A FEW weeks ago on a bumpy flight to Philadelphia I sat next to a man with overpowering minty breath and no hair. He said he was an unannounced candidate for president.
I wanted to ignore him the way our culture usually dismisses presidential also-rans as interesting lint. But he was there, next to me, clouding me in oppressive mint and demanding that I listen to his reasons for being unannounced.
"Perot made the mistake of announcing, then withdrawing, then announcing again," the man said pungently. "The unexposed bottom is more interesting than the exposed bottom."
Avoiding the minefield of making any anatomical references to politics, I suggested there was a flaw in his reasoning. "How long can you stay unannounced and Cuomo-esque?" I asked.
He grinned as if timing was everything. When I saw the arc of his smile, when I heard an echo of a voice I hadn't heard in 35 years, it all flashed back to me: Lefty Caldersmith and the campaign of '57.
I was in high school, unfocused, gangling, and energetic. Baseball was my outlet and ingress, and Lefty and I were teammates on the Monrovia Wildcats. He was a Taft Republican and I was for Ike all the way. (My mother worked on the county committee to reelect Eisenhower.)
Lefty had a wonderful, mannish smile, but almost no style or coordination as a baseball player. His skill was his talk; he was a verbal hose, a rapid-fire wiz on baseball, politics, cars, rocks, electronics, anything. I think the coach kept him on the team because he couldn't believe one teenager knew so much. He also may have been the only teenager in California who willingly attended city-council meetings and took notes. Bus rides to play other high schools were Leftian monologues punctuated with high and low politics and humor, some of it intentional, and much of it just Lefty being himself. As far as I know, Lefty never played in a single game.
One afternoon in a lull in a monologue, Lefty said that he had decided to run for mayor of Monrovia. Because of my connection to Eisenhower, Lefty asked me to be his campaign manager.