Next we went to the jeans non-store. Gus couldn’t get there fast enough. Just as I predicted, he went directly to the newest style of you-fit jeans. He loved the way the denim contracted to mold against his body, then expanded to let him back out again. Jimmy and I were both a little more old-fashioned (and, in my case, a little too aware of what my true contours were). The self-zipping jeans freaked us all out.
I was lucky Jimmy hadn’t really known me in seventh grade, during my Period of Indecisive Style (as Mandy liked to call it). It had happened after Jesse Marin and a lot of the other guys started to outgrow their friendships with me, and I hadn’t yet figured out which new friendships I was going to grow into. Having read a few too many of Mandy’s advice blogs, I decided the problem was that I really didn’t have my own style. So I experimented. First came the Sports Irony look, where I mimicked Jesse’s baseballwear but upped it two notches too much. That struck out. Then I decided I would only wear that season’s big fashion push…which, unfortunately, was the W-neck T-shirt, heralding the Jagged Collar phase. As winter approached, I decided to layer—with a white shirt always on top and stripes or patterns always underneath. The Hidden Meaning look, which then turned into Mix-and-Not-Match when I ran out of white shirts. I spent a week in flannel hoodies—the Badass Lumberjack look. Then I started wearing things inside out. That lasted two weeks, mostly because kids kept pulling on the tags. Spring came, and I thought it would be cool to wear shirts that mimicked street signs. The Yield Caution look.
The end came quickly. I ordered a One Way T-shirt and once it arrived I realized the arrow pointed to my crotch. When Mandy came over later that day, I held it up and asked her what I was doing. She told me I’d always had a style; I just needed to realize that style was like personality—it didn’t always have to be consistent; it just had to be something you lived with. I asked her how she knew that. She said she’d read it on an advice blog. Then she helped me bring all the W-necks to Goodwill.
Now I didn’t try to have a style. There were just things I liked and things I didn’t like. It made shopping much easier.
I watched as Jimmy wandered off to the retro section, holding up a pair of pleated stonewashed jeans and taunting me to try them on. Again, I thought about how I could be evil and go home and purchase them for his birthday. I knew Jimmy was really eyeing a pair of never-wash jeans, but I wasn’t sure never-wash said I love you the way I wanted to.
“Check it out, la!” Gus called. He’d come out of the changing booth wearing a pair of you-fit 5143s.
Mandy turned bright red. Janna giggled.
“You might want to set them a little looser,” Jimmy suggested. “And wear underwear.”
“I am wearing underwear!” Gus said. “But it’s no-line!” As we shook our heads, he headed back into the booth, emerging next with a pair of cordlessuroy pants and a fuchsia top, followed by a retro concert shirt for a band called TV Dinner.
Since Gus had actual-purchased a pair of no-label you-fit 5142s when they’d come out last month, it was easier than it normally would have been for him to let the sales guy take the 5143s away from him after he paid.
“Hombre, that was a big donation,” he said as we walked out. “I can’t believe how much those jeans cost. But, hey, it’s Stein Day. I don’t mind giving a little more.”
I noticed there were a lot of other people who seemed to be non-shopping a little extra because of the news of the day. In the toy store, a little girl asked her mother if she could spend her allowance on the Worldwide Health Care Fund. In the bookstore, at least seven people waited on line with Stein’s Guide to the Great Community in their hands; I was sure they’d already read it, but each time they bought it, that much more money would go to Great Community initiatives, like elder care and culture care.
While Jimmy was looking at books, I sneaked next door to the lamp store to look for a present. He didn’t exactly need a lamp—it’s not like he was living in total darkness or anything. But I was getting desperate. I went immediately to the back corner that held all the misfit lamps. Lava lamps gurgled. Neon flamingos perched. They even had a few in the shape of legs, even though those hadn’t been mod for at least ten years.
This was too hard.
The evil presents were looking better and better.
When I got back to the bookstore, I could immediately tell that something was wrong. Jimmy was watching an open channel on his phone, and he looked like he’d just been told a pet had died.
“What?” I said, rushing over. “What is it?”
“It’s Kansas,” he replied. The way he said it, I just wanted to hold him tight. But I also knew from the way he said it that he wasn’t ready to be held. There was too much anger and disappointment and confusion to get out first before he could let himself give way a little.
Janna, Gus, and Mandy were around us now, pulling out their phones, turning to the green news channel.
“In a startlingly swift move, Governor Roberts of Kansas announced that the votes in his state needed to be tallied again, and that he had ‘grave doubts’ that Stein would end up victorious. Such a reversal would change the outcome of yesterday’s election.”
“How can he do that?” Mandy asked.
Soon it became clear: The head of the Kansas Election Commission was one of the governor’s cronies, and both had “discovered” enough problems with voting sites and absentee ballots to declare a recount. Their goal: to disqualify more than a thousand Stein voters in order to swing the election.
“You can bet they’re altering votes as we speak,” Jimmy said disgustedly. “Stein won fair and square, and they know it.”
Hearing Stein’s voice, we tuned back in.
“I want to assure all Americans that I will, in no uncertain terms, fight this partisan attack on a fair election. Every indication we have shows that our party won Kansas decisively and without any controversy. The truth must be heeded. The American people will not be deceived by wishful thinking and willful manipulation. We will not take this lying down.”
We wandered around the non-shopping mall for a little while longer, checking the open channels frequently for updates. We’d hit the wall, non-shoppingwise; we’d pretty much spent all that we were going to spend, and the temptation to actually buy things was starting to grow.
“Should we head to the party?” I asked.
There was a silence until Janna finally said what we were all thinking:
“Are you sure there’s still going to be a party?”
“Hello, yes!” Gus said, sounding shocked. “Last time I checked, Stein was elected to be the next President of the United S. of A. We’re gonna be popping some corks.”
“That’s the spirit!” Mandy chimed.
“Hallelujah!” Janna echoed, sounding a little less convinced but still hoping strong.
Only Jimmy seemed fully doubtful, and I teetered in between him and the rest of them.
“What do you think?” I asked.
“I think we should check it out,” he replied, smiling slightly. “It’s not the end of the world until it’s the end of the world.”
We piled back into Gus’s Eco and drove over to Stein’s local headquarters. We’d done this so many times before—“going on a mission,” Jimmy liked to call it. Sometimes there’d be as many as eight people in Gus’s four-seater, making our way to volunteer in any way possible. From the moment we’d read on Stein’s site that a headquarters was being made for our area, we wanted to be a part of it. I was a little worried that they’d scoff at us, since we couldn’t even vote yet. I expected them to have us bring them coffee, clean out the trash, and hang posters over town—that’s about it. But from the minute we arrived, we were made to feel like our contributions mattered, and that we were just as able to spread the word as people five times our age.
Part of this was because of the mood Stein and Martinez brought to the campaign. And part of it was because of Virgil and Sara, who’d practically lived at the headquarters over the past few months and ran it as if it was their one big shot at changing the world for the better. Virgil was about my grandfather’s age, but there were moments when he’d leap down the stairs or slap you a five that felt like fifteen, and you’d wonder if he was really a twenty-year-old in a wizened disguise. Sara was a twenty-year-old, a drop-dead-then-come-back-to-life-gorgeous lesbian who’d taken a semester off from college to work full-time for the campaign. I’d had a nonsexual crush on her almost immediately; on the first day we came to the campaign, she wasn’t flustered when I got flustered about the prospect of talking to strangers. Instead of showing me to the door, she showed me to the kitchen, feeding me cookies from an honest-to-goodness cookie jar and explaining to me that our job wasn’t to argue voters into supporting Stein, it was to provide them with the information they needed to make the right choice. I figured I’d be okay providing information, and I also figured I’d be okay sitting in the kitchen with this beautiful college student, talking about books and music and the fourteen steps to alleviating the deficit that had caused (and was made even worse by) the Greater Depression.
The Stein/Martinez headquarters was located in a house on a suburban street in the town next to mine, just off Route 280. The couple who’d lived in it had moved to Florida, and instead of putting it on the market right away, they’d lent it to the campaign, saying to install whatever connections and portals were needed. As a result, going to work there was almost like heading over to a friend’s house to visit; after a few times, you started to get a sense of where things were, but there were still moments when it was confusing.
We all used the side door to get in. This time, unpiling from Gus’s car, we could hear music blasting inside. Virgil’s wife, Flora, was the first person we saw, standing in the kitchen surrounded by bowls of guilt-free and guilt-plus snacks.
“Hello there!” she said, then gave each of us big hugs. “Everyone’s in the living room. We’ve cleared the desks out so there can be some dancing and thrumping.”
Gus was an ace thrumper, but I wasn’t sure this was the time or the place. Was it possible to thrump when Kansas was in play?
Flora’s spirits seemed high enough. But when we got to the living room, it was clear that the people inside weren’t as certain of victory as the decorations were. A banner read CONGRATULATIONS! on top of the big screen, but the muted newsreaders were miming a different story.
“Hey, guys,” Mira called. Instinctively, I looked next to her for Keisha, but she wasn’t there.
“Where’s your other half?” I asked.
“Around. Helping out as usual,” Mira answered. “That girl never rests.”
We tried to chat with some of the other volunteers, but the scroll on the screen kept distracting us. While most of us tried to go through the motions of a party, Virgil stood in the middle of the room, watching the news and saying, “This isn’t going to happen again. There’s no way we’re going to let this happen again.”
I knew Virgil had been part of the movement to abolish the electoral college many years ago. The amendment’s defeat was, as Stein liked to point out in his speeches, a watershed moment of self-interest triumphing over the national interest. In order for the amendment to have passed, it needed to be ratified by the populations of at least a few of the smaller states that would have lost their unfair advantage. (Since every state has two senators, these small states automatically get two more votes in the electoral college than they deserve population-wise, making it unfair.) Not a single small state decided to shift to the popular vote, no matter how many appeals were made. And there was no way to get around that, so the electoral college stayed, sticking us with more elections where the person who received the most votes didn’t necessarily win the Presidency. This was not democracy, but each time it happened, people just went along with it. Except people like Virgil.
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