Nobody had bothered to vote.
That, at least, was the common consensus.
There were those who had claimed to. A couple thousand from either of the big parties. A couple hundred from the smaller ones. But when pressed for proof, they quickly fell silent, muttering this or that about phantom polling stations or mysterious ballots.
The real truth of the matter seemed to be that, on the first week of November, no one had showed up. Election officials sat in trailers in empty parking lots, quiet school gyms, and libraries. They certainly hadn’t heard anything about any lost registrations.
The news tried to make something of it.
“Leaderless in Washington.”
There was 24-hour coverage. Updates every fifteen minutes. Special segments by Shep Smith and Christiane Amanpour. Withering editorials by Anthony Zurcher. Investigations by Glen Greenwald. Don Lemon asked if aliens could have done it and Alex Jones declared that the aliens were just a clever distraction.
All of it faded when someone asked if they had voted.
Back in Washington, representatives and senators tried vainly to get in to the Capitol but were turned away by guards who apologetically but firmly stated that the premises were off-limits to all except government workers. When asked who that might be they simply shrugged and stated that they wouldn’t know.
Ask somebody who voted.
We waited for the first riots. Boarded up the windows and peered superstitiously out through the cracks. We expected to hear the distant, gravel roar of tanks on the highway. The mechanical slap of boots and the foreign flags over the gas stations and grade schools. Russian, perhaps. Chinese. North Korean. Bolivian. Perhaps even Mexican. British. Canadian.
But none came.
A handful of looters, if they could even be called that. Mostly just homeless and poor folks who grabbed blankets and cans of beef stew. If any of the cashiers noticed, they didn’t say anything. Perhaps everyone was just tired of caring.
A rumor spread that somewhere in Minnesota gangs had stripped out the meat section of a Walmart. Over 10,000 dollars worth of grade-A sirloins and racks of ribs. But they wound up having no where to store it all, and had to invite the whole block over to grill it up before it went bad.
But that was just a lie. According to the neighbors, anyways. It had happened in Vermont, not Minnesota, and it was a Wydco, not a Walmart.
“What’s a Wydco?” I asked.
“Something they have in Vermont.” They shrugged.
And someone else said it was Arizona. Or Florida. And no, it was Georgia- but no one in Georgia knew anything about it.
It didn’t really matter, in the end. That’s how things had gotten.
Certain sentiments didn’t seem as nearly controversial as they once had.
“Everyone deserves to work. To eat. To live in a home. To have help when they’re sick.”
It didn’t seem like such a crazy thing anymore.Lots of the things we used to care about-
-that we thought we had cared about.
They didn’t really seem as important as they used to be.
People came across the border, and we shrugged and said “Well, people do that.”
“But what if they’re enemies?” someone had wailed.
“Enemies of what?”
They never really had an answer for that. Not anymore.
A lot of the people who used to say that parks, peace, and polar bears were part of a hippie scheme finally gave it all a chance, and wound up liking it more than they’ll ever admit. And the people who had sneered at guns didn’t seem to mind them as much as they had before.
Maybe because there wasn’t anybody to really tell us otherwise.
Mr. Otes from down the street raised a stink about it- but only at first. He didn’t know why we were just giving out cars to every Tom, Dick, and Harry.
“What’ve they done to work for them?” He had hissed, veins bulging in his chicken-skin neck.
Tom, Dick, and Harry were working, we told him. Got jobs up at that stretch of empty lot off of Charleston. They were helping put up those houses that had been sitting half-built for the past seven years, tangled up in subcommittee red-tape at city hall. But there wasn’t any city hall anymore. I mean there was, but it was a school now. And one where the air conditioning actually worked and you didn’t have to pack the students in, 50 to a classroom.
Tom, Dick, and Harry were actually James, Andre, and Esperanza who had gotten laid off when the Flamingo Hotel closed down two years ago. They hadn’t gotten work since then. Esperanza was on SNAP. James was living in the shelter. Andre had tried to get day labor work in front of the Home Depot.
“You know tiling?” We asked.
“Most definitely. Do paintin’ and preppin’ too.” He said.
“Like doing it?”
And that was pretty much that.
James and Esperanza didn’t know anything about tiling, but they said they’d try just about anything. All summer long they worked on finishing up those houses. They showed their IDs down at what used to be the Costco.
Mr. Otes wanted to know why they didn’t just clear out the place if they could just up and take whatever they wanted.
Andre just shrugged.
“You can go into any McDonald’s take ‘s many ketchup packets ‘s y’want. Nobody ever does it though.”
And nobody ever did. Even when the houses were up and we moved in all the folks from the shelter. Even when we were still designing the new hospital and James, Esperanza, and Andre weren’t working they could still go in and get most whatever. We were making more than we’d ever need, so who cared?
Someone in Washington might have, but they said that nobody really lived there anymore. Grass and dandelions were coming through cracks in the sidewalk outside of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. They said that the gardens out back had become a jungle. That there were still a few painted shells from the Easter Egg Hunt, waiting to be found by anyone brave enough the scale the wrought-iron fence.
If anybody bothered, I never heard about it.
It was the same across the country. State houses were demolished to make way for orchards. They were tended to by bankers, some of whom still claimed to have millions and millions of dollars safely tucked away in their accounts. Only nobody really believed them and there was no one left to complain to. They spent their days pruning branches and taking long breaks in the cool and scented shadows of the apple trees. And though their pride will never let them, I suspect they might be happier now than they ever were in their offices and empty mansions.
Time passed, but not like before. There weren’t as many deadlines it seemed. No mad rush before April 14th. No hurry to start the school year. No desperation to end it. You could make it to LA in 4 hours if you drove like a maniac. And you could, if you had to, but if you hurt someone, you’d have to answer to all of us.
That, I suppose, was the only relic left of the old days. You could be taken in front of folks and asked to answer for yourself. Or to get someone to speak out in your defense, if they felt your conscience was clear, and there almost always was. And it wasn’t always perfect, but that was nothing new.
A year came and went. And then three more. And in some little bar at the edge of town- right where the 95 North spills into the open Mojave- someone murmured something into their beer.
“What was that?”
He took a sip to steel himself and pushed back from the bar.
He said something about how it had been a little while since we had an election.
“We just voted day before yesterday, didn’t we?
Decided to put in olive trees where the golf course used to be. And what kind of beers we were going to bring in from the east coast.
Hell, you were the one who got everybody fired up for Yuengling.”
He moaned and said that it was true, but it had taken all damn day.
He said we was tired of it. Thought things were better when there were people to do the deciding for you. When you had options, not choices.
At the very least, life was more efficient.
But don’t worry.
We beat him senseless in the bar parking lot.