★ ★ ★ ★

A new serial about a woman, her men, and a crankiness that may, or may not, be justified.

Literally Feeling the Bern

By Nan DePlume

With apologies to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and his lovely wife, Jane, we present some tongue-in-cheek fan fantasy.

Bernie looks hotter than you’d think with his shirt off. Sure, he’s a bit stooped, but he’s still on the tall side, and probably more muscular than your average 74-year-old socialist. As for the rest of him, I’ll try to be discreet here: let’s just say that no one makes fun of his short fingers. OK, maybe his toenails aren’t the best, but if you’re bothered by those, you really brought it on yourself. Who voluntarily looks at a 74-year-old man’s toenails?

I’d been fantasizing about my own personal Weekend with Bernie since I chanced upon him on C-SPAN way back in 2003, lacerating Alan Greenspan on income inequality and the dangers lurking in the U.S. financial system. His quixotic righteousness made me shiver. Where had he been all my life? Mostly Brooklyn and Vermont, it turned out.

But no longer. He had stepped out on the national stage, or at least C-SPAN and sometimes Countdown with Keith Olbermann. Then, when he started running for president and began drawing huge crowds in 2015, I started to think that maybe Bernie’s quest to right the fundamental wrongs in American society might not be that quixotic after all.

Bernie may not be every woman’s idea of Prince Charming, but he fits the bill for me: fierce, principled, and blessed with an accent that puts me in mind of my Uncle Saul, a force of nature who was the president of the Coney Island Polar Bears back in the 1970s. Like Bernie, Uncle Saul told funny stories enhanced by a deadpan, almost menacing, delivery. Plus he pointed and shrugged a lot. Saul was always my favorite uncle.

Having the hots for Bernie may not be a widespread affliction, but you can’t tell me I’m the only one. Surely many women have made—or fantasized about making—their personal contribution to the tousling that famously tousled white mane.

Or is the correct term ‘demi-mane’? Yes, Bernie is undeniably balding, but we all know that’s a sign of virility. At least after my night with Bernie, I know it’s true in his case.

* * * *

Here’s how our magical encounter began: I’d been stalking him as he campaigned in the Nevada caucus, and it was my fifth rally that week. Bernie pretty much gives the same speech each time, but it was consistently thrilling to be in the same room with him, even as part of a crowd. Still, I wanted more.

When he got to the part of his speech when he asks people in the crowd to call out the amount of their student-loan debt, I saw my chance. “Fifty thousand dollars!” came a cry from the back. “A hundred grand!” shouted a man on my left. “Two hundred thousand!” I screamed like a banshee.

That’s when it happened. Bernie’s gaze swivelled my way, and we locked eyes. “I believe this woman in the center here is the winner,” he said, shrugging and pointing at me, just like Uncle Saul would.

I didn’t actually have any student debt; I’d graduated from an undistinguished and inexpensive state school twenty years before. College had not made much of a difference in my life, but my hope was that lying about college debt just might.

I left the speech early to wait outside Bernie’s bus. We were in Sparks, a smaller, nearly as tacky version of Reno, just a few miles away. Gazing up at the casino lights twinkling in the dusk, a billboard captioned “Huge food is back!” that depicted a man using a yardstick to measure a steak, and a 40-foot-tall statue of a miner smiling to show off his single tooth, I felt expectant and light. Poised on the edge of Something Big.

Forty minutes later, I was still standing alone outside Bernie’s blue campaign bus. I knew from experience that he could go on a long time about the evil machinations of “millionaires and billionaires,” but this was unusual. My guess was that someone had fainted; that happened a lot at Bernie rallies. When it did, he’d stop speaking and stand on the end of the stage, peering out with an expression of intent concern until the prostrate Bern victim gave a thumbs-up from the gurney and the paramedics carted her off (it always seemed to be a woman). I’d even considered feigning a swoon myself, but while you might capture his attention that way, you would never get close to Bernie.

Finally, an undulation of whiteness: his hair, moving in the February wind like seaweed in a current. His gait was quick, direct, and propelling him towards me. Well, towards the bus. He was flanked by a middle-aged man talking on a cell phone and a slight, younger woman with a clipboard.

As they neared me, I stepped forward. “Bernie, I…”

The man took the phone from his ear and stepped between Senator Sanders and me.

“Please, ma’am, we have to…”

Who says lightning can’t strike twice? Bernie’s gaze went from abstracted to laser-focused. On me.

“Senator Sanders, I’m the woman…”

“Who has $200,000 in student-loan debt.”

“Yes, sir. I want to thank you for giving me hope.”

The woman with the clipboard muttered something into Bernie’s ear.

“We need to get to Reno,” he said. “If you could spare the time, you can ride with us and we can talk on the way.”

I could spare the time.

* * * *

Sorry, but the details of that wonderful night are too precious to share.

* * * *

I waited by the Bernie Bus after the following morning’s rally. Suddenly, there he was: the same off-kilter yet purposeful gait, the same wayward hair, the same campaign aides flanking him. But there was a third person this time: a 20-something with a spiky haircut and tan UGG boots. Her blue eyes misted over as she gazed up adoringly at Bernie. I heard him say something about free college tuition before I turned away.

I nearly bumped into a woman I hadn’t noticed before, who was standing right behind me. Her expression conveyed the same rueful wistfulness I felt, only she looked far lovelier doing it. Artfully tousled hair, cheekbones you could hang a picture on, eyes that put you in mind of Bambi’s mother: Susan Sarandon. I would have recognized her from her movies anyway, but after seeing her warm up the crowd for Bernie three times that week, I felt like I knew her. Especially since her expression told me that she’d had what I‘d had. And like me, she knew that Bernie belongs to the 99%, so we all have to share.

Nan DePlume is a writer who has lived in various spots in America and Europe. She enjoys Internet videos of cats tackling toddlers.