by Scott Neuffer
Yay, we’ve survived the latest cycle of political advertising. Or have we? I’m still having nightmares about that creeper in the Ross Miller attack ads. If you live in Nevada and own a TV, you know who I’m talking about: that stringy-haired, stoner-eyed stalker who, in a dark flash of creative editing, does scary air quotes regarding Miller’s “educational” gift-receiving. Who is that guy? I swear I went to high school with him.
It’s easy to be cynical about our politics. Each election seems more corrosive than the last. Louder. Darker. On TV, no accusation is made without fearsome music in the background, akin to the screeching violins of the “Psycho” shower scene. Political advertising is a huge industry. Unfortunately, this industry wouldn’t exist if there weren’t true demand. In other words, the ads work. I’ve decided that the best way to neutralize them, short of a Constitutional amendment, is to turn off the TV. Funny how turning off the TV suddenly clears one’s mind. And that’s where the real story of Election Day in Gardnerville begins. The TV turned off. An ingenuous, somewhat sterile document arriving in the mail–the Douglas County voter’s sample ballot.
On Monday, I showed my three-year-old son this sample ballot. I couldn’t help but take pride in how simple and straight-forward the document is. Perusing its pages restores one’s sanity because the information within, for the most part, is bare, stripped of emotion, stripped of fear. The county clerk ensures all local candidates are listed, ballot questions are explained clearly, and arguments for and against are presented in the most equitable way possible. This produced in me a great sigh of relief. Here were the choices. I could turn off my TV and do my own research.
On Tuesday morning, I strapped my son in the car, and we headed for the Gardnerville fire station on Douglas Avenue. He was thrilled at the prospect of seeing a truck, hearing a siren. But there was no emergency. Just nice people, friends, neighbors, greeting voters and directing them to the booths. We recognized one poll worker instantly.
“If you’re looking to interview me, I’ll say the turnout has been good.”
It was Sheila Gardner. Everyone’s favorite journalist. Also a serial poll worker. She made me sign my name in the voter rolls. Even though she’s known me since high school, she couldn’t be too sure I wasn’t an imposter … or the creeper from the attack ad. Then we moved to the next table. I had my sample ballot “activated” with a stamp, and I received my voter card.
Ironically, my son thought the voting booth was a TV. He wanted to watch his favorite shows. But, to his great dismay, there was nothing on the digital touch screen but somewhat meaningless names. Though I’d had a good idea in the morning how I was going to vote, I now consulted my son about some of the choices before us.
“What issues are important to you, Andres?”
“Universal Happy Meals. I want a Happy Meal toy in every household in America.”
I let him make a few selections on the screen, guiding his finger to my choices. This could have been construed as indoctrination. But he actually screwed up a few times, and we had to do it over again. At the end, I made sure to cast the ballot myself, so no one could accuse Andres of illegal voting. The printed record scrolled up the side of the screen like a receipt from a cash register. We were done, having effectively participated in our democracy.
Returning my voter card, I asked for my Election Day sticker: that circle sticker with the American flag and the words, “I voted!” I couldn’t remember an election without getting one of these stickers, but a poll worker named Kim informed that they were no more.
“Too expensive,” she told me. “They now cost like a dollar apiece.”
She might have been exaggerating, but still, I was outraged. Could this have been the madness of inflation, government waste, corporate welfare, a global economy on edge? In what cruel world does an “I voted” sticker cost a dollar? I had promised my son one for coming, but now I would have to break that promise. Welcome to politics in America, son.
Kim, perceiving my strange brand of humor, was quick to find a solution.
“I have a stamp,” she said.
My son held out his hand. Down came the red ink: “Activated.”
He loved it. He talked about it on our way out of the fire station. For a day at least, before the mark was scrubbed off, he belonged to the American electorate, the body politic.
Immediately after voting, my son and I headed to the library for story time, which librarians host every week for two different age groups of kids.
As much as elections can seem like great perversions of our ideals, like a reality show full of pathological liars, there are real consequences to what we do in that voting booth, especially at the local level. The Douglas County Public Library in Minden reminds me of this. It represents an investment that we, as voters and tax payers, have made. A tangible investment in our future. A great public space open to all. Books and magazines. Wi-Fi and microfiche. There are things at the library you can’t find anywhere else in the county.
This is the same way I feel about the Carson Valley Swim Center. It’s easy to cringe when we get our property tax bills in the mail, seeing how much each taxing district receives, including the swim center. But the same bills also let us see what we value, what we’re not only willing to vote for, but pay for in perpetuity. These real, tangible things help clarify our politics. I try to go to the library and swim center as much as possible. I proudly pay for these things.
Back in September, Carson Valley Times published a story I wrote about an emerging youth demographic in Carson Valley. In that story, I listed some exciting projects and campaigns going on in the community that appeal to younger people and enhance our diversity. Of course, not long after it was published, I remembered some things I had wanted to put in that list but had forgotten.
First, the community garden in Heritage Park. The Town of Gardnerville has done a great thing in creating this central garden. At the peak of the growing season, I’d always see people out there: volunteers, master gardeners, families renting plots for the season, teaching their children about the good earth. I believe that as food, nutrition, diet and horticulture become more important to our society, we will see more and more of these public gardens. I commend the town and everyone else who brought this project to fruition.
Secondly, I failed to mention the Carson Valley Trails Association. Over the years, this group of volunteers has constructed some of the best communal trail systems in the country. If you don’t believe me, go out and hike the Genoa Loop this weekend before more snow comes. See some of the granite slopes they jackhammered through. Last year, I had the privilege to go out on a couple trail-builds, and it was hard, hard, rewarding work. As someone who grew up working construction, I was utterly surprised by how hard it was, utterly spent after a few hours. I was also surprised by the diversity of the group, men and women of all ages working till their bodies ached. There’s no monetary gain in what they do, but they are leaving something tangible for posterity: clear access to our public lands.
If you’re interested in helping out, CVTA is currently building a new trail in the Pine Nut Mountains. Check their site, http://www.carsonvalleytrails.org, for more information.
Speaking of ballot initiatives, I’m proposing a two-year moratorium on zombie movies after watching “World War Z” on Netflix. Putting dramatic piano music to every zombie cliché every derived does kind of make the movie more serious than others, especially when Brad Pitt has to console so many people who watched their loved ones become zombies. But I’m starting to think our fascination with zombies, and slaying our friends and family members after they become zombies, may be symptomatic of a real plague: inanity. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the genre, because I do, but it’s going to take a lot to freshen it up after the bathos in “World War Z.” I think I’d rather take my chances in the real apocalypse than sit through the sequel. There’s just nothing really sad about zombies. Most of them get three square meals a day.
Scott Neuffer is a freelance writer who lives in Gardnerville with his wife Maria and son Andres. He recently published his first book, “Scars of the New Order,” which is available in local bookstores and on Barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com. Besides reading and writing obsessively, he enjoys long walks on the beach, any beach, and poorly scripted romantic comedies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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