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When I was in the third grade, the babysitter was supposed to pick me up after basketball practice. Today, if I were released from practice at school at 5 p.m. while I waited for my ride home, there would be several school employees assigned to watch my every move until an adult arrived to take me, more to the point their legal responsibility for me, off their hands. But in 1984, the world was much more lax about such matters. I sat on the front stoop of Columbian Elementary School, waved bye to my coach and my teammates and just stayed there. My parents were both working night shifts, and the babysitter, who was watching my three-year-old sister, would be coming any minute now. So I sat.
5 p.m. became 6 p.m. I paced around for a bit, maybe read a little bit of a book, looked at some schoolwork. There were no iPhones to keep third graders occupied if you absolutely had to. 6 p.m. became 7 p.m. The janitor locked up, patted me on the back, got in his car and drove home. 7 p.m. became 8 p.m. I started to get a little hungry, and it started to get dark, but what was I gonna do? I was told to sit there and wait for the babysitter to pick me up. I was a rule follower. I stayed put. 8 p.m. became 9 p.m. It was getting a little cold. I waited.
9 p.m. became 9:30, and now we were a full hour past my bedtime, and I’d been out there for nearly five hours now. I had no one to call, no one’s house to walk to, nothing to do but stay there. I remember thinking well, school is going to start tomorrow morning, so eventually someone has to show up. This won’t be forever. I did what I was told. I waited. I waited and I waited and I waited. By the end of it, around 9:45 when my mother—who had just gotten off her shift at Monical’s Pizza and came screeching to the school after getting home and discovering the babysitter hadn’t realized she was supposed to pick me up—arrived, I had lost track of how long I’d been there at all. Had it been an hour? Two hours? Three days? Four months? You sit and you wait and you wait and you wait, and eventually, you pass a certain threshold and it doesn’t seem like waiting at all. It seems like you have always been where you are, doing what you are doing, since you were born, since your parents were born, since the beginning of time. You’ll wait forever if you have to.
My mom, deeply upset, let me in the car and said she was sorry, though I didn’t think anything was her fault. She told me how proud she was of me for just sitting there and waiting. But what else was I going to do? All I could do is wait.
We will all tell the story of Election Night Purgatory 2020 the rest of our lives, a fitting marker, an apt ending to a year spent stuck in suspended animation, wondering if this would ever end, forgetting what we were like before all of this happened. We will hone in on the right way to tell it, adding little details and embellishments, giving it a narrative thrust that allows it to have some form, to give it an arc, to tell a story. We’ll try to make it make sense.
We will, in our own way, make it seem more palatable than it was. It will almost sound normal, the way we tell it. After four years of waiting, four years of constant, relentless battle, we settled in on Tuesday night, in the middle of a pandemic that, oh yeah, happens to be rampaging across the country worse than it ever has, to see Donald Trump at last booted from office. It was to be a nerve-racking experience, but it was also an impending reckoning: The first opportunity to correct the mistake of 2016, to let the overwhelming power of the people wash over this lunatic tyrant, to put the world back in order again. It was an evening you prepared for, a day you tried to make peace for the long night ahead. I joked on Twitter that Tuesday felt like, “the scene in Saving Private Ryan where everyone solemnly listens to records and smokes nervously while they wait for the tanks to roll into the village,” but it was sort of true. I took an unusually long run, I organized a ton of old files, I cleaned my office, I donated some old clothes, I found some quiet before the madness that surely lie ahead.
Then, the roller coaster. The needle going the wrong way in Florida, and seemingly the wrong way in Georgia and North Carolina. The realization that the repudiation wasn’t coming, that the hope that the country would bond together to deliver a historically lasting rebuke to Donald Trump and the goons surrounding him was a fantasy—that this was gonna be close, and that he very well might win again. Then the call of Arizona, and the rekindling of possibility, and wait, is Georgia coming back around?, and then … the wait.
On Wednesday, the confusion, then the understanding how which states counted mail-in ballots first and which counted them last, then the memes, and then the sleeplessness of (former “The Will Leitch Show” guest!) Steve Kornacki, , and then Thursday, and the growing sense that this was turning around, and the crazy Trump rant, and then the Georgia euphoria, and then Friday, and the clarity that this was almost over, and any second now it’ll be called, and then we sat and we waited and we waited and we waited, and then it was Saturday, or maybe it was Thursday, or maybe it was April, or maybe we’ve been sitting here looking at Jake Tapper our entire lives.
We will condense this story when we tell it in future years, and we will make it more exciting. We will maybe even make it sound fun: It’s fun to tell fun stories.
But it won’t capture the numbness. It won’t capture the sameness. It won’t capture the thudding disorientation, the endless monotony, the way it has felt like the only way 2020 could ever end—by not ending.
There is hope that this will end soon, that it could even end soon after I send this newsletter, that the last batch of provisional ballots, from a Pennsylvania or Arizona county whose name you will hear 20 years for now and it’ll make your eye start twitching, will come in and they’ll finally call this for Joe Biden like they probably should have two days ago. But of course it won’t end then either, we’ll have lawsuits and deranged press conferences and Maggie Haberman will tell us that he’s sulking in the Oval Office but refuses to relent to the truth aides are afraid to confront him with, and even when he’s out he won’t go away, and also seriously everybody has the coronavirus now.
We will tell ourselves a different story someday. It will all tie together and make sense, and it’ll have a logical story structure, and isn’t that funny, what a yarn, what a time, isn’t it something that we all made it through that? Someday this will be over and we will be able to look back at it all with wonder and amusement. But here, in the middle of it, I know the way we will tell it then will be wrong. It wasn’t a yarn. It wasn’t a campfire tale. It was just an ongoing slog that was never going to end. The story will make more sense when we tell it years from now. But it won’t be right. It won’t be the way it was.
When you’re in it, it isn’t a story, it isn’t a narrative, it isn’t tied to anything larger at all. You’re just sitting on that stoop wondering if anyone’s ever going to come pick you up. For a while, you believe someone’s coming. But they’re not. You live on the stoop now. You will always be on the stoop. You have forever been on the stoop.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality.
What It’s Like to Be in the State of Georgia Right Now, Medium. Quite a week down here.
Social Media Was the Absolute Worst Way to Experience This Election, Medium. To say the very least.
What Channels to Watch on Election Night, Medium. I ended up watching it through my fingers, like the rest of you.
Free Agent Power Rankings: Trevor Bauer, MLB.com. I am not sure Trevor Bauer is my sort of fellow.
The Thirty: Each Team’s Biggest Offseason Question, MLB.com. I found it very easy to write about baseball this week. The brain enjoyed going to that place.
Grierson & Leitch, we discuss Come Play, Out of the Past and Caddyshack. And shake off our pre-Election Day jitters.
People Still Read Books, no show this week.
Waitin' Since Last Saturday, reviewing the Kentucky game, previewing the Florida game.
LONG STORY YOU SHOULD READ THIS MORNING … OF THE WEEK
I’m as eager as you are to have these stop being about politics, but John F. Harris’ postmortem, and how we deal with 67 million people voting for a sociopath, is a must read.
ARBITRARY THINGS RANKED, WITHOUT COMMENT, FOR NO PARTICULAR REASON
Updating a Previous Entry: Counties in Which I Have Lived, Ranked by the Percentage They Voted For Donald Trump for President of the United States in 2020
Coles County, Illinois: 62.2 percent
Champaign County, Illinois: 37.8 percent
St. Louis County, Missouri: 37.3 percent
Clarke County, Georgia: 28.2 percent
Los Angeles County, California: 26.7 percent
Kings County, New York: 25.2 percent
New York County, New York: 14.5 percent
ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!
Send me your post-election missives.Write me at:
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603
CURRENTLY LISTENING TO
“B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad),” Outkast. Do it Atlanta.
It’s gonna be over soon, all. Right? Right?
Be safe, everyone. Have a great weekend.