On Election Day, my polling place doubled as a flea market. The elderly sat at long tables of magnets, blankets, coupon booklets, homemade jewelry, and picture postcards while I waited in line to vote. On the way out one of them was trying to get some leverage atop a stack of fives and tens so she could fit them all in one of those metal cash boxes. I heard of some places offering flu shots, others making appointments to donate blood at the Red Cross. Selling useless crap at a polling place was a bit much, I thought. If you’re going to take advantage of the largest voter turnout in recent memory, make it something useful, something that smacks of humanity rather than greed.
I knew my son’s second grade class would be at the polling place. The class was going to see democracy in action. He said 9:30, so I waited a little while, trusting that he knew the time, because Jack is very precise about these things. Your kids or grandkids are little geniuses – can read already, throw a ball a good distance, and are so bored at school. They don’t compare. Jack trumps them. I thought I’d say this now, because I’ve listened to you brag about your kids and grandkids for so long, and I need you to know that when I smile and nod, I’m just counting the seconds until you shut up.
Jack’s class didn’t show at 9:30, so I figured the class left at 9:30. It would take about fifteen minutes for them to gather in nice, straight buddy lines and walk over to the polling place. I got in the car and drove around the block in anticipation of the walking route. I saw the line of kids and remembered what Jack was wearing. When I found him he was walking next to a little girl and they were talking. I yelled to him out the window and called him Jackie. He looked around as if my voice bounced here and there, found me, and gave me a quick wave as if to say, “Keep going, daddy, I’m busy.”
Yesterday I drove through town and saw one of my former students, a boy I taught when he was in seventh grade, a senior now, walking on the sidewalk. In the two or three seconds everything happened, I deduced that he looked happy, was about six inches taller, and must have been headed for the little storefront that offered driving lessons. Or maybe all of this thought happened afterward and only seemed like I had experienced it before, like I have in so many dreams. Once I dreamt that my brother was at the entrance of my bedroom when I was a boy, and he kept yelling for me to wake up. When I sat up in bed to look at him, he whipped a baseball from the door and hit me right on the forehead. At that moment I awakened, pissed and yelling his name. I had a gash on my head and one of the stereo speakers I perched precariously on the window sill had fallen on my head and lay next to me in bed. How could the baseball have hit my head in the dream at seemingly the same time the speaker fell and hit my head in reality? In any case, I figured out all of this about the former student in two or three seconds.
When I rolled down the window and called to him, he looked at me and didn’t recognize me. He lifted his hand with a courtesy wave, thinking he might know me, because I knew his name. He didn’t know who I was, though.
So is it better to be ignored or forgotten?