Election Day

by Oliver Jenkins IT IS ELECTION day. Samson awakes with a start and sits up in bed as though snapped by a spring. All at once he remembers that it is election day and he laughs thinking how strange it is that he can get out of bed in the morning as governor and maybe […]

By Yankee Magazine

Nov 08 2018


by Oliver Jenkins

IT IS ELECTION day. Samson awakes with a start and sits up in bed as though snapped by a spring. All at once he remembers that it is election day and he laughs thinking how strange it is that he can get out of bed in the morning as governor and maybe get into bed at night as senator. Maybe. His head feels dizzy and tired, full of whirligigs that refuse to stop their crazy buzzing revolutions. It must have been after three o’clock when he fell asleep, he thinks, and his mind was a muddle of speculation and smoke, but strangely enough in his dreams he was a small boy riding an elevator up a terrifying skyscraper. He tries to recapture the dream and the strange fright that possessed him.

There is no time to be wasted in remembering dreams, however, especially upon a morning that may see dreams come true. Already the roads to the polls are thronged with citizens, and windy arguments have begun in the entrances to voting places. Red-faced forecasters with the last of the campaign cigars stuck in mouth corners are airing their views, and all over the countryside the general stores are tending to the wants of early risers on their way to the Town Halls to mark their ballots. Motor cars race in spirals of dust over the hills, into misty valleys, through dim covered bridges with a cargo of votes wearing hats and store suits and bright brown shoes; countless horses neigh in their stalls recognizing a holiday, eager to be harnessed to buckboard, surrey, carryall; and small boys pedal the bicycles pell-mell to villages to find their orating fathers and wheedle the price of ice-cream cones from them. What a day! Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party. Young bloods seeking attention from the multitude shout, “Who’ll gimme odds on Cass?”“Odds? It’s an even bet.” The challenges flourish, but there are no bets. Except that somebody will trundle somebody else in a wheelbarrow down a hundred main streets tomorrow morning. Who will win? “Samson by five thousand,” say the Samson lieutenants upon the eve of the election. “We are confident of a five thousand majority for our candidate,” say the Cass lieutenants. The ballots walk broadly grinning into the stuffy booths. Everybody loves a winner.

Samson goes into the bathroom and brushes his teeth, and widens his mouth into a smile at the mirror. Under his eyes are little pouches, dark, ringed with sleeplessness. Well, there will be plenty of time to sleep after tonight. Shave. Every time a man turns around he fumbles for a razor. Once jokes in humorous magazines were aimed at women because they took so long to dress, but that was before bobbed hair and the corsetless age.

It is a pleasant sort of a day, even though the sun is lost in yellow haze, and in the west there are a few clouds piling up. A few clouds cannot hurt an election, however, not unless they hold a downpour to be released at precisely five o’clock when all the workers swarm out of begrimed factories. Once, he thinks, there was a politician who blamed his defeat upon a snowstorm. It would give one a feeling of grand martyrdom to say, “Well, I was beaten by a snowstorm.”

Throttle. Down the hill to the Ward Five precinct. He is happy to see a newspaper reporter and a cameraman at the doorway. “Governor, how about a pose at the ballot-box?” The Governor, one of the early voters in his own ward. He should have seen to it that Linda came along, too. She would vote at noontime. Remember to send the car for her. How-do-you-do. Thank you. Is this your little boy? Growing up fast, almost as big as your dad already, aren’t you? Thank you. Thank you. No, thank you, I’m driving my own car.

When he arrives at headquarters there is already a throng of lookers-on. Good morning, Senator! Now, now, not so soon, please. Got the charts and tables arranged? He shakes hands with Carroll for the benefit of the gallery. Carroll says, “Understand they’re voting up to the usual strength in the state. That’s a good sign because we’ve got to poll a big vote in the small towns to offset Cass’s work in Birmingham and Grassburg.”

There is nothing to do but wait. Sit with your feet on a desk and wait. Thedefendant awaited the verdict stoically. Carroll declares that the first town to report will be Pebble Creek. It has twenty-two inhabitants and nine voters. In 1926 it was five to four. In 1928 it went six to three. “You always carry Pebble Creek, don’t you, Governor?” A standing joke, Samson laughs. “Well, they say as Pebble Creek goes, so goes the state.” Sure. As Maine goes so goes the Union. An imbecilic fallacy, thinks Samson, that needs only a Democratic year to upset its pride.

Sit and wait. Babble, smoke, laughter. People coming in and going out. Call up old lady Memblestein. She’s always with a Samson ticket. Work fast when the factory whistles blow and the black horde funnels out of the numbered gates.

Samson’s mind is a kaleidoscope of colored thoughts that are like extravagant tumblers in a sideshow. A whole bevy of them dance, pirouette, cut up exotic capers and go through their routine of slapstick. Here they come doing somersaults, tossing each other over their shoulders, falling upon the ground in obscene postures. In the main ring, however, ladeees and gentlemen, in the main ring, are the star adagio dancers named Victory and Defeat.

The first town reports. It is not Pebble Creek but Carterstown with ninety votes for Samson and eighty-one votes for Cass. There is a barometer for you. “No sense in putting any stock in it,” says Samson pessimistically.

Tables are set in order. Counters and checkers take their places in readiness for the avalanche of reports. The polls are closing now everywhere except in the cities. The batteries of telephones begin their nervous jingling. Workers with long sheets of ruled paper take down what voices are cackling into the receivers.

Take it easy. The jury is out deliberating on its verdict. The babel of voices rises, falls, blends in a cacophonous razzle-dazzle. Well, here I am. Samson, the governor of the commonwealth. My fate is in your hands. Be careful not to drop it. If there were only a cup of coffee here. Who wants to bring in some coffee? Why, coffee is all arranged for. It will be here at any moment.

Voices chanting columns of figures. Voices wrangling and plaintive over telephones. Too many women around. Since women have got their way they like to dress up in tea-party gowns and keep a candidate all tied up in ribbons of bonmots. Don’t they realize that this is a campaign? This is election night, ladies. A night for swaggering and cursing and falling drunkenly into gutters. How many of you ladies would like to lie in a gutter? I wonder what is keeping John Leman? He ought to be in here with those Birmingham figures. If he would only hurry! I can tell by his face how the battle is going.

“Well, Governor,” says Carroll. “You’ve got a pretty lead so far.” “What are the percentages? Anybody figured up the percentages?” “We’re working on them.” Working on them. Go ahead and work on them. You can’t expect to work on them all night. Well, well, well, here they are. Cass is falling off twenty percent from 1928, and I’m gaining eight percent. Keep that up and I’ll win.

Wonder where Linda is. Seems as though she should be here at my side. but perhaps she is on her way now. I must have a talk with Linda. She is a wonderful woman, and I ought to appreciate her. Sometime I’ll ask her about Cass. Probably she has forgotten it. Let it be forgotten as a flower is forgotten. What kind of sense was that? Who said that Webster, Burke, Patrick Henry? No, it was something from a poem that young Sayre liked to quote. A queer fellow with his head full of poetry and such trash. Still, he might go a long way with so much natural brilliance in saying things. He has a remarkable memory. If I could only remember the things that I’ve learned! It would be a cinch writing a speech. Funny the things a fellow learns and forgets. Like dates and quotations. Once I could reel off all the kings of England without a slip, but now I can’t remember. Let me see, Alfred the Great, James I. Cromwell. No, it is Charles I and Cromwell, only Cromwell wasn’t a king, he was just a roundhead and rather a common sort of fellow. Still he knew what he wanted and and got it. Well, here is Linda now. Hello, my dear. No, I am not busy at all. I’m just waiting for coffee and the reports from Birmingham.

“It all depends on Birmingham,” says Carroll. “I don’t think that they can overcome your lead.”

“Well, when are we going to hear from Birmingham?”

“Any time, now. We’re trying to get Leman on the wire. He’s down there checking up.”

There is great agitation throughout the headquarters. Samson abandons the tables of hieroglyphics that announce him six thousand in the lead. A man with a paper stalks hurriedly into the room.

“Birmingham has gone for Cass,” he announces.

“We know that,” says Carroll. “How much?”

“Five thousand, I hear.”

“If he picks up a normal two thousand in Grassburg, we’re licked,” says Carroll dully.

Suddenly Samson is tense with action. He makes a path through the crowd to the telephones. “Get Leman” he demands. “We’re trying,” says a young man excitedly. “Well quit trying, and get him.”

The room is silent since everybody recognizes that it is the time for the denouement. A telephone jangles and sputters. “Give it to me,” says Samson. He strains for the voice in the receiver. “Leman” he says, “that you, John? Let’s have it.”

Now he has hung up and he turns around towards the tight-pressed eavesdroppers and smiles wearily. “He led me by only three thousand,” he says.

A cheer goes up, and everybody begins shaking hands and even the teaparty ladies are forgetting their decorum. Hooray. The old warriors are ecstatic over again picking a winner and maybe now a few postmasterships will come their way. The young men are happy because they have begun right, on the winning side.

In the distance is the blare of martial music. A band is coming to serenade the victorious candidate. The music comes boomingly nearer and the glare of redfire reaches in waves to the windows. Pandemonium is loosed and over it rise war-whoops demanding a speech. ‘‘You must thank the crowd,” says Linda in his ear. “I know,” says Samson, but he wishes he weren’t so damned tired.