Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ballots, bribes and high-class hookers

I used to think I was a patient and easy-going person. The kind of person who could get along with anyone. And then I met Keith.

Keith is a 60-year-old retired cab driver. He’s been shot and stabbed and has the scars to prove it. His marriage broke up after he caught his wife in bed with another man. He has two daughters he hasn’t spoken to in years. He quit smoking two weeks ago but when he laughs you can still hear the phlegm rattling around inside his chest.

Keith is also really bad at math. He's the reason why Vancouver Centre was the last place in Canada to report its election results last night. But I'll get to that a little later on.

I met Keith yesterday. We sat side by side behind a small table for almost 16 hours. I was a deputy returning officer and he was my poll clerk. Together, we registered voters and handed out ballots during the election.

Except our polling station didn’t get busy until the afternoon, which gave us lots of time to talk.

Now, I don’t mind listening to people when they have something interesting to say. But when they are loud and obnoxious, it can be exhausting. Especially when they talk non-stop for 16 straight hours.

Before the polls even opened, Keith had already asked me if he could braid my hair at least a dozen times. I figured he’d get tired of asking if I kept saying no. But two hours later, he was still begging me to let him touch my hair.

"Come on. Let me braid your hair."

I told him if asked me one more time, I would have him removed from the building. So he started complaining to everyone who came to our polling station to vote.

"She won’t let me braid her hair."

I just kept my head down and tried to ignore him. I even pulled out a book, thinking he would get the hint. But he just kept talking.

He told me stories so wild I didn’t know whether to believe him or not.

"I used to hang out with high-class hookers," he said. "I didn’t have sex with ‘em. We were just friends."

His favourite story was the time he kicked a very drunk and verbally abusive Elizabeth Taylor out of his cab. He brought it up at least once every hour.

When a Conservative scrutineer sat down at our table, Keith told her she smelled good and asked what kind of perfume she was wearing. I cringed when she told him it was Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds. Here we go again, I thought.

At 9 a.m., Keith ate some pepperoni that ended up giving him bad gas. When he told me about his upset stomach, I asked him if there was anything I could get him.

"A kiss," he replied.

By 10 a.m., my patience was running thin.

"Look," I told him. "We’re here to do a very important job and you’re not taking it seriously. You’re not being very professional."

He thought I was kidding. And then he started asking if he could lay his head on my shoulder so he could take a nap.

By 11 a.m., Keith was telling me how sexy he thought the NDP scrutineer was. Which was creepy considering she was about 40 years younger than he was. His eyes kept following her all over the room. He even named her "swivel hips" because of the way she walked.

"Oh, there goes swivel hips," he’d say every time she left her seat. "Look at her! You could walk like that if you wanted to."

I thought if I tried to engage Keith in a serious conversation we could find some common ground. So I decided to ask him what made him want to work the election, thinking we could talk about the importance of democracy and how exciting it was to get involved.

But Keith just held his hand up in front of his face and rubbed his fingers together. Money. And then he told me he had forgotten to vote. "It just slipped my mind!"

So we went back to talking about how much he loves younger women. Older women can’t keep up with him on the dance floor. He asked me if I had a boyfriend. I lied and said I did.

By 2 p.m., the polling station started getting busier. As I folded the ballots and handed them to the voters, Keith stared at me and gave a running commentary.

"You’re so dainty."

"You’re so petite."

"You have piano player fingers."

"Your hands are really thin."

"Let me braid your hair."

But the real nightmare began when the polls closed. After we counted the votes, we had to balance the number of ballots against the number of names crossed off our list. Keith was responsible for crossing off the names and making sure the numbers added up.

The problem was that Keith couldn’t add and had made all kinds of sloppy mistakes throughout the day. Which is strange considering he claims he once worked as a Bay Street stockbroker. So we ended up recounting five times before the numbers finally matched.

In case you were wondering why Vancouver Centre was the last place in Canada to report its results last night, it’s because of Keith.

Keith, of course, blamed me. "How could I do my job when you’re so beautifully distracting?"

So I’m really sorry about the delay in Vancouver Centre. It was totally Keith’s fault.

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