The First Time I Voted


After school on my 18th birthday, I walked to the Wayne, NJ town hall to register to vote. Mr. O'Brien, my back door neighbor, was town clerk, and it was his job to swear in new voters. He was about twice as big as me, with a full head of almost neat white hair. He greeted me with a big smile, which faded as he took me through the solemn process. Afterwards, he gave me a congratulatory handshake, and then swallowed me up in a big hug.


My first vote was a big one--a presidential election. It was 1982, and the incumbent Ronald Reagan was running against Walter Mondale. I hated Ronald Reagan. I couldn’t understand why people called him the Great Communicator because I wanted to throw dirty socks at the screen when he was on TV.


The morning of the election, I got dressed in my usual Springsteen-inspired jeans, black T-shirt and construction boots, and topped it off with a sweater. I walked up to the Little League field to vote in the clubhouse there. My heart swelled and beat faster when a 25 or so year old White man in a blazer from a news station in the city asked me to take a poll. Clipboard in hand, I checked off my answers. Then I voted, and walked home. It was all downhill, and my steps were light and swift.


Later that night after the polls closed, my sister and I were home alone when the phone rang. It was the pollster from outside the voting site. He said he looked over my form, and thought “my answers were cool.” Then he asked if I wanted to go out sometime. After a few seconds passed, I managed a “no, thank you.” I don’t remember the rest of the short call.

As an adult I can put into words what was wrong with him looking at my poll form, seeing I was 18, and calling to ask me out. At the time, I was just weirded out, nervous, and a little proud to be considered cool. Anger at him for messing up my big day was there, but I wasn’t sure if I should or was entitled to feel how I was feeling. And I feared my parents would laugh, tease me, or ignore me if I told them. Now I’m telling everyone.


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