Next up: Café Tropical, the gritty Cuban coffee house in old Silverlake. I park my Bush-Cheney festooned car behind a Volvo station wagon decorated with a bumper sticker that reads, "Ban war without end. Not in our name." I order an iced espresso and sit beneath a collage of Che Guevara photos. Customers accessorize their coffees at the condiment station in front of me. Suddenly I look up to see Latino man, who appears to be in his early 40s, rushing toward me, an enormous grin on his face. "Where do you get that shirt?" he demands. He continues: "I know only three Republicans here. Everyone else loves Kerry. The Spanish language TV is so filled with bias. They don't tell you that Mr. Bush is a gentleman." People standing nearby watch our summit with anguished there-goes-the-neighborhood expressions. As my new friend leaves, he stands at the front door and, raising his fist, yells, "Viva Bush!" Spasms of horror seize the store and pulse out to the community beyond.
Slinking away, I stroll down Irony Row; a two-block stretch of Sunset Blvd. filled with boutiques peddling vintage 1970s lunch boxes, summer-camp T-shirts, and baby-doll dresses for grown women. So steeped are its denizens in the culture of irony that almost everyone thinks my shirt is a hilarious joke. As I browse through the Vice magazine store, a pair of girls giggles at me. One of them comments, "I've never seen that one before." A 40ish man dressed in cargo shorts, flamboyant sunglasses, and a Lance Armstrong bracelet sees my shirt and bursts out laughing. "Way to go, man!" he says, giving me a thumbs up. Then, as I walk into a wacky gift shop, I hear a shriek. The woman behind the counter throws up her hands in mock horror, "Oh no! Bush-Cheney! In Silverlake!" she cackles, feigning horror at my hilarious costume, as if humoring a child on Halloween.
On Vermont Avenue, irony fades into gentrification. A fashionably dressed woman seated at a sidewalk table makes a disgusted face at the sight of me. On line at Psychobabble coffee house, another woman in a blue velour tracksuit rolls her eyes and grimaces at me with undisguised hatred. Realizing there are no seats but the one next to me, she stares intently into her cup, avoiding my polluting glance, until another table opens and she quickly relocates. Out on the avenue once again, I am gifted with my second "Asshole" of the day, this time muttered by a young man with bright dyed raspberry hair.
The next day, I head to Brentwood, the lush epicenter of modern limousine liberalism and the hillside home of left-leaning Hollywood. This is where activists like Norman Lear and Laurie David live; a few months in residence here and Arianna Huffington dropped Newt Gingrich like a hot tamale to become a paragon of "progressive" politics.
I enter the faux-rustic Brentwood Country Mart, a collection of shops intended to look like an olde-time barnyard. On the central patio, I pass a woman who looks up from her gaggle of children to see me passing and exclaims, "Ick! God!" A group of teen skater boys waiting on line to buy the Mart's famed "Chicken Basket" discuss whether Bush will be removed from office by the time they turn 18, thus saving them from the draft. I sit down to eat. Dining nearby is a young girl who looks to be about 6 years old; she gazes at my shirt with a look so forlorn, I expect to learn that Dick Cheney just stole her crayons. Her mother arrives and gives her a hug of consolation. The girl starts to talk, but I can only make out "Bush shirt," which she says to her mother as she points my way. The mother turns and glares, shaking her head at me. I start to wonder what sort of person I am to inflict this on a poor child.
Up in the San Vicente shopping area, things go even less smoothly. At the first intersection, an older man in the weekend wear of the very prosperous passes me and yells, "Bush-Cheney?!?" as though demanding an explanation. At the Coral Tree Organic Café, a willowy, bookish woman seated alone glares at me from across the room. When I smile and wave to her, she puts on her sunglasses.
Driving home, I rip off my Bush-Cheney shirt so I can walk the streets of my neighborhood unjeered at and without terrifying little children. Reflecting on the sting of being called "asshole" during my travels through Blue America, I wonder: If I were truly a Bush supporter, how long would I be able to endure a life filled with epithets before I gave up on the shirt? Changing into a nonpartisan brown Gap polo, I breathe a sigh of relief that I will never have to find out.
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