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As we get closer to showtime, a few younger folks arrive. “All these people are regulars,” says DeLauro as he fiddles with the DVD player at the back of the theater. “We do this every Monday unless there’s a holiday, and they come pretty much every week.”

DeLauro welcomes the crowd, the room goes dark, and the screen lights up. Starting a film with a voiceover is almost always a sign of narrative infirmity, but Rapaport sells it with his plaintive reading: “I used to dream about flying. It went the same way every night. I realized I could fly — no, that’s not quite right. I realized that there was no reason I couldn’t fly, and after that, I’d float off the ground. But I haven’t had that dream in a while. Now, lately, I dream about more ordinary things, like doing my laundry or shopping for groceries. I wonder why that is.”

“You might as well be happy,” said the man in front of me. Twenty minutes into Special, I’m shaking my head in wonder — dude is prescient. Happiness, and the (super)heroic struggle to attain it, are at the core of the film.

Let me back up a bit. I actually start Monday night at Reds Espresso Gallery in Point Loma for their Meeting of the Minds. “ ‘Thinkers’ Gatherings planned. Draw a topic out of a hard hat or bring your own theories and hold court. 5:00 p.m. Admission: Free.” It sounds promising, but by 5:30, the only attendees are a couple of graying Boomers, and their discussion is more about process than anything else: whether it was more fruitful to mix it up with someone deeply opposed to you, your opinion, and everything you stand for or to hash out distinctions with someone who shares your basic worldview. (The proprietress told me they were just getting started with the series — maybe it will pick up.)

I don’t stick around to hear their conclusions, but I do check out a case in point of the latter scenario: the 7:00 p.m. monthly meeting of Activist San Diego at the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest. Tonight’s topic for the 30 or so people seated in a circle in the otherwise empty room: Obama’s first 100 days.

Our host is Matt — young and loose, sporting a black bowler hat and a beard big enough to bind up at the base. “The purpose of this meeting was to try to have a sort of discussion collectively with the people in the progressive community,” he explains — which is why he’s invited folks from the Green Party, the Peace and Freedom Party, and others to share their thoughts. He’s also teamed with fellow members of Activist San Diego to present short overviews of Obama’s actions with regard to the bailout, immigration, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, torture…

“And health care,” adds a woman sitting in front of me.

“And health care,” agrees Matt.

Over the next hour, the president takes a beating from the left. The Activist San Diego presentations lambaste him for increasing spending on border security, refusing to go after “those people involved in ‘harsh interrogations’ under the Bush administration,” leaving troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and allowing the continued use of mercenaries (such as Triple Canopy), and propping up the banks and Wall Street with no risk to anyone but the American taxpayer.

After that, Barbara Storey, program director for health care for the League of Women Voters of California, excoriates the Obama administration for not even allowing the discussion of single-payer health coverage at the Baucus-led Finance Committee hearings. “To date, more than 13 people have been arrested because they’ve gone into the hearings and talked about it — and these are doctors and nurses. There is no way you can finance this system and keep the health-insurance industry in it. They’ve got to go. The Obama-Baucus plan is a disaster happening.”

Her ire also spills out on those closer to home. “We’ve actually passed single-payer the last two legislative sessions here in California, but… I don’t like to use his name, so I just call him ‘him’ most of the time, that’s how I deal with my frustrations…”

“Well,” says a gentleman seated nearby, “you could refer to him by his most famous movie role, the Terminator.”

“Well, he terminated our health care twice now. But we will pass it in 2011. It’s just mushrooming, and we finally started pulling people in from Hollywood. Lily Tomlin does this thing where she’s a phone operator for an HMO. She says, ‘Surely you don’t believe that HMO stands for Help Me Out?’ She’s doing some great stuff.”

A young white man opines that Obama “is a follower — he has to follow the center. Our job is to shift the center to the left, to a more progressive area. We’ve failed to do that because we’ve failed to get our message out. We don’t have access to the media. We don’t have access to the political parties that are in power. We have to infiltrate those minds and open them. I’ve been working with the La Jolla Democratic Club, and we’ve developed a system of Focus on Change groups at focusonchange.org” for speaking to “the general public that is normally apathetic.”

A young black woman comments, “Republicans are on the run — they’re marginalized. Yet it seems to me that the administration is still consistently playing to the right. On the major issues, it seems like we’re still waiting for the right to decide what should happen. On the Employee Free Choice Act, we’re still looking to big business to see what they want to do. The left should be stronger than at any time in my lifetime; why are we not making bigger gains?”

An older black man disagrees. “I didn’t vote for Obama — I voted Green. But for me, personally, this is the best 100 days I’ve seen since Kennedy. The atmosphere has changed. I don’t think people are as bigoted or as racist as they were a few years ago. African-Americans look at the justice system and think maybe they have a better chance.”

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