Monday, November 10, 2008

Notes from Election day Last Week

These are pretty rapid fire, so bear with me--no real string of narrative, just the frayed ends of images and senses.

Let's set the stage. Did any of you watch the election night coverage on either NBC or MSNBC? You know the ice rink with the United States on it that they fill in red or blue as they find out which states go what way, and the little trundling what looks like the top of the phone company cherry picker boxcar thingies that keep track of respective electoral votes for each candidate, with OBAMA and MCCAIN printed on the front and trailing a blue or red banner as it goes up the side of a building? Or have you seen the Tina Fey show 30 Rock? Well, you might already know this, but the name comes from 30 Rockefeller Center, where NBC has its studios, and where they put the big Christmas tree up soon. And where they do all that election hoo-ha. And where I was last Tuesday night along with a bunch of yahoos.

"Dude I can't hear what they're saying. Dude, dude," she looks like she's from Colorado or New Jersey, all black fingernails and Cyndi Lauper hair and a jean jacket with rolled up sleeves. She's chewing gum madly and twirling her fingers at her ears, which are plugged into a walkman--yes, a real walkman, with a radio dial on it--and then pointing to the enormous screens and speakers, the two signs that read MSNBC on the left and NBC on the right, poking through the line of American flags and live oaks interlaced high into the air with Christmas air, the balmy early November air blowing through the leaves on their branches they'll keep all year.

"I can't hear what they're saying...i can't hear it over your conversation." Now, I don't own a cell phone. But Olivia does. And I was talking to my friend John. I don't know how to talk on a cell phone, or really how the whole thing works. I worry the other person can't hear me amid the noise surrounding me and all the other people's voices, so I tend to talk a bit, uh, dramatically. Imagine the guy at the bottom of the Grand Canyon with a megaphone screaming "8 Piece BUCKET--EXTRA TASTY CRISPY--FOR DELIVERY?" Or imagine a third grade teacher dealing with a slightly hearing impaired immigrant child from Mexico who happens to be introverted and possess artistic sensibilities.

I felt slightly ashamed, and to prove it I got off the phone quickly and mousequietly right afterwards. Would have felt worse but she was taking this whole spectacle /way/ too seriously. I mean, there's the Croatian press core, with horrible pancake makeup and their American press corps handlers basically getting drunk and eating fancy sandwiches next to the set. And over there is a Santa for Obama, and that guy's not wearing pants, and what's that smell? Oh, they're feeding the draught horse from one of the quaint tourist carriages and he's gotta make some room. And over it all CHRIS MATTHEWS IS PLAYING HARDBALL WITH MY EAR DRUMS and why are there greek columns? I see through the branches and stars and stripes waving in the spotlights, distinctly, on the screen, fake greek columns. Did they steal those from the DNC platform and Obama's last occasion to speak in front eight jillion people? And that map is /floating/, in the air, and maybe even rotating like right before the guy dies in Mortal Kombat.

Oh well, they're doing a county by county breakdown of Florida, North Carolina--ohp! There goes the boxcar up the building!! It's the blue one!!!

It's really flying up there--if it wouldn't have hit that snag around the fifteenth floor it'd be there now. About six states go to the B-man and they're hovering just under two hundred. We wait another half hour and listen as children whine for more candy, to stay up a little later, strangely excited by this political melee. This one girl, whose dad was Russian and Indulgent and whose mom came from southern California and was the most nasty spirited person i've encountered in quite some time, looked at her parents when they announced they were leaving at 10, immediately and forcefully replied, "Ten thirty!" Pretty sure she's in law school at Columbia. Pretty sure dad's rich, bought himself a green card with sourpuss mom, and now they're in their forties with an eight year old hell bent on the intricacies of the electoral college. they're doing the best they can, and then they're leaving.

Texas goes to McCain, and the lagging red boxcar limps its way up to almost halfway the height of the blue one. I crane my upper body over the railing to get a good look at the ice (I can only really see the northeast down to about North Carolina unless I get all contortionist about it). I thought Wyoming was big--man, Texas is motherhonking HUGE.

It takes three people to carry it out in what looks to be a tent for the brady bunch to camp in. Good God, it's so dang red, so incredibly hotel lobby looking. I'm not sure Texas has ever looked this formal. But they get it on there and blow dry it with the enormous leaf blower jet packs and buff it like professional Canadian curlers in the winter Olympics, and we're off.

Ohio has since gone to another O and it finally dons on me the election has ended. It's just a matter of time til they call the west coast. We finish the wine in the portable coffee thermos and head on our way. Nothing has officially registered because nothing has officially happened. I left things hanging back at the Rock with the blue trolley banner around the twenty second story and nearly 205 electoral votes or some shit. But I know better and we get on the subway and besides the crowd is getting the sense that the networks are talking around something ("i feel like they're not telling me something, bob? Do you get that sense? Why are they being so scripted sounding, it's like they don't know what to say...")

We take the D train and cross above ground over the manhattan bridge. The view of the East River, the tugboats and the Brooklyn ports and the barges and the Brooklyn Bridge always gets me, so I'm kind of tripping the lights fantastic, when this girl in the corner of the car squeals while looking into her phone display, "Obama won!" She does a sort of happy dance in the seat with her feet and her friend hugs her and he keeps on dancing. The woman across from me with the alphabet blocks spelling 'obama' on her hoop earrings keeps her eyes closed, not even stirring at the news.

We transfer at Atlantic to a 2 train, which drops us off a little further from our apartment, but away from the car oriented Eastern Parkway and closer to the small streets of President and Union. We pop up out of the station and it is absolute pandemonium. Cars full of black Americans and West Indians and Caribbean folks are honking in ecstacy, people are hanging out of their balconies Mardi Gras people, and everywhere, everywhere--in the streets, on the pavement--folks are shouting. It's just noise for the most part, the cacophonous roar of jubilation, but every now and then you catch shouts which consist mostly of "Barack Obama! Whooooo!" And if you pay close attention you can tune in to individuals. Girl on a cell phone, holding it in front of her:

"Bitch, you haven't paid your taxes in three years. Barack Obama, that's all you need to say."

I popped my head for a moment into a teeming bar that was bouncing and sending electrical currents through every body in the place. I glanced a TV mounted up in the corner of the bar and looked over those bouncing shoulders to read the headline saying, "Barack Obama Elected President of the United States." The place was all lit up and the door was wide open. It was nothing for me to peer in like that.

One man coming the other way down the street looked me dead in the eye with the most warmth I've ever felt by a stranger with that dark a skin looking at my white ass, then put his arms straight up over his head, his fists tight, his cheeks bright with teary streams, and shouted, "Barack Obama! God Bless the United States of America." He shut his eyes and when he opened them the woman sitting near us on the train was swaying in his arms in a hug. "Come here, brother--just come here..."

By the time we had gotten to where our usual stop, Nostrand Avenue, is, I was thankful we hadn't gotten out there, as the scene was calm and emptied of people. Just cars tooting by occasionally. It was eerie quiet after the ruckus on our block, but then a tax stopped going the other way and let out an old woman with a cane. It was just her and me and Olivia, and she took that cane and pumped it over her head and just let loose with a soul shout: "Hoooooo-whoooo! Hoooooo-whoo!" And got her keys out of her pocket and put her cane down and in a very dignified fashion got into her house.

"Exactly," I said, and walked on down the line.