Catharsis in the Polling Booth: Did You Get Your Sticker?
ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
It was around the time I was considering Proposition 52 that I broke out in a heavy sweat. I first noticed my swampy underarms, and then the sweat was dripping down my back. The sun was blasting through the open door of the gym, and the sour smell of wasted exertion hung thick like cologne used to cover the need for a bath.
I was the only voter in the polling place. There were a dozen cardboard booths set up in the shape of an L. None of them had curtains. The voter was left feeling exposed.
I cleared my throat and hunkered down to do the work at hand. There were many important things to consider. Condom use for porn stars, the fate of the death penalty, and increasing options for housing in Southern California. Somehow they all seemed related and by voting yes on one, there was a logical trend that should be followed through while considering the rest. But I could find no apparent context, no obvious reason why I should vote one way or another.
I tried rolling my shoulders and loosening my muscles to get a more relaxed, liberal feeling before I started leaving ink on the page.
A professorial type walked in as I read through the propositions again and again. I was searching for clues, for a sudden burst of insight. I’d rushed out of the house without even drinking coffee, so my mental faculties were not at their highest levels. Suddenly that seemed immoral. To come to the voting booth less than par.
Let’s get back to the beginning of the ballot, I thought. To the presidential race, where the choosing is easy. The pickings are slim, but the decision shouldn’t be difficult.
Had I said that out loud? The women at the table doing the verifying and issuing of the ballots were all looking at me. I flapped my arms to get some air flowing to the wet spots in my shirt.
The presidential options were four. I squinted at them for a few seconds while the professorial man with his white goatee and thin-rimmed glasses took the booth beside me. He sighed like he’d been holding it in all the way to the polling place. He leaned his elbows on the cardboard booth and immediately there as a crunching, tearing sound. My voting friend stood straight very quickly.
Meanwhile, the presidential race had become clear to me. I saw instantly what I was voting for:
Unelectable — vote makes no difference
Unelectable — vote makes no difference
Write-In — equally useless
I turned to the professorial man who also seemed to be wrestling with the propositions, judging by the way he kept flipping the ballot from one side to the other. I’d had the same frustration — you mean this damned thing continues on the backside and there’s also another page?
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
“What difference does it make?” he asked me back, a bit startled. We peered at each other over our cardboard walls.
It wasn’t my fault he’d pulled up right next to me to do his business. “I’m looking for a legitimate name to write in here, but I’m not good at making it up.”
He scratched his chin and said, “I don’t want to be the damned president, and I don’t want anybody to think I want to be, either.” He saw me smiling, and he loosened up. “Duncan Reddy,” he said, “pleased to meet you.”
“Art Ritus,” I said, and we shook hands.
When I returned my completed ballot, I made sure it was tucked into the protective sleeve to ensure privacy. The old lady took it and made a great effort to push the ballot out of the sleeve without looking at my choices. I watched her carefully. Behind me Duncan Reddy had fallen into a series of sighs and throat clearings that indicated he was having second thoughts at the last second.
“Would you like a sticker?” the old lady asked me. There were piles of sheets with blue “I Voted” stickers on them. The kind you’d expect in grade school that said “Teacher’s Pet”, so if you were extra good and minded the system and its authority, you could put one on your shirt and wear it around for the day.
I refused. I’d made a New Year’s resolution years ago to stop taking useless junk from people, especially when I was just going to throw it away.
“Please,” she said, “take a sticker. It’s your right.” She held one out. It was stuck to her thumb.
Another woman who’d originally given me my ballot encouraged me. “You’ve got to take a sticker and let everybody know you voted.”
“I’m not proud of what I’ve done,” I told her.
More people were coming in to vote. I’d finished up just in time.
“You’re not proud you voted?” she asked. The other women at the table glanced up at that.
“It’s a civic duty that seems less and less reliable and important with each passing cycle,” I told her. “I really don’t want people to mistake me as an enthusiastic voter, and they will if I carry around a bright sticker like that. I voted with a solemn heart and a laden mind. There is nothing prideful about that.”
From behind me the professorial gentleman whom I thought was my friend said, “Would you all please shut up so I can concentrate on these issues?”
“Which one’s giving you trouble, pal?” another guy in line asked. “Trying to imagine porn with rubbers?”
A scuffle was about to ensue, and I had no idea how the row of old ladies was going to handle it. Duncan Reddy stepped around from behind his cardboard booth. The guy with the smart comment raised his hands. “It’s Election Day, come on, I don’t mean any trouble.”
I stepped out into the sun feeling the sense of relief that my duty had been finished, and that Duncan Reddy had at least one vote in the ringer, although I was not totally happy with the way his character had changed toward the end. But frustration takes its toll, and the grueling, mindless political events of the past dozen or more months have pushed the masses to their limits.
When I got home, my good friend, the famous cultural philosopher Hubert Humdinger sent me a photo of himself wearing a new shirt he’d received in the mail from one of his friends. On the front it read, “I’m With Her” and on the back it said, “But she doesn’t give a f*ck about me!”
“Would you have voted if you could?” I asked him in a reply email. Humdinger was kicked out of the United States decades ago.
“I vote with my feet,” Humdinger wrote back. “I make my life the way I want it as best I can and I try to please the Creator with as much mindfulness as is possible. I don’t make check marks next to braggarts and narcissists to reaffirm my perceived cultural identity.”
[Photo of voting booth taken by Wegmann, Ludwig, courtesy of German Federal Archives, Wikimedia Commons; ]