudged but readable print of the headline in 48 point Times New Roman font saying: “Romney for Jobs.”
That was all. He told me to get out and if I ever showed my face again at the headquarters, he would tie me to the top of the family station wagon, drive to the south of town and dump me into the Detroit River.
I try to practice forgiveness in my life. To be able to do so has always been a grace. But I realize now that, in spite of the fact that this horrific memory has been repressed for 50 years, it has had a profound impact on me that continues to this day. In a sense, the entire arc of my life has been an attempt to overcome the humiliation I felt from that encounter with Romney. How else would you explain the fact that every morning when I get out of bed, I put on a safari suit and pith helmet and insist that Leslie and Hayley refer to me as: “Sahib”? Or what happened on Leslie’s last birthday, when I surprised her by waking her up and taking her out to the driveway where I presented her with a brand new Humvee painted in desert camouflage.
I feel better now having written this down, gentle reader. And, Mitt, if you are taking a breather from the campaign and trying to relax by reading this blog, I want you to know that you are forgiven.