Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A letter to the C.E.O. of CVS, Mr. Thomas Ryan

I just wrote and mailed the following letter. In the tradition of sharing that Thanksgiving is sometimes known for, I am posting it for your enrichment. Happy Thanksgiving everybody.

November 26, 2008

Mr. Thomas Ryan, CEO
Corporate Headquarters
One CVS Drive
Woonsocket, RI 02895

Dear Mr. Ryan:

Hello. My name is Laura Witkowski and I am frequent CVS shopper. Although I cannot completely pinpoint why your store is far superior to Rite Aid or Walgreens, I always find myself regretting a trip to one of your competitors and wishing I would have just taken the extra minute or so to locate a CVS store. One time, I had a dog that was on a psychotropic medication, and the pharmacy at Rite Aid misread the dosage and refilled it with a much lower dose. I didn't realize this until the poor dog, over the next week or so, started to get gradually worse and revert back to his unstable ways. It took us several more weeks to get him back up to speed. Thanks a lot Rite Aid!

But psychotropic medication mishap memories are not the reason I am writing to you today. It is actually because of chocolate: CVS brand Milk Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Filled Pretzels to be exact. I think it is important to say upfront that my purchase of said product was driven by a combination of having a bad day at work and noticing that CVS has the uncanny ability to play the absolute last song I would want to hear at that moment every time I am in the store. It's eerie really. So as I'm sure you can relate, I'm having a bad day, Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" starts drifting out of the CVS sound system, and next thing I know I'm forgoing that planned Luna bar purchase for a bag of CVS brand Milk Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Filled Pretzels and a copy of the latest issue of Psychology Today to see if I can get any insight as to what in the hell is wrong with me. We’ve all been there right?

Now, it might just be some sort of sign that I should not let emotional moments of weakness dictate my lunch choices, but when I got back to my desk and opened the chocolate pretzels I found them to be stale. Well, really more moldy than stale – because considering my current mental state, I probably would have just eaten them anyway should it be a mere issue of freshness. But, even though I don’t have any severe mold allergies that I know of, I do know that mold can kill you, or at least make you very sick. Plus, it really does take away from the overall taste of the snack product as the maker intended. So I decided not to eat them.

I will take them back to the store after work today – because as you yourself wrote on the back of the bag (I am assuming it is a direct quote due to its italicized nature and the fact that your actual signature is underneath the words) the product “carries the CVS money back guarantee.” But I thought you should know about this incident. I know that you can’t possibly keep track of every CVS brand product and personally control every factor that could negatively impact the performance or taste of said products – but the fact that you try is commendable. I think you make a similar promise (though without the phrase, “I know you’ll enjoy the great taste”) on the back of my CVS brand body wash. I picture you in a big office in Woonsocket, Rhode Island (the best city name ever perhaps!) personally testing and tasting each and every product and diligently taking notes and reporting back your experiences to those who are busily making these things. I also picture these product makers looking like Oompa Loompas, but that’s probably inaccurate. But then again, you are in a town called Woonsocket, so who knows what is possible!

In closing, despite my bad experience and your knack for having (by my standards) the most terrible in store music of any store I frequent, I will continue to be a loyal CVS customer. Partly this is out of convenience, but it is also out of loyalty. In these tough economic times, loyalty is pretty important, right? Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday weekend.


Laura Witkowski

PS – Is it inappropriate for me to request an autograph? I would appreciate that.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Let me clear my throat: An open letter to coughing opera patrons

Dear coughing opera patrons:

Good evening! How are you doing? Are you feeling better than you were the other evening when you were at the opera? You’re fine? Really? Hmm… I guess I was confused about your health due to all your incessant coughing during the duration of Madame Butterfly. I would love to believe that it was a total fluke – that, because everybody who likes opera knows each other and goes to the same fancy cocktail parties, that one person got a cold and (bam!) next thing you know the whole audience for Saturday night’s performance has a little tickle in their throat. But this is not limited to Saturday’s performance of Madame Butterfly. This happens every time I have ever been to the opera - there seems to be this rash of coughers and it doesn’t matter what the season. Why is that? I demand to know!

I hate to be blunt, but is it because you are old? Now, I know it might seem that I harp on old people a lot – but it’s not really like that! You see, I have been told on several occasions that I like things that old people like: mash potatoes, The Golden Girls, Burt Bacharach, opera, voting... See? I can relate to your elderly pleasures! But is it a matter of fact that once you get old, you just cough? A lot? In public at completely inappropriate times during gut wrenchingly, emotionally anguished arias? Is that why you are always trying to give me a Werther’s? Because you eat them all the time in order to keep your cough at bay? Because I like candy, but that is not, in my opinion, a treat. So no thank you.

If it is not age, then maybe it is because you are actually allergic to opera? That may be a hard allergy to prove, but there is federal money being spent as we speak to get to the bottom of far less pressing matters – stem cells and what not. Maybe there is some test that can be done to prove that when certain notes are hit, your coughing reflex is just activated and you cannot help it! Then people like me, who are apparently immune from this threat and/or simply able to keep from coughing for three, full, consecutive hours can enjoy the performance without having to wonder about these things as sad, sad Cio-Cio San waits for a very, very, very long time for a man who will never come back for her. Then in the final death scene, when robust non-coughers like me want to get lost in the moment and wrap themselves up in the emotional tragedy that is Cio-Cio San’s suicide, they would not have “I bet she just couldn’t take the coughing anymore” pop in their head and ruin the moment. Maybe Eli Lilly will soon come out with an anti-coughing pill or elixir for just this purpose. It could be called “opera-tussin.” I think I will write them next.

In the mean time, if you truly cannot, no matter what, keep from coughing for the whole duration of an opera performance, ask yourself, “Is this really for me? Am I really enjoying this?” Because, if you are coughing that much, I can only guess that the time you are not coughing is just time during which all you can think about is trying not to cough because you do not want to draw attention to yourself via all this hacking but you do not know how to make it stop! This is an example of a “cough-shame-spiral.” I do not want you to be in this spiral any more than I want to listen to your coughing. But I also cannot in good conscience tell you to stay home as live performances clearly count on attendance to survive! Oh, what a quandary! I do not know the answers. But I do know that it is not Werther’s. Switch to something stronger – but something that doesn’t come in a crinkly wrapper! Do not make me write another letter.

Thank you,

Monday, November 17, 2008

Looking for closure and resolution with some of my organs

Dear Appendix –

Hello. I know you’re probably surprised to hear from me. It’s been what, almost two years? Wow. So much has happened in that time, but I won’t get into all of that right now. I just want you to know that I wish we could've parted on better terms. When you so abruptly decided you wanted out, I admit I was totally caught off guard. I didn't even know you were unhappy with me, let alone about to burst. One minute we’re at a fancy party eating Brie and socializing, and the next thing I know I’m politely trying to excuse myself without drawing attention to what was going on between us. I harbored a lot of anger over your inability to express yourself, and the communication breakdown that I put squarely at your feet. But I also recognize now that I was taking you for granted. I never even took the time to actually learn about your basic functions. In fact, surgeons and immunologists at Duke University Medical School just last year announced that they’re pretty sure your actual function has been found. But I guess it’s too late for that information to help us, huh? I’m sorry about that. I really am. Despite how painful (and ultimately expensive) the separation was, I want you to know that I've processed that pain and that I've reached a healing point. Sure, there are scars, but I'm in a good place now. I hope you are too appendix... I hope you are too...

Your former partner (host? I don’t really know… you were always so weird about labels),

Dear Kidneys –

Hey guys, what’s up? What’s going on back there? You’ve been awfully quiet over the past 6 months or so… I would love to believe that the reason is entirely benign. But as they used to tell us in Kidneys Anonymous, “Past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.” So, have you really kicked the habit, or are you about to go off the wagon again with the whole stone thing soon? Man, I would love to believe you when you say, “Seriously Laura, we’re totally done with that shit, ok? We’re like clean and spiritual and stuff and into charkas or whatever-the-fuck.” I’m sorry, I’m sorry – I realize that my mocking your past forays into bullshit fads instead of maybe actually dealing with your stone addiction might come off as a little flippant and frankly, that’s not a good way to communicate. Let me strike that. Because really kidneys, the bottom line is we’re going to be stuck with each other from now until the grave. Unlike some other people’s kidneys, even if I get into a horrendous automobile crash and the only thing left for my mangled body is the hope of organ harvest, ain’t nobody gonna want you two broke-ass, degenerate kidneys. Ok? So you may as well resign yourselves to this fact and shape up your act. I want to trust you again kidneys – I want to believe that you won’t ever again leave me flat on my back, writhing in agony just so you can pass a little stone. I suggest we start going to KA again. It might really help us. Just think about it ok? Think about it.

Until the end,

Dear Liver –

I will get right to the point liver: I’m worried about you. I’m worried that, despite lack of malice or intent on my part, that I’ve done irreparable damage to you. You’re so strong and stoic – it’s hard for me to get a good read on your actual state. But with this letter, I’m breaking the silence and hoping to open up a dialogue between us. Now, I know many people might think my concern is just overly anxious – after all, I hardly drink very much. But cirrhosis via alcoholism is only one of the ways I could screw up your life (and ultimately mine).

I’m more concerned about all the ibuprofen. I mean, I eat it like candy and you never complain. Let’s face it – those kidneys have not helped the situation with their penchant for pain causing. But despite my inclination to do so, I know I can’t blame it squarely on those degenerates. Simply put, when my body hurts, I take some pain medicine. I want you to know that I do take the prescribed dosage, and I even looked on the internet to make sure I wasn’t killing you. Google Answers said, “There is an increased risk of gastrointestinal problems, but long-term use of ibuprofen does not seem to have any important effects on the liver...” Though I would love to have a deeper conversation with you over what counts as an “important effect,” I did take some comfort in this news and hope you do as well. Now, that hydrocodone stuff is another story, and although I know that long term use could mess you up, rest assured that I don’t take it nearly often enough to badly damage you. I am pretty sure of this.

Well, I hope this check-in will prove useful for us. I feel good about it. I want us to just touch base more, you know? Don’t be afraid to speak up and let me know what’s on your mind. Thanks for all your hard work excreting toxins from my body all these years. It makes me feel anxious and guilty that I am unsure if you’d be useful or wanted as a donated organ. But I will keep my fingers crossed that you would be eagerly harvested from my body should it ever come to that.


PS – Don’t you think it’s weird, considering your job that people like to eat the livers of other animals? I just don’t really get that, do you??

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Record Review: Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs

Before I totally forget, I thought I'd post a link to my Holly Golightly review from last week's Metro Times. For shame that it's taken me this long to post it - but considering the exceptional length of my last post, I am sure you have been too exhausted over the last few days to care what I have to say anyhow.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

We won't vote Conservative, because we never have... or: Everybody's (poll) workin' for the weekend

So Election Day has come and gone, can you believe it? Last Tuesday will forever be remembered as a historic day – one of hope and triumph for Democrats and an unmistakable sign of End Times for the Far-Right who will now start hoarding canned goods and building Muslim-proof fallout shelters in their back yards. So depending on which way you voted, you’re either just getting over your Obama related mother-of-a-celebration hangover, or your shoulders are really sore from shoveling (by the way, I am fairly certain most cities require a permit for larger-scale building projects, and a personal fall out shelter would count. If you are too mistrusting to even want your local government involved in your life, I hope you at least called MISS DIG first). Either way, thank you for voting, for without YOU, I would not have had a reason to work the polls this election and you would not be reading this firsthand account of my experience.

Tuesday morning I woke up at the ungodly hour of 5:30. I was told to report to my polling precinct at 6:00 so that everything could be set up and ready at 7:00 when the polls opened. I sleepily got ready and put on clothes with the “dress nice” decree from Election School in mind: black dress pants, a burgundy button-down shirt, and my black Doc Marten boots which might not count as “dress shoes,” but sore feet were not going to impede my ability to be involved in the political process. I had entertained the thought of walking since the polls are so close to where I live, but considering the fact I might be there for the rest of my life depending on how many people turned out, the environment would have to take a back seat to my need for a half hour more of precious, precious sleep. So like a real American, I hopped in my car and drove the few blocks to the polling place.

I got there at about 6:10 a.m. and was let into the building (a former elementary school now second-chance high school, I think) by the janitor. I will admit I was nervous. I had never done this before, and I sure didn’t feel adequately trained for the occasion. However, I comforted myself with the knowledge that I would be working with seasoned poll workers who would guide me along. I was new, sure, but willing and able to do my part for Democracy! To my superiors request of “jump” I would only answer “how high?” and before I knew it I would be part of a well-oiled voting machine!

When I walked into the gym, a petite older woman missing most of her bottom teeth greeted me. It seemed like she had just been running. She also had an entire donut hanging out of her mouth. She quickly took a bite of the donut and set the rest of it down on the table next to her without bothering with a napkin or plate. Her nametag indicated her name was Pam. After telling her who I was, she welcomed me, gave me my nametag and pointed to a larger woman with white hair and said she was who I needed to see about “what you’ll be doing today.”

This woman (Stephanie) was one of two chairs at my polling station. She seemed to be pretty perky for so early in the morning, but also a tad scattered. Each polling station had to have two chairs, one from each major party. The other chair, Vivian, was an older African-American woman who, incredibly, was the Republican. My first impression of her was that she was kind of crabby. The other volunteers that day were:

Sunny – a very small older woman who was wearing a black sweater with enough light colored animal hair on it to make it appear patterned. I was later informed that her shirt also appeared to be heavily Kool-Aid stained. When Vivian saw Sandy first thing in the morning, she greeted her with, “Sandy! No – we’ve got to get you out of that sweater – you’re covered in dog fur!” Sandy looked despondent yet never did remove the sweater, and was still wearing it fifteen hours later when we were done. During that entire stretch of time, I saw her get up only twice – and both times to make the short 3 yard walk to a trash can to throw away several feet long ribbons of “I Voted” sticker backing.

Rose– an even keeled 83-year-old who I ended up working with most of the day. She had a box of Kleenex with her, which she told me she brought because, “I never know when my sinuses are going to drain” and told me I was welcome to use her Kleenex whenever I wanted.

Mickey – an older man who liked to tell really bad jokes and who I witnessed saying to a voter who asked a question about straight ticket voting, “Don’t vote straight ticket! Your vote could flip! I saw it on the Internet!” He and I went in together for pizza later in the night. I paid for my portion with a roll of dimes.

Melody – a 30-year-old woman with coke-bottle glasses wearing a matching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ball cap and hooded sweatshirt. I am guessing that, to her, “dress nice” translated as “make sure your cartoon apparel is tastefully matching.” I found out later, she also had a TMNT vanity license plate. She told me that she was Stephanie’s daughter, and that she was volunteering “kind of last minute” because one of the ladies who was supposed to work Election Day had a “mental breakdown” and was in the hospital.

Tyrone and Emily – two high school students who were both exceptional and we were lucky to have them for the precious hours we did.

So about five minutes before 7 a.m. I asked Vivian about when I should actually vote – although I had asked the folks at City Hall about getting an absentee ballot, I was told that, since I was working in my own precinct, I could just vote in person. Although I tried to explain that, seeing as I would be busy working the polls it might be easier for me to just get it out of the way ahead of time, they didn’t seem to think that was a good enough reason. So Vivian looked at the clock and said, “Hurry up and vote before we let people in.” By this time, the line to get in was all the way down the hallway, and people were starting to get restless. I wasn’t crazy about this voting under pressure scenario, but what could I do? I grabbed my ballot and filled in the little bubbles as fast as I could.

I then put my ballot into the machine using the “secrecy sleeve” as instructed, but instead of accepting it and pulling it in ala a dollar bill into a vending machine, the machine beeped and rejected my ballot, giving me an error message of some kind. I motioned to Vivian and she came over to the machine. I explained what happened and she asked me, “Well, did you fill it out right?” Now, I don’t want to imply that I am a genius, but in our precinct we had over 1100 ballots cast. Of that number, only TWO people “spoiled” their ballot or “messed it up badly enough to need a new one” (this doesn’t count the one person who’s baby actually threw up in the voting booth and literally spoiled a ballot for what may very well be a historical first. I really hope I can find an Election Historian who can verify this for me). So even though I was rushed through the process, I was pretty sure that my ballot was fine. I finally just took it back to my assigned workstation with me and hid it under my chair, hoping I would find the time to look it over and recast it.

When the machine also rejected the first voter’s finished ballot, I felt vindicated. Of course that also meant that we were in a predicament considering the biggest piece of equipment in the place was not working. I had not been prepared in Election School for the possibility of a complete mutiny should our station, right at the start, have to shut down due to technical difficulties. Crisis was thankfully averted when Stephanie realized that the key used to start the machine had not been turned all the way. “Well, did you fill it out right?” Shut up, Vivian.

So here’s the basic set up in the assembly-line style voter procedures: Station #1 was where voters filled out their name and address on an “application to vote,” a little slip of paper about the size of a magazine subscription card. At Station #2 voters showed their ID and were looked up in the Precinct list to make sure they were actually listed. Station #3 had two people, one with an “A-L” list of Precinct voters, and one with an “M-Z” list. At this station, voters gave their application to vote, and that voter was then looked up in the book. The voter name was then highlighted, and a corresponding sticker next to their entry that also had their name on it, was taken out of the book and, along with the application to vote, was passed on to Station #4. At Station #4, the ballot number and voter number were assigned, recorded into a book next to the voter’s name sticker, and the ballot and voter number were written on their application to vote. This now completed application to vote was then passed along to Station #5 where the application was checked against the number on the ballot before the voter would be handed said ballot and told to choose any open voting booth. After the person voted, they took their ballot to Station #6 where the stub was removed, and they were instructed in the ways of feeding their ballot into the machine. After they managed to do this successfully, they stopped by Station #7 and exchanged their application to vote for an “I Voted” sticker. If this sounds unnecessarily complicated to you, then it is obvious that you hate Democracy and should move to Amsterdam where they love Socialist heathens like you.

So where was I in this line up? I spent the better part of 15 hours highlighting voter names and peeling stickers out of the “M-Z” book with Rose doing the same for “A-L.” Really, if somebody wanted to take a look at the above process and make some quick changes to streamline, I have no doubt that my sticker-peeling, highlighting ass would be the first one downsized. Nonetheless, I did my job as quickly and efficiently as I could and really had few issues.

Stephanie, the Democratic chair, was right next to me at Station #4, so should any questions arise, she could answer them. One such instance came up when a man pointed to his wife’s name in my book and said, “My wife passed away a little while ago. How do I get her name off the voter list?” I, of course, was not taught this in Election School, but seeing as I wanted to help offered that he could contact the City Clerk when he had a moment and they should be able to easily accommodate this request. Stephanie, overhearing this part of the conversation looks up and says, “He needs his wife taken off the list? Okay – just circle it in the book and write DIED.” Thankfully the pained expression on the man’s face was fleeting – as we were very busy – and he was shuffled along to the next station to get his ballot.

So it went the whole day long – look the name up, highlight it, take the sticker out of the book, pass it down… Most everybody was really nice and thanked us for our service. To this Stephanie would reply, “Oh, we’re getting paid for this!” which I found mortifying. Because, considering how hodge-podge our operation was, the types of hang ups, mistakes and lack of information was pretty forgivable should we just be a group of bumbling volunteers. But once it’s known we are receiving actual cash dollars to be that disorganized, that’s when people become judgmental and irritated. Also, after working a 15 hour day with barely a 15 minute break the whole time, I totally earned my $7.40 an hour, damn it.

After the last voter had finally left, my last task of the day was to go through all the write-in ballots and see if any of them were legitimate. Most people don’t realize this, but in order to be a valid write-in candidate, you have to actually file a Declaration of Intent with the appropriate officials before a certain deadline. This is, I guess, what keeps us from the possibility that election results could, for instance, force Detroit Piston Tayshaun Prince off the basketball court and into the Oakland County Commissioner’s office as one of my Precinct’s voters apparently wanted. The only valid write-ins were two people I had not heard of for President (and Ron Paul was NOT on the list as a valid write in, which I am sure will make the two people who voted for him in my Precinct riot or at least refuse to ever take their fucking Ron Paul signs down) and one person I had never heard of for the OCC Board of Trustees or some other such thing nobody cares about.

By the time I got home, I was completely exhausted. While the rest of the country was glued to the TV watching the results come in for this historic election, I was unconscious by 10:30pm. A friend I have not talked to in forever called me at 11:15 to share her excitement, and when, jerked out of a deep sleep, I incoherently answered the phone she said, “Whoo hoo! Obama did it! We finally have… hey wait, um, were you asleep?”

How old people do poll work is beyond me. I think it proves that elderly pollworkers indeed have secret powers, and that I must continue on down the pollworking path so that I can learn what they are. My experience has made clear that, despite their best intentions, Democracy must be pried from the exclusive hands of the elderly. Indeed, the civic duty wealth needs to be spread around regardless of what that dumb ass “Joe the Plumber” has to say about it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

But where the President is never black, female or gay… or: On the eve of my debut as a pollworker

For four years, I’ve been thinking about what I could do to “make a difference” on Election Day 2008. The day that George W. Bush was declared the winner of the 2004 election was a very sad day for me. I had just one month before moved across the country to the “red state” of North Carolina, hadn’t really had a chance to make any friends in my new home, and was still several months away from being let in on the fact that my marriage was failing. Sure Kerry had run a lackluster campaign, was from the liberal homosexual-marrying state of Massachusetts and (worst of all!) looked “French.” But considering all my other life circumstances, his loss still came as quite a blow. I vowed that in 2008, I’d find my political-volunteerism niche, roll up my sleeves, and work hard for democracy.

So as soon as Barack Obama was the official nominee, I contacted the local campaign HQ to let them know that I would love to volunteer – phone calls, canvassing neighborhoods, delivering home cooked “Oba-meals” to the elderly (this was my idea which I couldn’t wait to pitch to them) – whatever they needed! Apparently the Obama campaign needed no additional help, as nobody ever got back with me. I was a little disheartened by this, but then I got an e-mail from Pollworkers For Democracy asking me to consider being a pollworker. I was immediately struck by the notion. Working the polls would allow me to get an insiders view of the process, work hard for my community, AND learn skills that apparently only old people know. If patriotism means anything, it is having the courage to learn the secret abilities of ancient election workers before they perish. Because when they die, they’ll be taking their secret knowledge with them, and leaving as their legacy the nomination of Betty White as president for life forever, the end. Plus being a pollworker meant I could make jokes about working at a strip club (Ha! Get it? It’s funny!).

Unlike the Obama campaign, the City of Ferndale responded to my request, and ultimately hired me as an election worker. Now, I say hired, because being an election worker is a paid position. I was informed via a letter notifying me of my appointment that: “Compensation for Election workers is $7.40 per hour.” In other words, the outcome of every election rests on the shoulders of (mostly very old) people making less than a Shift Manager at Taco Bell. God Bless America.

In addition to my hours spent at the polls on Election Day, I was also informed that I would need to attend a four-hour training session dubbed “Election School” prior to the big day. The importance of said session was explained thusly: “Because the training class is very important for the success of this election, if you do not attend Election School, you will not be able to work.” The letter went on to say that I would be paid $5.00 for attendance at Election School. Considering all the sessions were scheduled for 9am to 12pm or 1pm to 4pm, those willing and able to work the polls had to either be unemployed or stupid enough to miss half a day of work to make five dollars. (I hope I’m not the only one who feels uneasy about this situation.)

After notifying my boss that I would need to take half a day off, I started to wonder what Election School would be like. The cynic in me expected it to take place in a cafeteria-like room, led by a frazzled, overworked city employee, and populated by a sea of sexa, septa, and octogenarians in holiday themed sweaters, orthopedic walk-for-life footwear and the strained facial expression of somebody who can only hear every third word or so clearly. Also knitting. Somebody would be knitting. But on the other hand, I was just being stereotypical, right?

The day of Election School I walked into a cafeteria-like room at the local community center and was greeted by a frazzled city worker who was trying to get photocopied Election Day information into the hands of about 18 people. By the most conservative of estimates, at least 11 of those people were sexa, septa, or octogenarians – three of which had on Halloween themed sweaters (one was a vest), most wore orthopedic walk-for-life footwear and all wore the strained facial expression of somebody who can only hear every third word or so clearly. And yes, a lady was knitting. I never knew my inner cynic could be so eerily, prophetically correct.

As a newbie, I grabbed a seat, dutifully opened my notebook and poised my pencil to start taking notes. After all, I had never done this before and there was a lot of information to parse in the course of four hours! I must keep up and learn the Election Day secret powers! Not only will I need to learn the whole darn process, but what about challengers, protesters, new voting equipment, ID requirements… so much to learn! But I was ready. As I waited for something of substance to be stated so I could write it down, I started to read over the “Opening and Closing the Polls” checklist we had been handed. Automarks… stubbs… tabulators… PCMCIA card slot seals… so much new and totally confusing terminology! What in the hell does this all mean? How do old people understand these words and I don’t?

Over the course of our four hour training, I never got much in the way of definitions or explanations for these odd sounding whosits and whatsits. The one thing I did learn was (and I quote) “The automark will take ballots of any orientation, but bottom end first is best because the bottom is smooth.” (Democracy is kinky!) By listening closely to the woman leading the training, and subsequently to the questions and concerns voiced by the seasoned veterans amongst my group, I did learn some very valuable tips and got to better understand the priorities of the average election worker. For instance, we were told to “dress nice” and that we were “not to wear sandals.” Should an illiterate person be bold enough to attempt voting, “illiteracy counts as a disability, so that person would be allowed to bring their own help as long as said helper isn’t their employer or labor union leader.” Challengers were allowed into the polling place, but with stipulations – they can only challenge with “good reason, not all willy-nilly.” On several occasions, complicated questions were answered with some version of, “I don’t think we need to get into that,” or “That’ll just confuse the voters.”

The training ended with our facilitator saying, “I’m sure it’s all clear as mud at this point” and then asking if we had any final questions. Yes, I thought, I have several, but let’s start with, “Can we have an Election School do over please?” I decided this question wouldn’t go over too well with a woman who had already jokingly asked one of the more vocal Election School participants if she could “go ahead and teach the next session so I can have a three martini lunch.” So I remained silent. Two other hands shot up though – the first question coming from somebody concerned about how busy we’d be and if we’d “be allowed to have snacks at the table.” Apparently her only concern about the expected record voter turn out related to how many granola bars she should pack. Yes, she was told, you can have snacks – just be discrete. The second question came from one of the appointed Chairs. Surely this would be a worthwhile question that would give me a bit of needed insight before I headed out the door. “Since we’re using the voter name stickers this year instead of writing them in the voter log, will we still be using highlighters?” I didn’t even bother to wait around for the answer – after all, I needed to run to the grocery store to stock up on granola bars so I would be ready for Democracy-In-Action. Look out Election Day – here I come!

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