Waiting for Friedman

Knocking back a few with the Kinky crowd

So does Meagan's friend Kathryn, a 21-year-old UH photography major. She says she's a Strayhorn supporter, too, but she's here to see what the Kinkster is all about. Most of her friends tend to be conservative and don't take Friedman seriously. "But as a voter, I have a responsibility to check out all the candidates." Like Meagan and Kathryn, Jonathan, a moppy-haired college student from Lake Jackson, is a Strayhorn supporter but drawn to Kinky's persona. "He's not bipartisan, he's no partisan," he says. "I think his influence on this race is profound." Jonathan rants about the state's TAKS testing and the state of Texas's educational system. "We don't have enough money to fund educational programs," he says. "You want to know what young people care about? That. They want to go to college and get good jobs, and whoever gets elected better focus on our education."


There's a commotion at the door. Fans shriek as Jesse Ventura, whose bald head is now accented by long strands of hair and dreadlocks, saunters in. He nods to the crowd, his long, braided beard dangling under his chin. Friedman follows him, pumping his fists in the air and inciting a near riot. The shouts are unanimous: "Go Kiiiink-eeeeee!!!"

So off he goes, up to a stage at the back of the bar that's adorned with a big Texas flag. He makes fun of Rick Perry for bringing up Ventura's criticism of organized religion in a 1998 Playboy article. "I'm shocked and appalled that Rick Perry reads Playboy," says Friedman. He adds that he's "really close to winning this thing," and closes with his tried-and-true mantra describing the difference between a statesman (who thinks about the next generation) and a politician (who only thinks about reelection).

Next up is the hulking Ventura, who calls out Lone State voters. "We're trying to build democracy around the world, and only three out of ten Texans come out to vote in that last election? Come on, Texans, you're better than that," he growls. He then drops the gauntlet: "Do you have the courage of the Minnesotans? If you want Kinky to become governor, then each and every one of you take it upon yourself to go out and recruit ten more people to vote for Kinky. We're talking about your state of Texas here. Now's the time to ask, what can you do for the state of Texas?"

At that, folks charge the platform, pushing toward Friedman. Women fix their hair. Men call to him and give him the thumbs up. Security guards push them back. It's got the makings of a mosh pit -- all that's missing is a political supporter taking a stage dive into the bar tables. As the crowd finally forms into a line, Friedman presides over the chaos like a lead singer between rock songs.


"I haven't really decided who I'm going to vote for, and I came out here mainly to find out what you're about," says Meagan, who has finally made it to the front of the line to meet the Kinkster.

"What's your name?" says Friedman, in perfect cowboy gentlemanly tone.

"Meagan Barkley," she responds, going from hardened voter to schoolgirl. She seems surprised that he asked her name. Kinky begins to stump for Meagan. He tells her he's not caught up in political correctness, and she lights up. He's clearly struck a chord, but she still has questions.

"I'm just not sure where you stand on certain issues. Like, I heard you're against, like, guns."

"Guns?"

"Yeah."

"Well," says Friedman politely, "I'm not sure where you heard that, but that's definitely wrong. What else?"

"Well, where do you stand on education?"

Friedman tells her that Rick Perry is more concerned with banning gay marriage and cheerleading than focusing on improving education. "Yeah, he's really wasting a lot of time and resources," she says. The crowd behind Meagan and her friends is starting to get impatient. She continues to query him on his stances, with Friedman summing up his positions in one sentence or less. In less than two minutes, she's gone from guarded to enamored. It seems like a scene from those History Channel documentaries that show John F. Kennedy mesmerizing young voters with his charm and "er-ah" Boston dialect, or Bill Clinton luring denim-clad college kids with his aw-shucks Bubba demeanor.

"Would you mind taking a picture with me on my computer?" she asks demurely. "Well sure," drawls Friedman, putting his arm around her and posing in front of her white iBook screen. She shoots the picture and grins at him like she's just gotten an autograph from Jake Gyllenhaal. It's a PR gem of an image: Kinky Friedman standing with a young Texas voter, snapping pics with a white Mac laptop.

"I can't say that I'm a hundred percent switched over to him," Meagan says as she steps down from the platform and joins Kathryn and Jonathan, "but he's definitely opened my eyes. I think it's awesome that he took the time out to talk to me and answer my questions. Nobody else has done that -- or made themselves available in that way." Friedman helps her down off the stage, tipping his hat and offering a flirty shalom. The night is young, and this rock star has to tend to his crowd.

steven.devadanam@houstonpress.com

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