Wednesday, November 5, 2008

In Which I Vote and Listen to Giggly Teens Talk Politics

Alas, Mink Stole was not a volunteer at my polling place.*

Four years ago, when I voted in my first presidential election, the line outside my polling place -- a small, shabby church with a kitchen whose ancient refrigerator was covered with alphabet magnets and children's fingerpaintings -- was long and grim. And that was at six in the morning, when the polls first opened.

Everywhere I looked there were tense, glum men in business attire, yawning and impatiently checking their watches and cell phones. It was cold and dark outside, and every now and then the wind would pick up and sting my face. The wait ended up being a little more than 90 minutes long, and by the time I stepped into the church my hair was tangled and my fingertips numb. As it turned out, the day didn't get any better from there.

Mid-morning yesterday I went back to the same polling place, thinking of the bleary-eyed zombies who'd surrounded me in 2004, when my candidate lost. Again the line was very long, but the volunteers were better organized this time and everything was moving faster. It was nice outside, warm and breezy, and the leaves rustling overhead seemed more colorful than I remember anything looking the day George W. Bush was re-elected. The atmosphere was oddly idyllic.

Off to the side of church was a fenced-in play area where kids whose parents were standing in line kicked soccer balls and took turns pushing each other on swings. Two little girls sat at a nearby picnic table with coloring books and crayons, and a cheerful older woman walked up and down the line offering us Halloween candy. (Butterfingers and Snickers, for the record. Being more of a Crunch girl myself, I did not indulge.) At one point she stood a few feet away from me, rifling through a box to replenish her supply, and I glimpsed a bundle of Obama campaign literature. "Ha!" I wanted to point to her and say, "I knew you had to be a Democrat! Republicans wouldn't spread the candy wealth around."

My wait ended up being around 40 minutes, and rather than pull out my iPod (which had been gathering dust in the final weeks of the campaign -- I only realized a few days ago that there are new Lucinda Williams and Jenny Lewis albums I need to buy) or try to read (I didn't want anyone eyeing me suspiciously if they saw the unflattering picture of Richard Nixon on the cover of my book), I listened with some amusement to the nonstop gabbing of the two high school students behind me.

"The other night I was at this website about the candidates," one of them said, and I started to steel myself for a stupid remark.

"It said Obama graduated in the top ten percent of his class at Harvard Law," she continued. "And then it has a clip of John McCain saying he was an average student. And I was like, Okaaay. Way to make me want to vote for you."

Both girls, it turned out, were very pro-Obama.

"In government the other day, the teacher gave us a list of all the candidates' positions, and you had to check which ones you agreed with but you couldn't see if it was Obama or McCain," the other said. "And Scott, who's like totally for McCain, ended up agreeing with Obama over fifty percent of the time. We were ragging on him all day."

Her friend laughed and replied, "Even though the teachers aren't allowed to, like, talk about their views, you can tell they're for Obama. My history teacher dressed up as Sarah Palin for Halloween, so you know he's not voting McCain."

* Some voting words of wisdom from John Waters, via his Pecker DVD audio commentary: "I give, in my college lectures, I tell all the people, 'When you vote this week' -- last week was the election --'you know, cruise people in the line.' It makes it more interesting. Or think sexual thoughts. At least play with yourself a little in the voting booth. It will really perk up the dreary experience of voting. No one gets horny in a voting booth. It's the most un-American thing you can possibly do. And they're very much like peep shows, they're just lacking glory holes."

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