Paul and I had volunteered a few hours on the weekend to pass out water and MREs to flood victims in Coney Island. When we got another email appeal from Mayor Bloomberg’s office to Vote, Then Volunteer on Tuesday, we signed up to spend the afternoon in Red Hook.

Shortly after 9 a.m., we walked to the poll in Midwood, to our usual voting place. It’s in the basement of an apartment complex on 17th Street.

Initially, I wasn’t sure if it would be the right place. We’d received several postcards assuring us that, because our area hadn’t been badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy, our voting location hadn’t changed. Then someone—nobody seemed to know who—had posted an official-looking announcement in our lobby that we were to vote on 25th Street instead.

As good fortune would have it, a neighbor happened through the lobby as I was puzzling over the notice, and told me he had just voted—on 17th, as usual.

So…Paul and I walked to 17th Street. And there was the reassuring Vote Here/Vote Aqui sign, and its corollary notice that it was illegal to politic within a designated number of feet from the polling place door.

The scene beyond that door was purgatorial. The room was filled with lines of people, milling, kvetching, waiting to vote. I had never, ever seen it so full.

Our polling place is manned by ancient Brooklynites, who sit behind long church-basement folding tables weighted with mountainous Great Books of Names. A woman of 90 or so guarded the door; she asked our address, and directed us to a second nonagenarian behind one of those Great Books.

We stood in line for ten minutes to reach the woman. She peered at her particular Great Book of Names through coke-bottle lenses. “O’Neill.” She shook her head. “You’re not here.” Her tone was accusatory.

“But we always vote here.”

“You’re NOT HERE.” She jabbed a spectral finger at the Great Book, then toward the next table. “Try that line,”  loin, in her Brooklyn-ese.

This second line snaked from the door to the far corner table, near the ballot-scanning machine. We nudged our way back through the crowd and took our places at the rear. An eternity passed, during which the woman at the door cheerfully pointed voters to the second woman, who—lips pursed, magnified eyes disapproving—sent most of them off to dither in our endless loin.

Two women sat behind the far table, their Great Books of Names before them. We finally, finally found ourselves facing one. A surprise: she was young, in her 20s.

“O’Neill,” said Paul.

The young woman opened her ponderous Book. She perused the first page, running her finger down the names, her lips shaping to each. She turned to the second.

“It begins with O,” said Paul.

She frowned and redoubled her efforts.

“Like Obama,” he said. “Only it’s O’Neill. O-N-E-I-L-L.”

The girl pouted and pushed the Great Book away. The woman next to her retrieved it with a liver-spotted hand. She riffled through the pages, stopped, pointed to Paul’s name.

In our voting place, once you find your name in the Great Book of Names, there follows a Mason-esque ritual: you sign; someone examines your signature, another someone fills out an index card and assigns a number that has nothing whatsoever to do with the purpose of voting; there is a discussion about the number; someone else jots it on a separate list—I have never seen this arcane process anywhere but here.

I watched with trepidation, hoping the polls wouldn’t close before I received my ballot. And then, there it was, in my hand—that long white paper, tucked into a short manilla folder for privacy.

The Observer, a solemn fellow who resembled a pterodactyl in a yarmulke, directed us to our booths—tall, narrow podiums, the tops surrounded by plastic privacy screens.

I un-foldered my ballot and reached for the marker to black out those little ovals next to my choices. It was gone; its plastic leash was empty. I raised my hand to catch the eye of the prehistoric Observer. “There’s no pen here,” I said.

He looked nonplussed. He glanced over his shoulder as if one might materialize.

Paul finished voting and told me to take his booth. I did.

The privacy screens have a clear plastic pocket that holds a magnifier to help voters peruse the ballot’s fine print. The pocket in my new booth also held a slick red-white-and-blue-printed pamphlet. I slipped it out: Vote for Romney/Ryan, said the caption below the photos of the smiling candidates.

I raised my hand again and called to the Observer. “There’s campaign literature in the pocket of my booth.”

He sighed. “These people,” he said. He shook his head dolefully. “In time, they will receive their punishment.”

“But—it’s illegal to politic in a voting booth.”

“Maybe someone will check it for fingaprints.” He was serious.

I slipped the pamphlet back into the pocket, unwilling to tamper with evidence. Wondering if I should’ve worn rubber gloves.

When at last I tried to feed my ballot upside-down, as usual, into the scanner, it wouldn’t take it. Another old poll attendant picked the ballot up, turned it over and noted my choices, then fed it in vote-side-up. “You have to be very kind—“ coined—“to this machine,” he said.

Having done our civic duty, Paul and I walked down to Coney Island Avenue to catch the bus that would take us to a second bus that would take us to Red Hook. It was 11:30 a.m.

“You never saw the Romney pamphlet?” I asked him.

“I didn’t look,” he said. “I just wanted to vote and get the hell out of there.”

We stood for 20 minutes at the bus stop, wondering where the bus would stop, if it ever came–given that there was a line of cars waiting for their turn at a gas station six blocks up blocking the sidewalk—

But that’s another story in the annals of Post-Apocalyptic Brooklyn…