I wasn't feeling any trepidation on Tuesday, for some odd reason. Presidential elections have tied me up in knots since 2000, and in some ways still do (if anybody within earshot starts talking about Bush v. Gore, I break out in PTSD). But Tuesday I was calm. Too calm. Perhaps I had forcibly detached myself from the feverish event of the election to the point of being catatonic. I wasn't sure.
Midday -- after I had voted, of course -- I did an errand and found myself in the borderlands between mid-Wilshire and Hollywood. I had considerable time to kill before I was due at an election-returns gathering at a friend's house in Culver City, so I did what I normally do when I'm in the neighborhood: stopped off at one of my favorite boutiques, Bleu. Besides being fabulously hip and generous with its half-off sales, the owner of Bleu is a stoned Democrat and a true believer who talks politics in her La Brea store as unabashedly and as endlessly as she talks fashion.
She's also fiercely upbeat and declared to me for months in 2008 that Obama was going to win; I had very big doubts, but she was right. So I was surprised to find Gabby on Tuesday uncharacteristically subdued. Nervous. "I don't know," she mused over the racks of chiffon tops and evening minis, "We're gonna win, but..." Seemed like all the polls had gotten to her head, and the attacks on Obama's legitimacy the last four years had taken a toll on her optimism. Plus her birthday was the next day and she didn't want to be saddled with a downer -- in 2000, her birthday fell on an Election Day that she, like me, would just as soon forget. After buying a black cocktail dress for thirty bucks and eating the frosted top off a chocolate cupcake decorated with an American flag, I left. I was still feeling calm. If the rest of the day came apart, I had scored an incredible bargain and beat back the demons of a bad economy in my own small way.
The mood at the Culver City gathering was uneasy, but not wildly so. Everybody thought Obama would win, but nobody could take it for granted either. In this state of suspension we sat around noshing and half-joking that we might need more alcohol than the champagne our host had in reserve for the anticipated (but not too anticipated) victory. And then Obama's triumph unfurled steadily, undramatically, and before we had quite realized it, the big screen TV announced that he was back in. The relief and slight disbelief was a far cry from the euphoria the had filled the same room four years ago; rather than celebrate a historic moment, we all wondered what the president was going to do now with all the anti-Obama-ism that has become a national movement and is likely not going away soon. Especially given the fact that this election makes official what had been coming for years: white men, though they may run the country and the corporations, can no longer deliver the vote. Some whites will accept this, far more will feel aggrieved and double down on their resistance. The election is over, but the real transition of power has just begun.
In the meantime, the champagne was poured, though it didn't exactly flow, into plastic cups instead of flutes this year. That felt about right. And I felt no pain.
Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. Read all her posts here.
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