I'm back in New Zealand, making the most of my final month in the Sargeson flat. And by that I mean watching the live puppycam.
Slowly I'm getting over the fear of waking up to discover IT WAS ALL A DREAM and Obama isn't really President-Elect. Today he's checking out his new home. I didn't realize he and Michelle were so very tall. they make George and Laura look like oompa-loompas.
I arrived back in time to vote in the NZ general election, something I was not planning to do until a) my father established it was legal; and b) every Labo.ur voter I know told me it was my moral duty, i.e. things were looking grim. Very grim, as it turned out. In New Zealand we have MM.P, so everyone votes twice - once for a candidate (your member of parl.iament), and once for a party. I'm registered in one of the Maori el.ectorates, Te Tai Tokerau (which I keep calling by its old name, Nor.thern Maori, by mistake). Actually, I'm not sure why West Auckland gets stuck in here and isn't part of Tam.aki Mak.arau, which is greater Auckland. Later, when the results were in, I discovered I voted exactly like the majority of voters in my electorate - for the Mao.ri party candidate, but giving the party vote to Lab.our.
My parents, brother and I went to Flanshaw Road Primary School to vote. Afterwards we were given orange stickers that read "Yes I've voted". My brother declined to wear his. He can still barely walk after running the Auckland marathon a week ago, so maybe he thought a sticker would weigh him down. Then, because it was my father's birthday, we went out for brunch in New Lynn. At Denny's. This was my brother's idea: birthday-havers get a free meal at Denny's, so my brother could take us out and only have to pay for three meals. (This is chapter 246 in how my brother is exactly like my grandfather.) But when we ordered, he discovered that Denny's has abandoned this policy, and he had to fork out for all four breakfasts. Then my mother announced that she'd rather have gone to Mecca in the Viaduct. And then we all ordered the most expensive breakfasts possible. The most expensive Denny's breakfast only costs $12, so my brother was in luck.
While I was away, Albert Park abandoned itself to spring, and everything is green and/or blossoming. Also while I was away: Forbidden Cities reached #4 on the NZ fiction chart. So this means once I'm back in the US I can claim to have an "international bestseller".
T. Middy said he would blast "Ode to Joy" through the house (and, in fact, the neighborhood) if Obama won the presidency, so that's exactly what he's doing now. I had to go out on the porch to hear the crackle of fireworks and/or gunfire around the city of New Orleans.
It's only just after 10 PM here: we didn't think there'd be an answer so soon. (When does the Marxism start?)
On TV we're flicking between BBC, MSNBC, NBC, and (for fun) Fox. In Chicago, Oprah and Jesse Jackson are weeping. In Phoenix, John McCain is giving his concession speech. There's a jubilant crowd outside the White House, another in Times Square. Bush has called Obama to congratulate him. The polls on the West Coast only closed less than half an hour ago.
This has been the most anxious day. I kept waking up in the night, driving TM crazy by asking IS IT TIME YET? That is, time to get up and vote. We walked to McMain High School a little after eight AM. There were no long lines. People were cheerful, taking photos. I took photos, but I haven't had time to download them. In our district we were voting on five different races, and numerous amendments. A sign on the curtained voting booths told us we only had three minuted. There was a giant touch screen, with everything clearly laid out; it was easy to use. We were in and out pretty quickly.
Then there was just the waiting ...
All the neutral grounds were clogged with signs for various candidates, as ever; people holding signs at intersections urged us to honk if we supported their candidate. Many of the run-offs (like the contest for DA and member of the House of Representatives) were between two Democratic candidates. Orleans Parish is staunchly Democrat, unlike the rest of the state. Talk of red and blue states isn't very accurate: cities like New Orleans are always Democrat, in part because of our large black population.
TM finished work early so we could go a-canvassing together. First we had to go to the HQ on Canal Street, near Jeff Davis; then we were sent to a street in the Seventh Ward to meet with the canvassing coordinators. This is a black neighborhood, an old Creole neighborhood. It was not long after four PM: street parties were already going on. In an empty lot, at a temporary Obama camp, organizers were handing out clipboards and information. We discussed places other canvassers had been sent: New Orleans East, Mid City. But when we said we lived Uptown, they sent us there, to Louisiana Avenue near the river.
We were to do a four-by-four block circuit, knocking on doors, handing out information, reminding voters the polls were open until eight PM, and providing phone numbers if people needed to know where to vote or how to report a problem. This took a lot longer than we thought it would. It gets dark early here now, so I was glad to be on this particular mission with TM. A lot of the people we spoke to reminded us to "be safe". Almost everyone who answered the door to us had already voted. Only two people told us they'd voted for McCain; one couple told us they'd voted for Nader, and they were suitably apologetic. Three different households were holding Obama parties tonight, and we got invitations to all of them. One guy even waved us in, so TM was standing in his hallway, shouting "We're from the Obama campaign!" down his hallway. Kids told us their parents had voted. One old white lady waited until we were on the next porch to tell us "I don't like your candidate."
One man came to the door in an Obama "Progress" shirt, and he told us he'd worn it illicitly to the polls today, concealing it under a sweatshirt. A younger guy had a green O'Bama t-shirt on; he said his mother was working on the phone banks. Some people weren't home yet, and when we rang their doorbells, their home-alone dogs went completely mental. On one porch, three crazy kittens ran circles around me. We got a good look inside a number of houses, peering through doors and windows, looking over the shoulders of home-owners. I now envy a number of high ceilings and wrought-iron gates.
It's a mixed neighborhood, rich and not rich at all, black, white, Hispanic. Most of the houses were built in the nineteenth century. Two households were Spanish speakers who could only speak enough English to tell us they couldn't speak English; they looked at our Obama t-shirts, smiled, and shook their heads. In one house, the woman who answered the door told us they were non-citizens. "But we want Obama to win," she said. A European socialist, no doubt.
After two hours, we drove back to the temporary HQ on Annette Street, but it was dark and gated; I called our organizer, Daniella, on her cell phone and she told me we should just keep the clipboards and left-over leaflets. So we drove to Felipe's to buy margaritas, where I saw one of my former students, and then returned home, dusty and tired. It's a very humid evening. I thought it would be a long night, but I was wrong.
Barack Obama is on stage now in Chicago, about to give his victory speech. Thank god.
Tomorrow is Election Day, my first as a citizen. We’re going
to our polling place, McMain High School, around seven AM. I’m nervous. There
are many ways to vote in this country, and they all seem to involve equipment
that breaks down. What if there are levers to pull, chads to hang, etc? What if
I get confused at the last minute between Ralph Capitelli and Leon Cannizzaro,
both of whom are running for DA? Should I vote Yes or No on the second of
seventh amendments to the Louisiana constitution: may the state government
require two additional days of notice before calling a special legislative
session? (Not sure why our state representatives need a further two days’
notice, exactly, given that they already get five days notice, unless maybe
they are on a cycling vacationing in El Paso and need time to pedal back.)
A side note: apparently Louisiana is #1 in the nation at
coming up with constitutional amendments. Since its most recent iteration, in
1974, we’ve voted in 151 amendments.
Yesterday I got a call from the Obama/Biden local HQ. (We
also got a call from Obama himself, but that was pre-recorded.) Can I volunteer
some time on Tuesday? Yes I Can. So I’m on the four through seven PM shift,
canvassing. T. Middy is worried this means knocking on doors in bad
neighborhoods in the dark, being accused of European socialism and illegal
alien status, etc, so he might try to finish work early and come with me. I’ll
wear my Geauxbama T-shirt.
Meanwhile in New Orleans, life goes on as abnormal.
Halloween on Friday brought its usual chaos and silliness. We crossed St
Charles Avenue around nine-ish, on the way to the third of our three
activities, and thought we’d stumbled on a convention of drunk prostitutes. But
no! It was just dozens of students, dressed in skimpy, skin-tight “costumes”,
waiting to catch the street car downtown.
Every night after school, the McMain band and majorettes are
out in the field, rehearsing for parade season. These rehearsals involve a
great deal of drumming, and sporadic marching around in ragged formation. The
drumming is so loud it drowns out the TV, but they’re all sounding good, and
the brass players seem less like distressed baby elephants this year, and more
like actual musicians.
And last night, just as The Amazing Race was ending, our
power disappeared: we sat around by candlelight for the next two hours. Ten
thousand households lost power, according to today’s paper. The problem? A