October 23, 2007

Election Day 2007: Walk It By Yourself

On the morning of the election, we walked across the street to the International School, the polling place for our district—First Ward, District 2. Just as we reached the steps on Terpsichore, who should enter the school before us but the two hoarders from down Magazine. Check it out, I remarked to Kim.

The only other time I’d been to the school--I believe it was one evening in the first few weeks after my arrival in town-- we’d wandered by and noticed a public event taking place in the ground floor cafeteria. Chris Rose sat on a dais with an interviewer next to him and a nice crowd of 50 or 60 people. Newly returned, I knew only a little about him, though Kim filled me in as we listened. That night he was charming, self-deprecating, funny, all the things that make up his known persona. Yet, there was a palpable commonality between his mindset, the vulnerabilities he expressed, and the mindset of those listening. Survival-ism, the ridiculousness of loving New Orleans, doubt—these were in the air and in Rose’s jokes.

It’s weird now to read articles about publishing deals, Oprah, K-Ville, and Lord & Taylor. Just sayin’.

Anyway, the cafeteria. The hoarder walked up to the registration table and immediately began a conversation with an older black lady who may have had her teeth out. I believe she told him that her mother had passed, and he said he was sorry to hear that. Then he moved on to a white, TV anchor-looking gentleman who asked him for his name and ID. After the hoarder gave his name (an Italian sounding name, which he punctuated by saying, “Italian”), the anchor spelled it out again so that the man next to him could write it down.

Huh, I thought. The hoarder’s actually a pretty normal-sounding dude. The anchor, though, was less than normal, his manner cloudy, like perhaps he wasn’t all there, just smiling and slow. He waved the hoarder over to the booth closest to us, where an older black gentleman closed the curtain behind the hoarder, leaving only the dirty blue pants visible to the rest of us. It was then that I noticed that the lady hoarder had abstained from voting, and that she was about the same age as the man, and thus not his mother.

Kim and I went through the same steps as the hoarder, although when we first approached the registration table, the black ladies said, “Ooh, look at y’all, got your voter cards,” which we held in our hands, eager beaver lil' democrats that we are. We laughed.

The anchor found my name and started to spell it out, and I became sure that he was slow, only dressed up for the part and put at this table to give him something to do. He did fine at reading out my name and told me, and then Kim, to wait outside the booth in which the hoarder now voted.

“You ok in there, sir?” the black gentleman called through the curtain to the hoarder. “Three minute time limit.”

“Be right out,” the hoarder said. A few moments later, we heard the tinkle of electronic bells and out he came. I stepped into his place.

The ballot was laid out on a large square of what felt like vinyl. Each of the names on each of the lists had squares next to them, and when you touched a square, it lit up green. The point was to go through each list of candidates for the various offices, along with the 4 amendment referendums, then to hit a final button to cast your votes.

Once I perused the different lists, I scolded myself for not knowing more about the offices and candidates. Further harsh thoughts shot forth at the realization that no write-in was possible, dashing my hope to vote for Kim for governor. I voted for women, for men with funny nicknames, against known incumbents, and ‘yes’ to the referendums, with the exception of the last one, something about consigned jewelry being tax exempt. Fuck that, I thought.

And I voted for Boasso for governor. I thought maybe he could get to a run-off, though there was no way he could win. Here I am, I thought, ambivalent like so many Louisianans in this time of great challenge and a leadership drought, shrugging my shoulders at the ballot. My choices: a big ol’ Democrat-turned-Republican-turned-Democrat who seemed like a nice guy who no one in the nation would take seriously but who hailed from the devastated St. Bernard Parish; and an extremist Catholic with a dazzling education, an odd and unique position on race, and barely a word in his programs about the recovery of New Orleans, a grotesque suburb of which he represents with strong conservatism in the US House.

I ended up taking the big ol’ guy just to stretch things out, in the hope that Jindal would have to say something in a run-off. Yes, 2007 in Louisiana: the previous sentence was my mindset at the ballot box.

After I hit the final button and exited the booth, Kim entered and I walked back past the registration table. One of the ladies was directing someone, saying, “To the right, to the right.” I smiled and said, “To the left, to the left,” and then everyone laughed and another woman mentioned the Cupid Shuffle. A conversation on the Cupid Shuffle continued as I sat in an office chair near the door and waited for Kim to exit the polls.