Like so many other counties in Pennsylvania and across the country, we were upgraded to fully electronic machines ten years ago when everyone was saying they were the wave of the future. [NARRATOR: But they weren't!] By next year, I'm told, they'll all be replaced again, this time with something that preserves a paper trail. Me, I miss the old punch cards, and that extra bit of interaction with a poll worker when you handed over the completed ballot and she tore off the stub and handed it back to you, because the voter alone must drop the ballot in a box. There was a ceremonial, almost religious feeling to it. But then we were in a church. Not the sanctuary, you understand, but the room where they have church suppers. It felt homey, despite the fact that all the poll workers and most of the other voters in line were probably conservative Republicans and I'm on the far left.
of the cross
loving thy enemies
About the same time that we got the new machines, they moved our polling place to the middle school. You walk in and there's someone sitting in the hall playing traffic cop and waving everyone through a door to the right. I smell the once-familiar smells and notice a funny feeling in my stomach.
back to my old school
but not in a nightmare
We go as a family group but each votes alone . . . except for my mother, who always has trouble with the machine's weird combination of analog and digital, the action of turning this, clicking that, and looking up there at the screen. A poll worker has to assist her from an arm's length away.
turning the wheel around
The unfamiliar is a drug on which I've been known to overdose. Take my visit to the World Bank in Washington—lunch date with a friend whose partner works there. The bank's main complex includes a cafeteria with a bewildering selection of dishes from a score of different national cuisines. We carry our trays out into the hollow core of the building, which is illuminated by a skylight many storeys above with glass too thick to permit a view of the clouds. In between catching up with my friend, I luxuriate in the multilingual hubbub around us. It's sometimes such a relief not to understand.
is the sky still available
in all languages
Forty-five minutes later, on our way out, I pause to admire an obelisk made up of video screens broadcasting TV stations from around the globe. It's mesmerizing. When I turn around to say something to my friend, he's gone, hurrying back to his office down the block, and I realize I haven't the least notion which way we came in.
Back home, I always enjoy getting lost, so I search half-heartedly at first, trying to maintain a brisk enough pace so I won’t stand out as an obvious interloper. But soon I start to panic. Which is the ground floor? Why don't there seem to be any exits? I query a pair of janitors in a stairwell, but they merely laugh, whether from contempt or polite lack of comprehension I can’t tell. I'm a hayseed in the big city; I don't know how to navigate corporate space.
this fear named after the god
of wild things
to panic than a bank
I start opening doors at random, interrupting two meetings and backing away from half a dozen soft-walled labyrinths filled with the humming of office machines. Everyone I pass is giving me strange looks. When I finally guess correctly and see a door to the street down at the end of a broad corridor, it's all I can do to keep from breaking into a run.
Outside, I keep up my frightened scurry for half a block before I remember I'm still wearing my visitor's lanyard. I glance around to see if anyone's watching and stuff it into a rubbish bin. Relax. Breathe deeply. Look up at the familiar clouds.
a moth's day-time dream
of being human
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