Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What We Talk About When We Talk About Trump

(With Apologies to Raymond Carver)

“I’ll tell you what we should do…” Phil said.  “We should start up a third party and call it the goddam “Jesus Cowboy NASCAR” party…  Jesus.  Cowboy.  NASCAR.”

There were four of us sitting around the table drinking beer and talking about politics. 

“And that’s not just the name of the party,” Phil went on,  “I mean that’s the whole fucking platform.  Our candidates believe in Jesus, they like Cowboys and they’re into NASCAR.  There.  We’d win every election in this country from now until Doomsday.”

Everybody laughed except Lynn, who’d probably heard it before.  Lynn was Phil’s second wife.  I’d never met the first one. I pictured myself in a voting booth, looking down at the candidates names with the words “Republican”, “Democrat” and “Jesus Cowboy NASCAR” after them. There was no question in my mind about who would win.  

The table went quiet for a second.  There was sadness in the way the light was coming through the curtains and in the way the word “Doomsday” kept hovering in the room. 

“So it pisses me off when I hear journalists start talking about a national divide.  Where the fuck were they when Tinyhands McPussygrabber was running?  The asshole was a lying fascist scumbag from the start!

My wife, Therese, put her hand on my shoulder.  She’d been up north, taking care of her mother for the past two weeks. I was glad to have her back.  “Oh come on,” Lynn said, “You don’t know that.” 

“Of course I know that.  We all knew that! Right?”  Phil looked at Therese and me and we nodded.  The asshole been a lying fascist scumbag from the start.  And we’d all known it.

“Well I didn’t know that.” Lynn said.

“He called illegal immigrants murderers and rapists. That was practically the first thing he did.” Therese said.  Usually I called her Terri.

“Yeah.” Phil said, “As if they were all just monsters and that was it. No economic factors, nobody trying to get ahead, make something of themselves or trying to help their families. It was like the only reason people came here was because the United States was some kind of irresistible Shangri-fucking-La for raping and murdering people.”

Phil was a cardiologist, so he could say things like that.  He was an alright guy.  Kind of a drinker.

“It wouldn’t be so bad,” Terri said, “if his mental problems had’t been so obvious from the start.”  I was thinking about the bottle of bourbon I had in the cabinet, whether or not to bring it out.  I thought it was about half full.

“And if evangelical Christians weren’t such utterly hypocritical idiots…”  Phil said.  Lynn rolled her eyes and put her hand on top of his on the table.

Terri started talking about tribalism and I decided to get the bourbon while I still could.  “Does anyone want glasses?”  I asked.

I put the bottle on the table.  “’Nother Beer?”

I went to the refrigerator and took out four beers.  That was it: now we were out of beer.

“Just exactly when did they decide that a draft-dodging pussygrabbing New York real-estate playboy wanna-be was the voice of rural working-class Christian America?” Phil asked.

“Around the time he started saying Obama was from Kenya.” Terri said.

Phil said “The guy spends his entire life - builds a whole brand around nothing except celebrating bullshit luxury items. He never gave two duck farts about working people, the Bible, or even the whole goddam Republican Party. And now they think he’s practically Jesus Fucking Christ. Can anybody please explain this to me?” 

Terri opened her beer, put it down, giggled a bit and then took a swig from the bourbon.  Outside one of the dogs began to bark and I watched the curtains glow for a moment as the sun came out from between the clouds. I wondered if there was any gin left.

Lynn said something about people she knew back in Indiana and how crazy in love with Trump they’d all been. “Even if it turns out he’s working for Russia, they won’t care… Hating Mexicans and Muslims. That’s what they care about. Banning transgender people from the military - they love that shit.”  Phil said there was no way he’d pull anyone out of the military because he was going to need them for the wars he was going to start right after he fired Mueller.  

Lynn asked if Phil thought he’d start a war with North Korea and Phil said maybe but figured it was more likely Iran or even back in Iraq. When Phil said “Iraq” Terri reached under the table and squeezed my hand. That’s where her brother had been for so many years. I think it was three or four tours of duty, maybe even more. Then he came back and killed himself.

“The trouble with Iraq…” Phil started saying and then Terri cut him off.  “I’ll tell you the trouble with Iraq…” she said.  “The trouble with Iraq is we told a bunch of kids they were killers when they weren’t really killers.  They were high-school football players and videogame champions.  And we sent them over there and told them it was just like football or a videogame but it wasn’t:  It was killing people.  And people trying to kill them.”

Phil and Lynn were holding their beers, elbows up on the table.  I don’t think they knew about Terri’s brother.  

Lynn said she knew about war and Terri said “Do you?” and Lynn said she did.  Phil put down his beer and picked up the bourbon.

“My husband was in the first Gulf War.” Lynn said.  “My first husband, Tom. When I was in Raleigh.”  Phil put down the bourbon so I picked it up, drank some and passed it to Terri.  I was pretty sure we still had some gin, but wasn’t sure about the grapefruit juice.  For mixer.

“He was a fireman… well, a volunteer fireman. And when he went over there, he was supposed to be an ambulance driver.  He’d taken some tests or something.  Once the war started though, it turned out they didn’t really need any ambulance drivers.  Nobody got hurt in that war.  Not on our side anyway.”

“So what did he do?”

“He ended up on a truck clearing out bunkers – going through all the Iraqi positions after it was all over and helping clear away the bodies.  Put them all in body bags and loaded them on the truck.  He said there were hundreds of them… thousands.”

“You’d think that’d be their job… the Iraqis I mean.” Terri said.

“Well that was the thing – all those dead guys, they were the Iraqis.”

“Oh yeah.”

“He said there were Australians too, helping.  But they had their own truck.”

Terri stood up and braced herself for a second with her hands on the table.  She walked into the kitchen and came back with the gin.  “I think we still have some grapefruit juice.” I said.  “In the cupboard.”

“Anyway, he said the bunkers were the worst.  The closed places.  When the bombs hit they didn’t blow everything up.  Sometimes they did, but not usually.  He said the bombs created a shock wave - I think he called it ‘overpressure’ -  that went through all the buildings and the bunkers. He said most of the people died from that.” Terri put the gin bottle down next to the bourbon and went back for the grapefruit juice.  The room was getting dark but I didn’t feel like turning on the lights yet.  

Phil said that didn’t sound so bad: “I’d rather be picking up that – whole bodies - than a bunch of little pieces.”

“He said he had to do that too.” Lynn said.  “And, you know, try to figure out what went where. He said it was bad but not nearly so bad as the other ones.”

“How come?”

“He said the concussion victims didn’t die right away.  Sometimes they did, but most of the time they didn’t.”

Terri stood in the middle of the kitchen listening.

“He said what normally happened was that their sinuses burst.  Their sinuses and eardrums.  They’d still be alive for a while, but with all their brain fluid coming out of their ears and noses.”

Terri came back to the table with the grapefruit juice and sat down.  

“And so that’s how they’d die.  You know… crawling around.  He said he hadn’t expected that…”

The light through the curtains was fading fast.  Nobody moved or said anything.

“He thought when people got bombed they just, you know, got blown into pieces and died.  But they don’t.  They stay alive, a lot of them… They can stay alive for a long time.”   

The four of us sat there for a while in the dark, just breathing.  I was pretty sure we were all out of ice, but one of us was still going to have to get up for glasses.  Probably me.

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