Do they wander through parking lots, checking bumper stickers and looking for like-minded souls? Are they forever trolling for potential converts? Do their wives consider them oracles and pass their wisdom on to their scrapbooking friends?
One thing I do know is this—they’re everywhere; yet they seldom announce themselves, except in letters to the editor and to captive audiences at their churches.
Once though I was standing in a grocery-store checkout line , and in front of me were a husband and wife. I don’t recall what they said, but it was something like, “Chunky soup is hearty.”
Whatever it was, the man in front of them turned and said, “Did you say Tea Party?”
They were startled. Was he talking to them?
“No, no,” the husband stammered. “Soup. Chunky, hearty soup.”
The Tea Party fellow didn’t appear to be satisfied. There was an edge to this guy. He was wearing a tattered jacket adorned with duct-tape patches, like hillbilly armor. He was making everyone uneasy.
Was he there to shop? Was he there to proselytize? Who asks others if they said Tea Party?
“Are you one of those Tea Party folks?” the husband asked.
His wife took a couple of steps back, bumping into me. She was going to let him do the talking, but she wasn’t happy . I, meanwhile, was a bystander, a spectator, a witness. I was amused but also alarmed. I would have to be careful. I wouldn't make eye contact.
Tea Party began to speak.
“Yes,” he said, “I’m a member of the Tea Party.”
“Oh, I see,” the husband replied.
Mr. Tea Party continued, more agitated. He was getting into character.
“I follow local politics,” he said, “the legislature and such.”
It was then I noticed his eyes. One appeared to be glass.
“Are they doing okay . . . the legislature?” the husband asked.
“I’m keeping an eye on them,” he said.
“Good. Someone needs to watch them.”
Mr. Tea Party started to turn away. They thought he was finished, but he turned back. “The people have spoken. They voted for CHANGE!” he roared. It was both a statement and a challenge.
He continued, “I wonder if they’re happy with the change they got? Perhaps they’re surprised, and not in a good way?”
The husband was thinking, ‘Why did I respond?’ ‘We’ll just play along, not confront him, not make him angry.’ His wife gave him a now-you’ve-done-it look. They realized he was a nut job. The husband nervously tugged at his sleeve, while his wife looked longingly toward the exit.
“But change is not always good,” he said.
“Are you worried?” the husband asked.
“Oh, I’m not worried for me,” he smirked. “I’ll be okay, but others may not be so lucky.”
I wondered if he had a concealed weapon.
“History is change,” he stated, “and sometimes that means groups make bad decisions and become extinct.”
The clerk had finished checking him out and was asking for payment. He turned and paid her in cash. She gave him his change, a few pennies, and I couldn’t help thinking , for a man who wasn’t keen on change, he was sure careful to get all those coins in his pocket.
He gathered his groceries and turned again to the couple behind him, not about to miss a final opportunity.
“Remember,” he demanded, “history is change.”