Friday, October 15, 2010

Just Kind Of Living Continued

Before I left Seattle I changed my address with two important parts of my life.

First was the King County Elections Department. I was going to be in France during November and the extremely important midterm elections were going to occur without me. I had never put myself in that situation before, but I assume that if I had so done prior to this election I could just have asked for an absentee ballot, taken it with me and have been done with the problem. The French have one of the best postal systems in the world, so I would have just put the ballot in the mail and my vote would be in the great counting mill in the sky before I knew it.

But that had all changed. Washington had switched after 2008 to an all mail in election system. That entailed the Counties sending out ballots to registered voters who were expected to vote thoughtfully over their kitchen tables and then send the ballots back for tally. The problem was, they send those ballots out mid October and I was going to be long gone by then. So I poked around on the County web site until I found a promising looking "contact us" directed to the elections people. I sent them an email telling them that I was going to be in France at election time so could they send me my ballot early, or could I get an absentee ballot, or…

To my surprise I received a reply by the end of that day. The answer to my two questions was "no", but they said that the voters' registration system was designed to have a temporary alternate mailing address, and that address could surely be in France. All I had to do was to give them that address and they would take care of the rest. So I gave them the address.

I did it with some misgivings, however. There were two problems. First was the fact that Thierry needed to put me in an apartment for ten days prior to putting me into the one where I was going to live the rest of the month of October. I was moving in to the address I gave to the County on 9 October. The County said that the ballots were going out the first of October. So, depending on how fast the ballot got to France and how fast the French postal system was in getting it sorted and on its way to my new address, there might be a serious chance for a miss on the handoff.

After I had gotten to Paris and was in the more temporary apartment I solved the problem by getting Thierry to let me get into the apartment lobby and put my name on the mailbox. I did that by cutting a piece out of the center of the business card I have designed and made vast quantities of, and have in both my computer backpack and my Hartmann satchel, and which I consistently forget to take anywhere with me and which are therefore basically useless. But at least there is a piece of one of those business cards in my new Paris about-to-be mailbox saying "Noel McKeehan/Author of Screen Saver". The piece turned out to be of just the right size to fit in the little metal window-for-names. I chose to interpret that as being an omen of good.

I said there were two problems. As good as the French postal system may be, I have never been able to actually receive any mail. I have tried. Mysti has sent me letters with my apartment addresses on them, but they never showed up. That may or may not have been because I didn't have any specific markings on any specific mailbox at the address, I can't remember whether I ever put my name anywhere. I just know I never received mail that was sent to me.

So I wasn't very surprised when the eleventh of October came and went and all that was in my mailbox was a generic mailing to the generic resident from a Pizza mass marketer.

So I poked around the County web site again – I had somehow deleted the email stack from them that I had kept for months in case I needed to get back to the specific person who had helped me before – and again found a promising looking "contact us" and contacted them. I had noticed on the site that they said the ballot mail out date was 15 October, not 1 October, so I told them of my address change, that I hadn't received the ballot, but was that because the mail out date was actually 15 October not 1 October, in which case perhaps we didn't have a problem.

Again, very quickly – allowing for my being nine hours ahead of Seattle time – I got a reply that, no, the overseas mail out date was indeed 1 October; therefore my ballot had been mailed. They said that they could either mail it again or email me the ballot. In the case of the emailed ballot I would need to print out the PDF to vote and the voter's oath to sign and then mail those back.

I replied asking could they send the ballot to me care of Thierry and they replied that they would both email me the ballot and send me the paper ballot again at the address that I had given them and that they re-confirmed as being what their records showed; one would hope, that that wealth of options would allow me to vote.

The emailed ballot came later that day.

Which was why I crossed to the mainland yesterday via Pont Marie – next one down from Pont Louis Philippe (I had already become familiar with this bridge, although I didn't know its name because there was no sign on it, because it was the bridge I came back from the Marais on the day before when I had had the life changing experience of finding an understandable route to rue des Rosiers) and which was why when I was returning from the Internet café just off of rue des Nonnaines-d'Hyéres on rue de Juoy I happened to look to my left as I was half across Pont Marie and saw a post office. I had been contemplating how to mail my newly printed ballot and oath, and since I thought that I remembered that the French post offices sold envelopes with stamps on them I had, just prior to seeing La Poste, consulted my pocket dictionary to verify that I actually knew what the word for envelope was; I did; and then I saw the post office.

As I entered I noticed that there was a small line, and I was thankful that there was one so I could stand there and gather my thoughts and that it was short so I wouldn't have to stand there too long and possibly lose heart for the endeavor. But my standing in the line was not to be. A guy that I would have thought to be about my age except for the fact that everybody retires at sixty in France – or after forty years, whichever comes first – (and they have been in the streets daily trying to make sure they keep it that way) sort of intercepted me; I decided to take the bull by the horns and said "Bon jour monsieur!"

He responded in kind, and then the acid test ensued.

He was about my height, and was one of those people that I prefer, I being, I think one of them also: that thing that I prefer was that he fixed me straight in the eyes as I said "je voudrais une enveloppe avec le timbre pour les Etats-Unis."

"Bravo, bravo monsieur!" said he - along with a number of other things of which I only got fragments.

But it was a triumph.

Actually he asked me - in French - how long I was living in Paris, and I told him and he said "écoutez et répetez; vous allez faire bien!" And then he sold me my envelope for a euro and I went my way.

Some days turn for the better or the worse on very little.

I said at the beginning of this post that I changed the address for two very important parts of my life. The other was The Economist. But that is a separate tale to be told at a later date.

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