Back to real life, everyday life on Nov. 7, I was cleaning out junk underneath the cellar steps. Boxes and bags full, a canvas cot, a flat soccer ball, clothes, towels, coffee makers, newspaper clips, bank statements from the '80s -- and boxes of drinking glasses and two pairs of girls boots I gave to the Vietnam Veterans of America. It was a dusty job, but somebody had to do it, though I had let it go for, oh, maybe 25 years.
So, I saw something yellow and pulled it out. Lo and behold, it was a little plastic chair for a tiny child. And the back rest was in the shape of Big Bird. An echo of what had ended just the previous day -- the Obama vs. Romney high-stakes, big-bucks extreme cage fight to the death? In fact, I had signed up for the battle in February and worked as a volunteer for the president. Until the day after, when there I was, cleaning up junk in the dust.
Next thing I noticed was, I kid you not, a real, live Etch A Sketch that still worked! -- another echo of events leading to Mr. Obama's victory. Or, as one pundit put it Nov. 7: "The good news is: You won. The bad news is: Now you have to run the government."
I found no binders full of women, though I did throw out a bunch of binders holding nothing in their three rings.
I suppose cleaning up junk was as good as anything for a "retiree" to do after the presidential campaign had ended. Yet after a night of feeling elated just after 11 when the race was called for President Obama and watching returns and talking heads until 3 a.m., I was feeling a little ... what? ... empty the next day.
I had energy but no more voter-persuasion or get-out-the-vote phone calls to make to voters in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada, New Hampshire, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Iowa, Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina. A lot of people were nice. But one guy said, "I tell you what: Why don't you go ... yourself." Most people let it go to voice mail after spying a suspect number on caller ID. Now I must fill up my time differently.
Different from taking entrance tickets at Carnegie Mellon University on a 100-degree July 7 for a crowd of thousands who then had to go through metal detectors before scaling a hill and waiting for President Obama to show up and whip some wisdom on us. Sadly, I was feeling the heat and drove home, where I watched his speech on C-Span. Many others felt woozy, some got carried out, but it did not dampen the zeal for Barack.
And different from when I drove with three other volunteers across the state June 9 to Savior Hall in Norristown, where 450 "team leaders" learned how to campaign and ginned up some fervor.
It was there that it struck me that President Obama and his campaign were really serious about government lifting people past trouble, as everyone needs help now and then, and some pretty high-ranking campaign guys and gals told stories of how their families had been helped by the G.I. bill, workers' compensation, unemployment compensation, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc.
These people said we volunteers should tell voters our stories, too, and I did, about how President Obama fought in December for extended unemployment benefits, which congressional Republicans were trying to block, but Barack battled to get them approved, which helped me temporarily. I worked the phone banks for Penn Hills volunteers and others in the Monroeville Obama office for a time. By the end I was making calls at home, finding voters on a calling tool at the campaign's Dashboard website.
Barack had started out trying to get people jobs and such as a community organizer, then turned to teaching law and to elective office. He believed that not only were there human needs to fill out there, but also that doing so makes for a healthier society. I told many a voter: "The president cares about you and me and everybody. That's where it all comes from. Do you think Mitt Romney cares about you?" I first heard President Obama speak in maybe 2006 and was intrigued, then the more I learned, I was sold.
This was not my first rodeo. At age 24, I campaigned in three states for George McGovern in the 1972 race against Richard Nixon. While Nixon won all but Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, we had the last laugh when he resigned in disgrace, one step ahead of impeachment.
I will never forget election night and how awful we all felt after months on the campaign trail. I pretty much swore off politics after that, though it was hardly a choice, since I was a newsman for the next 40 years, and newsies don't do politics.
This time out, I signed up at the Obama Smallman Street office in February but didn't get cranked up until the St. Patrick's Day Parade Downtown, where I and many others did voter registration in the crowd. Vice President Joe Biden showed up that day in the Smallman office in the Strip District and gave volunteers a pep talk -- if President Obama is brilliant and cool with a big heart, Joe is a hunk, a hunk a burnin' love. I figured I was on the right side, so no matter what happened, it would be OK. But winning feels better than losing -- like maybe I contributed a little, or at least I didn't screw it up enough for President Obama to lose.
So now I bust dust and junk under the stairs in the basement, and sometimes wear my red Obama T-shirt, my gray Obama hooded sweatshirt and/or my navy blue Obama '12 visor. If you want the cutest little Big Bird child's chair, give me a shout. I'm still fired up ... and ready to go! And, Big Bird, don't worry; Barack won't defund you. Hey, I got that Etch A Sketch, too.
John O'Brien is a former Post-Gazette copy editor (email@example.com).