Sarah Palin once said, “polls are for strippers and cross country skiers.” Well, I don’t ski, and my stripping days are a distant memory of glitter bombs and champagne promises. But I believe in polls, especially when the pollsters have the good sense to call me.
One of those smart pollsters called just after dinner the other night. He said is name was Sal. I didn’t catch the name of the polling firm.
“Do you have time for a quick poll?”
I looked at the kitchen sink. I had a lot of dishes to do, then I had to answer some emails, and I was hoping to watch two episodes of Bosch Legacy before bed. This would have to be a quick poll. A very quick poll.
“How long is this going to take?” I asked.
“Three minutes, tops.”
Three minutes? I should’ve known better. Come to think of it, I did know better. I’m not trying to brag, but I’ve been polled by Gallup, the gold-standard of polling outfits. When you say yes to a poll, you say goodbye to the next thirty minutes of your life.
“It’ll be fast and painless,” Sal said. “I’ll have you on your way lickety-split.”
Sal talked fast. Maybe he thought fast too. For all I knew, he might’ve been Quentin Tarantino’s inspiration for The Wolf, Harvey Keitel’s fast-talking underworld problem-solver. Or, maybe I was imagining things, projecting a criminal pedigree on an honest pollster just because his thick Brooklyn accent gave me wise guy vibes. Usually, pollsters sound like over-caffeinated college students stumbling through a reading comprehension test. But I decided I liked Sal’s confidence.
“Three minutes?” I asked.
“Hand to god.”
“OK, let’s do this.”
The first few questions came rapid-fire. They were easy as pie.
Are aware that you live in California?
Are you aware of the upcoming primary election in California?
Are you currently alive?
Without hesitation, I answered yes to each question.
“Most people have to think about these.”
“I’ve been told I’m exceptional. Now, let’s not dally.”
“OK, next question: do you think Los Angeles is going in the right direction, or the wrong direction?”
I hate questions like that. They assume there are only two directions, when even a failed cartographer knows there are four. Plus, directions are about going somewhere, which is too nuanced for simple binaries like right and wrong. I might say wrong direction, but that could be the right direction for Sal’s client. Of course, the reverse is also true, which is why questions like this make me think our society is lost.
“Wrong direction,” I said.
“You sound unsure,” Sal said.
Fuck, this pollster was perceptive.
“It’s just such a limiting question, that’s why.”
“You’ll love the next question then. It’s open-ended. Can you explain why you said LA is heading in the wrong direction?”
“I can, but it’ll take longer than three minutes.”
“I’ve got time.”
“Yeah, well I don’t. Harry Bosch is closing in on whoever tried to kill Honey Chandler, but if this call takes too long, there’s a good chance I’ll fall asleep before the end of the episode, and then I’ll look like a nincompoop on social media tomorrow.”
We were getting off track. This call was supposed to be about the real Los Angeles, not Michael Connelly’s realistic portrayal of Los Angeles.
“I think we’re heading in the wrong direction because of corruption.”
“Corruption. You want expand on that?”
“Sure. Take any issue, and corruption makes it worse. Why? Because corruption beats ideology everyday of the week and twice on Sunday. You vote right-wing, I vote left-wing, but it doesn’t matter because whatever agenda we support is undermined and overwhelmed by corruption. It’s pay for play. They pay, we lose our say.”
“Wow, that’s poetic.”
“No, it just rhymes. It’s not poetry, it’s fucked. When you have corruption, you don’t have room for much else, especially democracy.”
“OK, this is the lightning round,” Sal said. “I’m going to tell you a person’s name, you tell me if you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of them, or if you’ve never heard of them, just say, you’ve never heard of them.”
Sal rattled off names that are well known in California politics.
Then Sal shifted to names that are well-known in Los Angeles politics.
“OK, these next set of names are people you haven’t heard.”
Sal was telling me the answer before asking the question, which struck me as unprofessional, or at the very least unscientific. But that was Sal’s client’s problem, not mine. Also, Sal was wrong because I did recognize the names on his list.
The first set of names were what the press might call the “also-ran” candidates in the LA mayor’s race, assuming the press bothered to cover those candidates, which the press doesn’t do. The second set of names were candidates for my county supervisor seat, which is a race the press covers by telling you who’s favored to win. The third set of names were people running for state assembly in my district, which is a race the press doesn’t cover at all, unless the winner is a conspiracy nut, or a former stripper.
“Holy cow,” Sal said. “You know a lot about local politics.”
“You know what else I know, Sal?”
“How to tell time. Your three minutes are up.”
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Have you ever participated in a political poll? How did it make you feel? Special? Depressed? Heard? Powerful? Confused? Hopeless? Enraged? Amused?
If you could commission a poll, what would you ask Americans?
Would you hire Sal as one of your pollsters? Why, or why not?
My stripper name was Rocky Balboner. At least, that’s what this BuzzFeed quiz told me my stripper name was. Take the quiz and tell us your stripper name, or skip the quiz and tell us your stripper name.
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Glad you delivered on the account of sharing what your stripper name was. I’d do the quiz myself but I fear I might get one so good I feel compelled to use it
I wish you hadn’t cut the conversation short. I wanted more!