Tuesday, March 02, 2004

In Which I Have A Moment Of High Proustian Nausea Then Indulge A Long-Held Desire

I got up early to vote, to arrive at the polling place -- an elementary school -- before the kiddos arrived. To get in my Lenten 20 mintes of relinquishment of discursive thought before that. And before that, the Globe and coffee. A tall order, but I did it.

It's a gray morning, mildish, but with a bite in the air. The school is an old brick building that reminds me of my first school, the John Breen Elementary School in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Presided over by Mr Parthum and his paddle, a varnished, skate-board sized instrument of corporeal punishment. He may never have actually wielded the thing against child flesh. It may have simply been an instrument of deterrance. It was the late fifties, after all -- the era of Cold War nuclear brinksmanship, and the waning days of the spare-the-rod-spoil-the-child philosophy. But one did get "called to the office" and that's where the paddle lived. Who knew what went on behind those tall closed doors. We could only imagine.

Tool World

Two puddles, orange and white,
are two last breakfasts lost.
The big hand springs erect.
The big bell bolts us down.

The Paddle lives in the Office.
The right hand fits over the heart.
The head hangs over white knuckles.
Say trespasses, not debts.

Piddle snakes down a pants leg.
Sixty wide eyes watch a pool
gather under Old Glory.
Thirty hands flap overhead.

She peddles the ABCs
from a bag concealed in her drawer.
There’s a tin hole near the ceiling.
It might be a mouth or an eye.

The world (she says) is a puzzle
of interlocking parts.
Heads snap into crotches,
and arms twist behind backs.

She gave us each a pencil
and one yellow square with blue bars.
A fingerbone screeched across jet black ice.
First lesson: O O O


The smell of the Bright School this morning gave me the Proustian willies -- boredom, anxiety, loneliness, suffocation -- all came flooding up. I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

The voting ladies seemed singularly untogether today. Maybe they hadn't hit their stride yet. The main one, whom I recognized from other elections, was as effiecient as usual in extracting my address and name from her big book. There was a second one sitting next to her who seemed terribly confused and distressed.

This excess of voting ladies had something to do with declaring a party affiliation in the primary. Eventually I was handed a ballot in a manila folder and ushered to a booth. Gone, as of a year ago, are those cool lever-operated voting machines. I loved pushing the little levers on the wall to vote, then pulling the big lever to register the votes and open the curtain. That grand, punctuating gesture was a satisfying and dramatic flourish. There's not even a curtain now. Just a felt tipped pen and little circles to fill in. How SAT.

At the exit, there was another voting lady, then a man in charge of the ballot machine. It was refusing to accept the ballots. The man looked addled and distressed. The machine resembled a shredder.

I did not make any wisecracks about Florida.

Only in America: for twenty eight bucks one can buy an ugly tee shirt that states "voting is for old people." No matter how one deconstructs this message, no matter how many layers of irony, cynicism or counter-cynicism one imputes to it, the fact remains that that ultimate cynicism is in the marketing. Profit, not message.

So I indulged myself today.

Pissed at Mr Kerry for his willingness to allow gender-based bigotry to be enshrined in the Massachusetts State Constitution, I voted for Dennis Kucinich.

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