Day 3: She’s Crazy
I was awakened from my slumber circa 4:00am by a woman—let’s call her Medea—shouting out the chorus to what I could only assume was the worst praise music ever. A fellow guest recalled the lyric, which she must have ‘sung’ a dozen times, as “God let me serve you” repeated with claps on the downbeat. I remember quite clearly there being two differently worded lines both ending with the word “me” and occasional breaks in the tune for syncopated clapping. Rhyming “me” with “me” is unforgivable. Perhaps it was “God is the Lord to me, God let me serve thee.” In any case, it was vacuous and repetitive. She was also knocking on doors and slamming those she could open.
At 7:30am she reprised the song, only more hoarsely. But by then, we were already awake and due to meet the bus at 8:00am. Post-shower, I worried for her sanity, pre-shower, I considered the various methods to bind and gag a resisting lunatic. I was rather forgiving of this outburst because at one point she trailed away and, thus, confirming my suspicion that she had a rather extreme bout sleepwalking. It turns out that my diagnosis was in error.
Medea was, and as far as I know still is, utterly mad. There were some complaints on Saturday night about how no time was set aside for church-going. Medea went so far as to call out our organizer and ask her what church she went to. Barry, to his infinite credit, said that the question was inappropriate and the organizer need not answer. Later Sunday morning, when asked why she didn’t go to church where we were staying, she said, “But I did go to church.” She meant in her mind.
A part of her service, apparently, was to sing out to us as loud as she could and walk the hallways knocking on doors. She was entirely awake and conscious. Occam’s Razor will out. The story becomes slightly contradictory when she seemed to put on her church attire for canvassing. Though, as I’d not seen her during the night, she may well have dressed late Saturday for her Sunday mental service.
We’d picked up a new cast member at the Church by the name of Max. Max is an immigrant from Mexico and got himself out to Ohio on a Greyhound with no discernible plan. After a few jumps around, he landed with us. He got a little lost on the block between the diner and the B&B and Bao Chau had to go and grab him. The night before, though, Stewart let us all know that he had organized a rental car and would be leaving that morning. Bon voyage.
Complaints began about our starting early on a Sunday. Voters would be at church or sleeping in and would find us intolerable so early in the day. I’m not entirely certain what bus these people came in on. If everything ran smoothly and on time without unnecessary dallying, then it would have been the first time. And so it would be. Despite our trip to the diner, we were still (mostly) back on by the time the B&B folks had boarded. That must have been after 9:00am. The complaints, as usual, were ignored.
“Sign in!” We signed in. We were right there, waiting in front of the sign-in table, but they just couldn’t help themselves.
After we’ve gorged ourselves on what seemed like actual food, we’re feeling a bit more positive. True, a full day of walking caused considerable aches for myself and others. Also true, most of us from the Church had a very restless sleep. Still, those eggy looking things, which I greatly suspected of once being wall insulation, and a reminder that the election was just two days away was energizing. One minor irony was that today would be the best provisioned day of this trip when, of course, we planned our meals in advance.
Also new to our band was an infusion of infancy. About 170 students from Columbia University organized their own travel to Ohio. A portion of that group landed at our staging location. I look on them and their gorgeous uncynical zeal with something like hunger. The youth, energy, and breathtakingly direct flirting are all glorious. In the liabilities column of the ledger is the rather pompous and rote leadership styles, but even that is somewhat endearing. As patronizing as that statement is, I say it only in envy. They were organized, highly responsible, and, I imagine, brutal on the streets.
“Sign out!” That’s starting to wear on me.
Bao Chau and I were joined by Max. Max would provide considerable entertainment in retrospect. On our first run, some voters asked him to go inside and smoke some pot. On our second run, Max was hungry. I had spotted Sully’s Side Street Saloon, oddly placed in the middle of a neighborhood, on a nearby road, so we went there.
The saloon door was in fact a wormhole, whereby we left Cleveland and found ourselves somewhere deep in West Virginia. Three older white gentlemen and a white waitress, possibly the owner, had looks of begrudged tolerance on their faces as we came in. They told us the kitchen was closed for lunch. I was ready to beat a hasty retreat, but Bao Chau decided she had to hit the bathroom and left me and Max, the gay Mexican immigrant, with four gun-carrying members of the Tea Party.
“Are you all politicking?” one man asked in an accent far removed from Cleveland.
“That’s right,” I said.
As an added detail, Fox News was on the television—of course—and Mitt Romney was talking absolute nonsense to the people of Fairfax, Virginia. They clearly despised us, the neighborhood around them, and the communist takeover we promised, but the waitress wouldn’t let that get in the way of her natural propensity towards helpfulness and filled Max’s water bottle with Coke at no charge. When Bao Chau came back we were leaving and one man, not allowing the moment to pass without remark, turned his head towards us.
“So, will you all be supporting Romney?” he asked with a crooked smile.
“Ha, no,” I said. “We’re working for the Obama campaign.”
“You’ll know better when you’re older,” he said.
“I’m old enough, I think,” I said. And we left. I don’t truck with ageist comedy.
On day two of our canvassing, Bao Chau and I covered far more single-family houses than before. The scene is far different than that of the apartment buildings. These areas are distinctly suburban. I am told that they are rather like Levittown—neighborhoods built to serve working and middle class industries. The vast majority are well-kept and lovely. Still, there is a different energy here than I experienced in the suburbs of Fort Worth, Texas or Cheshire, Connecticut.
For one thing, in those places, it is not normal to communicate exclusively through the door. At first, I would knock on a door, clearly hear that the people were at home watching television, and accept their silence as a refusal to acknowledge me. Later, I came to understand that if I just shouted, “I’m from the Obama campaign?”—to shout in a question is more polite than to exclaim—they would come to their window or door to see what I had to say. Mostly they would answer the door, but often they would try to hold a shouting conversation with me. The magic words were “already voted” and I would tick the box and move on.
Something that’s quite noticeable are the broken or missing doorbells. Some I understood to divert traffic towards the side door, but mostly they just didn’t replace the old broken ones. Sometimes I’d see two doorbells, one atop the other, because they didn’t rewire the old one, they just set up another right next to it. I don’t know what that says, if anything.
What says more is the absolute lack of spectrum of food options. What passes for ethnic food in these areas is Chinese takeout. If they didn’t have these indistinguishable takeout places, the least American cuisine would be Pizza Hut and even there you can find chicken wings. I don’t think I laid eyes on more than two or three actual grocery stores. Instead, we found many “food marts” which was basically a decently-stocked convenience store. How the streets of Cleveland are not spattered with the congested hearts of its citizens, recently exploded due to severe blockage, I cannot fathom.
Speaking of food, at the end of the day, the Church guests head over to Frederick’s, a kind of seafoody place. Things are going well enough when Medea gets up and begins her scene.
“You made this reservation without me!” she cries.
“What?” says Bethel.
“You’re in Group Four!” she adds. She then left the restaurant and went onto the bus.
Group Four, I only surmise as I’m not privy to the maelstrom that is Medea’s mind, refers to the fourth set of volunteers that left the bus at the fourth staging location. The person who made the reservations belonged to Group One. The fact that she was wrong isn’t really salient. More to the point, she thought that it was very important. It was here that it was decided that Medea was not just highly eccentric, but actually demented.
Sarah, another of our party, asked what the matter was and it was explained—more presumed, I suspect—that Medea hadn’t any money and was using this trip as a meal ticket. To this, Sarah kindly offered to pay for her dinner and left to tell her so. When she got back, Sarah wasn’t sure the message had gotten through because Medea did not come inside for the rest of the meal. Medea had actually ordered a martini, and drunk half of it, as well as a salmon for dinner. Only after this did she start with the reservation motif.
I was sitting next to Sarah. I would describe Sarah as the classic uptown woman. She knows everyone, has had dozens of jobs in different fields, and tells every story as though she’s betraying a confidence. She is a hunter and tellable moments are her prey. She was letting us into a precious one that evening.
Sarah, in a show of respect, took it upon herself to represent us at Elizabeth Baptist Church that morning and put money in the collection plate. The Reverend Richard Gibson started into his lengthy sermon with the claim that global warming is not man-made, but was God’s will—he’s a creationist, what do you expect? Then he said something beyond Sarah’s pail (and I paraphrase):
“This election will be as God wills it. It doesn’t matter who wins, whether it is Obama or Romney. It doesn’t matter if you vote, the election will follow God’s will.”
At this, Sara stood up ostentatiously and left the church with clear disapproval. Outside, a rector (or some such) asked her if there was a problem. She responded in the affirmative and began to detail those issues. Some moments later, the Rev came out to take a similar line of inquiry. She gave to him, as they say, a piece of her mind. “We’re here, we travelled all the way from New York to work on this campaign and to get people to vote. How could you say it doesn’t matter?” He responded with claims of “a priori” something or other but that failed to settle the point.
Having taken a fair few undergraduate courses in philosophy, I recognized “a priori” to be a strong signal of seminarian nonsense and wished I’d been there to intervene on Sarah’s behalf. Clearly, he intended, with practiced style and delivery, to bully her with half-understood jargon common of the poorly or self-taught. He thinks that throwing a prioris around will inure him from criticism. I can smell the self-satisfaction from here.
A priori, for your benefit, means “from the earlier” and thus, I suspect, he was making a point about determinism such that all things followed a plan set by God a priori. There is nothing troubling about that statement such as it is, except that God’s plan, if set, would include these people voting or not voting according to their own free will (known to God from earlier). So, when he says it “doesn’t matter,” he somehow separates conscious acts of free will from the chain of cause and effect known to God. But, obviously, you can’t separate these things. If I may use a football analogy, Coach Yahweh has called the play and we must all run our routes. The Rev, then, was essentially saying that these linemen could sit this one out because it doesn’t really matter. A rather sacrilegious claim when you break it down. Statements like this aren’t new. Just think about Richard Mourdock’s statement about rape, children, and God’s will in the senate election in Indiana.
What’s the worst part of this is that it may have had some effect on his parishioners. Bob, who is a great fellow and an exemplar of Christian charity, seemed to take this to heart considering his earlier comments. Bob had followed us to the bus one morning and I made reference to the closeness and unclear nature of the race in full expectation of a solemn grunt of agreement. But he gave no grunt. Thus, I fear the Rev has done his damage. Still, Bob was our host and ally in Cleveland and I would not breach the issue with him for fear of losing my temper.
Another explanation would be that Bob was so sorely put upon by the campaign. On Saturday night, Bob stayed up until 3:00am waiting for a batch of some 100 young volunteers to arrive and sleep on the Church’s gymnasium floor. Josh, up for a reason I’ve since forgotten, texted Barry to see when the young people would arrive. Barry responded that they weren’t coming and to “give Bob a big thanks!” I thought I had become immune from surprise at the campaign using people like their pawns in an absent-minded chess game, but this was incredible.
Back at the restaurant, when the meal was over, they told Sarah about the martini and salmon that Medea had ordered. Already obliged, Sarah took the check and was preparing to pay for it when Medea came back in. She went like a bee-line to confront Sarah.
“Are you paying for my dinner?” barked Medea. “You came into the bus and told me you were paying for my dinner.”
“I am,” said Sarah, defensively raising the check, quite irritated by Medea’s brusqueness.
“What’s your name?” said Medea as one might of an extremely rude waiter before asking for the manager.
“Sarah,” she said.
“Thank you, Sarah,” said Medea with such brutal force that she could have easily, possibly more easily, have been swearing at her. Medea then gathered up her packed up salmon and went off into the bus.
After dinner, we all filed onto the bus. Maybe there was something in the salmon, but on the drive back, Medea began to cackle madly in the back of the bus. Josh, eyebrows raised in comic surprise, said, “She’s crazy.”
The night was far from over.