Friday, May 19, 2017

Choose for Yourselves This Day

In the fifth month of the year, on the appointed day, you shall hold a solemn ceremony. This is the ritual of sacrifice you shall make.

You shall shake yourself from the dust and arise; lo, even before the morning newspaper is before your dwelling you shall have your loins girded.  You shall fill your backpack with mule-loads of snacks and books. But woe unto you for packing your snacks into a paper bag: a paper bag makes more noise than all the chariots of Egypt, and you shall wake the family.

And you shall make haste on that morn to the polling place by dawn or 6 AM, which ever seems earlier.  For you are charged this day with setting up iVotronic machines; it has been decreed that you shall follow the ordinances found in the Election Officers Reference Manual.  You shall not delay to tape all manner of official notices to the wall, for this is democracy:  you shall post an exceeding mighty number of documents that no one will read. Lo, you shall also affix your signature to documents more numerous than the stars.  You shall swear unto the Board of Elections that you did not bet on the outcome of the election.
My official badge of office

Behold! There shall be tidings of great joy that morning when you find that there are only six absentee ballots, for they are vexatious and must be tallied by hand.

You shall have set before you the file-card box of democracy.  In it shall you find the voter cards of both parties; you shall not separate them by the house of their party affiliation. The cards for Dems and Reps shall be joined together in one box, for it is an abomination to ask the voters to state their party out loud. In a great kindness to you, the wife of your Judge of Election has seen fit to combine the voter cards of both parties into the one box; lo, she has even alphabetized the cards for you.  This is just and merciful.

Take you the book of all the congregation of the registered voters, and open it before you, to check signatures.  If an independent voter shall sojourn among you, saying to you, “I wish to vote today,” you must send him away.  If the voter’s wrath burns hot, you shall say to him, “Why is your countenance fallen?  You have not chosen wisely: In order to vote you must be either D or R this day.  This is the way your forefathers have designed the primary election.  Just because you are a youth, ruddy and good-looking, do not think that you know better than your elders.  You may write to the ancient masters in the State House and Senate and exact from them an open primary.”

And the young voter will say unto you, “Ha. That’s ridiculous.  I am not writing to the State House or the State Senate.”  He shall depart from you, nursing his anger within him. And you shall hang your head with shame at the ordinances of your state, which seem to be leftover from the 18th century.

And on that day, the wolf shall dwell with the lamb; Republican shall sit next to Democrat and make pleasant and bland conversation all the day long.  Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!  You shall speak of gardening, and crock pot recipes, of yard work and travel to Nebraska; of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings, and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings.

Be careful to obey this commandment, lest you incur the wrath of the Board of Elections: you shall not speak of partisan politics; neither may you wear clothing endorsing your candidate.  Even though your very name is on the ballot for an office one notch below Catcher of Dogs, your mouth may not utter of it.

Photos are strictly forbidden in the polling place.
I downloaded this sample ballot beforehand.


As the day approaches the fifth hour of the evening, a great, momentous and special vote must take place.  This is the vote for pizza.  And lo, you and your fellow poll-workers shall choose pizza with pineapple and Canadian bacon. Likewise shall you choose pizza with mushrooms and peppers.  This is what democracy looks like.
Primary election day texting to
Younger Daughter, who had the
whole day off of school
to lounge around.

Let not your hearts be troubled when you find that by the noon hour, you have processed 55 voters which is 11 voters per hour. Though at the poll closing, after 13 hours of mind-numbing boredom, there are only 139 ballots cast, do not be weary of democracy.  The system shall render to the populace what they deserve.  If the people of the land wish for a mere fifteen percent of the eligible voters to decide who shall judge and who shall direct the school board, then they shall neither complain nor gnash their teeth.  If the citizens of the county wish to pay $175,000+ of their own tax money for an election they won’t show up for, then lo, that is their problem.

                                                                                   - The Book of Admonitions 5:16-6:20

Post election-day notes:
This blog post is not nearly as long and boring as primary election day is for a poll worker. 

Also, autocorrect changes “primary” to “Pretty Mary.”

Also, I won the primary election for the office I was running for.  (It's not too hard when you are running against somebody named "Write-in.") This means that, come November, I have to do this all over again, except it will be darker when I get to the polling place at 6 AM.


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Also, you really should vote in the primary election.  For the sake of democracy.  I mean, you’ve already paid for it, you might as well vote.

Friday, May 12, 2017

God is the Jimmy John's Driver

Teeny Toasted Almond birthday cake.

There is a voicemail message that I have kept on our answering machine since last fall.

The day I received that message, I was working at my desk here in my home office.  The phone rings often, but I never answer unless I recognize the caller ID.  (The phone: yet another great idea for communication that has been corrupted by marketers, spammers, and other scumbags.)  On this particular day, the phone rang with an area code in the town several hours away where Oldest Daughter lives.   A minute later, the same number called again.  And a third time.  That’s true persistence, I thought.  I began to pay attention.

The fourth time, the caller left this message:

Hello, this is the Jimmy John’s driver.  I am outside of your building trying to get ahold of you.  Um, just give me a call at (number).  Thank you.

First I had to realize what “Jimmy John’s driver” meant.  I only know what Jimmy John’s is because I ate there once on a business trip in St. Louis.  We didn’t have a Jimmy John’s nearby.  So, the Jimmy John’s delivery person is trying to get in my house?  That’s mysterious!

I called Mr. Jimmy John’s number.  He said, “[Oldest Daughter’s Name], I am here with your order, but I can’t get into your building.”   Aha!  I explained the situation to him, wondering why on earth Older Daughter was giving our phone number out for her take-out needs.  Just in case he was actually an axe murderer, I didn’t give him OD’s phone number, but texted her right away:  (please click to embiggen) 






As I was texting her, someone else let him in the building and he was able to deliver her order.  Also, he was not an axe murderer.

If I were the Jimmy John’s driver, I don’t think I would have cared enough to call four times to get the order delivered.  But here was a person in a not so glamorous job, who really cared, was persistent and polite.  (please click to embiggen)   



Alas, my motherly hinting that she should not let a good thing get away was too late.

But I have kept the original voicemail message because I need reminding, often, that there is at least one reliable, caring person out there.  (Don’t tell me that the Jimmy John’s driver was only in it for the money.  I don’t want to hear it.)

Today I am ever more in need of knowing that someone out there cares.  I’ve been fighting off the doldrums for weeks and months, mostly by throwing myself headlong into political activity, but also by trying to be all things to all people. 

Some small part of being all things to all people in the past few weeks:

- Yesterday I ordered cat litter for my aunt.  Well, for my aunt’s cats.  It regularly astounds me that ordering cat litter for delivery is one of those things I do regularly.  (I guess the Jimmy John’s driver can be grateful for something about his delivery gig.)
- Several times a week I listen calmly to my mother, who is anxious about a lot of things (and she has reason to be), calm her down, hang up, and then adopt her anxiety.  I love my mother and she has been very encouraging to me, especially about my political activity. She tells me not to overdo it, but I can’t stop. 
- I figure out what the hell to make for dinner each night. Every time I peel carrots I think about how Anne Frank would have been grateful to have the carrot peelings and how grateful I am that we can have dinner, no matter what it is.
- I failed to get my husband a nice present for his birthday, but at least the cake was good.  My husband is the best guy, and deserves Toasted Almond Cake With Custard.  I put a photo at the top of this post just so I could lead off with something really good.
- I try to be a loving mother.  I have had a blast the past few days quizzing Younger Daughter in preparation for her AP exams.  Too bad it was while I was driving her to school on the day of each exams.  A little bit late to do any good.
- I drove my daughter to school on the day of her AP exams.
- I showed up at the so-called “National Day of Prayer” event at my church, an event sanctioned by all you evangelical Trump voters out there, and even toned down my anger to write a prayer for it that would be palatable to all but that I could feel honest about reading. 
- I miss my Dad.  That's not part of being all things, but it's there in the mix.
- I try to prevent the collapse of US democracy, every day.  It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. Normally I would just leave it up to the President and Congress, but that's not an option right now.
- I tried weeding out some papers from my files so I could reduce the sea of papers I live in.  But failed.
- I did my paid job, which has become discouraging, and which I might give details about in my next post. Or not.
- I went to a Presbytery meeting about racism.  What could possibly make me think I have the time and energy to be a leader at my church on this topic?
- I paid my taxes to my fucking federal government, which seems every day to be more and more friendly to white supremacists, Jew-haters, authoritarian world leaders, and people who would probably like to shoot my mixed race relatives (who are all citizens of this country, fair and square, not that should make a difference on whether people get shot at).  

So I keep the message from the Jimmy John’s driver, and listen to it every now and then, in the hopes that God is like the Jimmy John’s driver, persistently trying to get ahold of me, reaching through my despair, failure, and anger to push some love into my heart.  And in the hopes that God will help me see that there are actually people out there and in my own family who are my Jimmy John’s driver, who are being all things to me, in spite of the fact that they have a lot of other deliveries to make.


* * * * * * *

I still wonder what would have happened if my daughter had asked for a date with him.
* * * * * * * *
Apparently I haven't been able to write for weeks because I've been waiting to give myself permission to let it all out.  

Saturday, April 29, 2017

First Lines: March and April 2017 edition

I finished only 5 books in the past two months, and two of those were books I had read before.  It’s been insanely busy here and I got sick at the beginning of April. Plus, Passover and travel and politics.  I am also including here a lengthy book that I didn’t finish but hope to return to sometime.  

I recommend all these books.  The first lines are:

Book 1
Ajarry
The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.

Book 2
Supposedly Irrelevant Factors
Early in my teaching career I managed to inadvertently get most of the students in my microeconomics class mad at me, and for once, it had nothing to do with anything I said in class. The problem was caused by a midterm exam.

Book 3
There are various ways of mending a broken heart, but perhaps going to a learned
conference is one of the more unusual.

Book 4
To take an interest in the affairs of others is entirely natural; so natural, in fact, that even a cat, lying cat-napping on top of a wall, will watch with half an eye the people walking by below.  But between such curiosity, which is permissible, and nosiness, which is not, there lies a dividing line that some people simply miss – even if it is a line that is painted red and marked by the very clearest of warning signs.

Book 5
History does not repeat, but it does instruct. As the Founding Fathers debated our Constitution, they took instruction from the history they knew. Concerned that the democratic republic they envisioned would collapse, they contemplated the descent of ancient democracies and republics into oligarchy and empire. As they knew, Aristotle warned that inequality brought instability, while Plato believed that demagogues exploited free speech to install themselves as tyrants. In founding a democratic republic upon law and establishing a system of checks and balances, the Founding Fathers sought to avoid the evil that they, like the ancient philosophers, called tyranny.

Book 6
Major Pettigrew was still upset about the phone call from his brother’s wife and so he answered the doorbell without thinking. On the damp bricks of the path stood Mrs. Ali from the village shop. She gave only the faintest of starts, the merest arch of an eyebrow.

* * * * * * * *

And here are the titles.

Book 1
The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead.  Very good writing , but brutal topic.

Book 2
Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics,  by Richard Thaler.  The author explains behavioral economics by way of telling us his memoir.  I got half way through.  I enjoyed it, but ran out of time.

Book 3
No Fond Return of Love, by Barbara Pym.  This was my second time reading this book.  I love the two Barbara Pym books which I have read, but I don’t think the book club shared my thoughts on this author.

Book 4
The Right Attitude to Rain, by Alexander McCall Smith.  This is the third in the Isabel Dalhousie series.  There is an element of mystery, but not the traditional outright murder at the start of the novel.  An enjoyable read.

Book 5
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder.  I read this book because I thought I should read Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism (originally published in 1951) but it is 578 pages long. Snyder’s book is much shorter, at 130 pages. 

Timothy Snyder is a Professor of History at Yale University. He is the author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin and Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. Snyder is a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and a permanent fellow of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna.

Book 6.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson. Culture clash, generational clash, economic class clash, with a splash of British tea-time.  I enjoyed it just as much on this second go-round.