Sunday, November 28, 2010

Chapter Six

Tucker surfed the internet back in his apartment to release the stage tension after the show. It was a ritual. Not a productive one, but a comfortable one. He could lose hours of his life working across the links on the top bar of his screen if he wasn't careful. Being essentially anti-social, he did not start with social networking sites, but had to work up to those.

Tucker liked to start with the Drudge Report as his touchstone and go for a while where the links took him. He hopped links from Drudge's page off to newspapers and aggregators and blogs all over the world. Straight news stories about the President or Congress and their latest standoffs. Sensational news stories and even news of the weird, with at least 80% of them actually being true. There were links at the bottom to all of the news agencies and all of the newspapers and all of the wire services from arond the world. Links to all of the major op-ed writers and their current columns, if you could still call them columns when they were digital and not in newspapers in inches. On rare ocassions Tucker would open Drudge and see the flashing siren announcing a significant breaking news stories. Not tonight, though. There were just placeholder articles giving the last polling results before the election started when the polls opened in about six hours.

Exhausting Drudge's links took a good twenty minutes or so and cleansed his news palate, so to speak. Off to the more specialized sites where Tucker's political bent would come into play and influence his choices of website's to visit. Tucker had arrived at this point of his life as a political conservative, as he defined it within the American political spectrum. He hadn't always been conservative, that was for sure. Back in his younger days, his college days particularly, he was an energetic liberal. He even had a banner poster in his dorm room proclaiming his intention to go to Canada to dodge the draft should it come back. Funny then, that a few short years later he would find himself in a recruiter's office volunteering for military service. The military changed his views on life, and he found himself shifting through a libertarian period and then finally to conservative worldview as he became a factory worker after his service years ended. All of that life experience found it's way into his comedy act now in various bits.

Tucker moved on the next level of news surfing - the partisan opinion aggregators. He liked the conservative websites like TownHall and Newsmax, which were run by think tanks or experienced journalists. There he could find a partisan take on the same newstories that he found on Drudge, as well as editorials from the leading conservative pundits and media stars. After spending himself on the conservative writing that caught his eye, Tucker liked to balance himself with a visit to the Huffington Post - which was mostly liberal in it's selections. While he found himself heckling the site somewhat as he read, he wanted to get their take on the news and peruse the liberal opinion columns.

Surfing on to the most partisan level of news sites, Tucker indulged in the polar opposites of Free Republic vs. Democratic Underground. No hold barred on these sites, with partisans chatting amongst themselves about the dire straights we find ourselves in, the betrayal of the folks by the cowardly political leaders who were selling out their parties, and the last chances to turn things around. Someone would post an article for discussion, and then the partisans would have at it with sequential comments agreeing or disagreeing with the article's point of view and often taking potshots at their polar opposites - the "Freepers" or the DUmmies". Red meat for the partisans, of which Tucker was undoubtedly one.

All of the news sites were focused on the election.  Predictions were all over the map, with optimism running high. Some of it rational, and some of it wishful thinking. In all likelihood the Republicans were set to make major gains and perhaps retake one or both houses of Congress. The President was not up for election in this cycle, but his agenda was. If the Democrats were, in fact, soundly defeated, then his ability to carry further his agenda would be hampered by an emboldened opposition with the ability to block legislative priorities. The President was traveling on a coat-tails tour of the battleground states hoping to pull off some saves. Many of the senior Congressmen in his party had barely survived in the primaries and were facing unexpectedly stiff opposition from the Liberty Movement in the general election. Some may not survive the day if the worst-case scenarios played out.

Feeling sufficiently up to date on the election news, Tucker was ready to sign in to his social networking sites. He had two primary destinations for his social networking needs: Facebook and Twitter.

"Last show on the tour is in the books. Thank you all for coming out to see us. I'll see you on the road again somewhere", Tucker posted on his Facebook wall.

Facebook was mostly still eluding him in terms of being a useful tool. It was a necessary part of his business life as a performer. He had a small fan base on the B-circuit, and was able to keep up with the fans that he "friended". Mostly he listed his club schedule and a way for them to buy his one performance CD. He also posted comments ocassionally on his wall about funny things that happened to him on tour or with links to videoes and articles that he liked. He kept up with his three brother in New York, Birmingham, and Los Angeles since he didn't get to see them often in real life. He also had been accepted as friends by the few celebrities that he knew from the entertainment business.

One of those entertainers - Robert Ingvall - was a prodigious Twitter user, and Tucker had himself become addicted to the pseudo-texting site. Here was a place that he could express himself fully, although concisely with microblogging tweets out into the Twittersphere for his followers to read. His timeline was all over the place in content. Some personal observations from daily life. Some quotes from, and links to, articles that he had read on the op-ed sites. A lot of politics, both original to him and in reply to those he followed. He even engaged in mini-debates on Twitter with followers on current news stories. Twitter-bates was the word he coined for that, and Tucker did that as well as anybody on there.

Ingvall was up late most nights, well into the early morning hours, and Tucker could see that he was on Twitter now. Strangely, he was tweeting about everything but the election. Probably because Robert was a well known Democrat and had been through enough election cycles in his long life to know that tomorrow was not shaping up well. He was keeping his mind occupied with other things. From that, Tucker knew that he would likely find him more engaged over on his blog.

Before he headed over to the blog to spar with his virtual friends, Tucker threw out a few Tweets. "Don't forget to vote, unless you're not paying attention. You guys stay home." That kind of stuff, plus links to a few op-ed columns that talked about how pivotal this election was for future generations. He saw that Lisa from St. Paul had sent him a Direct Message, and he replied to that. Lisa was recently widowed and trying to re-establish herself and he tried to help as he could with a little humor. Satisfied, he pulled up his favorite haunt - the blog.

Robert Engvall's blog was a pleasant surprise that Tucker had stumbled on a couple of years earlier. He had been reading a review of Engvall's latest movie and saw a reference to a separate blog. Not a film blog, as Tucker had expected a famous film director to have. A general interest blog, where Engvall wrote weekly articles on topics as diverse as politics, religion, science, and culture. Brilliant articles, Tucker found, that showed a breadth of thinking that transcended the blockbuster action thrillers that the Engvall was predominantly know for directing. Or that he used to direct years ago when he was in better health. In recent years health complications had limited his ability to work on location, and he transformed into a gifted film editor - working from home on a suite of computers. Most knew that he had had complications from a virus that he had picked up on a jungle location shoot. What they didn't know was that he had developed a fairly pronounced case of agoraphobia and very rarely ever left his condo in the Willis building downtown Chicago. It didn't matter where he was physically though, as he maintained a near 24/7 presence online.

In the intervening two years since finding Ingvall's blog, Tucker had become a frequent commenter on the site. He read each new article weekly. He appreciated it's brilliance and the eloquent writing. And he disagreed with every one that he read. Tucker respected Ingvall enough to disagree, in a civil manner, in the comments. Not as a debate, but as a conversation. A conversation carried on weekly across the many threads of the blog. Sometimes many threads simultaneously.

Tucker was an old hand at the blog now, and he commented now differently than when he had first found it. That night he had written an angry comment in response to an article that Ingvall had written about a film that he hated, but that Tucker had really liked. It wasn't a vulgar comment by any means, but the anger behind it was palpable and left nothing to the imagination. What he hadn't expected from a comment left on a blog of a celebrity was a response. But he got one, in the form of reply embedded at the end of Tucker's comment as it was posted. Wow! Not only a response, which thrilled him in itself, but a civil one at that. That set Tucker back on his heels, made him think about the nature of online anonymous posting, and set the stage for many hundreds of comments to come.

Many of his friends had posted on the latest thread in the last day or so, and Tucker spent some time catching up with comments. Blogs were a delayed conversation, compared to Twitter's near-instantaneous feedback. You might post a comment on the blog and not get the response you needed for a couple of days. Tucker hit "end" and went down to the bottom of the comments page and then worked his way back up, commenting as he went.

There was a comment from John, a professor at Notre Dame. One from a scientist in France. One from Teddy the horse rancher, also in Minnesota, tweaking him a little. One from GD in Australia, and another from "labrat89" in Canada. Tucker was perhaps overmatched by several of the commenters that he tangled with on the current topic of this thread: Theory of Evolution vs. Intelligent Design Movement. But, he had enough classes at the university and thirty years of studying the topic as a hobby to help him hang in there. He was one of the very few holding up the ID side of the discussion, and it took a while to get all of the comments answered. Fun!

Tucker looked up at the clock. 2 AM! Time had passed quickly online, and now he was noticing how hungry he was. He grabbed a coat and headed out looking for somewhere he could get a filling meal on what was just barely Tuesday morning.

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