I usually try to be the type of person you don't go out of your way to avoid. (Here in Janet's World, we aim high with our interpersonal communication goals.)
Most days I am successful in my attempts not to be offensive. As a result, I may even take it for granted that I am at ease in most social situations.
But that was before last week, when I took a volunteer job that caused me to stand in the shoes of the undesirables. For two hours, I joined the ranks of the debt collectors, the tax auditors, the process servers — perhaps even the colonoscopy administrators.
I was a candidate's sign-waver at a local polling place.
For years, I have walked briskly past these individuals on Election Day, feeling uncomfortable when they greeted me with a cheery "Thank you for voting" as I approached my local elementary school. I couldn't help but wonder — are there really people out there who haven't made up their minds by the time they exit their vehicles and walk up to the polling place? And, if such individuals do exist, are they so easily swayed by a smile and a sign?
This was my chance to find out, apparently.
I supported a particular candidate's reelection bid for County Council because we worked side by side with others a decade ago in a grassroots effort to fund a new high school in Howard County. She really knew how to get the job done — and she went on to get other jobs done, first on the school board and then on the County Council. And I went on to develop a complex backwards-spelling identity protection system for this column that allows me to state without fear of repercussions that my candidate's name is Yentruoc Nostaw.
Here's the thing. There was a lot of insanity and fear swirling around this election year, and I guess I decided the most insane, fearful thing for me to do was to agree to take the 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. shift outside an elementary school and wave a sign for my candidate.
At first, I ignored the fact that people were walking briskly past me, hoping I wouldn't engage them. I figured it was as close as I would ever come to the Miss America experience: smiling and waving, repeating my world peace initiative distilled in the phrase "Nostaw for County Council!"
As the sun set and the temperature dropped, I brought my "talent" portion into my game, bursting into a little improv dance to warm my toes as vehicles passed, swinging my sign above my head to get the blood circulating in my upper arms. But then I considered how my actions might reflect negatively on my candidate. I didn't want word getting back that some volunteer was doing the "Elaine" (ref: "Seinfeld"). So I moved myself down the road, under the lone streetlight, for at least an illusion of warmth. At this point, it was 6:58 p.m., and I still had an hour to go.
By 7:09, I had to pull my hood up, and my hood has a thin strip of fur around the face, which of course is not endorsed in any way by my candidate. I tied my hood so tightly I could barely see — my head became an oval with tufts of fur protruding out the front. At this point potential voters probably thought I represented the group "Trolls for Nostaw."
Luckily for me, there was another poll worker by my side, Det Sanocahc (privacy protected), and he was entirely normal. He also kept me very entertained with his conversation, which took my mind off the fact that I couldn't feel my fingers.
And I'm proud that together Det and I brought out the vote — he the respectable types, and I the … others. Together, we represented what is good, and a little bit zany, about America.