Unable to leave the marching band behind them, the big guys are bound to hang on too long. There is a sadness in seeing them disappear in plain sight.
Think Muhammad Ali on his feet against Trevor Berbick, Willie Mays batting a low .211 in his senior year with the Mets, Elizabeth Taylor hitting a paycheck in the TV movie “These Old Broads.”
Then there’s former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Once a political juggernaut, a lawman sought after by presidents looking to embrace his ring and parties further south, Arpaio, now 90, lost his fourth straight election earlier this month – for the lofty title mayor of Fountain Hills.
To someone named Ginny Dickey. Who beat Arpaio, once America’s toughest sheriff, by 213 votes. This is despite Arpaio spending $161,000, or about $31 for each of his 5,207 votes.
Grown-ups never know when to say goodbye to us.
I met Arpaio in 1995, a few weeks after moving to Arizona. He was two years into his 24-year run as sheriff, a law enforcement sideshow full of bombast and bullshit.
The gadgets seemed endless: pink underwear so inmates wouldn’t steal underwear, guided tours of Tent City on 117-degree days, meals of donated fruit and green baloney to save prisoners money. taxpayers. There was then a mischievous charm about Arpaio, as if he were in on the joke, a headline hunter who reveled in being scorned by journalists and liberals alike.
When I started as a columnist at the Tribune, I went to Arpaio with a crazy idea: go undercover in the chain gang. He couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. The MCSO deputies smuggled me into the jail at 3 a.m., gave me a sweat-stained uniform, and chained me to a convict team.
To one man, my fellow inmates confided that chain gang duty was better than sitting in the tents all day. We picked up trash from the sides of the roads in the sweltering summer heat, passers-by constantly honking their horns and giving us the middle finger.
I got a column and a bunch of TV interviews out of the deal. Arpaio was once again able to read his name in bold.
At first, I thought Arpaio’s mantra would serve him forever: You’ll never live better in prison than on the streets. Eventually, he lost sight of what made him a political rock star, instead using the sheriff’s office to target political opponents.
Arpaio failed to investigate serious crimes and he abused the people’s money like a drunken lottery winner. As American politics grew nastier after the turn of the century, tough Old Joe shifted his sights from criminals to anyone with dark skin.
In 2016, Arpaio lost to Paul Penzone, a retired Phoenix cop who returned law enforcement attention and decorum to the sheriff’s office. Two years later, Arpaio lost in a GOP Senate primary. In 2020, he lost in the Republican sheriff’s primary.
Announcing his candidacy for mayor of Fountain Hills last year, he told Fox News, “What do you want me to do? Go fishing? Go play golf? I’m not doing anything. My hobby is work. I’ve done this all my life. I don’t stop now.
Arpaio at its peak totally fooled me. In 2001, “60 Minutes” did a biography titled “Joe the Jailer.”
How does it end for Arpaio?
“It’s going to wear out when this guy dies giving his speech at Sun City at 9 o’clock at night and he collapses in his rubber chicken,” was my assessment. “It’s when it wears out and not a moment before.”
We were younger then. The moment seemed eternal. He always does it with the big guys, until he doesn’t anymore.