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Beat Down

Of voting, drumming and losing.


Because I wasn't in the pit, I was vulnerable to the machinations of the stage director, who asked me to be the bass drummer in the onstage band during the circus scene in Act 3. I took the gig before realizing that a) I wouldn't be paid, and b) I would be wearing a rust-colored vest and knickers. This may have been the height of fashion in mid-19th century Bohemia, but I was in late 20th century Tallahassee, and I looked like a fool. A grinning, bass-drumming fool.

My job, according to the stage director, was to walk down a ramp with the rest of the little band, beat my drum and — for reasons surpassing understanding — smile, smile, smile.

Dress rehearsal fell on election night. That morning I was thrilled and even a little nervous, because voting has some of the same tension as surgery — if you make the wrong move you can't fix it.

I drove over to my polling place, Doak Campbell Stadium, home of Bobby Bowden's Seminoles. It was my only visit to the stadium, partially because I didn't particularly care for football, but mostly because I spent Saturdays across the state line in Thomasville, Ga., where my grandmother was ready with fried chicken, four or five vegetables, pound cake, iced tea, a washing machine, a clothesline and an iron.

My grandmother also held forth on all sorts of topics, from the family to politics. Like me, she was planning to vote Mondale/Ferraro. But she didn't always vote Democratic. In 1980, she was one of the few people in Thomas County to vote for John Anderson. Like me, she was not fan of Reagan. Unlike me, she couldn't stand Carter, because "he had no business being so country in the White House."

I cast my vote, went to class, had dinner, went to the dress rehearsal. By this point, I was cranky because I'd learned that if I hadn't taken this opera job, I could have played extra in the Jacksonville Symphony. It was the Mahler Second, a huge piece I loved, and it would have paid. And I would have worn not knickers but tails.

Making things worse, the stage director insisted that I show up an hour before show time and wait in the men's chorus dressing room until my entrance, roughly three hours later. I was old enough to vote, drive, drink and defend my country, but I couldn't be trusted to show up at 9:30 and put my knickers on by myself.

The others in the onstage band were women, so my only companion through the three hours of waiting was an ROTC kid who'd been enlisted to play a soldier. We sat and sat and sat in the basement of Ruby Diamond Auditorium. There was no TV, and the only station our radio got was the campus NPR outlet.

Other networks gave the president the country sometime in mid-October. But good ol' NPR was saying, at about 9, "Early returns indicate that President Reagan may have taken New Hampshire." I loved them for their reluctance, because every time they gave a state to Reagan, the ROTC guy dropped down on one knee, pumped his fist and shouted "HeeeeeeeahhhhhhhhYAAAAYUH."

Summoning all my limited acting ability, I smiled on stage. S

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