Here’s this week’s episode of The Port City Chronicle, the continuing serial novel of Gretchen, a 46-year-old criminal defense lawyer, and her family and friends, seeking love and happiness in Portland the hard way:
“And what’s your family’s ethnicity?” my mother asked Dale, trying to make conversation at our first family dinner with Grace for the summer. June and Dale had driven back with her from college and noticed our Norwegian neighbor still flying her flag from the old country, along with an American one, left over from Memorial Day.
“White,” he said. That kept things simple for him though not for anyone else.
My mother wasn’t following. “But are you Irish? Italian? German?”
“I’m just white,” he said. Apparently he’d never heard of the nation of immigrants. Anyway he wasn’t a big fan. Not only did he support a wall against Mexicans, he wanted a wall around Maine.
“I assume you voted for LePage?” Grace asked scornfully.
“Well, I don’t vote, but yes.”
Grace glared at him.
“Trump is the first person I’ve actually voted for,” he said. “I hate politicians.”
“Why limit it to politicians?” she said.
He shrugged. “Why shouldn’t we deport people who broke the law to get in here? And not to the country of their origin either. We can send them wherever we feel like if they won’t leave on their own. They could end up in the Sudan if they don’t watch out.”
He obviously didn’t have all the details down yet.
But my mother doesn’t think you should talk about politics at the dinner table with guests. She looked for a more suitable topic.
“And where did you grow up?”
I won’t say the name of the place in case anyone’s from there. My mother said it must have been nice growing up with all those woods around.
Dale made a face. “My mom hated it.”
“Where’d she want to live?”
“Anywhere but there, any house but that house.”
Among other things, she wanted to go out once in a while.
“There’s nothing there but a couple of meth and burger joints,” Grace said.
But Dale didn’t see the point in spending money going to fancy restaurants when you can have just as good a burger at home.
Still, he admitted there were some downsides to the place.
“Today is the one-year anniversary of finding my mom dead,” he said.
“Was she sick?”
“I don’t know. She didn’t have insurance so she never went to the doctor.”
Grace gave him a look that was supposed to say something about the Affordable Care Act but Dale didn’t catch on. He doesn’t actually know anything about Obamacare except that he hates it. At any rate, my mom spoke first. “What’d she die of?”
“Just being fat.”
That perked Angela right up. “We don’t use the word fat in this house,” she said quickly to the boys like hands over their ears.
Dale snorted. “See? That’s what I’m talking about.”
Meaning in America you should be able to call a fat cow a fat cow if you want, as Trump says. That’s in the Constitution.
But Grace was still trying to get at the facts.
“You don’t die from being overweight,” she said.
“I’m pretty sure she overdosed on potassium from eating too many bananas,” Dale said. “It can make your heart stop.”
It’s not that surprising he doesn’t believe in climate change.
“How’s your father doing?” my mom asked. “Did he make it okay through Christmas and Easter?”
Dale shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s not like my family makes me spend holidays with them. We’ve moved beyond that.”
“Does he like living up there?”
“He’s got his two pieces of America — his house and his Harley. He doesn’t need anything else.”
Dale’s own Harley was still there too but he hadn’t left it that far behind.
“So I guess you’ll be spending some time up there,” Grace said to June pointedly. “At least during hunting season.”
Dale didn’t get the dig. “We’re heading up there soon with my brother and his son. Assuming his son isn’t too gay to go hunting.”
Dale had come out of the closet with all his prejudices ever since Trump said it was okay.
We sat in stunned silence.
“What?” Dale said to June. “Don’t you think his son looks gay?”
“I don’t know,” she said uneasily.
“Fine, he looks a little Shakespearean.”
He looked around the table. “Anyway, before we head up there, June wants to go out to dinner, movies, stuff like that. Get it out of her system.”
But the only movie the boys would see was “Angry Birds.”
“Did you already see it last week?” June asked Dale.
He’d been on his own while she finished the semester.
“How could I go without a kid?” he said dismissively. “That’s like going to a playground without a kid.”
All he wanted to do was stay home and watch the basketball game on tv. But it got even worse for him.
“Actually we were going to see the ballet,” Grace said.
Now it was Dale’s turn to look stunned. “No way,” he said.
“It’s really not that bad,” Ethan said. “The trick to getting through it is to wear slip-off shoes so you can put your bare feet on the cold floor. That usually keeps you awake through most of it.”
But Dale objected on more fundamental grounds. He doesn’t want to get any culture.
“You should just move back home,” Grace said. She meant it as an insult, but Dale didn’t see it that way.
“Anyway, my dad’s leaving Maine. He’s going to move in with his sister outside Buffalo pretty soon. Which would be good because his place is so dusty it’s like he’s dead already.”
He misinterpreted our silence as criticism of leaving Maine.
“Did you know Buffalo is only 500 miles from 50 percent of Americans and 60 percent of Canadians? People don’t realize how well situated Buffalo is.”
“I know, people can get to Montreal and Toronto pretty easily from there,” my mom said.
But Dale shook his head. “No, it’s not like that. There’s nothing anyone in Buffalo needs in Canada.”
He gestured aggressively at the ground. “They come here.”
Under the circumstances it’s a frightening thought. God bless America.