Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Dickey Peters: Portrait of a compassionate conservative

Remember the old days, when President Junior used to speak about "compassionate conservatism?" It was billed as a new conservatism that was sensitive to the needs of the disadvantaged, forgiving of the faults of those who had strayed.

You don't hear that phrase thrown around much anymore. And, frankly, I never saw that it meant much. But I did know one fellow, a coworker at a previous job, who might have imagined he fit the description of a "compassionate conservative." He was a real, live, honest-to-goodness conservative, as far as I could tell. And, even though very few people knew the meaning of the term "compassionate conservative," this fellow, during the episode I shall relate forthwith, at least made an attempt at defining it.
Note to readers: The following story is more-or-less true. Which is to say, it is as true as memory and my interpretation of accounts of people close to the event will allow. And, of course, I've imposed my own stilted perceptions onto the template. Say it is "based on a true story." Whatever. To respect the privacy of our compassionate conservative, I'll use an alias: let's call him Dickey Peters.
Dickey Peters was a young man, in his middle twenties. He didn't have a girlfriend. He worked in the high-tech field as a technical support engineer. That is, he fielded telephone calls from customers who had problems using the software produced by Dickey's company and talked them through their issues.

Dickey was moral. He professed himself to be a Christian, and seemed to live his life in a properly sober way. No needless joy, no unearned happiness for Dickey. No sir. He'd earn his happiness in the only morally correct way: through slavish adherence to absolutely moral behavior.

Dickey was strident in his beliefs. He was known to rail about Mexicans and Asians coming to take jobs from the people that live here. (Dickey was, himself, from Vancouver, Canada.)

Dickey had aspirations for fantastic wealth. He'd tacked a poster of a sleek red Ferrari with a dark-haired woman leaning on the hood to the partition of his office cubicle. Dickey knew that visualization was a necessary precursor to actualization. "I'll be retired by the time I'm thirty," Dickey once told me. And I could see that he meant it.

Dickey wasn't afraid of hard work. Although generous enough to forgive sinners, he disapproved of the behaviors of some of his coworkers. Especially their propensity to laugh and have fun at work, playing guitar in the break room, playing basketball in the parking lot, occasionally taking an extra half-hour for lunch. For Dickey this kind of live-for-the-day frivolity was a distraction; he'd earn everything through his own pluck and endeavor or he'd learn to live without it.

Well, Dickey's goals of enormous wealth and retirement by age thirty weren't going to be met by answering telephone calls in his little cubicle on the third floor of our office building. So, on the side, Dickey opened up his own Information Technology (IT) consulting business. He hired himself out to local businesses, setting up their computer networks, getting them connected to the information highway, recommending and installing software, and the like.

As fate would have it, one of the first businesses to hire Dickey happened to be a strip club here in Portland. Of course, Dickey didn't approve of the business. That goes without saying. But business is business, hey? We can all be sure that when Dickey was diligently working in that smokey den of iniquity, his eyes never once strayed up to the stage where naked and nubile young women were shaking their what-not in front of the crowd of glassy-eyed chain-smoking drunks that frequent such places. Dickey was not that kind of guy.

Dickey apparently found that this strip club, let's call it "The Cat's Meow," was woefully behind the times when it came to electronic record-keeping, billing, connectivity. The job turned out to be a lot bigger than Dickey had, at first, imagined. But the proprietor was reluctant to shell out money beyond the original bid. Being the soul of honor, of course, Dickey couldn't leave the job half-done. He ended up donating a lot of his time.  (Again, we would do an injustice to Dickey were we to suggest that he took any prurient interest in his surroundings.)

There was a young dancer at the club. Let's call her Jasmine. Dickey had come to know her while he was wiring up the network in the Cat's Meow. Her's was a sad tale. She was young, maybe 20. She came from a bad home. When Dickey had first met her, she was involved with a troublesome young man who treated her badly. And now, she was pregnant and that troublesome young man was long gone, leaving her alone and fallen (at least, to Dickey's way of thinking).

Well, Cupid's arrows are like to hit everyone eventually, are they not? Even a hard-working, moral conservative like Dickey. As he became aware of Jasmine's tale of woe, his compassionately conservative heart went out to her. It wasn't that she was young and beautiful and tantalizingly verboten to a moral (and lonely, so lonely) man like Dickey. It was that she needed a friend and some instruction. She needed to be taught the virtue of morality.

Dickey took her "under his wing." He moved her into his apartment, allowing her to live there rent-free. (Separate bedrooms, of course). He magnanimously overlooked her fallen status by treating her with more respect and dignity than her caddish boyfriend ever had. Patient as a saint, he looked beyond her slutty behavior, her lewdness. He loved the sinner; he hated the sin. In this, as in all things, he was noble.

And, eventually, he spoke to her of love. He offered to marry her, to accept her unborn child as his own, to work like the devil (er-- well...) to make a good home for them, to give her the life that she would otherwise never have but that surely she must secretly long for.

Can you guess how it all turned out?

That's right. After a couple months, Jasmine's scoundrel of a boyfriend passed through town on his way to Alaska for a fishing job. Dickey came home from work one day (I don't know if he was really carrying a diamond ring or not) to find that Jasmine was gone, gone, gone. There might have been a note on the refrigerator door.

The episode took a lot out of Dickey. He became harder, more severe. He bemoaned his fate to everyone (which, of course, is how I pieced it all together). For a while, he continued his work at the Cat's Meow, but his heart wasn't in it. Eventually, he gave up on his consulting business. But he didn't give up on Jasmine. He just knew that bastard of a boyfriend was going to continue to treat her badly. Dickey lived for the day when she would come back to him, when she would recognize Dickey's nobility and magnanimity. Dickey had offered to take her, to pull her up out of the moral gutter, to wash away her sin, to offer her a virtuous and God-fearing life. Surely she would someday see it. Surely, she would come back.

Well, if there is another chapter to this sad tale, I never learned it. The company that employed Dickey and me laid us both off and our paths were parted.

Junior Bush launched the Iraq invasion shortly thereafter.


Ridwan said...

Amazing writing brother. This post will be among my most favourite for sure.

Tying Dickey and Bush together weaves thoughtful entanglements that has caused me to sit back and let your post run inside my head.

Compassionate conservatives ... yeah, look where all that caring has us right now.

Peace Dade.

Shus li said...

So that's a compassionate conservative, huh? Out of touch with reality, charitable, but with strings attached (think thong), and led by base desires. Yeah, it does sound a lot like Bush and his ilk. To make the analogy complete, he would need to hunt her down, kill her, and poison her family with depleted uranium.

Judy said...

I think Bob Dylan wrote a song based on such a character...

Unknown said...

Dade, forget all this nonsense of working a normal job. You are a fantastic writer and even I would buy a book that you have written!