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a ritual in someone's garage

Do you wonder what's going on in the lives of old friends who don't post much any more? I do.

My big house reno started today, after days and weeks of preparation. All the furniture from the second floor is stacked in my garage like Tetris pieces. This morning the construction crew arrived as the dogwalker came, and soon all was chaos. Floors and walls were being covered in plastic. Painters arrived whom I had not called for. Phone calls were made and last-minute plans required urgent gallops through the house before I could leave, hauling a big suitcase after me, as I'd been warned not to sleep in the place for at least three nights if I didn't want to inhale "particulate matter."

I drove off this morning considerably late, wound down the hill, and parked in a narrow lane below a steep slope with a garage at its top, where I went inside and voted. I once wrote an essay in this journal about my first time voting, in 2004, when I was in my late 40s. I’d always believed (and continue to believe, for it is numerically correct) that my vote is, in a practical math sense, null; and that it makes no actual difference. In those years I generally tried not to bring up my voting history, or lack thereof, as it upset others to no purpose; they would, pretty much to the last man or woman, declare, “If everyone felt that way…!” – which does not speak to the issue. First, because everyone doesn’t feel that way, so discussing an alternate universe where they do is not an incentive; and second, if most people did feel that way, my vote would still accomplish nothing (though it would have slightly more value than it does now).

Over the years, however, I have learned many things. So this morning I climbed the slope to the garage, punched my card, and brought it to an old man who stood by the tabulator. He tore off my stub and showed me how to feed the voting card in (as the ritual would have been incorrectly performed if he fed it in for me). I did so. A Chinese-American woman who looked to be in her 60s sat nearby, watching the machine closely. She had a roll of stickers in her hand, and though her clothes were old, her carriage was regal. She saw the tabulator perform, and smiled at me warmly, saying in careful, heavily accented words: “Success! Your vote is successful. I will give you gold star.” She extended her hand with the graciousness of a monarch knighting someone, and attached the sticker to my shirt: “You are gold medalist!”

I laughed and walked back down the slope, a little worried about how late I would be for work. In the lane below I passed an old woman coming toward me with great difficulty, laboring step by step with a wheeled walker. I warned her the driveway to the garage was steep. She could barely hear me, so I repeated it more loudly and walked her to the driveway, where I called to the pollworkers, “This lady may need some help getting up there!” A big man came down to give her an arm.

You see, I have learned over the years that it’s not about the math of voting. It’s about a sacred ritual – a shared sacred ritual. (And, in California, it’s about researching props, but that’s another story.) It’s a symbolic act of shared trust, a promise that our combined future is something important to me; and now I understand that the people I used to argue with were wrong about the math, but right about the brotherhood of our greater tribe.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
coloredink
Nov. 7th, 2012 06:04 am (UTC)
I used to work the polls in high school; it seemed like a good deal, being paid to take a day off of school and sit in a room with a bunch of old ladies. (I remember reading my Biology textbook.)

One election, I remember, an older Chinese couple came in to vote. The wife was able to vote without any problems, but the husband wasn't on the list. We apologetically told him he'd have to go home and bring back two pieces of mail. They began to argue in Cantonese, which I could understand. His wife didn't want to leave and come back, but the husband insisted: We're American now! We should vote!

I had that same sense of mingled humility and pride, too, watching Occupy Oakland rally in the streets, some of them carrying signs in other languages. The signs in Chinese, in particular, brought a tear to my eye: That's right. You're in America now: you can do this.
j_bluestocking
Nov. 7th, 2012 07:23 am (UTC)
Humility and pride, that's it. I was thinking about that today. There's something wonderful about being in a place where so many other people come from so many different worlds, about all of us living together. I actually thought, "You know, California is a lot like college."
p_zeitgeist
Nov. 7th, 2012 06:34 am (UTC)
It’s a symbolic act of shared trust, a promise that our combined future is something important to me;

That's a fascinating take on it. I would never have thought of it precisely that way (I'd have said something more like, it's a kind of buy-in, because when you've put effort into participating in something voluntarily you're more likely to develop emotional affiliations with it, and also that it's a kind of temporary coalescence into a collective identity, as your vote merges with the votes of your allies the way water droplets merge into a mighty river); but now that you've said it, of course it makes perfect sense.

I hate to even ask what you're having done in your house. I just got through some fairly minor work here, sped along by the eerie way in which work people here are reliable and know what they're doing and show up when they say they will, and I thought of you and of the unfairness of it all for every single minute of it. I hope that whatever it is, this time it goes smoothly, and everything is done right the first time.
j_bluestocking
Nov. 7th, 2012 07:34 am (UTC)
I'm finally doing the reno of my home office -- putting in more windows and replacing the ones I've got with better ones, putting in flooring (at last!), moving the internal wall out a foot and putting in cabinetry and bookcases. While I'm at it, I'm replacing all the 2nd floor windows -- a process that involves the roof being taken off the deck, and scaffolding being put up.

Of course, it's all far more complicated than that, as you know. That was just the main title sequence. And there's the usual suspense -- will the enormous lavender bush that took years to grow survive the onslaught of workers? Will Harry manage to get through without incident? Will I ever find the paperwork in my office that got thrown into boxes and brought down to the den? And how long will this sojourn in the wilderness take? At least six weeks, everyone agrees, though it gets fuzzy after that. (Hmm. All this questioning reminds me of Mr. Earbrass, and the unspeakable horror of the literary life. How did I get into the unused room on the third floor?)

But one day I should have the office of my dreams. If nothing goes horribly wrong.
equesgal
Nov. 7th, 2012 09:21 pm (UTC)
So where you staying while all this goes on??
j_bluestocking
Nov. 8th, 2012 04:51 am (UTC)
I'm in a hotel in beautiful downtown Burbank! I just went and fetched dinner from an amazingly good and somewhat overpriced deli/gourmet store called Olive & Thyme.

I'll only be here three days this week. Then I'm back home, and shouldn't be sent out again till the next phase involving plaster dust.

I do hope to come up to Big Bear with the dogs some time in December or January. Are you available to consult on that? I want to be sure there's snow on the ground so Harry can play!
equesgal
Nov. 9th, 2012 08:44 pm (UTC)
Sure thing. I can also let you know whether you need chains. I'd love to meet up if only for a chance to see you after all the years and meet the pups.
tehomet
Nov. 8th, 2012 01:44 pm (UTC)
What a beautiful post.

And how lovely it is to hear from you!
j_bluestocking
Nov. 9th, 2012 06:20 am (UTC)
And how lovely to see you and your icon!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )