New York (CNN) - The poll-worker had one of those 50-yard stares, and it was barely four in the afternoon. "This is the longest day of my life," she said, to no one in particular. I was her next customer and even before I was through the front door I was stuck– stumped.
"District?" the gatekeeper asked me. He was an older man, firmly planted at the folding bridge-table he shared at the door of the senior center on West 71st street.
"District?" repeated his female counterpart. "Uhhhhhhhh," I replied. "Your address, hun. Where do you live?" I told her. "District 39!" her colleague offered.
"No. . ."
"41. . ."
"41? You sure?" She narrowed her eyes. He rolled his. Gallic shrugs all around. "41 sounds right," I said. She motioned me onward, to the land of the 50-yard stare.
It belonged to a pleasant, middle-aged, African-American woman who, when asked why the long day and the long face, uttered one simple four-letter word: "This," she said, pointing at the ballot in front of her. "This."
I had just discovered the true drama, the white-hot anger, the primal scream, in an election that's supposed to be all about all those things, all across the country. The economy. The Tea Party. Taxes. Obamacare. You name it, that's what the election's about. Except on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
Here, it's about New York's new paper ballots. It's a rage against the machine that abandoned us. You see, here in Manhattan, machine politics really was machine politics. You voted on these big, greenish-gray, Rube Goldberg contraptions. A curtain, a handle, lots of little levers. Step right in, click-click-click, then the solid "ka-CHUNK!" of civic duty done.
It felt good. It's gone.
The replacement? Those paper things that make voting feel like doing your SATs. No wonder so many of my aged, commie, Florida-transplant, relatives ended up voting for Pat Buchanan back in 2000: They didn't have SATs growing up.
"One mark per line," Longest-Day warned me. "Take a look here," she said, pointing to the top. "This is one line, not two. It wraps around. People are marking it twice; then the scanners reject it. It's making me crazy." Over at the booth, despite the warning, I missed one line, almost double-marked the judicial candidates, and colored outside the oval twice. And I did have SATs growing up.
Elsewhere around town, my friends and colleagues tell me things went smoother. I'm just a klutz, they say. Me and my neighbors. Elsewhere people are fighting for the nation's destiny, or so they say. There are Tea Partiers in the neighborhood, two blocks away, in fact. But they're all at a restaurant on 73rd called Alice's Tea Cup, and most are too young to vote. And too young to remember when pulling the lever meant voting, not Vegas.