So I finally read Meghan Daum’s little essay about how we, the American public, are subjecting Hillary Clinton and her candidacy to The Rules, and it irritated me intensely until the last two sentences (which were more mitigating than redemptive). If you don’t remember The Rules, it was a dating advice book that advocated manipulation and concealment of one’s true motives as the best strategies for marrying Mr. Right for those women so desperate to marry Mr. Right that their frothing mouths scared all the boys away (me, I’m of the post-rules generation, and I like to think of myself as more of a Kelis girl than a Rules girl: my milkshake brings all the boys to the yard). Daum uses Rules philosophy as a framework for explaining why much of America is put off by Hillary: because she’s hungry. But so effectively does Daum subject Clinton to this retrenched Father Knows Best and The Little Woman Can’t Get Around Him attitude that it’s unclear whether she even objects to its unfairness until, at long last, she writes, “The problem is, political campaigns aren’t won by following “The Rules.” That’s why we may be further from electing a female president than we’d care to admit.”

Well, as my ex would say (and when he said it, it was at least three syllables): “Duuuuuh.” And more fuel to the burning pyre of remarks that attest that, at least in the world of politics, the testosterone card trumps the Anglo card, because masculinity is politics’ stock-in-trade. I don’t have much truck with the mainstream media, but yesterday I actually begged my chiropractor to take her time getting to me so I could finish the election coverage in Newsweek, much of which predictably focused on identity politics of this primary, including a piece detailing one black woman’s vacillations: gender? or race? or gender?

Now, I happen to think that voting your gender or your race is a crock of shit, but I guess it’s a more appealing crock than voting your religion, which is what those voting in the Republican primary seem to be doing (even if, at least temporarily, their religion is the Detroit Tigers — hey! Maybe Romney could get an endorsement from Tom Selleck!). But since that’s what people seem determined to do, and since I hate to see poor John Edwards continually befuddled by questions like how it feels to be part of a three-way with the first viable black candidate AND the first viable woman candidate, I have found for you a solution, one which comes from the annals of history:

Shirley Chisholm.

For those of you who don’t remember, Shirley Chisholm was a candidate for the Democratic Presidential Nomination in 1972. (Apparently a lot of you don’t remember, a fact which I would like to lay directly at Bush Jr. and Sr.’s doors, because American education has been circling the drain for the last 20 years; nonetheless, she’s been hovering in the forefront of my mind since this brouhaha all began, and I wasn’t even born when she ran). Let’s run down some of her attributes:

1. Woman.

2. From New York. In fact, from Brooklyn! (Could use Beastie Boys as victory party act.)

3. African American!

4. The Hair. Nobody can compete with The Hair. The Hair is awesome.

5. Working for the common man: she fought for minimum wage.

6. Compassion for others: visited her rival, famous bigot and pro-segregationist George Wallace, in his hospital bed when he was shot during the campaign.

Chisholm was, to paraphrase another prominent black woman (Grey’s Anatomy‘s Dr. Bailey), a poster child for “rising above.” She was a pioneer, a brilliant and charismatic figure, a snappy dresser, and a tough broad. She ran for president in 1972, people! Big ups to Shirley!

So what I’m proposing isn’t really that more far-fetched than cloned White Castle burgers. Chisholm for President 2008. All we need is a time machine.

I was writing the date on a bottle of expressed milk this morning and out of the depths of my consciousness some awareness that this date might be significant came surfacing. The first thing I thought of was my mother’s birthday, which is next week, but finally it came to me: November 17, November 17, of course. It’s Franz’s birthday.

Franz is the person in my life I was in a relationship with for the longest (although, since I don’t plan to get divorced anytime soon — despite my frequent threats — I expect that will soon change), mostly in days of college and grad school, mostly in New York. He was a Germanist, I was a French major, and if you imagine him stomping down the street with Wagnerian gravitas and me flitting about making postmodern remarks about the transparency of reality, you’re not far off. He loved music and literature with almost desperate passion and admired artistry in all its forms, an admiration that was colored heavily by self-derision; he had low expectations of humanity that were usually fulfilled and constantly iterated a general negativity and malaise that was, to me at the time, both unintelligible and distressing. When I met Franz he was still married to a Taiwanese succubus who had apparently sucked him dry of any faith in human nature, although he clearly hadn’t quite cut those ties (despite a year of separation); he had, like many Scorpios, a strong predilection toward expressing his creativity and emotion only through sex and occasionally reminded me of Claudine‘s comment, “he has no authority except when he is making love,” except that it was not only his only authority, but his only spontaneity and grace. He was fitness-obsessed to the point of giving himself multiple stress fractures in both legs by running around the 6-mile loop in Central Park as many as three times a day, every day; he called it “trying to outrun my demons” (and, obviously, failing). My friends called him “Problem Boy” and frequently reminded me of the Robyn Hitchcock lyrics, “If he treats you horribly, he’s probably a Scorpio,” not without justification. Yet we stayed together, on and off but mostly on, for five years.

Endearing things about Franz: he used to stuff the little holes on the outside of his headphones with paper or glue so that he could more effectively blow out his ears on those long runs through the snowy New York landscape. He got teary listening to Gorecki by moonlight; in general, the closest he ever came to losing his thick screen of This Is How Much the World Sucks involved music, which makes it poetic justice that he was named for Schubert. He sent me a copy of Nicholson Baker’s novel Vox, about phone sex, with the inscription “for My Baby, because my dick isn’t long enough.” (An inscription that both makes me smile and ache a little for his inability to ever stop with the self-deprecation.) He eventually relaxed from his ferocious vigilance into something that could almost be called sweetness. He used to pronounce his name with thickly Bavarian rolled r’s, despite the fact that he was from not Bavaria, but Wisconsin. He loved his friend Bryan (who was eminently lovable) with a devotion only occasionally tarnished by his cynical worldview, and which revealed a little something about the person he wanted to allow himself to be.

Those five years were no picnic, and since they ended I’ve been at a loss to articulate why that particular relationship with that particular person, fraught as it was, held such an important place in my life for so long. But the other day, my mom brought it up. “I used to ask you why you stayed with him,” she said, “and you know what you said?”

I had no idea what I said.

“You said, ‘it’s never boring.”

And I realized that I meant that sincerely, that the thing about Franz that compelled me to him, and I hope something not dissimilar compelled him to me, was that, unlike most of the other people I’d dated, Franz wasn’t boring, that despite his overwhelming negativity and the torturous relationship he had with things like sex and work and fidelity, which for me had been, up to that point, rather simple and straightforward pleasures, something about the dynamic between him and me allowed for some recognition of the complexity of the person beneath and, occasionally, some appreciation, and even care-taking, thereof. It wasn’t boring, and it wasn’t boring because Franz penetrated my defenses and my insouciance and my reluctance (well-hidden, judging from the number of relationships that failed to even notice it) to really get involved and became, like the Velveteen Rabbit, real, although perhaps it was his reality that brought about the caring instead of the other way around. It wasn’t boring because I cared, and it was fraught at least in part because, at the time, caring was something I was ill-equipped to do.

But it was never boring. It was real.

So happy birthday, Franz Peter. Thank you for that.