Last week I voted. In Ohio absentee ballots and early voting are easy. It really surprises me considering the conservative, almost MAGAesque state legislature. But they make it easy; they send me my ballot and have a drop box at the Franklin County Board of Elections building on Morse Road waiting for me.
The Board of Elections is housed in a building that used to be a department store, located in an older part of town. The city is trying to rehabilitate the neighborhood. There are a lot of immigrants living in the area, people who exist on the fringes of society. They work as laborers, taxi drivers, in food service, or custodial positions, anything to get by. They need a neighborhood they can afford. Little bodegas and Halal markets have sprouted everywhere.
The KFC is now the African Paradise Restaurant, the old White Castle now serves street tacos. There is a rustic beauty in the clashing cultures. It is the richest, most diverse place in the city, as long as you can calculate wealth without thinking of money.
You never know what to expect when you go to that part of town. And, this year I had no idea what to expect when I took our ballots, my wife and mine, to drop them off. I expected armed, armored poll watchers, angry people in red hats demanding a re-count. I didn’t expect to drive up, have a polite, smiling young man waiting to take my ballot and drop it in the box. I didn’t expect him to thank me, and hand me two “I voted” stickers, and tell me to enjoy my day. I didn’t expect to stay in my car for the whole thing. That’s what I got though.
I remember thinking, “this was too easy.” I knew something was lurking out there, nothing is ever that simple.
I needed to buy some more lawn and leaf bags. I had more leaves, endless leaves, really. I think the leaves from our neighbor’s yards are migrating to ours, or maybe ours are multiplying. Every day the situation deteriorates, and there are never enough bags.
There was a huge hardware store right across from the Board of Elections. It was pleasantly crowded, enough people to provide a herd-like solidarity but not enough to be threatening. Sound rose and fell, rhythms, waves, a pleasant, relaxing white noise. I drifted through the store, not really looking at anything, not really noticing anyone, just happy to be a part of something without really having to be be a part of anything.
There is a “decent interval” for strolling casually through a store before arousing the suspicion of security personnel. It was coming. I grabbed 6 bundles of lawn and leaf bags. Thirty bags, it would never be enough, there is never enough, but I could carry them without a cart.
There was a lonely cashier, chatting up her co-worker, and I cruised on in. Her co-worker seemed to be irritated at the conversation, or at least uninterested and smiled crookedly when the sound ended. After scanning my leaf bags the cashier told me the price.
She leaned toward me, close, conspiratorially, almost uncomfortable, but her face seemed keen, her gaze was distant. She wasn’t really looking at me, she was looking somewhere else. She was older, mid-forties, and her face was aged beyond that, she looked as if she had lost some weight and it made the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth deeper and more apparent. Her short hair was so black it had to be died and sat in an uneven tangle of dense curls.
“It’s close,” She said.
My mind stopped, it hit that sentence and stopped, right there. It ran the sentence again. It’s close. What did it mean? “The end is near?” Was this middle aged, tattooed woman predicting the end days? I thought, briefly, about returning the lawn bags, why bother cleaning up the yard.
“It keeps going back and forth,” she said. “I hate missing a game like this.”
She looked at the other cashier and said, “Go Buckeyes.”
“I told you, I don’t care about football.” She replied, and it was obvious she wasn’t fond of the football fan, either.
It was a big week for Ohio State, they were playing Penn State, and there had been a lot of news and enthusiasm about the game. I stopped caring about sports several years ago, but she wanted to talk about the game. She didn’t want to hear about the game, which was fine with me because until that point I hadn’t even known it had started. While my credit card was being accepted, she told me the close games were her favorite, and how she wished she could be home watching it.
More than anything I think she just wanted to talk. I listened and smiled at her enthusiasm.
“I hope you get off in time to catch the end.” I said, walking toward the door.
“Me too,” She said, “have a nice day.” She told me right before she leaned against the partition separating her and the other cashier and started talking to her about football. Weekend shifts make for strange bedfellows.
Picking up piles of leaves and putting them into sacks, pressing them down with as much vigor as possible the day re-played in my head. I had been worried about going to the drop box, things have gotten mean. I dreaded going to the hardware store on a Sunday, a warm, wonderful Sunday, when every amateur handyman would be busy swinging a hammer, and it had been pleasant, a slow trip down a lazy river. It had been a good day.
The sun was shining on me, Dylan was coming through my earphones, and I remembered the words of William Wordsworth, I don’t know where I had heard them, but all at once it made sense.
“Be mild, and cleave to gentle things,
thy glory and thy happiness be there.”
This Post is republished on Medium.
Photo credit: iStock