Saturday, November 8, 2008

oh, geez. oh, bama.

this was my tuesday:
i worked until 6:30 my time, which was 9:30 east coast time, but i was nonetheless very sure that it was going to be a long evening of slow returns and possibly not knowing who the president was till morning. (the last 8 years have embittered me in some really intense ways--i just assume there will be problems with every democratic process we cherish) and i knew i wasnt going to be able to handle the stress of a long wait, so i gathered my honey and my best friend and told them i wanted nothing to do with the election all night. so we went to eat and drink at a place we knew didnt have a big screen tv (which was hard to find on capitol hill that night) and talked about other things. of course, it always came back to the election. no matter what. and i was nervous and edgy and a little too loud. but then, whenever my friend ethan and i get together, we are always a little too loud. hes from chicago too, and hes jewish, so our jewish/italian chicago-style combo of brassiness can get us in real trouble out here. and we love it. to hell with the people who give us looks. cuz they are those polite northwestern almost looks...
anyway, ethan and i were compensating in volume and illinois pride for the worry we felt about the whole election process, and luka was getting even quieter than normal and then compounding our anxiety by talking about what election day is like back home and how upsetting is (luka is from georgia). earlier, luka had gotten a call from a good friend, jimmi, who had been voluteering that day at one of the polling places in their hometown, and had watched a fellow volunteer turn away black voters cuz their names werent on the list. which, my fellow americans, is not correct procedure. you have them fill out a provisional ballot and take their info and a lot of other things to make sure they get to vote if they are registered. so jimmi called whoever you call about those sorts of obstructions of justice, and then it got ugly cuz this woman accused jimmi of doing something shady like stuffing the ballot box or something else as weird and totally untrue. sheesh. talk about all your fears being realized...
so there we were, at the honey hole, eating our sandwiches and drinking our drinks and trying to think of something else to talk about and failing miserably. and 8 o'clock rolls around, and all of a sudden a few people at the bar throw up their hands and scream "yes!" and ethan yells, "what? what happened?" and no one answers so he walks over to the bar and sees all of the west coast go blue. he starts yelling "obama!" and i shush him, not cuz of his volume, but because im afraid he will jinx it. at this point, most of the country was convinced. not me. even long after the acceptance speech happened, i still wasnt there yet, (because i was nowhere near a tv to witness it..)
so we finished eating and ethan was starting to get excited and full of revelry and we walked back to lukas house and checked cnn.com for the electoral vote count, which still didnt convince me, and ethan decided to go drinking with his house to celebrate and left us. luka and i stared at each other for a long moment and i said (possibly almost whined) can we go to bleu? luka kinda snorted, and said "thats the last place i would think of, but sure." bleu is a bar that has a lot of amazingly cozy little alcoves, complete with curtains, where you can hide away and drink marvelously large hot toddys or other strange and magical drinks like a long island iced tea in a pint glass, or a raspberry kamikaze in a martini glass (the latter two of which luka and i ordered, respectively). but before we could even tuck ourselves away, we were bombarded by the noise outside, which, upon investigation, seemed to consist of cars cruising up and down broadway with people out the windows screaming and cheering and a mass of people congregated on the sidewalks yelling and holding up signs and taking over the street for quick little jigs while the light was red and groups of friends doing call and response things like "who's country?" "OUR country!" and everyone just in a beautifully spontaneously joyous mood. sort of drunk on relief and the release of 8 years of cringing.
and i started to let go. to believe this was really true. and luke and i crawled back into our booth to sit in candlelight, and talk in soft voices with the loudness outside drowning us out once in a while, and i started to cry. tears streaming, no sound. and i realized how badly i have wanted this. how amazing i think barak obama is and what hope i have for what he can do for our country (our country--notice my ability to claim ownership again--that says something) and how fearful i was that something, someone (or a lot of someones--i need to start owning my belief in conspiracy theories) was going to figure out a way to keep this from us. from the US. when we need it so intensely badly. we are all so thirsty for someone to lead us who is competent and sounds like they are a thinking person and believes you to be one as well. i had wanted it so bad that i was so afraid i wouldnt get it so i didnt allow myself to even think about wanting it at all cuz i knew my heart couldnt handle not getting it. yes, thats fucked up. but thats what i have done all year. spent a lot of time not owning how bad i wanted obama to be president. so now that it was becoming abundantly clear that it was going to be for sure, i finally let down that wall and cried tears of relief. not joy, more of sadness, somehow. of regret that i couldnt be more like seth, my brother, who has been obsessed with and talking about and watching every speech by obama since january. he donated his bands music to the campaign. you can hear velvetron backing some of the youtube commercials made last week about getting out to vote. he has been so closely following the campaign all year that he calls obama 'barry'. he has been gung-ho since the word 'go'. not me. ive been in hiding. every time someone has talked about him, ill say, "yeah, im from chicago. we voted him into the senate and have been excited about him for years. of course im gonna vote for the hometown boy." but i wont say anything else. after every debate i would call a family member and beg them to tell me they thought obama won. cuz i couldnt see it. i couldnt allow myself, i was too scared no one else would. maybe im a little too west coast, thinking 'middle america' is worse than they actually are. maybe i havent had enough chicago fever, assuming everyone else is as excited about our boy as we are. whatever the reasons, i wasnt ready to believe. but i slowly came round while not thinking about it at bleu. luka and i spoke about our families, made plans to road-trip to visit them. the conversation even got somber for a while, though the celebratory sounds were still emanating from the front door. the cubby hole, the curtain, the candle, all led to sharing confidences, exorcising fears.
we emerged from our cave after an hour or so, a bit refreshed, somewhat intoxicated, a lot more cheerful. we strolled past a few revelers, tho the street had quieted down quite a bit, headed to lukas house at pike and broadway. at the end of the block north of said intersection we saw cop cars blockading the street. we kept walking until we were wading thru the mob of people who had completely filled the entire intersection of pike and broadway, all of the street and sidewalks, with people who climbed up a lamppost on every corner to wave an american flag or a homemade banner or an obama poster. there was singing and chanting "yes we can!" or "obama!" people were buying cases of beer from the shell station and passing cans out to everyone, perfect strangers were screaming and hugging each other.
at this point, neighbours, the gay club on that block of broadway, started blasting music from speakers they lugged up to the roof and pointed at the street. 'dont stop believing' came soaring over the crowd and all kinds of people whooped and started pockets of dance party within the herd. luka and i turned to each other and just stared, sharing both utter joy and total disbelief at the fabulously surreal feeling of this situation that was undeniably happening to us. all of us. it was like fourth of july meets new years, meets the DNC. what?!? we soaked it up and savoured it, then rejoiced in tossing it twinkling back and forth to one anothers eyes. and then there were sparklers and fireworks all around.
i tried to look out over the crowd to take in the dancing and the yelling and the fireworks and to try to understand the number of people without diving into the fray, and then i looked at luka and said "can we go up on your roof?" its a 3 story building and we ran to climb up and perched on the edge of the roof overlooking the street. this is what we saw.

almost directly after we got up there, an african american drag queen stepped up to the edge of neighbours roof with a microphone and talked to everyone down below thru the speakers. it was hard to hear her across the expanse of air, but i recognized the song she was leading the crowd in when it got to "and the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air" and then a firework shot up over our heads and exploded in a blue and white lily. after the national anthem and the cheering that followed, another firework, red this time, blew up what felt like 10 feet above our heads, and i hugged luka tight and had the completely foreign yet intensely freeing thought: "i am proud to be an american tonight." i thought about traveling overseas in the next 4 years and not having to hang my head in shame when someone asks me where im from. i thought about having the picture of our president on the front page of a newspaper not look like a stupid ape. i thought about press conferences and state of the union addresses and any other moments when the president speaks publicly, especially to foreign dignitaries of any kind, and how i wont have to cringe and try to shut my ears. how i might start following the news again. and i got giddy. almost dizzy. i mean, that might have had a bit to do with luka's eyes and lips and hands on my back, not to mention the height and our proximity to the edge, but mostly it had to do with the night. luka said, "this is one of those nights our grandchildren will ask us where we were..." "lets go back down." i said.
a friend of lukes found us and said that earlier there was a whole march around downtown and then everyone came back up to the hill and converged with other people spontaneously gathering in the streets and thats how more than a thousand people ended up right where we were. a minute later we saw a whole other cluster of people come streaming down broadway jumping and laughing and hugging all those who were already standing around. this new group had gregoire posters. our governor was just elected. dems unite! most of the people i saw around me were not regulars in the neighborhood. this wasnt all the residents of the hill coming out to hang in their hood, this was just everyone who randomly found themselves here, where people were celebrating, happy to be with others who couldnt contain their joy. it was so beautiful. and exhausting. my face hurt from constantly raised eyebrows. but then we found jess and becky and dan, who were giddy and wide eyed and looked like they were high, but im sure they hadnt smoked. jess had been at the strangers election night party, had been a part of getting the late additions to the paper off to the printer at almost midnight, was prolly a little too sober to be dealing with this craziness. becky looked at dan milling about on the edge of the crowd, looked at the guy halfway up the lamppost with a flag (who had been there for at least an hour, waving his little heart out) and said, "ive lived in this town a long time, and ive been in these streets with hundreds of people, witnessed cops standing by, heard chanting and seen banners waving, but i have NEVER seen anyone wave an american flag. something has changed. something big." and shes right. the town that hosted the WTO demonstrations eight years ago (nine?) was on a completely different plane this night.
at almost 2am, luka and i said goodnight to everyone (goodnight, neverland!) and walked 50 feet to their door, crawling into bed with the sounds of the drunken celebration of mass amounts of people muffled to a dull roar outside the bedroom window. a couple hours later, we were up before it was light out and opened lukas coffee shop in a smiley-zombie-like state. the papers said: "change has come to america" and i spent all morning drinking tea and looking at cnn.com's breakdown of each state by county. saw that indiana and n. carolina went blue. heard relief and expectation and the hangover of excitement in every customers voice. jeremiah, lukas manager, asked people how their night had been. many talked about the cap hill crowd. others said they had seen it on tv. id forgotten about the helicopters flying above, they must have been filming for the news. someone told me 64% of the voting population turned out to the polls. i looked it up--thats more than came out to elect JFK. we did it. i watched his victory speech on youtube. thats how he put it too. 'we did it.' but im so glad he didnt stop there. that he said. 'now we can keep doing it.' cuz thats the thing. thats whats changed. we are all in this together now. we danced in the streets last night together, now lets roll up our sleeves and start changing the world together. starting with this god-damned wasted country. we have our work cut out for us, but with obama in the lead, we can do it. oh, yes we can.

2 comments:

manonthemoo said...

O, hell yea!

jewish/italian chicago-style combo...
you should start a band!

also, this velvetron?

and, yeah - i can't believe that, after being convinced for a while that nothing would stop a barack win, even on election day, i was still worried that the worst would happen...

and then just reading this can bring up so much emotion that i hafta dry my eyes!

jm said...

Sweet. Good to know that you take requests.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/opinion/09rich.html