Here’s the next set of episodes 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:
When You Feel So At Home in America You Say Whatever You Want
“You can cross,” Tim said, pointing to the lit-up stick figure in the “Walk” sign at 42nd and Park. “We have the white man.”
Angela took Marcus’ hand protectively. She was less worried about cars than about more insidious things. “Can you stop saying that? It sounds racist.”
We were in New York for the weekend visiting Adam.
“How is that being racist?” Tim said. “The man is white.”
“It’s racist to point out people’s race when it’s not relevant,” she said, speaking to Marcus, who’s overheard a lot of conversations about LePage and Trump.
We passed in front of Grand Central, where there were some military personnel in camouflage with guns and dogs standing around.
Marcus admired one of the dogs.
“You can’t pet him,” Tim said. “It’s a bomb-sniffing dog. Or drug sniffing. I don’t know what particular skill set he has.”
I thought Angela would freak out about possible terrorism but she seemed oblivious. She hadn’t even been upset when our flight was delayed for hours on the tarmac due to congestion at LaGuardia. She just sat quietly next to the boys while they played video games.
“Are you excited about going to New York?” a kid across the aisle asked Marcus, as they played Fifa separately together. He was heading home from a school camping trip.
Marcus hadn’t given it much thought.
“You’ll like it,” the kid said. “It’s nice.”
Enough said. Marcus continued playing. He didn’t look up until the flight landed, after hitting some turbulence as we approached the city. “Why do people clap when the plane lands?” he asked.
“Because we survived,” Tim said glumly.
But Angela wasn’t upset about the flight and she didn’t get flustered either when we got pushed along in a crowd of people crossing against the light on 42nd Street despite the traffic cops trying to stop them.
“You know what?” one of the cops called to the other, as we passed. “I hope some of these people get hit, I really do. They deserve it.”
Since that kind of mayhem and disorder usually bothers Angela, I tried to distract her by pointing out other things.
“Look at that beautiful tower opposite the Chrysler Building.”
Naturally Adam was less impressed since he owns New York now.
“The one that looks like a toaster? I always feel like putting an enormous piece of bread in it.”
He was proudly pointing out other sights. “You should be looking at the church over there. The one with all the rocks.”
“You mean the stone church?”
He ignored me. “I live here. This is all mine.”
“Actually it belongs to Trump,” I said. “They gave it to him through tax breaks.” Granted I was trying to make him feel bad since he dumped me for this town. “Although I have to admit those office buildings over there are so you.”
What I wondered was when he was coming home.
“This is where I’m going to be when I die,” he said. “Or at least, this is where my stuff is going to be when I die.”
Angela usually objects to people talking about death around the kids, but she still didn’t say anything.
We got on the subway heading toward Adam’s apartment. It was boiling hot and the AC was broken in our train car.
“Would you rather switch to one with air?” he asked.
I thought Angela would want to move, but she had no opinion.
Instead Tim got to decide. “No, I’d much rather have one with less people.” Apparently he wasn’t into the spirit of New York quite as much as Adam. But you could see how much space was worth in the city because plenty of other people had made the same decision.
At any rate, considering how small Adam’s apartment was, he could barely claim to be living in New York. And he didn’t seem to know his neighbors very well either.
“Been riding your bike much?” he asked a guy locking a battered bike up in front of his building.
“No,” he said. “I had a bike accident, I beat the guy up for smashing into me, and I got locked up for a week. And you?”
You’d think Angela would have objected to the bad example for the boys, who’d certainly woken up from their video games. But she was still unconcerned even when Adam was inspired to talk tough too.
“I got pulled over myself a couple nights ago, so drunk I could smell myself. Since it was three in the morning they let me ride my bike home.”
Then Ethan griped about not being able to bike anymore since he and Angela always have to drive the boys around for travel team soccer on weekends. “I wanted to opt out of travel team but the coach makes it like you have no choice if you want your kids to stay out of jail – it’s either travel team or drugs and prison.”
Angela didn’t even interrupt that conversation.
Finally they moved on to local New York politics.
“Hang in there,” Adam said, as his neighbor took off. “At least we’re not Sheldon Silver. He got 12 years.”
“Yeah, there are times when I’m really grateful I didn’t steal $4 million and this is definitely one of them.”
We dropped our bags off at Adam’s and went to the Natural History Museum, the sole reason Angela had been willing to bring the boys for the weekend. The big attraction was the Titanosaur that had arrived recently from Argentina.
Tim was critical of it. “What about the Argentinians?” he said. “I guess they’re so hard up New York was able to buy it off them?”
But Adam wasn’t going to see his city maligned. “The Argentinians don’t care about the Titanosaur. All they care about is money. You’ve seen the pictures -- they’re always waiting in line to get their money from some bank.”
At that comment, Angela got a little annoyed for the first time all day. “That’s an interesting interpretation of economic crisis.”
But she really got angry when we went back to Adam’s apartment for the night and ran into his super. Seeing Adam with visitors, his super handed him a pile of subway fare cards, laundry cards, and prepaid debit cards.
“I do this for people I like,” he said.
When we were behind the door of his apartment, Adam threw them on the table. “He runs this building like a third-world country. You know how Russians are, they’re all crooks.”
“How can you say that in front of the boys?” Angela said, furious. “You don’t even know where he got those cards.”
Adam stuck out his chin. “I don’t have to be PC in my own home.”
It wasn’t about being PC, Angela said, it was about adjusting his attitude. “You want to be like LePage and Trump? They’re so at home in America they say whatever they feel like saying whenever they feel like it.”
That got through to Adam. For the first time all day he didn’t have anything to say. So Angela had the last word.
“Just don’t be mean about other people. How will we ever get world peace if we can’t even get American peace?”
When You Don’t Understand How Anything Works
“I kind of want to learn how to weave,” Grace said. She and her friends were home to study for midterms since it’s so much easier to do that in a place where nothing ever happens.
“Oh really?” Tim said. “I used to want to do that. Now I don’t have any interest.”
But, as we’ve come to realize, it isn’t about him and his kind. It’s about Grace and her kind, and whether they go to the polls on November 8th.
So while Grace and her friends were studying for midterms, I was studying them right back, trying to find out the answer. Would they vote on Election Day, and if so, would they support Clinton or a third party? It wouldn’t matter so much if they voted in Maine with ranked-choice voting, but no other state has that.
At any rate, weaving seemed like a bad sign since it hasn’t come up even once from either of the major candidates. Not even the vice presidential candidates have mentioned weaving, or even yoga.
I tried a different topic. “Did you find someone to sublet your apartment while you’re away?” That touched on real estate, money, and opportunism, much bigger topics in the election.
“Yes, we found the perfect people,” Grace said. “This couple specifically looking for a basement apartment to make DIY porn. So they didn’t care that it’s dark and has roaches.”
“Your landlord didn’t have a problem with that?”
“At first he was questioning why their income suddenly spiked from $1,000 to $20,000 a month but they explained.”
Apparently no one was judging. It wasn’t clear how that cut in terms of the election. Did it favor Clinton since the Republicans are for family values? But no one could have fewer values than Trump, as we have seen.
Anyway, it seemed Grace had good reason to focus on money.
“I only have $1 in my bank account and $8 total on me, and I don’t get paid until Friday.”
I hadn’t realized she was so impoverished. That was a bad sign for Hillary, who doesn’t have strong support among poor whites.
“I did have a $20 bill but I had to deposit it due to having minus $19 in my account. The ATM says you can put in stacks of 50 bills at a time to make you feel bad if you only have one bill to deposit. At least I didn’t have to worry about overloading it.”
So I figured she might be leaning toward the Green Party, considering its anti-bank position.
“What do you plan to do when you graduate?” Tim asked, not that he has any plans yet, twenty-five years after that date.
Grace’s friend Ali answered. “Good question, I’ve been wondering about that. Should I get a job or an internship?”
“The difference is one pays money, the other doesn’t. Do you want to get paid money?”
Ali thought a moment. “Well, what do you think about lawyer versus school teacher?”
“What about sanitation worker versus astronaut? Or spy versus firefighter?”
“But isn’t spying bad?” Ali asked.
“I don’t know. Good, bad or indifferent.”
What Tim wanted to talk about were his own choices.
“As for me, which is a far more relevant subject,” he said, about to launch into his post-college history. But Ethan cut him off. “You always do that, it drives me crazy.”
“What about you, you’re always hostile and drunk,” Tim said. “Now how do you like having your personality annihilated?”
“I like it, because then it’s a clean slate and I get to start over.”
You could see why kids might feel disenfranchised.
“Anyway, why didn’t you become an astronaut or a spy yourself?” Ethan asked Tim.
“I couldn’t because I don’t understand how anything works.”
That was the real problem with trying to participate. But there were also all the distractions, mostly having to do with sex and romance.
Ali was particularly distracted, having just started dating an older guy who lived next door. I worried it would overtake the election as a priority.
“What does he do?” Angela asked.
“I’m not sure,” Ali said. “Something at the hospital. Plus he goes to school. He’s studying the human body.”
That got Angela interested. “He must be a doctor.”
Ali hadn’t considered that possibility.
“Where does he go to medical school?”
“I’m not sure. Somewhere near the hospital, I guess, since he’s always there.”
“What’s his last name?”
“Good question. I’ve never used it.”
Meanwhile June was planning to move to Buffalo with Dale after graduation. He wanted to get married and have a kid. She definitely was not making the election a priority.
“Having a kid is such a break,” Grace said. “You don’t have to think about what you’re going to do with yourself for the next 22 years.”
It was an oversimplification but I could see her point based on my own experience. For one thing a lot of those choices they were talking about became easier by disappearing.
“It’s a bad decision to move to Buffalo,” Tim said.
That got Grace on June’s side.
“Have you never made a bad decision for love?”
“No, I’ve always been extraordinarily rational in my decision-making.”
“Actually you’ve always made the wrong decision,” Ethan said.
But Tim was unconcerned. “That way you don’t have to try to separate the good from the bad.”
What I really wanted to know was what was going on with Grace.
“Are you dating anyone?” I asked her.
“Why, because you want a grandchild?”
So I went on the defensive back.
“You haven’t even been reading the letters I sent you.”
“How do you know?”
“Because three of them fell out of your backpack unopened.”
“Are you going to stop sending me letters?”
“I’ll never send you another letter in my life. Not only that, but I’m not going to take care of my grandchild.”
She knew I was kidding but was still a little worried.
“Do you wish I were more or less one way or another?”
She was partly talking about her plans after college, partly about her friends and partly about her focus on weaving instead of the election.
“Of course not,” I said. “I made you what you are and I’m proud of it.”
But she sensed a lack of conviction. “Tell you what,” she said. “I’ll make it up to you. I’ll vote for Hillary.”
It did the trick. “Fine,” I said. “It’s a deal. Then I’ll take care of my grandchild.”