It’s 11:08 p.m. on the night before election day. Against my better judgment, I am watching CNN as Michelle gives a lovely and moving introduction to her husband, the love of her life, our President, Barack Obama. He is before me now, giving the best and last stump speech his voice will allow him, to the people of Iowa, who truly did start him on the path to the White House, setting in real motion that crazy and glorious ride on which I was a giddy and full-freight passenger.
It all seems a lifetime ago. Devan was just 18 months. After tossing her into the air in her Obama onesie, thrilling that she might never know a country in which a person of color couldn’t occupy the Oval Office, we put her in her crib to watch the returns. Like so many others, we celebrated the most profound moment of patriotic elation that I believe I will ever know. I can say without irony or sarcasm that I am grateful I got to have it at all.
I will not use this space, or one of my few rare windows of writing time, to journal my own disappointments with Barack Obama. Loyal readers of smartycaro (“Hi, Mom!!!”) know damn well whom I will vote for tomorrow morning, futile though the exercise may be in my disenfranchised, home-sweet-home District, where Obama beat McCain by about 96 percentage points.
I am trying instead to imagine life two days from now, waking up on November 7, 2012. In the best case scenario, we will have definitively chosen a president, albeit it one that half of our citizenry thinks should be relegated to that old dustbin of history. But I want it to be done. I want it to be done for a lot of reasons, but among them is that some people in my life whom I love deeply who are ….Republicans.
Yes, America, in my very own life could lay the seeds of hope for bipartisan friendship and cooperation. Or, maybe not.
I speak primarily of my dearest partner in crime, Sylvia, code name Trixie, a/k/a Emma Peel. It’s a funny thing. Between election cycles, the countless hours, days and months pass without partisan resentment and rancor. I could catalogue in volumes the things that we have done for one another, and they would be dwarfed only by that which we would do for one another. We have trekked across continents together. We have been each other’s comfort in times of despair. We have marked holidays and birthdays and births and deaths and have met up for 4,187 happy hours. You will never meet someone who can throw a better theme party.
In all times but these, we leave politics out of it. It’s not even a conscious choice, because in the most profound moments, or the most delightfully frivolous ones, the business of living just lays claim on all our energies, not just obliterating but making a joke of political disagreements. But the current quandary is this: If need be I would lay down in traffic for her. But if we lived in Ohio right now, I would strongly consider slipping something into her drink so she slept through election day. I’m pretty sure she feels the same way.
Yes, our respective temperatures need to come down before I can see Trixie, and a few others, again. I miss them, but I need to be able to enjoy their presence without seeing Mitt Romney in a thought bubble cartoon over their heads. It takes time, but it is high time to get back to that business of living.
It is time for all this to be over, because having lived in this town through hanging chads, ten gallon hats, a stray war started for no good reason…well, the point is, the Bush years happened, and then Obama was elected, and nothing is perfect, nothing is clear, people are truly hurting, our diplomats were murdered in a place we should have secured better. A chunk of Manhattan and New Jersey is under water. So this time we stagger, regardless of the intended beneficiary of our vote, to that polling booth, clinging to an article of faith that it matters that we make it there at all. We are all a little more clear-eyed, and all a little sorrier for it.
This past Sunday, when I probably should have been canvassing in Virginia, I went with two friends on a day trip to the lovely hamlet of Frederick, Maryland. We spent hours in an antiques “emporium” that stretches over several blocks. The way it works is that dozens of people (whom you never see or meet, unfortunately) with furniture, art, objects, or clothing to sell rent “booths” within this enormous warehouse space. It is like shopping at 200 little hole in the wall boutiques.
I had thought about inviting Sylvia along, and it was an excursion she would have loved. I was trolling for cheap but interesting artwork for our house, and I looked forward to scouring for hidden treasures. But half the fun was chuckling at the bizarre and the awful. The crying clown portraits. An oil painting of a gun, a jug… and another jug. Thousands of Lladro dancing figures. Display cases full of enough miniature civil war figurines to recreate the entire war between the states, and probably the War of 1812 too, if you weren’t a stickler for detail. Your eyes dart from the sublime to the heinous, and Sylvia would have spotted even more at which to marvel.
But as it happened, my friend who drove us doesn’t know Sylvia very well, and she was amped up to eleven over the election, and thus our ride to Frederick was one of the high decibel rants that have marked so many of my social interactions for the past months. And I certainly did nothing to put a cold compress on the situation. After all, I truly do think Mitt Romney is a complete shithead, so why not say it for the 500th time to people who already think the same thing? It would have been an onslaught for Sylvia, reinforcing her initial instinct to steer clear of her liberal friends a while longer, or a muted, stifled “let’s change the subject” ride for all of us. Either way, it wouldn’t have worked. And that is a shame.
It is particularly a shame because strolling the acres of that antiques mart went a long way toward restoring my faith that we may yet all find a way to work this out. The personality of each little booth is different, and while it is true that we had to stifle laughs at some of the offerings, we did in fact stifle them, because it would be rude to laugh at things that others were admiring and considering for purchase. Scores of people were searching for their own version of treasure, whether a fifty cent spoon, an old Life magazine, or a vintage armoire.
The most wonderful piece I bought was a charcoal sketch of a woman who looked somewhat sad, or disappointed, or maybe pissed off. She was in a horrible frame with yellowed matting, hanging in a far corner of a deserted booth. I fell for her instantly, and then (quite needlessly) panicked that someone else might be about to scoop my precious find, clearly an overlooked museum-quality portrait, bargain priced for just $30, plus the cost of reframing. The young guy who got on a ladder to take it down regarded me with bemused disbelief:
“That one, ma’am?”
“Yep! Isn’t she beautiful?”
Last night, I opened a good bottle of wine and considered my charcoal woman. It was exactly fifty years ago that she sat for this portrait, in whatever exact mood it is that her artist captured. Who knows what time of year it was, though she is wearing a turtleneck, so maybe it was late fall like it is now. With a little help from the IPad, I learned quite a bit about what her country and world were serving up in 1962. There were military coups in the Dominican Republic and Burma, and, in that year alone, the people of Rwanda, Burundi, Jamaica, Algeria, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, and Tanzania declared independence. The term “personal computer” was first mentioned by the media. Chile hosted the World Cup, in which Brazil beat Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the final. It was a horrific year for airplane crashes: by June, three Boeing 707’s had crashed and claimed 290 souls. The first black student, James Meredith, registered at the University of Mississippi, escorted by federal marshals. In September, Russia started arming Cuba, sparking the missile crisis which might very well have been at its apex as she sat there, as still as she could. Maybe she posed as a favor for a friend, or an art student who lived in her building, or a lover, but amidst no shortage of chaos she sat, for someone who still had the courage to pick up a piece of charcoal and make something beautiful, taking it as an article of faith that it might endure.
She will now grace a wall in our home, which in two days’ time will either be part of Barack Obama’s second term or the inception of the Mitt Romney presidency. She will bear witness to the day to day triumphs and perils of the Mehtas, a mixed race family of four living in Washington, DC, where we have waited too long, in too charged and personal a way, to learn who will occupy 1600 Pennsylvania.
I can’t wait to show her to Sylvia.