I spent my birthday standing in line for an hour and 45 minutes this afternoon, the last day for early voting. I arrived and noticed the line was doubled up on itself, and was so long I couldn't tell where it folded. Somewhere far, far down the hall I could see that. I asked a lady near the door where the actual voting was taking place how long she'd been waiiting. "Just an hour" was her reply.
George Orwell's "1984" was hidden away in my overstuffed purse. I pulled it out and began reading the tiny print on withered, yellowed paper (it is my boyfriend's father's book). I had to read the sentences over and over again. I couldn't concentrate with all the freaking talking going on around me. I was trying to get the jist of doublethink when this sweaty guy in a suit told this young black kid next to him, maybe 19, that if he believes in God everything else in his life will just fall perfectly into place. The kid nodded his head in silent, passive agreement. He followed that up with, "We all got to believe in something." The sweaty man in the suit's voice grew louder. He said, "NO. No. Not something. God. God is the only thing."
The kid was embarrased, stared at his shoes and said, "Yeah, man." I hadn't noticed person ahead of me had moved up several feet.
There was constant conversation, some between strangers, but because so many people knew each other. I am still voting in Murfreesboro, which is way more "small town" than Nashville, so there was a lot of, "Hey Peggy, how's your mama and them?" I tried to read but the words on my page swam a lazy swim, then came into focus beneath me: WAR IS PEACE.
A tall, oafish college-aged guy called attention to my reading. Those at the end of the line were face to face with those at the front of the line, since it was a doubled line, with no rope to seperate us. Like at Disneyworld, except instead of a rollercoaster waiting for you at the end you get to push a few small black buttons followed by a big red one. Huge rush. Anyway, the people at the front of the line had been waiting over an hour and they were getting a little cabin fever. It was hot in there. This place wasn't meant for that many people. No doubt the local fire marshall was just looking the other way. The people in the front of the line were more vocal due to their fatigue. They were excited. They were almost there! I wanted to read in peace, but instead the oafish guy told me about how he gave up after four chapers then read the Cliff's Notes. I nodded, smiled and looked down at my book. I tried to think of something to say, but I had to pee and he would be moving ahead in line soon, and I didn't want to say anything too commital, you know? So I gave up and said nothing. After that everyone in line saw that I am a stone cold bitch, so I was left alone.
I alternated reading with eavesdropping. Not a word about politics. I tried to gauge who each person would vote for based on appearances and bits of conversation. Naturally, I hadn't a clue most times. Well, except the the lady whose kid said something about "Cheney bad vote." She quickly silenced her child, but that lady had to wear a scarlet K on her chest for the rest of out hour and 45 minutes in line. I vote at every opportunity, and have since I turned 18 years old. I usually go on election day, and am usually the youngest voter there in a sea of grannies. I used to live in a granny sort of neighborhood, so it makes sense, but I was thrilled to see the line filled with a very diverse bunch of people. Lots and lots of young voters and a high number of minorities. Plumbers and sheetwallers and that stinky kid with the mohawk.
Once I finally got into the office to vote I was greeted by an exasperated and rude election commission official who was more interested in socializing with the granny at my right than telling me where to sign. "Here and here," he barked, then introduced himself as a politician from nearby Eagleville to the old lady next to me. I asked him where my second signature should go, because I wanted to make very sure that I didn't fudge anything that would make my vote somehow not count, and he barked again, "I said there." I was exhausted by this point, as was he, so I merely laughed in his face and took two extra PROUD TO VOTE stickers. Boo-ya!, Mr. Politician Election Volunteer, I got your stickers.
I finally voted almost two hours after I arrived. But not before a long line of senior citizens were moved to the front ahead of me. I would never, ever normally think such a thing, but after standing all afternoon my snug, though thoroughly cute, Steve Maddens didn't even fit on my feet anymore. I was irritated. It's just that I waited so long. I thought for a fleeting moment that maybe their votes should only count half since they put in half the effort. Then I saw their Bush stickers on the Oldsmobiles parked up front in the blue spaces. Yes, I thought, theirs' should definitely count half.
Ultimately, my wait was totally worth it. It wasn't so bad, I had Winston and Big Brother to keep me company. Only one person in line recognized the irony of my reading "1984" in line for the 2004 election. He made eye contact with me, pointed at my book and said, "Nice choice."
Something about that line today made me a little more confident about high numbers for Kerry in Tennessee. People were visibally tired or worried they'd be late to pick up Suzy from day care, but they were not willing to come back on November 2, I heard them say. They were eager to get it done today. Everyone took the wait and inconvenience in stride.
I found the last page I'd read before heading back to my car. I covered IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH with a pressed-flower bookmark and made my way outside. The line was now down the street and growing onto the street perpendicular to it. Rain fell from a muddy sky and the line grew deeper. A bus pulled up carrying registered voters from the local university. I felt good about what had just happened; about what will happen.
But, maybe I've just been brainwashed by the Party.