Book club was held at my house in October, just a couple of days after... may I call it Pussygate? No? OK then. A few days after... The Video was released and although I try my utmost to keep both religion and politics away from my baby carrots and ranch dip it was a doomed endeavor. There was no way the subject wasn't going to come up.
[In much the same vein I sat down here and thought I could write about something other than the election. Ha.]
So I offered the water and poured the wine and commended my soul to the hostessing gods. Then I listened sympathetically as the woman to my right described the shock she experienced when she learned that her neighbor was a Trump supporter.
I said, "Oh!" and "Fancy that!" and "Tsk tsk" at the appropriate moments until it dawned on me that the woman to my left was beginning to shimmy like a kettle just as it goes on the boil.
I turned slowly in her direction and cautiously asked, "Are you... ?"
"I cannot have THAT MAN in the White House!" she exploded.
Relieved at dodging an awkward social bullet - you know, like when you are literally between two guests who are on opposites ends of a particularly visceral conflict - I said "Oh, well, you know... ."
But she continued, "I just cannot have that man in the White House again! Clinton! No way! I don't like Trump but Clinton? Never!"
[Semi digression: I got an email from Edward's teacher a couple of weeks ago. It had gone out to all of the parents and it explained that a number of third graders had staged what sounded like a mutiny in the lunchroom. It went on to say that steps had been taken, recess had been curtailed and order was restored; but they had wanted to let us know, presumably so that they weren't deluged with angry emails demanding to know why young Rutager had been denied his daily airing.
When Caroline and Edward got into the car that afternoon I said, "So. What was the deal at lunch today? It sounds like there was a kerfluffle."
Caroline looked vague and said, "Lunch? Oh. Right. We had to stand there for a really long time and missed part of recess. I think we were waiting for something?"
Edward said, "Well, I can tell you the whole story because me and my gang were at the very center of the whole affair."
I thought "Of course you were" and listened as Edward outlined a tale of civil disobedience involving a group of boys who moved from an approved table to a non-approved table, scattered crumbs and related detritus, and then - the real crux of the matter - were disrespectful to the lunchroom monitor. The email had reported that the phrase "You're not my teacher" was uttered which - honestly - is just asking for it. I nodded approval as Edward detailed having to afterward clean up the floor and the table, miss recess and apologize to the adults involved.
I said, "Jeez, Edward, what were you thinking? And what are the cardinal rules of eating in public?"
"What. Are. The. Rules?"
"Always say thank you?" offered Caroline.
"One: never make a sound that can be heard beyond your own table. Two: keep your bottom in your seat at all times except when going to the bathroom, and when you do that walk very slowly and keep an eye out for waitresses carrying trays. Three: never leave a mess for someone else to clean up.
We've been over this about a billion times. I know it's the cafeteria and not a restaurant but the idea is exactly the same. Sit at the correct table, clean up after yourself and if I ever again hear that you are involved in being rude to an adult who - incidentally - is just there to help you, there will be much worse consequences than missing recess. OK?"
"OK," Edward said.
But I was curious about the mutineers. Edward is capable of steering a group into a secluded corner and making an unholy mess but he would never in a million years tell someone they aren't his teacher; partly, I hope, because he is not inherently disrespectful but also because his personal preservation instincts are excellent. I assume by the time the teachers arrived Edward was looking around him in dazed confusion, muttering, "Why... how did we get here? And who made this terrible mess? Oh, well, I suppose we shall never know but I for one will help by picking up this crust."
So I asked, "By the way, who was the one talking back to the grown-ups?"
"Ah," Edward said. "Well," he continued.
He stroked his bottom lip and stared meditatively at the ceiling of the car.
"So C," Edward has a friend C and a very choice spirit he is, too. "So C... he has a lot of emotions, a lot of very strong emotions and sometimes he is just unable to, you know, contain them. These emotions just come pouring out. I guess, in the moment, with all of these very strong emotions, I suppose, I don't remember exactly, but, he might have blurted something out. I'm sure he was sorry."
I'm equally sure he was not but that is neither here nor there. Strong emotions. OK.
Back to book club.]
So there I am in my living room and I am staring at this woman, this friend of mine, this person I like and I want to say, "You must be out of your GODDAMNED MIND" (with Britain and France on the verge of war... I have been living out this post-election period with Hamilton running as a constant mental soundtrack - you don't have the votes; you don't have the votes)
But I didn't. I did not say that only a racist, only a xenophobe, only a misogynist, only a complete and utter lunatic would vote for Trump. Because she was a guest in my house. Because I do not believe that these things are true about her. Because clearly this cannot be true. Could FIFTY MILLION people in this country be that fundamentally flawed? I do not want to believe that. I cannot believe that.
In the end my friend and I agreed to disagree. If she had said, "I'm voting for Trump because I think all Muslims are terrorists" or "because I never want to see another Hispanic person as long as I live" or "because I think women like it when you treat them like six-packs" that would have been it for me. Guest or no guest. But she had her reasons. I had my reasons. You had your reasons?
Moving from flat despair to optimism is a work in progress but I am trying. Like Edward, I'm putting things down to strong emotions. There are a lot of strong emotions out there. I'm trying to hope for the best.
And now I promise I will never bring up politics again.
[Patrick is in high school. He's on the school paper, he joined the robotics team, he painted one wall in his bedroom orange over the weekend. It's a nice orange. Caroline has graduated two karate belt levels in two months. Over dinner last night Caroline observed to Patrick, "It must be odd to be taller than Mom" and I said, "Well, I guess you'll find out one day." I said it to be kind - do you know how short Caroline is? very short - but then it occurred to me that Caroline really might be taller than me. In fact, she probably will. And at the rate she's going she'll be a black belt by 10. I made a mental note to be especially patient with her when she's a teen.
And Edward? Edward apparently has a gang. A gang! He's so quaint.]
PS How are you?