NEW YORK - Despite the best efforts of judges, lawyers, political parties and even the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court to drive a stake through its heart, the Election That Wouldn't Die stubbornly staggered on yesterday, relentlessly rising from the near-dead and dragging everyone limply along behind it.
Many Americans have been expressing weariness with the whole affair - having long since given up trying to keep track of the status of absentee ballots, lawsuits or upper and lower court rulings in Florida's electoral farrago. But their election fatigue is, in most part, figurative.
For certain others, however, the exhaustion is all too literal and, where television cameras are involved, all too visible. Red-rimmed, baggy eyes, stress-creased brows and unfortunate slips of the tongue: Classic emblems of exhaustion worn by more than a few of the lawyers, judges, campaign aides and members of the media involved in an imbroglio stretching from Tallahassee, Fla., to Austin, Texas, and to Washington.
These people - many of whom haven't had a day off in more than a month - are plumb tuckered out, burnt out and, yes, bushed, in the purely nonpartisan sense of word.
The high price to be paid for too much work and too little sleep was vividly illustrated Monday by attorney Joseph Klock, who perpetrated perhaps the most spectacular string of faux pas anyone can remember a lawyer committing before the U.S. Supreme Court.
During Monday's arguments regarding the Florida vote count, Klock, who represents Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, continually flubbed the names of the justices. He called Justice John Paul Stevens "Justice Brennan," a reference to a jurist who died in 1997. Then he called Justice David Souter "Justice Breyer," referring to Justice Stephen Breyer, who was sitting nearby on the nation's highest bench.
"I'm Justice Souter. You've got to cut that out," Souter gently chided Klock.
"I will now give up," said the chagrined Klock, who still later took a good-natured jab from Justice Antonin Scalia. As a pre-emptive strike, when his turn came to address Klock, Scalia said, "Mr. Klock, I'm Scalia."
Chagrined but good humored, Klock later tried to shrug off his mistake. "I was so tired that I was happy I didn't call one of them `Justice Gore,'" he said.
Meanwhile, after presiding over televised court hearings involving the presidential contest, that stretched from dawn until well into the night, Judge Terry Lewis of Leon County Circuit Court in Tallahassee was so tired that he blurted out the courthouse fax number live on CNN.
Less than an hour later, the court's fax machine struggled with the deluge of crude political sketches and sharply worded memos dispatched from disgruntled Americans.
"You poor son-of-a-gun," wrote James S. Scott Jr., who sent the judge a note from an undisclosed location. "You've been put in a terrible position by an insane group of brazen judicial activists. Good luck making up rules on the fly. P.S.-Don't give out your fax number!"
Indeed, fatigue has become the fashion all over Tallahassee. What once was a small, sleepy capital city with the polite and neighborly manner of the South, a place closer in style to Georgia than Miami, has been left disheveled, disrupted and often disgusted by the fallout from Election 2000.
Reporters and lawyers and political workers have swamped the place. Restaurant owners and parking lots and hotels have been thrilled with the business, but its sheer size and velocity are overwhelming their ability to cope.
The dry cleaners in town are so busy they cannot handle the bulk of laundry from the local hotels; hotel guests often are told that laundry due at 6 p.m. may not arrive until 10 p.m., sometimes midnight, and finally, daybreak. The local bagel shop constantly battles with shortages caused by huge orders for television crews camped outside the Florida Supreme Court and other venues.
For some residents, the sheer increase in traffic and human bodies in motion has become a major irritation.
Cora McMullian, 24, of Tallahassee, Fla., said: "I'm ready for this to be over. I'm sick of seeing people everywhere. I'm sick of fighting traffic. I'm ready for us to be able to drive down the road again. ... No offense, but I'm ready for all of you to leave."