With Friends Like These

“Have you voted yet?” my friend Pat asked.  She fixed her laser-hot eyes on me and watched while I squirmed.

“No,” I said.  “I haven’t.  I — ”

“You have no excuse,” Pat said.  “You need to go out and vote tomorrow.”

“But I — ”

“You might get hit by a bus,” Pat said.  “And then what?  You’d be dead and you wouldn’t have voted.”

“Or you might get some terrible disease,” Karen said.  She was looking fierce and self-righteous, too, just like Pat.  Both of them had already early-voted, of course.  “You might just fall over, dead, before the election.”

I tried to explain my total lack of good-citizenship and my moral lassitude.  I love to vote on election day!  I love to stand in line and inhale the craziness and high spirits!  I like to be right in the thick of everything, in the center of this country’s miraculous, creaky machinery of democracy!  I just feel patriotic and righteous when I —

“You want to do something on election day?” Pat snapped.  “You early vote.  Then you spend the day driving elderly people to the polls.”

“That’s right,” Karen said.  “You could do something useful.”

Man, you think you run with a tough crowd.  You tell me about your friends with the knives in their shoes, the guns in their car pockets, their black belts in karate and any other martial art, their lethal-weapon feet, their treacherous mob ties.  That’s nothing.  On Tuesdays, I run with a crowd of trial lawyers who are about to form a lynch mob and string me up because I haven’t early voted.

You know how tough they are?  Karen once tore into one of her male law partners for being a sexist pig, then sat, pitilessly, and watched him sob for several minutes.  Another time, she accosted legendary University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal — a man who reduces other men to quivering puddles — and insulted him about his golf game.  “I’ve heard your swing is pretty good,” she said.  “But you can’t putt worth shit.”  She then proceeded to show him how to putt better in the middle of an Austin club.  Nearby, grown men were said to be weeping with fear, although — who knows? — they were probably drunk, too.

And Pat?  She’s terrified half the town when they see their soon-to-be-ex spouses have retained her in a divorce case.  They know they’re headed to a place Pat calls The Cleaners.

I didn’t have a chance.  I sat there and wondered why I didn’t hang around with my own kind — timid, soulful, hypersensitive writers and poets.  People who are passive-aggressive, instead of aggressive-aggressive.  People who, like me, never practiced law because they don’t like conflict.

“You have no excuse,” Pat said.  “If you get hit by a mack truck and go into a coma before election day, you won’t be able to vote.  Then think how bad you’ll feel.”

After being browbeaten and pummeled for half an hour, I already felt kind of bad.  But, what the hell.  I’m still waiting to vote till election day, still standing my own passive-aggressive turf.  Even though I know Pat’s right: If I get hit by a mack truck in the next few days, I’m going to feel really bad about it.

(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)

5 comments… add one
  • “You might get hit by a bus,” Pat said.  “And then what?  You’d be dead and you wouldn’t have voted.”

    The last I heard, if you’re dead, you won’t care whether you voted or not.  Now I know why I didn’t become a lawyer, despite everyone’s best efforts to turn me into one.  I hate conflict, too.  I’ll finish a fight – but I won’t start it.

    Do you get a little sticker that says “I voted” there?  I like the whole experience as well – standing in line at the courthouse, seeing people I haven’t seen in forever (since the last election), the power thrill that comes from pushing the buttons.  The little  drapes that pull shut when you enter the booth and open when you’ve voted.  Then I get my “I voted” sticker.  I paste it to the middle of my forehead and walk around that way for the rest of the day.  It becomes a sort of unavoidable hint for those whom I encounter for the rest of the day.  Or at least that’s my rationale.  Really, I just like sticking it on my forehead!

  • Teal Link

    Get with it, Mom! I just voted and it was damn awesome. Obama, Johnson, NO to banning abortion. All in a day’s work. Plus it frees up election day to drive old people to the polls– how can you say no to that?

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Look at this: I’m surrounded by bossy people in my life, including my daughter.

  • Hey, you are funny, which is something you want on your tombstone.  Don’t listen to that Siren Voice that calls you Mom.  If you want to vote on the day because you are OLD and it feels like real voting, you go right ahead.  I only vote by other people forging my signature and  I promise there is little pleasure there.

    Meanwhile, don’t worry about having nothing to do once the election ends. Watergate happened when we were young and time moved differently.  In those days there really were four years between elections, years when we grew up, earned degrees, mumbled extravagant promises to love honour and cherish, made babies, did or didn’t get promotions, had fights, cried into the meatloaf, and were perfectly sure someone else could drive the old people or sick people to the polling stations because we were too busy being young.

    Alas, I think you will find that the next election comes around so quickly that you mutter indignantly that it cannot possibly be four years since you last voted.

    Well, maybe I’m just, sadly projecting.

  • I early voted, too, Ruth.  But I’m still planning on going to our polling place (the local library) on election day, because I couldn’t stand not hearing the old farmers talk politics.  Maybe I’ll even stand in line and ask the bake sale ladies who volunteer at the polls if they can look at me like I’m an alien when I tell them my legal last name is hyphenated.  Hee hee…  I know I’m being mean, but they do that to me every four years, even though they know who I am. 

    Small town life is hilarious.

    But I’m still with you.  I miss the physical act of going out to vote on election day:)  It’s a sensory experience…and a million stories or poems.  

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