O, America . . .

Reflections on Election Day, 2004

Photo by Matt OttoBROTHERS

Long Beach, Nov. 1, 8:15 a.m.

Eli the gas-station guy used to be all bubbly when I bought gas at his station. "I never see you anymore," he'd usually say—and it was true. Now, I'm there every other day, and his silence is worse than his small talk, so Monday I tried to fill it by asking him if he was ready to vote the next day. Yes, he said, his eyes piercing behind wire-framed glasses. "Who you vote for?" he asked, his Middle Eastern accent thick, his handlebar mustache suddenly bristling, and I realized: this could change my relationship with Eli forever. It gave me pause for about five seconds before I blurted out "John Kerry." And it was like the lights went on inside the dank, dim little kiosk, and he thrust his thick, meaty paw at me to shake. "That honky motherfucker," he said firmly, there being no doubt whom he meant. "Killing all those kids, those eight Marines." Kerry had taken us from acquaintances to friends, and I felt no compunction telling him about my sister the pediatrician who's voting for Bush and who sent my dad a post card with Bush's simian mug on it, urging us to do the same. As I confessed, I made the crazy circle around my ear with my finger, and I said clearly, "She's crazy." Eli, whose family all voted for Kerry, understood. "Brainwashed," he said as he handed me my receipt. (Theo Douglas)


Newport Beach, Nov. 2, 7:35 a.m.

I've just moved here from Sacramento, a place that is ostensibly more like the rest of America—the redder parts—than Orange County, and I can tell you that what's really weird about the move is this: it's voting in Newport Beach, standing in line behind two absolutely manufacturer-quality women (everything engineered to perfection), and then hearing the improbable sound of, first, one dog and then another, little-dog barks like sneezes. The two women looked into their Coach bags and hushed the canines—yes, there were dogs in there—and a third woman built from similar specs turned to reveal that she, too, had a small white dog in her purse. They talked neither of Bush nor Kerry, but rather of dogs. It turned out—O, happy revelation!—that each dog was of the same breed. "How much does your dog weigh?" one asked the others. One said three, the other four; the third dog was, its owner said with something like apprehension, six pounds, a comparative whopper. Silence fell on the beautiful little assembly. "What are you feeding her?" one asked. "I'm feeding her what the breeder recommended," said Fatty's owner. "Oh, then," sniffed one of the others, "maybe it's not really a purebred." Fatty's owner looked horrified. They switched quickly to a less-controversial subject: Were they all voting for Bush? They were. O, happy revelation! And now it was my turn to look horrified. (Mark Kochel)


East Long Beach, 10 a.m.

The line has gone down by the time my wife and I get to our polling place in Linoleum City. The only sign a nation's future is at stake here is a shopworn blond woman with dark roots who's just voted and is rushing to move her battered Honda Civic—illegally parked across the driveway of the mysterious Greek guy next door. At Linoleum City—where voters decide in a forest of Congoleum rolls that reach for the ceiling—everyone's mind is on how badly Florida screwed things up four years ago. "This is the first time we're using provisional ballots," one election worker says. "This time, there could be three Floridas." Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida? Ohio, Ohio, Ohio? No one knows. "We close at 8, and then we have to tally everything up. I probably won't get home until midnight," another election official says. "And then we won't find out the results until June." (Theo Douglas)


Irvine, high noon.

Each Election Day, Orange County's Republicans gather at noon to toast their regional hegemony. They are, like the rest of us, beautiful and ugly, kind and evil; mostly beautiful and evil, but on this day, they are also quietly relieved that Nov. 2, 2004, marked the end of an especially wretched campaign season. It turns out the rich are not so different from you and I: many Republicans dining under the chandeliers in the Irvine Marriott banquet room were as disgusted by their presidential options as Democrats. They don't merely dislike Bush; they despise him. This collection of Orange County Republicans, it seems, is not part of Fox Nation. No matter how much they hate John Kerry, a few offered they don't like Bush much better. One Republican elected official leaned in and told me, "I feel pretty much like those guys [in the Bush White House] led us into a dark alley and mugged us." He said he had simply left the presidential part of his ballot unmarked—couldn't vote for Bush, wouldn't vote for Kerry. Another acknowledged that for the first time, he voted "for a fucking Democrat." If you've never been to the Election Day Lunch, you should: the chicken is moist, and though the bar is no-host, the humor is abundant. Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle was brilliant throughout a standup routine that allowed him several chances to observe that childhood friend (and Garden Grove City Councilman Mark Leyes) is fat; that backing Bill Jones for U.S. Senate is a "like having a grand piano in the front of your kayak"; that the ballroom's vast stage was too small to handle all the ex-state legislators present, not because of term limits, but—vis-ŗ-vis party chairman Scott Baugh—"because of pasta." Supervisor Chris Norby offered a series of passable presidential impersonations; predictably, Clinton got to deny having had sex with Monica and Reagan got to say, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall." I'd laugh harder to once more hear Reagan observe that a Lebanese ambassador looked like Danny Thomas or that "facts are stupid things." But it's wrong to speak ill of the dead or maybe to conjure up the dead speaking ill of themselves. Election malfeasance was on everyone's mind, and not just allegations of Democratic or Republican vote fixing in swing states. A public-relations flak for a noteworthy OC institution that shall remain nameless reached for my hand and introduced herself with reference to her placement on last week's Weekly list of Scariest People. She had years ago told me the Weekly is mean-spirited, and nothing we've done since has persuaded her otherwise. It's nice to know we haven't lost our edge, but I said I would re-read her entry and consider that maybe she wasn't as terrible as we had said she was. Now, back in the office, I've just finished reading her entry and would say that we were not only right, but that we also didn't go far enough. In addition to trying to muzzle the press, she's also inept. Say what you will about the Weekly, No. 14, but remember Mark Twain's admonition, which should be molded into the plastic archway over every school of public relations: never get into a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel. (Will Swaim)

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