Then, suddenly, Palin was running for vice-president, meeting with Henry Kissinger as if the old lech is going to buck up her sketchy foreign-affairs background with some of his circa 1964 Dr. Strangelove balance-of-power analysis. This was right in the middle of Troopergate, the Peyton Place scandal in which Sarah, being Sarah, had fired her top cop for allegedly refusing to fire state trooper Mike Wooten, who had a nasty divorce with Palin’s sister, Molly. This was bad, true, but Wooten was a dick, he’d Tasered his own stepson and illegally shot a moose. He deserved to be fired.
What bothered Alaskans was the fact that Palin had bagged on the whole investigation. With Sarah out of town repeating her “team of mavericks” mantra, it was as if McCain operatives were running the state, while stonewalling the investigation. The other day, you could see a dozen suits drinking in the bar at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. “Don’t look like local talent to me,” was the comment. And that was unforgivable, because if you know anything about Alaska, you know you don’t ever, willingly, turn it over to the Outside.
Palin’s story was a dilemma, a tragedy really. Because if Obama’s rise gives hope to people who never thought someone like them would ever get to be president, you couldn’t discount the longings of Palin’s Wasilla people. The other day, there was this woman standing in the parking lot of the Windbreak Cafe on the Parks Highway. She’d grown up with Sarah Palin, said the woman, who had a business making “body wraps.” You wrap this elastic thing around your body, and you lose weight. When Palin got the nod, she said, most people couldn’t believe it. “But I knew it was true. Why shouldn’t she be the vice-president? You always knew she was going to be somebody. I’d walk past her in the hall, and there’d be this glow. People put this place down, the Valley. But look at her. Look what she did. I can’t tell you how proud that makes me.”
We were talking about Palin again on the way to the Bowling Ball Bonfire, to be held that night in dense forest just north of Wasilla. The Bowling Ball Bonfire is one of those only-in-Alaska sort of entertainments. Bowling balls are placed into sawed-off oxygen tanks loaded with black powder and then shot a hundred feet into the air. Then the suspense sets in because who knows where they’ll come down.
“All she had to do was say no,” said Matt Cassidy, who in the tradition of his large, and largely Democratic family, had graduated from a good college (Carleton in Minnesota) and then returned to Wasilla to be an electrician. “No, I got these kids to take care of. No, I know you’re just using me to get the woman vote, and I’m not going to allow myself to used like that. No, I’m not cut out to be vice-president. I’m from fucking Alaska, for chrissakes. I don’t know shit! But she didn’t say no. She just couldn’t,” concluded Cassidy, who refers to Palin as “that ever-dangerous combination of cleavage and crucifix” and takes special pleasure in wearing a Barack Obama hat.
The hat has led to trouble in Palinville, Cassidy reports. “The other day, I’m talking to this guy about this wiring job, a guy I know well, and I feel this sharp pain in my arm. The guy stabbed me with his pencil … ‘What you do that for?’ I shouted. He said, ‘Come on, Matt, why do you have to wear that hat?’ ”
Then, looking up at the darkening sky, Cassidy said. “Shit, it is really getting wet out here.” The rain was coming down, making it difficult to light the powder that would send the bowling balls into the Mat-Su night. Eventually, it got too wet, and everyone retired to a neighbor’s house to put away several bottles of Johnnie Walker.
Properly sloshed, I asked the people in the garage if Palin herself would come to such an event? This elicited laughs. Maybe at one time, was the answer. She was a true Alaskan, she wouldn’t have minded getting her feet wet. But that was then and this was now, everyone agreed. That age of innocence was over.
Stumbling back from the Bowling Ball Bonfire, I stopped by the multisports complex. Built during the last days of the Palin regime in Wasilla, and containing an NHL-size rink, it was here that the hockey-mom legend was born, even if at the game I caught I saw no women wearing lipstick. If Palin becomes VP, the rink will probably be one of the things they’ll name after her.
The land behind the arena is undeveloped. It might even look the way it did when Sarah Palin first came up here with her family, “the wilderness” she talks about in her biography. At the edge of the parking lot, I saw three moose, a mom and two calves. They weren’t legal, of course, and I wasn’t going to shoot them even if they were, so I just watched them graze a moment. You never know how close you want to get to a moose, so I was kind of alarmed when the mom moose started walking toward me. I was about to jump into the car when the moose stopped, about ten feet away. It looked at me and then let out a low, mournful sound between a purr and snort. A har-rumf, I guess you’d call it. Then the moose exhaled, walked back to its young and disappeared into the trees.