In the continuing saga of American politics as punch-drunk farce, a seat in Virginia's House — a tiebreaking seat that would determine whether the state remained red and that would completely alter the future of 8.4 million residents — was chosen Thursday morning by drawing a name out of a bowl.
This is the story of that bowl.
"We had been using a glass bowl for many years, and most recently, a cardboard box," said James Alcorn, chairman of the Virginia State Board of Elections, addressing a roomful of reporters who had gone to Richmond for the drawing.
However, Alcorn continued, for this particular tiebreaker, he felt something special was in order.
That special something was the Bowl, which on Thursday sat in front of him on a table: cobalt-
colored ceramic on the outside, rust-colored ceramic on the inside, deep enough to hold two film canisters. The canisters, an elections board member said, were "brand-new" and "from Amazon," and contained the names of David Yancey (R) and Shelly Simonds (D), the candidates tied with 11,608 votes apiece.
The Bowl appeared to be the sort of bowl one would give one's mother-in-law for her birthday. The Bowl was meant to be filled with seashells. The Bowl could have once been swaddled in a suitcase after being purchased in a little shop in Santa Fe.
The Bowl was a symbol — a touching, valiant attempt at providing meaning and dignity to a political world that is deeply insane.
While the name-drawing process waddled forward in Richmond, the Bowl was becoming famous online:
"I, for one, want to know more about the bowl," wrote Slate's politics editor Jim Newell on Twitter.
"Could someone provide a sidebar on the bowl?" asked Politico's executive editor Paul Volpe.
"Most bowls that I make are quietly purchased, and then people go home with them," said Steven Glass, an artist in residence at Virginia's Museum of Fine Arts, when reached by telephone.
He made the Bowl.
He made it in early December, he said Thursday. He was experimenting with a new technique, called wax resisting, which involved dipping the Bowl in a series of glazes and then painting the glaze with wax.
Shortly before Christmas, he received a call from the museum director's office telling him that the museum had been contacted by the Board of Elections. The board was interested in acquiring a receptacle to be used for the tiebreaker.
"I knew the bowl had to be deep enough to conceal the winning ballots," Glass said, so he selected five potential bowls to show a two-person museum committee.
"They picked them up and handled them. It took them about an hour to decide."
He had a good feeling about the bowl that ultimately won: "The colors, I thought were politically neutral, in the sense that it was blue on the outside and red in the middle."
"I saw that one, and I liked it, and so that's the one that I selected," said Jan Hatchette, deputy director of communications for the museum and one member of the committee. "It was inspiring because of its color, its beauty. That one just stood out to me. It was just very elegant." She also thought it would photograph well on television.
Glass did not attend the tiebreaker. He watched CNN's coverage from home, which meant that instead of hearing a museum representative discuss the Bowl's symbolism — she read a quote of Glass's in which he explained that "Clay vessels, like boats, carry cargo — the cargo of ideas and opportunities" — he could only hear the CNN commentators blather on about the election.
Someone in Richmond swished the Amazon canisters around in the Bowl. Alcorn, the Board of Elections chairman, plucked out one canister and opened it.
The winner was Yancey, the Republican.
The moment of the Bowl was over, and now it was time to stop thinking about thoughtful Virginia artists whose work represents ideas and opportunities and to go back to obsessing over whatever else it is that we have to constantly worry about these days.
God, 2018 is only four days old and it feels like it's been 200 years.