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Election redemption

11/11/02 12:00AM By Philip Baruth
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(Host) Commentator Philip Baruth was on a search for redemption election night.

I spent most of election night in the Edmunds Junior High School gymnasium, waiting for early poll results - the fresh, raw numbers. A good friend of mine was running for the Statehouse, and he was pretty nervous. So we waited there for hours while the poll workers - these amazingly cool and no-nonsense older ladies - ran stacks of absentee ballots by hand. And then finally the amazingly cool older ladies pressed a button on the polling machine, and it told my friend that he lost. Not by a lot, but he lost, and I felt like I lost too.

So then I went to the Sheraton, where the Democrats were congregating, and it was another strange and queasy gathering. No matter how upbeat the speaker at the podium, the television monitors were telling another story: Republicans taking control not only of the U.S. House and Senate, but Vermont's top two offices as well. So people in the ballroom weren't making a lot of eye contact. It was as though someone had come in with a melon scooper and surreptitiously hollowed out everyone in the room.

After awhile I left, but I couldn't go home. And so I walked the streets of Burlington, deep into the night, all the way out North Avenue. As I passed a convenience store, I noticed something suddenly. At one end of their big sign, after the words Merola's Convenience Store, I read the words: Redemption Center. I've been in Merola's a million times, and I'd never noticed those words. At that moment, I realized what I'd been missing all night, and what I needed to go on with, you know, my life. Redemption.

But it turns out that the redemption center has a drive-up window, around the side. So I walked all the way back to Edmunds and got my car and drove it back and parked it outside the window. The other problem was that the center doesn't open until nine in the morning.

I fell asleep I guess, and I woke to a guy leaning all the way out the redemption center to tap on my window. But once I was awake, this man said to me, "What have ya got?" And all my carefully prepared lines flew out of my head, and I blurted, "We got nothing. The House is gone, the Senate is gone, the Supreme Court is gone, the presidency is gone. I've never lived in a Vermont with a Republican governor and lieutenant governor. How do I manage? The few people out there who think and feel as I do, how do we manage?"

He was still looking around in my back seat for something. So finally I asked, "What are you looking for?"
"Empty bottles," the man said.
That got me a little indignant. "Look, I'm as sober as the next guy. This thing hasn't driven me to drink, yet, but I need help."

That was when the guy gave me the look like he'd seen my type before, the drunk and the crazy. And sure enough, slowly he closed the little Lucite window and disappeared inside. That was it. There was nowhere to go but home, the sun coming up over the North End like an egg you break into a frying pan full of hot butter only to realize too late that the egg's gone bad and grayish around the edges.

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont. His new book with Joe Citro is "Vermont Air: Best of the Vermont Public Radio Commentaries."
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