Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Guess the price

"Distrust and caution are the parents of security."
Benjamin Franklin

"What loneliness is more lonely than distrust?"
George Eliot**

Distrust is my default setting. I carry around a wealth of distrust. It’s the currency of all my human interaction. When necessary, I surrender my natural suspicion in the same way I’d fork over big bucks for a pristine bottle of a vintage Lanvin—with some hesitation, with some dread of future regret, but also with the understanding that you don’t get something for nothing. I have to be willing to lose a little wariness if I want to operate in the world with other people. The trick is knowing how much is too much. And what are the consequences of being too stingy?

This morning I pulled into a mostly deserted parking lot in Nashville, not another soul in sight except for a young man who seemed to be wandering around aimlessly—a few steps one way, then a few steps another. If he was homeless, he hadn’t been that way long. He was too clean and well dressed. He didn’t seem high, or deranged, just oddly uncertain. He saw me park, and moved vaguely in my direction, as if he planned to approach me when I got out of the car. So I didn’t.

Nashville has very little street crime, almost none compared to a lot of the places I’ve lived. Odds were very slim that this guy intended to grab my purse, and I seriously doubt he was some variety of perv. I just didn’t get that vibe from him, and in my experience sexual weirdos are more careful to avoid telegraphing their intent to approach. If I had to guess, I’d say he was stranded and was just going to hit me up for money. But I’ll never know, because I sat tight until he finally wandered away.

In the afternoon I went to vote in the presidential primary. (Tennessee is part of Super Tuesday, but there’s a week of early voting.) When I got to the county election office, they were all befuddled because somebody had accidentally been given the wrong party ballot on the voting machine. They were trying to figure out how to get the machine to cancel the ballot and still let the guy vote—there’s a code number attached to each voter, and his had already been entered into the incorrect ballot.

Need I say that this was a sizable boost to my already ample distrust of the election process? I mean, I don’t spend a lot of time sticking pins in Diebold voodoo dolls, but you’d have to be an idiot not to wonder about the cumulative effect of problems like this one. The guy was allowed to vote on another machine, and presumably that vote will count, but the duped code might mean that both ballots wind up being rejected. Who knows? The voter doesn’t, and I don’t have any faith that the nice people at the election office do, either.

Nevertheless, I shoved all my skepticism across the counter to the poll worker, and stepped up to cast my own vote. (For Obama, in case you’re wondering—without joy, but also without the faint nausea that accompanied my vote for Kerry in 2004.) Once I’d entered Obama’s name, the machine told me hit the red “Cast Ballot” button and wait for the waving American flag to come up on the screen. Sure enough, the flag waved. Just in case I had any doubts, the machine assured me that I had voted and was free to go.

Allegory of the Good Government (detail) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, 1338-40, via Web Gallery of Art

**Both unsourced quotes from the guilty pleasure that is BrainyQuote. If you know where they can be found, please enlighten me.


chayaruchama said...

I can appreciate that...
it's been a long time since I felt joy when tendering my civic duty.

chayaruchama said...

I meant to address the avoidance.

Sometimes, I have to avoid the gaze, or the engagement that will surely follow, if I cast a glance in the direction of the wounded...

Nine times out of ten, I will glance.
But then, there are days when the plate is too full, and the account is in the red, emotionally.

Anonymous said...

Never mind the fact he could have been a serial killer. If your mama didn't tell you, then I will: Don't talk to strange men on the street!

BitterGrace said...

Well, she did, Renee, and you'll notice I didn't--though I kinda wish I had.

I know what you mean, Chaya. Sometimes I am just not up to it. Feels like a failure, but there it is.