I like the noise of democracy. ~ James Buchanan
This past week I worked at a polling station, endorsing the passage of a sales tax here in our city that would provide funding for a badly underfunded pension system; it would also allow for monies to be freed up in order to begin filling massive holes the police and fire departments have in terms of manpower. A sticky, thorny situation, asking for the passage of a tax in these times, especially in an area of Missouri conservative enough to deem air conditioning in school classrooms a “fancy-pants luxury”. The long and short of it was that the naysayers lost, and the tax passed. I am glad for this, because it tells me that there are still people out there who care enough about local public safety to consider actually paying for it; this runs contrary to many places where entitlement is the rule of law (didn’t we discuss this?) But I digress.
One of the best parts of working the polls? Working a ten hour shift there is like a guarantee that SOMEone will have an episode in your presence. Jim and I booked our slot down at one of the libraries and let the good times roll. Here are a couple of characters worthy of mention.
1.) The Ghost Of Jerry Garcia
This cat was what we refer to on the northside as an “Urban Outdoorsman”, but is known on the southside as “homeless”. He looked like a toothless version of Jerry Garcia, stringy skullet style hair and the odor of old food and urine. He continued to berate us for a cigarette (neither of us smoke), demand of us the bus schedule (we kept telling him it seemed to come around every 20 minutes) and push us into buying his watch for some “lunch money”. Despite pointing out that neither of us needed watches, he remained undaunted in his quest to sell us his watch, even using yelling as a sales technique at one point. He also took the time to show us a couple of pictures that he had of himself in nothing but a diaper. As an adult. His explanation? Some kids offered to “put him on the internet” if he agreed to have his picture taken. One thing I love about the homeless – they never fail to be amused at their own stories, and are more than willing to laugh at appropriate moments, thereby alleviating us of the responsibility; this is critical, because we couldn’t understand more than every seventh word he uttered. So we all had a good laugh, checked the time on our corresponding watches and made sure to get him on the next bus, a process that took several hours due to his frequent need to take a piss and subsequently pass out behind the bushes every so often.
2.) Christian Vigilantes
A couple of older dudes came by our area to talk about the pension issue, and then assured us that due to our profession, no matter the outcome of the vote, our lives in the after world were a sure thing. I asked him if he actually knew any firemen, because that might cause him to re-evaluate his position; of course they may have been damning us for an eternity at this point. I smelled it first, but Jim wasn’t as quick to sense a theological trap, and he was left to be the point man in the conversation. They then went on to insist that the resurrection of Jesus was the most undisputed, scientific, undeniable fact of existence. There were some terms thrown about that made no sense, talking about radiological testing and lots of talk of bloodshed. It was creepier than your common conversion session. They then made us promise we’d read the Book of John, immediately. And since they hadn’t cast their votes yet, I just nodded like a cult follower, eyes as big as saucers, throwing in the occasional “you got that right, sister!” and “can I get a witness?” They then asked if we’d like them to kick over the sign that the opposition had put up next to ours. We politely told them we couldn’t condone that kind of thing, but we weren’t there to police their behavior. So the shorter chubby one walked up to the sign as they headed to the lot after voting and sort of kicked it. Sort of. He more like tripped over it and stumbled and created a scene. I shouted out “Praise Jesus” (okay, I muttered it) while he picked himself off the lot and demanded his buddy ride in the back of the car. They peeled out of the parking lot like they’d just knocked over a liquor store instead of a plastic sign. Jim looked at me and asked “Did that really just happen?”
Yes James, it did. And it was awesome.
3.) The Ultimate Pessimist
The only thing we’d say to people heading into the polls was “Good morning” or “Doin’ all right?” There were no pleas, nor any entreaties to vote one way or another. We were there only to answer any questions folks might have about the pension and to put a face on this huge issue. Most folks would at least give us a “good morning” in return, or if a no voter (I’m guessing) pretend they didn’t hear us and take an obsessive interest in the ground near their feet. But one man, a nastily grouchy looking sort, said “good morning” at first and then saw who we were and took the time to stop, point at us and say “NO. Not a good morning”. And then he shuffled off to electorally shake his fist at us. I turned and said “Think of the power we wield, James. We just converted the entire aspect of this morning merely by wearing a shirt. Think of what we could do by lunch.”
4.) The Recyclers
At some point in the day, a couple of ladies came out of the library with the backpack on wheels- kind of contraption I took it to be used for the transportation of reading material. They weren’t poorly dressed, nor did they have the air of desperate people; they were merely passing some time waiting for the next bus, and I thought nothing of it. There was one of those sand filled ashtrays near us (fanTAStic!) and once in a while a library patron / voter would throw their cancer stick into the sand receptacle as they entered the building – everyone on board so far? Yeah, well these ladies would wait for just such an occurrence and then saunter on up, looking us dead in the eye, as though they wanted to talk. But this was arrogance on my part to think they wanted anything to do with a couple of poll workers; no, they would stop at the ashtray, pick through the butts and either begin to smoke one, or already having one in their mouth, place them into the pockets of their sweat pants. Each time this happened? I gagged just a little and excitedly jabbed Jim with an elbow and said “Dude. They just did it. Again!”, to which Jim would nonchalantly reply “I wonder if they’re single” or “Man, that’s really ecologically responsible, how they don’t waste ANYthing.”
Which is precisely why I picked working with Jim.
And precisely why, when called upon again to represent the local firefighters at a polling place, my first pick will be to work at the library. I love the democratic process.