I had no idea how to pronounce his name. A-N-E, three letters that read more like a suffix than a person, and now because of them I was about to complete the phone bank experience. “Hello??”
“Hi, this is ______ calling on behalf of the Labor Council, can I speak to Ah-nee please,” I guessed, muddling the name with indistinct lips, as if that were somehow preferable.
It didn’t matter. “Hi, this is _______, calling on behalf of the Labor Council…”
“The What?? Let Me Take My Hearing Aids Out, I Can’t Hear A Thing With Them In”
It seemed counterintuitive, but it was his stupid life/face. I waited while he took them out, taking a second to re-examine the screen. His age said 61, and so I started to figure that maybe I could get out of this if I could confirm it’s not him.
“OK, That should be better. Who is this again?”
“______. I’m calling from the Labor Council about two important issues on this fall’s ballot”
But obviously I couldn’t risk mis-saying the name again, so I steeled myself for a potentially arduous call.
“The who? I don’t think taking it out is helping, heh heh”
“Ha,” I ha’d, “the Labor Council– you know, the Unions and stuff.”
“Oh. Ok. I am retired though”
“That’s ok. I’m calling about two important issues on this fall’s ballot,” I repeated the part of the script we’ve reached.
“I. I don’t think I follow.”
“Oh. Well that’s fine, I’m actually calling about two initiatives that will be part of this year’s election.”
“The election in November.”
“Oh. Right. Well, I’m 91 and in a nursing home, they don’t let us vote.”
In framing how to take it, I decided that it wasn’t quite a joke but it wasn’t an actual complaint either. I continued, ha’ing, “Ha.”
“And so these are things you want me to vote for?”
“Yes. Two initiatives, ballot initiatives, for this fall’s ballot?/.”
“Well, I don’t know if I’m going to vote because I don’t know the issues because I’m 91 and going to die soon.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“I know. I don’t want to die. But we’re all going to die. Even you.”
“You can’t waste time. You get so little of it.”
“Yeah. You have to–”
“I used to do this work, I used to make phone calls. I know how hard this is for you. Do you enjoy it.”
“It’s actually my first time so, I don’t know.”
“You have to enjoy it or don’t bother.”
We did at some point talk about the issues. It’s been a few days, so I forget where the entry point was. There’s a decent chance that it happened before or between some of the above.
About I-1128 he pled Being 91 and Being In A Nursing Home. He couldn’t drive so he didn’t care about tolls or roads or this initiative. It was hard to blame him, though later my compatriot called his attitude ‘selfish’. It was hard to blame her.
As for I-1183, it was his opinion that deregulating liquor sales would be good as it was the state that messed up everything. It was that lazy kind of libertarianism where somehow the inadequacies of the private sector are completely benign, absolved, or the fault of the state. The type of people who will never forgive the Post Office for charging $0.44 cents to send a letter, but never hold against UPS the fact that they charge $4.00 to change the address of a package that they then don’t deliver until a week later. (Also a true thing that is actually happening except I haven’t gotten the dumb package yet).
I was not inclined to press him. “Fair point,” I demured to the face of impending death.
“But you can’t care about that stuff. It’s not important.”
“It is a little, though, right?”
“It doesn’t matter once you’re in the nursing home. I’ve found , the thing I’ve found– I was successful, you know?”
“I was pretty successful. I had a good life. But I don’t see that it made much of a difference, anyway”
“You have to do what matters. Even if you do that, though. You , you have to get right with God.”
“You can’t wait until the end to do it. You have to be right with God. You know.”
“I know,” I didn’t.
“Are you right with God?”
“I’m trying,” I wasn’t.
“You need to get right with Him because if there isn’t anything else after this then what was the point”
“Yeah,” there isn’t, but I kept it like a secret, because, I mean.
“I’ve made myself right with God. I don’t want to die but I know that when I do”
I forget how the call wrapped up, but it did, and I took another six or so calls before heading out. Thanks were involved, and probably a promise to not waste my life that I have proceeded to more or less not keep. In theory I’m trying, but not really.
It meant so much in the moment but then, after.
I don’t believe in God and I will never believe in God because it just doesn’t Occam that razor. I based my atheism off the idea– the fact– that, thousands of years ago, a whole bunch of Egyptians and Greeks were pretty sold on the idea that their bird-headed and rape-swan myths were a theology yet now they are 100% universally accepted to have just been stories. I came to that conclusion when young, and have obviously added more to the pile since then, but I don’t see anyone ever overturning that first objection, coming up with a real convincing argument that what we’ve got now is in some way substantively different than Zeus and Thoth. Stories are stories and power is power, death is real, and human beings will always need/crave/fear them. All three.
I didn’t say this, of course, because, I mean.