Monday, November 06, 2006

ballot buddies/election day

I know it’s neurotic, but I fear every visit to the doctor.

Even though I feel fine, I’m sure that my minor symptoms, taken in aggregate, will spell a frightening diagnosis. A twinge will become intractable pain; the usual lumps and bumps will morph into basketball-sized cysts with fingernails, teeth, and hair. Symptoms I have yet to notice will turn into neon signs of impending personal doom when interpreted by a respected member of the medical profession.

During the final week leading up to a doctor’s appointment, I can make no further plans, lest I am immediately confined to bed or given a death sentence. The day before, I am dizzy with fear. All I can do is play Spider and do jigsaw puzzles on my computer (even crossword puzzles are too much). And the long drive to the doctor’s office (for I’m not inclined to change doctors once I have one, regardless of the inconvenience this loyalty introduces)? Forget about it. I’m making semi-audible deals with all deities, major and minor, that come to mind. Powers great and small. Weighing the trade-offs between a fatal car crash and the horrors of embarking on a miracle cure.

Of course, I’m not the first person to behave this way. Woody Allen (the uncontested king of the neurotics and fussy older guys with bad judgment) has more than once made light of this kind of megalomaniacal suffering.

Sure. Medical neuroses can be funny. But mostly they're boring.

I like to think I’m special, because I can magically transform medical dread into a unique type of procrastination. Those other guys. They just feel dizzy. Lightheaded. And maybe sleep with someone ill-advised, marry their adopted daughters, or say something they live to regret.

Me? I’m paralyzed. I can’t go forward. I can only play solitaire.

This time I couldn’t complete my absentee ballot until my doctor's appointment was history. Until I’d dangled my feet off the end of an examining table and read a well-worn issue of Marie Claire, pondering last season’s fashion dos and don'ts, clad in the enormous one-size-fits-someone-other-than-me paper gown. Never mind that voting would be a perfect parting shot: I’d have been able to cast my vote with the deep Platonic detachment of knowing I wouldn’t be governed by the pols I'd chosen and the policies I'd endorsed.

But I couldn’t vote ‘til afterward.

We’ve been getting political flyers for months. I mostly shred them in my Fellowes Powershred Model 120C-2, feeling a small sense of glee as a glossy mailing becomes party confetti or fodder for some tweaker’s late-night identity theft project. But I’d wedged a few of the most interesting flyers in among my stack of official voting materials -- a phone-book sized compendium of local candidates and ballot initiatives and a state companion booklet that’s almost as thick. And the outsized absentee ballot envelope with the 5 double-sided optical scan cards.

With all that paper we'd received, you’d think our votes actually mattered.

It’s hard to get excited about the race between our congressional district’s embarrassing incumbent Nancy Pelosi and her unelectable opponents. Write someone in, urges Esquire. But who? Jerry Garcia? From the number of Jerry Garcia dolls on display in Haight shop windows, you’d conclude he’d be a shoo-in. An easy win. But he’s been dead (in the literal sense of the word) for more than a decade; I'm thinking this'd disqualify him.

Jerry. Jerry. Maybe the name association would be enough. Jerry. How 'bout Jerry Brown? Nah. He’s running for something else, some other California office that he hasn’t held yet. I forget which one, but I usually vote for him. There are still a few novel offices left for him to hold. I wonder if he keeps track.

Then how 'bout Jerry of Ben and Jerry’s? Nah – all that milk fat is hard on the arteries.

Jerry Lewis? Unwatchable. Totally unwatchable. And you know you’d have to watch those old clips if he were on the ballot. His opponents would dig them out and project them in your windows, onto every blank wall. This isn't France. People'd be appalled.

Jerry Springer? Better stop while we're ahead.

You’d think we’d be able to elect someone supercool like the East Bay’s Barbara Lee rather than that erstwhile vice-chairman of the Junior League Fashion Show Committee. But no – Nancy Pelosi’s apparently the best we can do. We've got our Nancy and our Diane. I don't even want to talk about it. What's with us?

And we knew even before the ballots were counted that the Hummer-driving Herr Gropenmeister was going to be governor again – I bet most voters didn’t even recognize Angelides’ name. Ronald Reagan, George Murphy, Sonny Bono, Clint Eastwood, Shirley Temple Black. We Californians do it again and again. The real bitch of it is, for the most part, they were awful on the big screen too.

The local races are the most interesting anyway. The neighborhood contests. The politicians who come calling at our neighborhood meetings, judge our Miss Cha-Cha Heels contests, and declare the first week in August as Charo Week. The San Francisco Board of Supes and the city-wide propositions. That's as far as my interest can really extend.

The local race I've been tracking is District 8, Board of Supervisors. Incumbent Bevan Dufty v. challengers Alix Rosenthal and Starchild NLN (No Last Name, as opposed to NMI, No Middle Initial). It's all with Bevan Dufty in our household. Even Lumpy voted for him.

Mr. Dufty probably doesn't care about my endorsement; I'm neither an activist, nor well-known outside my own imagination. But I'm behind him anyway.

Alix Rosenthal, Mr. Dufty's opponent, represents the Castro/Noe Valley divide. The difference between walking down 18th at the snug end of Daddy’s nice black leather harness and strolling down 24th in the padded comfort of Mommy’s Peg Perego stroller. Alix is Noe Valley or maybe the New Haight. Bevan is the Castro.

My neighbor Evert once told us that the dividing line between the Castro and Noe Valley was our house: He lives in the party-all-night, All American Boy, Cliff’s Variety Castro and we live in the breeders’ paradise, See Jane Run, Tuggey's Hardware Noe Valley. I hope that’s not the case. The dividing line may be invisible, but it's profound.

Remember the Wikipedia entry for Pittstown, New York that I told you about? The upstate burg that sports an average IQ of 68? That’s the work of an insider. An inside job. Someone who has developed a rich love-hate relationship with his hamlet. A guy who might hang out at Captain Mike’s and Yee’s Oriental if he were in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The small town hero of a Richard Russo novel.

Well, I see the Wikipedia entry for Pittstown has been changed by a smarty-pants outsider. Some guy who doesn’t really know the place at all, but who just assumes he’s the arbiter of normal. On September 22nd, which was no doubt a crisp, early fall day where Mr. Smarty Pants lives, the following discussion took place about Wikipedia’s Pittstown entry:

The current page lists the average IQ of this town as 68. Assuming this IQ is the "intelligence quotient" discussed in a Wikipedia article of the same name, this puts the average IQ of this town in the "mildly retarded" range, which is difficult to believe.

No reference is cited for this data. I recommend its deletion.

D. Clippinger
This Mr./Ms. Clippinger is a decidedly over-earnest outsider. I recommend his medication be changed. Immediately. Perhaps he needs another hobby too. He’s the kind of guy who’d vote for Alix Rosenthal.

I’m happy to be in the Castro, where if we decide the average IQ is 68, it sticks. Where people aren’t so darned serious. Where Fairy Godmothers and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence hang out on street corners. Where no-one makes a snarky comment when your fishnet stockings have a run or you lose a heel because you're wearing knock-off Manolo Blahniks. Where the guy in front of you in line at Cala will hand you his affinity card, no questions asked, even though his purchasing data will be besmirched by your 3 jars of Gerber all-meat babyfood (for Lumpy), store-made sushi (a prototypical medium food, especially if it’s one of the made-for-Americans deep fried flavors like the chicken McNuggets sushi with teriyaki dipping sauce), and 3 big Nestle’s Toffee Chip bars (all that chocolate! all that sugar! for only a dollar! such a deal!).

He even says, “She’s my long-lost 3rd cousin once removed” to the checker to legitimize the transaction.

I love the Castro and am far surer that Bevan, whose godmother was Billie Holiday, understands neighborhood issues better than Alix, who lists regular attendance at Burning Man as one of her qualifications.

What I say is: Go! I exile you hip people to the desert!

What about Perennial Libertarian candidate Starchild? The Bay Area Reporter's election coverage included an interview with all three candidates in which Starchild promoted gun ownership as the best crime deterrent.

"If you look at the overall crime rates you don't see a spike in crime. There is an increase in violent crimes in San Francisco as far as shootings," Starchild said. "To combat that, let people have the right to self defense. People should be allowed to keep guns."

My thought was, maybe not.

“Oh, she’s an exotic dancer,” Mark says, ever willing to throw his support behind someone who throws her behind around.

I tell him, “She’s a he” by way of ending that discussion as we fill out our absentee ballots.

Absentee voting is fun! We use those scan-tron 'complete the arrow' voting cards, and because it's San Francisco and because San Francisco is in California, we have 5 separate 11" x 17" cards, both sides chock-a-block with important voting decisions.

It'd be a daunting task without a ballot buddy: you shouldn't scuba without a dive buddy and you shouldn't vote without a ballot buddy. Someone to play audience to your outrage. Someone to twitter with you about silly names and outrageous propositions. Someone with whom to uncover the truthy bits concealed in the deceptive questions and to help you vigorously darken the arrows of the straightforward ones.

We sit at the dining room table, which is strewn with detritus of our various gluing and painting projects, and fight over who gets to use the #2 pencil. All of the booklets, pamphlets, postcards, and Magic Eight Balls are at the ready. We mark right on our ballots, not on the practice sheet.

It's an enormous undertaking. Even just coloring in the arrows is a substantial effort. I'd hate to be doing this in the morning gloom of my neighbor's garage.

Some friends of mine once had a pre-election party. We were earnest. We contemplated the issues at stake on our sample ballots. Governance had not deteriorated to the extent it has today. I remember being pleased with the informed quality of my choices.

But it's a lot more fun having a ballot buddy.

With glee, together we darken the arrow in favor of San Francisco Proposition J, Policy Declaration of San Francisco calling for the Impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney. It's a for or against vote, but it might be more appropriate to choose among options like Totally! By All Means! It's About Time! At Least! No Shit! You've already gone through most of the rest of the ballot by this time and you're ready to throw the book at the whole crew.

The reason I used an absentee ballot wasn't just so I could vote at home with my ballot buddy; it was because I spent election night in Austin, Texas. Austin! Home of Kinky Friedman, Texas Jewboy. Gubernatorial candidate, Kinky Friedman. While some of Kinky's politics are a bit too Liebermanesque for me, I still have got to love him for running.

That's why I found myself (with Chris Borgman and Geoff Bowker, among others) at Scholz Beer Garten, which -- if you're a good student of Molly Ivins -- you know is the real seat of Texas state government. It's not that fancy-dancy State Capitol building (although the capitol building is really swell and photogenic); it's Scholz's.

That's why Kinky Friedman was there. That's why all the local newspeople were there, dressed in their finest from the midsection up. That's why lots of strange-looking Texans in Kinky Friedman poly blend t-shirts and leather trousers were there. That's why *I* was there, toasting the assembled multitudes with a Shiner Bock.

You go, Kinky! You go! At least it's not business as usual.

Impeach those losers in Washington. Distract Nancy with a good Bloomie's sale. Send Alix to Black Rock desert. Send Kinky to Washington (but make him fly coach, so it doesn't go to his head). Keep Pittstown mildly retarded.

I think I'm going to live. Hope you voted. I did.


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