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Relevant to Lincoln, Nebraska

In memoriam Kupo Mleya

In the hours just past midnight on Friday — two days before Christmas — an old coworker was shot and killed a block from his home. The circumstances of his death are not entirely clear and the suspected killer, who was arrested on Saturday, won’t make his initial court appearance until tomorrow morning.

I hadn’t seen Kupo for several years, and it’s been even longer since we worked together at the local co-op. He always struck me as optimistic and energetic, a vibrant heart who seemed to glide above whatever troubles may have clouded the sky. He had a manner and smile that many have described as “infectious” as they memorialize him. It’s an appropriate enough description, but it doesn’t really do justice to the man and his effect on those around him.

Kupo’s charisma was more of a warm invitation than an outward projection; his magnetic personality drew out the good feelings of others so that everyone could bask and share in that restorative glow.

For all that this city never deserved him, he shared himself deeply and unabashedly, and anyone who knew him was better for it. My favorite memory of him was a discussion about bicycling we had one day at work while prepping produce. He was an avid tinkerer, and back then I was in the habit of recreational biking. I described a trip across the levee trail at Holmes Lake Park, and the stiff wind that nearly blew me into the water.

Kupo glanced at me, then stared into the distance and said:

“A crosswind is a distraction.”

Just so. Honoring his memory by continuing onward — while appreciating the worldly beauty that surrounds me, and never taking for granted the community that sustains me — is the least that I can do.

Rest in peace, friend.

Elective service

We held our city primary a month ago, and this week (on Star Wars Day, no less) conducted the general election. I worked again as a precinct inspector, which is an official term for a supply runner. Many election workers receive a two-year posting to a specific precinct; others, like me, serve in a backup role—covering gaps on demand. Sometimes I think it would be nice to receive a permanent posting, but working as a reserve inspector means that I rarely work consecutive elections at the same place. We have polling places in churches, schools, apartment complex clubhouses, union halls, and so on. Being an election official is an easy way to be a tourist in my own city.

Local elections are typically the slowest of all; this week’s turnout was just below 30%. One point of interest: the number of absentee ballots cast was almost double the in-person turnout on Election Day. I was relieved to see that, because early voting is what led to the election of my favorite at-large City Council candidate. His taking office represents a dramatic shift in the composition of the council, even if we did just swap out white men.

Since this country will never be done with COVID-19, the sanitation measures that we put into effect for last year’s presidential election continued this year. Everyone is well acquainted with the dance: out of 114 voters in our precinct, we had two without masks, and one dubiously tied bandana. Election workers are practiced at sanitizing voting booths, work tables, ballpoint pens, ballot sleeves. I imagine that—despite our hopes to the contrary—some version of this protocol will persist into next year’s midterms. That’s fine with me. As a precinct inspector, I feel as though my biggest problems involve policing all the small talk that happens as we’re moving voters through the line. The environment is homey and cordial, but often lacks what I would consider an appropriate level of professionalism for the job.

For the past few election cycles, I’ve been thinking more about whether or not I’ll continue working in this capacity. Election Day is exhausting. It has all the joys of retail customer service with the added benefit of enforcing state law. (And don’t get me started on arguments over electioneering.) But the work is rewarding. I feel an immense sense of pride every time, and being part of the election return is a special sort of high. By the time next year’s primary rolls around, I’ll probably be rested up and ready to do it all again.