This is the first of a series of fictional character sketches from the openDemocracy writer’s latest novel, Unimportant People…
Back just a while, without us even asking, the Government sends us these registration cards in the mail certifying that me & Fred we are Mr & Mrs Jeansonne. Yeah, we’re living at the same address, but they’ve got it a little screwy. Like they’ve got me being a girl and Fred being a boy. They got that seriously wrong.
Me, I’m the boy and Fred the girl.
Fred, she’s also a dog. Me, no. In spite of the Mutt name. I don’t think being a dog makes Fred any worse a voter. She’s a Independent, like me.
Like I said, we both get those voter cards, along with this nice last name -- Jeansonne -- oh, a pretty good while ago. When we were living two-three years in that falling-down empty used-to-be whorehouse just past where the bridge on-ramps cross Carondelet street. Mailman was nice enough to let us get mail there. Good-heart fellow. Lot of nice pictures of TVs on sales and ladies in underwear smiling like somebody just give them a prize. Good mail like that come nearly every day. Then here come these two envelopes. To the Jeansonnes. Jeansonne. Somehow, the name stuck in both our heads. We liked it just fine.
Seems the Jeansonnes were the last folks who lived in that place before us, but they were long-gone when we got there. Me and Fred talked to one old man, Mr Claude Vigreux was his name, man who lived in a camelback shotgun house on the corner of Carondelet and Melpomene, before we moved in. We had to feel our way around to see if it was safe for us to live in the Jeansonne house, you see. We weren’t exactly what you would call legal residents right then.
Mr Vigreux says the Jeansonnes they were elderly folks, a widow and widower. Good neighbors. Like him to us, but real real old.
One day, their kids shipped them both off to separate nursing homes somewhere in California. The Jeansonnes didn’t even know it was coming. Without so much as a thank-you-ma’am this lawyer showed up at sunrise with two ambulances and carted them away. Mr Jeansonne didn’t get no coffee that morning. Ain’t got no real coffee in California, I hear. Just pulled them old folks out they house with half a bag of clothes and that’s that. Gone.
Mr Vigreux he was the only person left in the City who knew the first Jeansonnes. Now he’s gone, too. Died four-five years ago. So I guess we’re the only Jeansonnes now. Least on Carondelet street.
I think those two folks would have liked the idea of me and Fred keeping up their voting tradition. FT Jeansonne. LM Jeansonne. Computer wrote them right out, just that way.
Two letters, two cards. Me & Fred found them, we started getting excited.
There’s an M and an F there already. So, Fred gets to be the FT, and me, I’m LM -- fine for me, even though the M is last. Call me L Mutt. Very classy being L Mutt Jeansonne.
We’ve been keeping up our voting these days, though Fred she does hers absentee. She hates them loud machines they make you stand in.
I took her with me my first time going in a voting machine. Voting for the Mayor of New Orleans.
Fred, she had already sent in her ballot by mail. I raised the stamp money myself. You know, the government makes you pay to send in that vote? Took me a hour and a half standing round on my game leg by the First Federal Bank on Baronne street, but I got me that cash. Yeah yeah, that was a helluva long time for that little bit a money, 43 cent, but Fred wasn’t in much of a good mood that day -- possibly constipated again, I was thinking at the time. She was sitting by me just a-growlin’ at all the potential donors I was trying to hustle to the cause a democracy.
Monkeying around with Fred’s biologic rhythm makes her grumpy. Folks won’t give money to a grumpy dog. You can write that one in stone. Could be costing you the vote, I tried to tell her. But I hung in there. I got that cash, bought the stamp, and sent in the FT Jeansonne vote. Fred was proud, in the end.
We didn’t know what it was going to be like, voting in a machine, though. Neither of us. Me, a US veteran getting up in years, never voting before. Then I get me this good solid last name. Lots of letters.
Jeansonne. Nine. More than Mutt, which is all I had before, being an orphan and all. Went down to a pawn shop on Canal street with my Registered Voter card, and got me a picture ID with my new name and the Carondelet address. Cost another seven dollars, which took me another two days a panhandling, workin’ a pet supplies convention, to raise.
But finally we get to vote. There was three real nice ladies and an elderly gent down at our precinct. Gent was proud to announce that he was the Precinct Election Commissioner. Ladies were nice about letting him have his way a bit, since he’s so old and all. Said his name was Cyrus R Gladstone, of the Thirteenth Ward Gladstones. He and the ladies were all set up in a grade school gym on Martin Luther King Boulevard. I liked the way it echoed in that big room but the sound made Fred a little nervous. Mr Gladstone he asked about my not walking so good -- just curious like those old folks can be -- and I told him I got hurt in the war. True. I did. I wouldn’t lie about that. Said mm-hmm. He was thinking that getting a hole shot in my leg had made me into a better voter. Especially when I told him and those ladies that FT wasn’t well, that she had some terrible constipating going on, was never leaving the house any more.
Yes, that last part I know was a lie, about Fred not leaving the house. Since she was standing right there and all. But I had to protect Fred’s registration, you know. Once you get to know me, you’ll know I don’t lie so easy. Don’t lie often, either. It’s just that living on the street makes it hard to tell the truth sometimes, you know, and still get along.
Anyway, while I’m telling this little lie, old Fred was hanging around under the voting people’s table making snuffling noises like she was thinking this whole thing real funny.
I made a good story, saying that though she was sick, FT always voted by mail, being a responsible citizen.
They liked that. Family stuff, vet husband and sick wife voting, no matter what. “Good stuff,” Mr Gladstone was saying. “Good for the cause a democracy.” Said it just like that.
Just fine. They was signing me in. But then Mr Gladstone he looks up and tells me City Hall must have got some records mixed up like usual, because it looked like on the books that LM was the Mrs and FT was the Mr. Me, I just laughed and said folks make that mistake all the time. I’m the L Mutt. He said he’d fix it right up. The Mr and the Mrs and all.
Said he knew all about this new computer system they give him to keep track of the voting. Must have, because old Mr Gladstone just started pecking away at that computer thing the minute we headed to the voting booth.
I asked the ladies was it OK if my dog Fred come into that booth when I’m doing my voting, and the biggest lady she said she didn’t think it would cause any of those City Hall government people to stop stealing her money for one single minute.
“That dog can watch anything that dog wants, long as I have my say,” said the lady. “Nice looking dog like that.”
Mr Gladstone he looked up from his computering when she said that. “Democratic process probably help that dog,” he told me.
So Fred come right on up to the machine wagging to beat Dixie. But when I throw this switch that closes the curtain, that voting machine all of a sudden made one helluva big banging noise. I mean, one big ka-BAM!
I thought Fred was gonna soil a official government polling place right then and there. Made one helluva racket herself, yipping and carrying on. I understood. She was thinking she was locked up in a cage, in that noisy curtained booth, all closed up. She figured it was making all of that noise getting ready to eat her or something. Some pre-historic fear of voting machines, I guess. Fred come running out underneath the curtain before I got anywhere near through voting. Democrat.
Registered Independent because of the Jeansonne family heritage -- that was a done deal before we got our cards or last name -- but me & Fred now really are what local folks around this town call “Yellow Dog Democrats”. Old saying goes you’d vote for a yellow dog if it ran on a Demo ticket.
Be funnier if Fred was yellow.
She might have been once, but she’s been mostly grey all the years since I’ve known her. Still a lively old girl, though. Probably outlive me.
For now, me’n Fred we are finally Registered Voters, and for the first time in either of our lives, we get to put in our two bits on a government that has been meddlin’ with us since Day One.
Made us Yellow Dogs, both of us.