The rain was just getting started outside, small drops pelting down and the occasional fat drop sticking to the stained glass of the windowpanes. The humid warmth of the day had gone and in its absence was the chill of the night.
Three men sat around the worn metal table in the synagogue, each of them well on the far side of the whitening years of old age. In their talk, as in the talk of old men often does, the past and the future blended together in one whirling snowstorm of memories and thoughts.
"I remember this one guy, he had a horse and wagon," 'Jack' said. Easily into his seventies, tall and stooped, he leaned wearily over the table with hands and face still reddened from a day of working the fruit stand, a battered Yankees cap still wet from the rain hanging over his forehead. "After each day he had to carry money home, so he dressed like a bum. Then when he saw any group of dangerous men, he'd ask them for a cigarette."
Mr. Beitner nods and taps his pocket absently for a cigarette. He wears a faded fedora and a suit jacket over a dark woolen vest. Next to him is a leather case in which he carries some of the tools for his small business, customizing certain metal parts. There is little demand for it these days.
"So they thought he was a bum," Mr. Oschow chimes in eagerly. For much of his life he worked as a mail carrier and he still walks with a characteristic stoop. A stump on his right hand marks where he lost his index finger during the Korean war. He is always the first to come, the first to leave and the most eager to learn.
"So Hillary's out? Obama's going to be President, what?" Jack asks.
"No," Mr Beitner says, "I read that was a phony story. She isn't out. They just said she was out. They still haven't announced the winner."
"But he gave a speech and everything," Mr. Oschow said.
"So he gave a speech," Mr Beitner said. "Anyone can give a speech."
"They said he was the winner."
"He declared himself the winner," Mr. Beitner said. "Anyone can declare himself the winner. I can declare myself a winner."
"The news was reporting, it wasn't true?" Mr. Oschow said.
"Listen to me, in my business you have to know the bums. If you don't know the bums, you wind up without a penny," Jack said, "and I'm telling you he's a bum."
"He might be President," Mr. Oschow said.
"Don't give me that," Jack said, "he's not going to be President. The country will never go for it."
"Because he's black?" Mr. Oschow asked.
"No forget that," Mr. Beitner said, dismissively waving his hand, "it's not about that. Do you know he belonged to a church for twenty years that hated whites. Now he left because he wants to be President. But you think he left, he didn't leave."
"Yeah," Jack said, "a real bum."
"And his wife, she said she hated America. Now he's running for President, she likes America."
"Those people complain all the time and they're rich, they went to Harvard and never had to work a day in their life," Jack said, turning over worn reddened hands that had been lifting boxes and unpacking apples, peppers and tossing out cabbage all day. "They act like we should feel sorry for them."
"I'm telling you if he gets in, it's the end of America," Mr. Beitner said gloomily.
"He won't get in," Jack said. "All of Boro Park will vote for him, the other guy, what's his name"
"McCain," Mr. Oschow said. "Something. Good man."
"Now that's a real man," Mr. Beitner said. "He wasn't sitting around with the drugs when the war, like him. It's disgusting."
"Boro Park is McCain territory," Jack repeated.
A young Hassidic boy with long black earlocks walks by with iPhone headphones in his ears.
"Hey," Jack calls to him, "who's Boro Park voting for?"
"Hillary," the boy says.
"No, listen," the boy says, pausing his song, "first everyone voted for Hillary, so she would win and go up against McCain and then we would all vote for him." He grins. "Neat trick, huh?" And then he's off again, running around the room.
"See Boro Park is voting for McCain," Jack says confidently.
"How many Chassidim are there in Boro Park anyway?" Mr. Beitner asks.
"Enough. Plenty," Jack says.
"Not that many," Mr. Oschow says. "Not enough to win an election."
"There'll be more of them by the time the election comes," Jack says, "it's like China. A billion more by the time the polls open."
There is a break in the conversation as the rain tapers off outside and darkness creeps around the bright colors of the stained glass windows.
"It's gonna be real bad if Obama gets elected," Mr. Oschow says. "He can talk all he wants now, but you know what he's gonna do to the Jews once he gets in."
"He's a bum, he won't get in," Jack says.
"They've elected bums before," Mr. Beitner answers.
"Not me," Jack says. "I never voted for a bum in my life. Not for any of them and I'm not gonna vote for this bum either. Let anyone do what he likes, maybe this country don't have no standards anymore, but I do. No bums. No druggies. No trash."
The doors creak as the rest of the men come in from the cold and the wet and soon the prayers will begin. Prayers for rain that have already been fulfilled, for peace, for plenty, for life. Prayers of thanksgiving and of love.
The three men open their prayer books, worn hands that have handled lifetimes of work creakily turn the pages. They leaf through page by page and though they move slowly, they do not shake. Watching them I know there and then that their convictions will not be shaken either no matter how many speeches Obama gives or how many editorials the mainstream media churns out reproving, imploring and chastising them for their obstinate rejection of the second coming of JFK.
On they turn the pages and their hands do not shake. Their hands will not shake at the polls either when they vote against Obama. They are better informed than the media realizes and the community leaders that Obama solicits cannot reach them. They vote based on a lifetime's experience that has taught them to know right from wrong the hard way. Unlike their media savvy grandchildren, they will not listen to ObamaGirl's crooning, care about the trendy stylized posters or feel guilty for any doubts about Obama.
Also unlike their grandchildren they will go the polls in greater numbers and percentages, in New York and in Florida and in scattered communities across America. They don't know about swing states or where their votes might best make a difference. They don't vote with that kind of calculation in mind. They simply vote because it's the right thing to do.
And they will never vote for a bum.