Blue Christmas

When I was around 11 or so, I was obsessed with The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a TV show about two secret agents – one American, the other Russian – working for a multi-national intelligence agency. My favorite agent was the Russian, Illya Kuryakin, played by David McCallum. He was dashing and mysterious and wore black turtlenecks a lot. I would say that I had a crush on him, but even then I knew I was gay, so, I really wanted to be him – or at least dress like him. I was so obsessed with the show that for Christmas that year I asked for the Illya Kuryakin secret lighter gun. It looked like a cigarette case/lighter from the outside, but it fired caps and inside had a secret radio compartment. I know there had to be other things on my list that year, but I couldn’t name one if my life depended on it. You see, I got what I wanted most of all. And that, in a nutshell, was Election 2020 for me.

Yes, I had a long wish list, including Democrats regaining control of the Senate. I’m still hoping that present arrives late by way of Georgia, and I’m totally cool with that. But here’s the thing – what I wanted the very most was for Donald Trump to not be our president after noon on January 20th, 2021 and I (and 79 million others and counting) got that – even if it does take an army of Secret Service agents to remove him. Paging Illya Kuryakin! Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States and I’m going to just let myself be happy about that for a minute. And I’m proud that I played a teeny tiny part in helping to make that happen.

In August, I started phone banking for Progressive Turnout Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to connecting with voters one-on-one and getting Democrats to the polls. I guesstimate that I spoke with over 3,000 voters – those were actual conversations and doesn’t include the hang-ups and go to hells. Thankfully, I only got a few of the latter and they only came near the end when everyone was suffering from election fatigue – even the people who were happy to hear from me.

I know calling a stranger on the phone and talking to them about voting sounds like a fresh hell to many of you. I get that, but to me, it felt like the most important job I’ve ever had. And I loved it. Most days, I felt like I was making a Ken Burns documentary – interviewing all sorts of people all over several battleground states, but mainly in my home state of North Carolina. Every day I would talk to folks who lived in towns that I never heard of – Supply, Lowgap, Peachland and Chocowinity to name a few. I listened to some southern accents so thick they made my North Carolina born wife sound like she’s from the Bronx.

We followed a script for our calls seeking some basic information – who folks were voting for, how they were voting – i.e. early voting in person or by mail or on Election Day – and their main concern in this election. I captured this information on my iPad, but early into my calls, I started taking notes on a legal pad – writing down things people would share with me. It felt important to me to capture these thoughts and save them – you know, like a special card or note you get in the mail and slip into a drawer because you’re not ready to let go of it just yet.

I was the one who often felt heard in so many of my conversations with people who articulated many of my own concerns – the chaos and disinformation of the past four years and the assault on so many issues I care about – social justice, income inequality, climate change and oh, yeah, democracy. I know some of these voters were a lot like me, but the conversations that left their fingerprints on me were the ones with folks not at all like me – the very young, the very old and the people of color.

One afternoon I called Deasia, a young black woman in New Bern. She was in her car with her mom on the way to early vote for Biden. I knew by the sound of her voice that this had to be her first time voting in a presidential race. She said cheerfully, “I just turned 18. Today is my birthday.” She told me that racial justice was the issue most important to her. I wished her a happy birthday and told her that she would get her present on November 3rd and she laughed politely. She was sweet like that.

The oldest voter I spoke with was 96 and lived in Goldsboro. I asked her what issue was most important to her in this election and she said, “Honey, I’m an old woman. I don’t care about issues. I just want people to get back on their feet and get work and be able to feed their families.” I spoke to many of these wise owls over the past few months and believe me, I hung on every word.

But I think my favorite call was with the young black mother in Sanford I spoke with on the Sunday before Election Day. I asked her if she had voted yet and she said, almost apologetically, “No. I was going to early vote on Saturday, but my water broke on Friday. I’m in the hospital – I had a Halloween baby.” I was shocked that she was speaking with me at all, much less being so nice. I congratulated her on her baby, a girl, and told her that I would let her go. She said, “Oh, that’s okay. I can talk.” She went on to tell me that she would probably be released from the hospital later that day and that she planned to vote on Election Day. I told her that she could certainly vote curbside if she wasn’t up to standing in line – just thinking about that made me wince. She said, “I’ll be okay. I’m determined to vote. This election is so important.” We talked for a good while about family – this was her third child. She told me that education is very important to her – especially getting her older kids back to school safely. As I was thanking her before ending our call, I said, “Oh, I forgot to ask you your daughter’s name.” She replied in the sweetest, most tender voice, “Serenity. Her name Is Serenity.”

There are days that I fancy myself to be a decent writer, but I could never make up a story that good. And yes, sometimes there is crying in phone banking.

In addition to all the voters that gave me hope, I had some emotional support political junkies throughout this election – namely Jeff and Chris. Jeff is my best gay boyfriend and we are frighteningly similar in many ways – good and bad. We are both passionate about politics and on occasion don’t play well with others when they don’t seem to be as engaged or enraged as we think they should be. He is wicked smart politically and is a great student of history. I like to think of him as the Queer Eye version of Doris Kearns Goodwin. Now that’s a podcast just waiting to happen. Maybe next cycle.

Jeff and I, like over 65 million other people, carried our scars and PTSD from 2016 into this election. We both vowed to not give into our poll paranoia (damn you, Nate Silver!) and exude what we called nauseous optimism about Election 2020. Joe Biden was neither of our first choices, but once he became the frontrunner, we were all in for riding with Biden. Sure, we had some weak moments during the long campaign, but we mostly kept them to ourselves through anxious texts. Jeff is also one of the funniest people on the planet, so we laughed ourselves silly through some of the tenser times. One day we were texting about The Lincoln Project and Jeff wrote that he wanted to have Steve Schmidt’s babies. A laugh like that can get a girl over a rough patch.

Chris and I have been friends for so long we can’t remember how long. She lives on top of a mountain outside of Charlottesville and is retired and worked her liberal ass off writing a gazillion postcards for Democratic candidates this cycle. We have been through a lot of elections together – including the 2000 Gore v. Bush nightmare. She, too, has a very keen political mind and puts her money where her blue heart is. She somehow trusted me to help guide her numerous contributions to senatorial candidates throughout this cycle. I must confess, I really enjoyed spending her money. I adore Chris, but she would admit that she was a Nervous Nellie as Election Day drew closer. She would text – “Talk me off the ledge” – and I would. I knew Joe Biden was going to win. I had a certainty about it that belied my cynical nature. And I have all those voters that I spoke with to thank for that. Well, not the ones that told me to fuck off, but you know, even they inspired me in a different way. I just knew that they did not represent the majority in our country. And I was right.

So, it was kind of perfect that Chris was the one who told me that Joe Biden had finally been declared the next president of the United States. I had been babysitting Steve Kornacki and his khakis for days just waiting and watching and learning more about the districts in Pennsylvania than I ever dreamed possible. My dear wife had been so patient with my obsessive viewing that I relented to go for a walk with her the Saturday morning after the election. I felt certain no call would be made until later in the afternoon, but I took my phone with me just in case. We were about 30 minutes into our walk when a text from Chris came through: “I didn’t know I would cry.” I frantically texted her back, “What?” And she said, “They called it.” I screamed, “It’s over!” so loudly that people in their yards started cheering. And then I took my wife in my arms and kissed her like she was that nurse in the famous V-J Day photograph. We practically danced the two blocks to the home of some dear friends who had just pulled into their driveway and had not heard the good news. We shared the biggest virtual hug ever and smiled our faces off. Then my phone rang – it was Jeff, of course. I hadn’t heard him that excited since the Pippin revival. I can only remember that he told me that he loved me and thanked me for everything that I had done. And I have never been happier to hear his voice.

I spent the rest of the day glued to coverage of the joyous global celebrations and I took some quiet time to think about all those voters that I had spoken with since early August. Those everyday Americans who love their country and cherish democracy. They made me believe in the best of humanity again and in some ways, they made me believe in myself again. I wished I could call them one more time to thank them. And it felt a lot like that Christmas morning so long ago when I got what I wanted most of all.

Chasing Democracy

“I think I’m going to throw up.”

That was the text I got from my dear friend Chris last Friday night. She is not one to normally share her digestive issues, so I sent her back a perplexed emoji.

“RBG is dead” was her response. Oh. My. God. The words most of us have prayed we would never hear – well, at least not until Joe Biden was safely sworn into office.

We were so foolish. How did we expect an 87-year-old/pound woman who had cancer 17 times to survive long enough to save us from ourselves? So, I did what a lot of people did last Friday night. I wept. The flat-out ugly cry. And then I cursed God and humanity and rent my garments in an Episcopalian sort of way. And then I felt fear. That kind of fear you feel deep in your gut – cold as steel.

I saw a montage of every civil rights march, vigil and meeting I’ve ever been to race before my eyes. Only the montage was running backwards – like Benjamin Button’s aging – all those things so many of us have fought so long and hard for – women’s rights, gay rights, trans rights, healthcare, all disappearing. I turned on MSNBC – I know I’m a liberal cliché and I can live with that. It was the first time I was praying for FAKE NEWS, but it was real. And then, before RBG’s ferocious tiny body was cold, Mitch McConnell announced he would work to fill her seat as soon as possible. And that’s when I got angry. White hot rage. And that’s pretty much where I have remained and that’s okay – that’s a great place to be 39 days before this election. Rage gets shit done.

I’ve been working for Progressive Project Turnout for the past two months and we just moved into Phase 2 of our operations – ballot chasing. Think of it as storm chasing for political nerds. I don’t have a cool truck or Helen Hunt by my side, but I do have my trusty data that tells me who requested a mail-in ballot but has not yet returned it. Sexy, right? Damn straight.

The truth is that talking to voters is the thing that has saved me since RBG died. I was dreading getting on the phone that first Ruthless Saturday afternoon. I was teary and anxious and wondered if I could maintain my neutrality with a Trumper. My first call was to a woman in rural Pennsylvania. “What do you want?” she barked at me and I could feel tears brewing. I gave my spiel, took a deep breath, and popped the question, “Are you supporting Joe Biden on November 3rd?” She said – and I swear on RBG’s gavel that I am not making this up – “Hell, yes. He’s next to the Lord in my book. I love Joe Biden.” I checked to make sure that I had not called Jill Biden and I thanked the phone bank Gods and felt a smile on my face for the first time since Ruth died. But wait, that’s not all – she went on. “I confess that I kinda liked Trump when he was on that stupid reality show, but when he talked about grabbing women by the hoo-hoo, I knew I could never vote for him. You know, I loved Obama. I wish he could have served forever like the Queen of England.” It was an embarrassment of Democratic riches and it was just what my weary soul needed to hear.

My next call was to a deplorable who told me to go to hell. And that was perfect, too – it got my blood pumping – my deep blue blood. Call after call, one clear theme emerged – voters are mad as hell and they aren’t going to take it anymore. And here’s the other thing – a TON of people have already voted. I love those calls! These voters are so cute – like the student that hands in their homework early for extra credit. They are proud to tell me that they have voted, and I give them a shiny virtual participation trophy and my endearing thanks.

These call shifts have gotten more difficult though – probably a combination of my grief from RBG’s death and the anxiety of the election drawing closer. Some days I feel like a sponge – soaking up the angst and fear and hopes and dreams of the voters I am speaking with. I am exhausted when my day is done, but the good news is that these folks are giving me hope with their testimonials to democracy. And their stories. Good God, the stories.

I spoke to a woman in her late 50s who was in the hospital recovering from her 24th surgery related to a horrible car accident that killed her husband many years ago. I apologized for bothering her, but she was all in for talking to me. She has raised five children on her own and told me that because of her pre-existing conditions, if Trump erases the Affordable Care Act, “I might as well shoot myself in the head.” I hope she was kidding. She has already mailed in her ballot.

I wondered how many folks would talk about the Supreme Court vacancy. A 21-year-old college student -a woman – told me the most important issue to her in this election was healthcare – until RBG died – now it was the Supreme Court and protecting the rights of women. As she said, rather eloquently, “Shit just got real.” That’s pretty much what a young trans woman in Philadelphia told me, too. She’s worried about losing her legal marriage status to her partner. That one hit close to home. Damn.

And the conversations around racial justice continue to gut me. I talked to a black man in his early 60s. When I asked him what issue was most important to him in this election, he said somberly, “Some justice. Not equal justice – I know that will never happen. Just some justice.” This was the same day that dry wall got more justice than Breonna Taylor. And there was the older woman in Rockingham, NC who told me she’s never missed a vote in any election. She explained, “Honey, you know folks don’t consider what black women think about anything too much. Other than raising my kids, the most important thing I’ve ever done is vote.” Conversations like this are not soon forgotten.

Everyone has a story. I spoke with an 86-year-old woman who graduated from nursing school in 1956. She’s still working – because she wants to – as a home health supervisor. She talked to me about income inequality and the CNAs that work for her company for $10.25 an hour – while working their other two jobs. She has two grandchildren in college who both contracted COVID-19 and were very sick. “I’m a nurse. This is not a hoax,” she said. She’s voting for Joe Biden – the 13th president she will have voted for. Her mother lived to be 106, so let’s hope she gets to vote to re-elect Kamala Harris in 2032.

Democracy is a word I hear a lot on my calls. Many of the people I speak with talk about our democracy being vandalized by Trump and they are not having it. They are sick and tired of a president who spews division and hate and continues to undermine our institutions. They speak with pride of how great our country is – this is especially moving to hear from folks who were not born here. Like the Latinix woman who told me that she had lived in several other countries. “We have a lot of rights here, but if we don’t fight to keep them, we will lose them. I’m going to be the first one in line when early voting starts.” I bet she will be, too.

And some days it is the simple kindness of strangers that makes me believe that good will prevail over evil on November 3rd. I had a long conversation last night with a 73-year-old man in Durham. He is retired after 55 years of masonry. He told me he has 10 kids – two served in the Marines – and all of them went to college. He preached me a little sermon. “I’m a black man. I’ve seen tyranny. We got too much hate and division in this country. What we got is precious and why do we want to hate and mess it up every day? I believe in love. That man in office is just too much – too much hate. We got to get him out.” Amen, brother. Amen.

And then I thanked him for taking the time to talk to me and share so much and he said in such a genuine way that it might as well have been my own father speaking to me, “I love you so much. And you’re doing a great job.” And in that moment, I thought that ballot chaser was the most noble profession in the world.

39 days, my friends. We can do this. We must. Democracy is counting on us. And so is Ruth.

Early voting in NC begins on October 15th. Click here to find early voting polling sites where you live.

Dialing for Democracy

I’ve had over 700 conversations with voters over the last month while phone banking for Progressive Project Turnout. That’s about 699 more than I thought I would have when my team was pulled out of the field in early August because of COVID-19 and transitioned from door knocking to phone calling. I mean who answers a number they don’t recognize these days? Well, as it turns out, a pandemic is a damn good time to call people. They’re at home and a lot of them are bored silly and talking to a friendly stranger like me is a nice diversion.

Now, not to paint too rosy of a picture, I’ve probably had twice that number of hang-ups, but I expected that. And then there are the Trumpers, but I’ll save that for later. For the most part, I’ve been deeply moved, honored – and often amused – listening to voters’ thoughts about this election. And best of all, I am very hopeful about November 3rd. No, really, I am. Joe Biden might not have been a lot of folks first choice, but today he is a LOT of folks only choice. Whatever gets us there.

Joe Biden. I say his name a hundred times of day – think Rain Man and substitute Joe Biden for Judge Wapner – that’s me. I recite parts of the script in my dreams sometimes. My dear wife can even do an amusing impersonation of me since she’s heard me on duty from my home office. Besides politely thanking the Trump voters for their time (grr), making the script sound fresh each time is the most challenging aspect of the gig. By the end of my shift, I’m exhausted from the sound of my own voice, but I go to bed hopeful that our democracy will prevail.

We follow a brief script – I identify myself and who I am representing and slide into the main question – “Do you plan on voting for Joe Biden on November 3rd?” And that’s when things get interesting. The good – yes – the bad – no – and the ugly – Trumpers who yell at me. There’s a half a second of suspense after the question exits my mouth and hangs there as I wait for the answer. I can almost predict the answer by the sound of someone’s voice, but that’s not foolproof. One of my early calls was to crusty old woman in rural Pennsylvania. I popped the question and there was an awkward pause and she said in a very bold voice, “I…most…certainly… (here it comes, I thought) AM!” She proceeded to tell me that the only monument that Trump’s head should be on is a statue of Larry, Curly and Moe. Lesson learned – you can’t always judge a voter by their address. See 2016.

Our call list is weighted to registered Democrats, but no data is perfect. Almost all the Dems are happy to speak with me – like hearing from an old friend. Here are just a few of my favorite answers to the first question.

  1. I would crawl over broken glass to vote for Joe Biden.
  2. FUCK YEAH! Like my very life depends on it. (I really liked that woman.)
  3. I would vote for a bag of rotten vegetables over Donald Trump.

We then ask if people plan on voting by mail or in person and this has been a disgusting indictment (there will be many more) of Donald Trump’s assault on mail-in voting. People don’t trust the United States Postal System. I spoke to a woman in Warren, MI who told me, “I work for the post office and no way am I mailing my ballot in.” And I talked to a 36-year retiree of the post office in Raleigh who lamented that she can’t trust the mail because of Trump. She said, “I’ve got a mask, a shield and some gloves – I’m voting in person.”

That said – a LOT of people are voting by mail – and many are delivering their ballots in person to a drop-box or their local Board of Elections. But the most encouraging takeaway from this question is that so many people have a plan for voting – they’ve thought it through in advance because they want to protect themselves and their vote. Americans are afraid their vote will not be counted. So much winning.

The last question I ask folks is the one that has evoked answers that have sometimes moved me to tears. What would you say is the primary issue that concerns you the most in the upcoming election? The number one answer by far is getting rid of Donald Trump. Here are just a few of the most memorable responses.

  • Donald Trump is a doofus and a danger to the whole world.
  • You don’t let someone in your house who will hurt you. He’s in our house.
  • Stopping the descent into Fascism.
  • He’s not even human. (Fascinating new birther conspiracy!)

This is where I often find myself in surprisingly deep conversations with some voters as they share their despair for the state of our union and their hopes for the future. A woman in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania said, “Oh, now you’re going to make me cry. I pray for the welfare of our nation and the heart of our country. My husband and I are voting by mail and going fishing on election day. We’ll fish and pray all day that we’ll get our country back.” Gulp. Many people tell me that they fear for the future of our democracy if Biden is not elected. One man called the last four years “the vandalism of our democracy.” These people aren’t all yellow dog Democrats like me. Some of them tell me that they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary, but they will vote for Biden. A few even confess that they are Republicans, but they can’t support Trump. It is no small thing to hear a stranger tell you how much they love our country.

We’ve been calling into battleground states except for two days of calling into Kentucky. Wow. I can’t imagine anything lonelier than being a Democrat in Kentucky. Our time calling there was as a longshot that Mitch McConnell might be defeated. Not to be a buzzkill, but we can call that race right now. The Kentucky Dems were so happy to hear from a kindred soul that it was sometimes hard to get them off the phone. It was a little heartbreaking. I felt like I was leaving behind those sweet residents of The Island of Misfit Toys. I promised them that Joe Biden would come back for them.

The other primary concern on most voters’ minds is COVID-19. I spoke with an essential worker in PA who just returned to work after being out for almost four months recovering from COVID. She is what we call a highly motivated voter. People know that this pandemic is far from over and they want to put an adult in charge. I’ve heard touching stories from older people who haven’t seen their grandchildren in six months. I can hear the weariness in their voices. I probably stay on those calls longer than I should.

I learned quickly that each state has its own personality. Maine and New Hampshire don’t suffer fools or unknown callers gladly. I got a lot of, “It’s none of your damn business who I’m voting for.” Yep. Live free or die. Both of those states are looking good for Joe, but Susan Collins’ karma ticket is about to be punched. I imagine she is deeply troubled. On the bright side, she’ll have more time for brewskies with Brett Kavanaugh. What? I LIKE BEER.

And now for the Trumpers. I’ll give them this – they are faithful parrots of their fearful leader. I’ve heard things like Joe Biden is a pedophile and Kamala Harris is a Muslim. That’s when my superpower of lip biting comes in handy. My absolute favorite response/insult from a Trump voter came from a young, white man (surprise!) in rural North Carolina. He said/yelled at me, “I DON’T VOTE FOR DEMOCRATS. CNN IS BULLSHIT. FUCK YOUR FEELINGS.” I desperately wanted to respond, “So, that’s a hard no on Joe?” Honestly, the Trumpers inspire me because they are a visceral reminder of how toxic Trump’s presidency has been for our country.

Sometimes I have a hard time falling asleep after my shift. There are always a few conversations that I replay and can’t quite let go of – like the young black woman in Detroit. When I asked her what her primary concern was in this election she sighed – a heavy sigh much older than her years – as I waited for her answer. She said in a flat emotionless voice, “I’m a black person, so who I vote for doesn’t really matter because nothing ever changes for us. I hope things will get better this time, but we’ll see.” Damn. I doubt I’ll ever let go of that conversation.

I’ve been surprised and deeply touched by the voters who have thanked me for what I am doing. Hearing a “Take care, girl” at the end of a call can really lift your spirits. The truth is that I love my job. Every day feels important – like when I talked a 93-year-old disabled woman through the process of requesting an absentee ballot. Dear Lord, I hope she mails it in early.

The bad news is that I’ll get the pink slip on November 3rd. The good news is that Donald Trump will, too.

Go to VotingMatters.org/NC to update your registration, request a mail-in ballot, or find your voting location.

Democracy at the door

Donald Trump has been President of the United States for 1,294 years – I mean days – and I have bitched and moaned and cried and cussed about it almost EVERY single one of those days. And yet, he remains president. So, I came to a realization in early June that I needed a new strategy for getting rid of him and I applied to be a Field Representative for Progressive Turnout Project – a grassroots-funded organization with the sole mission of getting Democrats to the polls.

I do not want to go to bed on November 3rd with the devastating thought that I did not do everything I could possibly do to prevent Trump from being re-elected. I know that feeling. November 8, 2016. The mere mention of that date makes me experience COVID-19 symptoms.

And that is how I found myself interviewing for a young person’s job at my seasoned age. The pandemic mandated that the interview process be virtual – on an app called HireVue. The first interview consisted of answering five questions recorded by different people – no live interactions. It was weird, but fortunately my bestie Carla had introduced me to the Marco Polo app earlier in the pandemic, so I was used to talking to myself.

The second interview was with two live women young enough to be my daughters – that I had at 40. They were both bright and energetic and didn’t seem horrified that I was a mature applicant. Our conversation went well, and they offered me the position the following week. Yikes! I was really doing this.

Project Turnout is headquartered in Chicago and my training was three days on Zoom with about 75 folks from other battleground states. The trainer was perky and had a good sense of humor. I found him amusing until he started explaining who the organization’s core donors are and said, “You know your liberal aunt who watches way too much MSNBC? That’s our base.” Wait, that’s me! I felt like the other 74 people were staring right at me in my Zoom box.

I met some nice folks in the breakout rooms during training. They were all so young, but I found that exciting – they were smart and so politically engaged. I only felt old during the ice breaker on our third day. We broke out into smaller groups and were asked what our walk on song would be if we were running for president. I thought that was a fun question until the trainer started calling on people for their answers. OMG. I had NEVER heard of the first half dozen songs. I thought I was safe with my answer – Lizzo’s “Like a Girl” – until the person before me used it. I panicked knowing I was up next and before I knew it, “Girl from Ipanema” fell out of my mouth. Shut up. I know I choked. NO ONE in my group had any idea what I was talking about. Thankfully, the trainer moved quickly to the next person and I could melt from mortification in the privacy of my own square.

My first day in the field – we call it Turf because we’re hip like that – coincided with a heat wave. A certifiable “feels like 104” heat wave. If you have known me for more than five minutes, you know that I loathe summer with a passion. I hate the heat and fear the sun. I’m a fair skinned Irish girl who adheres to the schedule of a vampire during the summer months, so I was filled with high anxiety as I hit the steamy streets.

I left my house with enough water to float a pontoon. All kinds of water – tap, seltzer, Vitamin Water. All the waters. And ice. And frozen washcloths. That’s a trick I learned years ago. Put a wet washcloth in the freezer overnight and pack it in a cooler for your day in the sun. Pull it out when you start to melt and put it on top of your head under your hat. Trust me – it can save your life.

I was so afraid of dying from heat stroke on the streets of a foreign neighborhood that I really had no fear of knocking on the doors of strangers. I was armed with my iPad that contained the scripted questions we are to ask the registered voters we speak with. Oh, and, of course, we are following strict COVID protocols – wearing a mask and stepping back six feet after we knock on a door. So, do not whine to me about a mask making you hot, okay?

The first day went well except for our iPads overheating. Note: iPads will do that when exposed to the Seventh Layer of Hell. We were encouraged to take breaks as needed and our supervisors delivered ice packs later in the afternoon. There is simply no way to adapt to that kind of heat and I have even more respect for folks who work outside in the elements. It is damn hard, and I am damn old.

I had worried about bathroom breaks while in the field – especially in this pandemic. Not to worry – I sweated so much those first two weeks that I NEVER had to pee at work. And I was slurping up liquids like Tom Hanks when he cracks open that coconut in Castaway. It was the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done and when those two weeks were over I felt like I had won Survivor: Forsyth County – especially when some of my much younger teammates were complaining about how tired they were.

The other thing that got me through those sultry first weeks was some of the great interactions I had with voters. I am amazed that anyone would open their door to a stranger these days – during a global pandemic. I wouldn’t – unless it was a 12-year-old girl holding a stack of Thin Mints. But so many people have opened theirs and engaged with me in substantive conversations about their voting habits and their concerns for the upcoming election.

People have been so kind to me. Some have invited me inside – we are not allowed to do that. Many have offered me cold water and lots of them have told me to “keep cool” or “be careful” – one very elderly man even offered to walk me to my car because he was concerned about a neighbor’s crazy dog.

All these people have at least one thing in common besides their kindness – they do not want Trump to be re-elected. They are deeply passionate about getting rid of him. These are my people. Funny thing – I bet I was in the field three days before I even heard someone say Joe Biden’s name. There might not be a lot of enthusiasm for Uncle Joe, but there is a freaking ton of enthusiasm for giving Trump the boot. Whatever gets us there.

My favorite moments have been the conversations with first time voters. I spoke with Victor – a sweet Latinx man in his 30’s who just became an American citizen and will be voting for the first time in November. He is concerned about immigration and education – he has two children. And I’ve talked to several 18-year olds who are excited about their first vote. They want to make a difference. These people give me hope.

Our lists of contacts are highly data driven – focusing on inconsistent Democratic voters so I have only run into two Trumpers so far. Once the mark of the MAGA is revealed, we are instructed to say thanks for your time and move on. I listened, no doubt with glazed eyes, to a woman who told me that Hillary believes in abortion in the ninth month and that Joe Biden is a pedophile. My inside voice was screaming “FAKE NEWS” but I managed a wan smile as I bid her good evening. And then I remembered the grizzled veteran I met who usually votes Republican but is voting for Biden in November. My pace always picks up with those thoughts.

This work has also been a humbling reminder of my white privilege at times. I ended one evening speaking to three young black women in a row – all single moms with children. It was after eight in the evening and they were weary from their day, but they opened their doors and talked to me about their voting habits. One of the questions we ask is how likely you are to vote in November – on a scale of one to five – five being very likely. One of the women said to me, “I don’t really know. I’m not even sure who is running.” She seemed embarrassed and almost apologized. I told her who was running and that she had nothing to feel bad about. This woman wasn’t stupid – she was worn out – from the day, from yesterday, from tomorrow. I could feel her fatigue – she had gotten her kids fed and would soon be putting them to bed – and yet she took the time to talk to me – the liberal aunt who watches too much MSNBC.

On the drive home that night, I thought about what a luxury my obsession with politics is. I grew up with parents who instilled in me that voting is a precious right and that every vote counts. As an adult, I have had the time and sometimes the means to work for and support candidates that embraced issues important to me. I have been to endless fundraisers and sipped cheap white wine while someone droned on and on about what they were going to do for me. I have been inspired and I have suffered painful defeats. I have been afforded the invitation to participate and the arrogance to believe that my presence can make a difference.

Our field canvassing has been suspended because of COVID concerns and we are now phone banking, texting, and letter writing. When I got the news, I thought of Oscar Wilde’s famous quote, “When the Gods want to punish you, they answer your prayers.” Yes, I am out of the heat, but I miss seeing the faces of the folks I’m talking to. There is no more effective communication with a voter than an in-depth conversation in person. And besides, you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat a mature masked white woman in a bucket hat on a hot day.

I hope I’ll be out there knocking doors again soon. It is by far the hardest work I’ve ever done. And, without a doubt, the most important.

Wed locks

We’ve all learned a lot about ourselves during this pandemic. Some of these things have come as a big surprise to me. For starters, I haven’t missed live sports at all. And I love sports. They just don’t seem all that important to me anymore. Well, at least not as important as almost 130,000 Americans dead from COVID-19.

Now don’t think I’m pining for sainthood or anything. There are some things I do terribly miss – like the movies – and I knew from day one of lockdown that the cinema would be high on my Most Missed List – right up there with haircuts. But guess what? I don’t miss them either. Now to be clear, I do miss my hairdresser, Kelly. I’ve been with her for almost 15 years and she is one of my favorite humans on earth. We talk about everything from Jesus – we are both big fans – to brow lifts – I’m on the fence. I adore her.

So, I thought for sure that once restrictions were lifted, I would be the first one dragging my raggedy roots back into the salon. My last appointment with Kelly was on February 25th – ten days before I was to leave on a long-planned trip to the Holy Land with my dear wife and several friends. Yeah, well, you know how that worked out – just one of a bazillion Corona cancellations. All of this is to say that I headed into quarantine with a nice fresh cut and color. I was Zoom ready. Well, at least from the neck up.

I will confess to an unhealthy amount of vanity when it comes to my hair. I blame my father – Daddy with the good hair. He had a head of thick black hair and it remained that way until the day he died at 79. Friends would tease him about coloring it, but he never did. He always laughed and said they were just jealous. I am lucky that I got his hair – and to be honest, it is one of the few aspects of my self-image that I’ve never felt bad about. I love my hair and God knows I’ve invested a lot in it over the years – and I have the products to prove it.

Funny story. My wife and I had not been dating long when one afternoon she told me she was going to get a haircut. I asked her what time her appointment was, and she said, “Oh, I go to Great Clips – you just walk in.” I was grateful we were speaking on the phone and she couldn’t see the color drain from my face. She might as well have told me she was going to Starbucks for a kidney transplant. I was shocked and for a moment I questioned the future of our relationship – then I reminded myself that she has pretty hair and I did a quick ballpark accounting of the amount of money I would save in a year if I went to Great Clips. I’m not great at math but that trip to Machu Picchu would have been nice.

My hair grows very quickly and my wife has often trimmed it a bit between appointments for the past few years. I even ordered her nice scissors from Amazon – an upgrade from the dull drugstore pair she was using.

I guess I should tell you that my wife is a psychotherapist by trade – she just happens to have mad skills with scissors. Friends have joked that her salon would be called Hairapy. She giggles and thinks that it might be a nice career change with a lot less paperwork.

Anyway, as this pandemic wore on – and on – she started cutting my hair and these times have been some of our loveliest moments in lockdown. There is something very intimate about having your hair cut by your person – the one you love and share your life with. I think it is a bit like a trust fall – with a slightly less chance of injury.

My wife cuts with confidence so I’m never the least bit nervous. And she is quite conscientious about the whole thing so there’s not much talking except when she tells me to be still. I am pretty sure I am smiling the whole time because I feel so safe and cared for. These quiet times have been a sweet and gentle bubble during these anxious months. No one is in a hurry and it’s just us and some trees and a few birds. It is a very Zen salon even if the amenities are lacking – you must sweep up after your cut and there’s no cucumber water. But I’m not complaining – I know I’m lucky. Not everyone has access to a live-in Edward Scissorhands and I never take that for granted.

I have colored my hair since the first Bush administration. It was a pretty auburn color when I was younger but gradually faded to a dull brown over the years. I went through a blonde highlight phase in the ‘90s – hey, everybody was doing it – and I never even considered not coloring it. I thought for sure that I would be the old gray mare by month two of lockdown but somehow, I’m not. I’m not ready to commit to a colorless future, but for now – it feels easy – and so few things feel easy these days.

Kelly texted me about making an appointment just before North Carolina moved into Phase 2 and salons were preparing to open with new guidelines. I have no doubt that her salon is doing a good job of protecting clients and staff, but I am not ready to go back. My wife has chronic asthma and has not been in any public spaces – except her office – since the beginning of the pandemic and I don’t see any reason to take any unnecessary chances when it comes to this wicked virus.

That all probably makes me sound more thoughtful than I really am, and it is a little disingenuous. The truth is that I’m not ready to give up my deck cuts. You see, I have a big crush on the social worker with the scissors. Oh, and those brochures on Machu Picchu just arrived in the mail. Adios!