Heidi Wendel

Heidi Wendel

You're Not Friends, You Just Tolerate Each Other

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:

“How’s Grace? She having a good summer?” our neighbor Alex asked, seeing me out of the corner of his eye on the porch while he was leaning against his car reading the news on his phone. “And how’s Paul?”

“Paul’s dead,” I said. I’d already given him the longer version a few weeks ago in answer to the same question. But old habits die hard, same as Paul, my ex-husband, who had a sudden heart attack in the middle of the night out of nowhere. Alex had been asking me about Paul reflexively every time he saw me since Paul and I split up 15 years ago and Paul moved away and it wasn’t easy for him to stop.

He looked up. “Oh, right.” After observing a moment of silence, he segued to another topic.

“So who do you think is next? Spicey and the Mooch are out. Who’s the next casualty? McMaster? Sessions? Mueller? Bannon?”

This is politics lite. It’s the safest topic of conversation in our crowd these days, replacing even the weather.

But sometimes real life intrudes. I nodded agreement while running off to the cemetery for Paul’s memorial.

It did not begin well, life being so complicated.

Since many of Paul’s friends during our marriage were part of couples that drifted away after the divorce, I barely recognized anybody when I arrived with the urn. Eventually I spotted two of his friends from college, a couple I’d last seen when Paul and I visited them decades ago in our early twenties. We shook hands and went through the preliminaries. Fortunately Grace came up while I was trying to find something appropriate to talk about under the circumstances.

“I met these guys before you were even born,” I said to her, knowing she liked to hear about the life Paul and I led prior to her existence. “I was twenty and Mike and Ellen had just got back from Guatemala with a stomach bug when we went to visit them. Daddy and I picked it up and spent the entire three days in their bathroom.”

I smiled wistfully at Mike and Ellen, thinking it was a nice way to bring Paul into the conversation without being maudlin. “Thank god you guys were getting over it as we arrived.”

Ellen didn’t smile back. “We didn’t give you the stomach flu. You must have gotten it somewhere else.”

“Well, it was 26 years ago now,” I said.

I scrambled around for something that might go over better. “I remember how beautiful your house was. Your father built it, right?”

That didn’t get me very far either.

“We don’t have that house anymore. My father died.”

I observed a moment of silence myself and tried again, copying my neighbor Alex.

“So who do you think will be next to go  –” I started to say in desperation.

Ellen broke in. “I’m not sure who it will be, but more of us are likely going to die pretty soon, just based on statistics, not even anything personal.”

It was a sobering thought that felt more personal than she apparently intended.

But at that point the memorial started and our conversation was interrupted. The first speaker was one of Paul’s most recent friends, a guy I’d never met before and whom Grace knew only slightly.

He opened a thick binder and began reading.

“T.S. Elliot, Hemingway, Ovid, Homer, Whitman,” he said, in a sing-song voice. “These are the people that motivated Paul. Two of my kids were classics majors so we had a lot of that stuff in the house. We didn’t have any Greek, as Paul pointed out, a big disappointment to him.”

He read random quotes from various authors while we stood in the hot sun sweating. Nobody else knew how they related to Paul.

“Was he one of Daddy’s close friends?” I asked Grace.

She shook her head. “You couldn’t say they were exactly friends. It’s more like neither resisted the other.”

But he was better than the next speaker, a guy from Paul’s gym. “What was amazing about Paul,” he said, “is how he was able to attract twenty-something’s despite being twice their age and having no money. When we went to a bar, he could always get the girls in their twenties to hang out with him. I have no idea what happened afterwards. I asked him how he did it, and he said, ‘It’s just my vibe. You don’t have any vibe, I have vibe.’ That was Paul, he had a lot of vibe.”  

By this time Grace had teared up too, though there could have been multiple reasons for it.

Perhaps to clear the air, Paul’s uncle insisted we all sing “The Folk Song Army.”

He raised his hand to start but nobody sang.

“Don’t people know this song?” he asked. He was looking at Mike and Ellen, who were standing immediately next to him.

Ellen shook her head. “I don’t know it and I can’t sing.”

Paul’s uncle handed her a piece of music sheet paper. “Just take this paper and try.”

“I don’t even have my glasses,” she said. “I can’t see the writing.”

Paul’s uncle started singing on his own and a couple of other people tried to join in, including Grace, who also didn’t know the song. It certainly sounded like a dirge with no melody and everybody getting the words wrong.

Then one of Paul’s friends from Catholic school insisted we say the Lord’s Prayer. But of respect for Paul, Grace wouldn’t say it since Paul was an atheist. She started tearing up even more.

There were more speeches and everyone seemed to know a different Paul, all of them completely unfamiliar to everyone else. A few people left, claiming they needed to get out of the sun. That made Grace cry even harder. The memorial was falling apart.

There was only one thing to do. I launched into a speech about our troubled times, about Trump, about the Republicans, and how angry Paul was about all of it. Maybe Trump is what broke his heart.

I tried to stay away from the bigger topics and stick to the politics lite version, same as almost everyone else does these days except those deep into the issues.

It wasn’t the most orthodox end to a memorial but it got us all back on common ground and in our comfort zones. So long as you didn’t go too far, it was a lot easier to discuss politics than to deal with the complexities of a human soul.

Even Grace stopped crying and managed to say good-bye to people as they left the cemetery. On our way out, her closest friend, trying to help, took me aside for a moment.

“Shouldn’t we put that stuff somewhere?” she asked, pointing to the urn and the tiny coffin sitting in front of Paul’s family’s gravestone.

I shook my head. “No, it’s okay. The staff takes care of that. We don’t actually have to bury him ourselves. They put the ashes in that other thing.” I gestured to the coffin, not quite able to say the word.

“In the tiny coffin?” she said. “It’s so cute.”

That’s real life. It’s complicated – you laugh, you cry. We went to a restaurant and ate lunch.


When the Grass is Always Greener at Point B than Point A

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:

“Let’s go to Katahdin Woods and Waters for our vacation this summer,” I said. “And let’s not just run in and out, let’s go for a week or two.” I was thinking about the fact that Katahdin, our newest national monument, is on the chopping block due to LePage and Trump having a knee-jerk hatred of anything green.

Meanwhile Adam was thinking about a different chopping block.

“As it comes closer you’re going to want to shorten it,” he said, reaching over from the porch steps to grab another beer from the cooler. “You always do that. You have a lot of trouble going from Point A to Point B.”

“You want to know why?” I said. “Because Point A is so great.”

But it was true I always got nervous taking time off for vacations.

“Why not go all the way up to Caribou?” Tim said. “Then we can avoid any possibility of a heat wave.” He always pushes northern Maine after living there for a year when his first ex-wife was doing a rural medical residency. “If you go late enough in August it might even be freezing at night. Of course, it’s probably gotten warmer since I left in 1998, but I check the temperature there every day and it’s still a lot cooler than here.”

Not that it’s a good sign when you constantly check the temperature in a place you haven’t lived in for twenty years. On the other hand, maybe it’s equally bad if you never check the temperature anywhere but home.

I’ve never known quite why I have trouble taking vacations. Ironically, a lot of it probably has to do with overwork.

Unfortunately, Grace knows me too well. “You can get away from work for a couple of weeks. If you think about it, that should be a lot less scary to you than not getting away from work for a couple of weeks. Picture your tombstone: Just a lawyer. Never anything else.”

That certainly was a sobering thought, although I’m not sure the messaging was the problem. But being just a lawyer, I had to defend myself. “What about you? You told me last week you’re afraid of missing work too.”

“Because I’m literally the only person at the art studio. If I’m not there, the only other person is the owner, who’s old and doesn’t live here. Any time I’m away I have to put her down on the out of office as the emergency contact. Not that I can really picture what would be an art emergency.”

I didn’t see how that was a more legitimate reason than mine for worrying about being away from work. But it turned out Tim was just as worried as we were, without having any reason at all.

He was nervously organizing the beer bottles in the cooler.

“What are you doing?” Ethan asked him.

Tim looked up. “What are you doing?”

When Ethan didn’t answer, he kept talking. “I’m rearranging the bottles so they’re in even rows.”

“By the way, that does not constitute helping with the housework,” Angela said. Apparently Tim was supposed to have done something he didn’t do, other than going on vacation.

At any rate, I did plan to go on vacation, I would just have to relax about it. I planned to do that after I finished frantically getting work done prior to the vacation. In other words, first go in one direction, then seamlessly move perpendicularly in an opposing direction.

Plunging into that first step, I went back to writing my brief, trying to ignore the summer evening – birds chirping, children laughing, sun dappling the leaves, gentle breezes wafting across the porch, not to mention beer chilling in the cooler.

Unfortunately, the summer evening didn’t ignore me.

“Aren’t you done with your paperwork yet?” Ethan asked. That’s how he refers to my brief writing.

I wasn’t particularly interested in his opinion, but I could see Grace agreed with him that I was wrecking the mood. There’s no question it takes something away from the fun when someone is working while others are trying to relax. I was like a rain cloud sitting in front of the sun.

“Don’t worry,” I said to her. “If you’re going on vacation, I’m going on vacation. And for as long as you’re willing to go.”

Because how many vacations do I even have left with Grace? This is the kind of thing you think about when you’re relaxing on the porch on a summer evening.

But I wasn’t the only one relaxing.

“Why don’t you say the same thing to me?” Adam asked.

I didn’t answer since I was obviously trying to work.

“Why do you not love me anymore?” he asked, making it a little histrionic to take the edge off.

“Let me count the ways,” I said.

That bugged Grace, who doesn’t like me to get too romantic while she’s around.

“Why don’t we talk about something else?” she said. “Or better yet, how about we read something -- and not the newspaper?”

Angela looked skeptical. “We have to make dinner soon.”

“What are we going to read before dinner?” Ethan asked. “War and Peace?”

“Did you ever even read it?” Grace asked, annoyed.

“No, I couldn’t finish it.”

“How much of it did you read?”

“Maybe two paragraphs.”

So it seemed unlikely we’d have a reading of any kind before dinner. Seeing Grace’s frustration, I put aside my work and suggested we take a walk along the water. Perhaps nature could substitute for art in Grace’s mind. For me, of course, it meant instantly abandoning my plan to get a lot of work done so I could relax about vacation.

But Grace wasn’t any more satisfied with strolling in the park than she was sitting around drinking beer on the porch doing nothing. Unlike some of the rest of us, who weren’t looking for anything better than the time to write a brief or arrange beer bottles in rows in the cooler, at her stage in life she wanted a little more drama.

Fortunately, in the nick of time I remembered my suggestion about Katahdin Woods and Waters. We would go there and not just for a weekend, but for a couple of weeks, hiking and canoeing, and sleeping out under the stars. It was just what Grace was looking for and, like summer vacations with Grace, we might not have much longer to do it, if LePage got his way.

The trick was trying to get this crowd out the door and off the porch. It turned out the reason Tim was reluctant to go was he hated leaving the cats, as I discovered after running in to take a call from a client.

“Were the cats in the bedroom while you were on your call?” he asked when I returned to the porch.

“Sort of,” I said. “They came in and out, that’s why I had to keep opening and closing the door, as you probably heard. When they were in they wanted to go out, when they were out they wanted to come in.

Tim nodded. “It’s the same with me. I’m just like them except I can open my own cans.”

I had to admit I felt the same way. But with Katahdin it was about more than going from Point A to Point B. It was about making a point. The grass was a lot greener at Point B than at Point A.

When You Try to Do a Puzzle But There’s No Picture on the Box

“What can I get you for your birthday?” I asked Grace, knowing full well I can’t give her the things she really wants these days.

“You don’t need to get me anything,” she said. “We’re going to spend the day together, go for a walk, and have a nice dinner.”

“But what am I going to give you in a box?” I asked.

Once upon a time, it was that easy, or at least that’s how I choose to remember those days. Maybe it’s a fairy tale.

At any rate, these days all Grace wants for her birthday is more Democrats in Congress. She’d spent weeks before the Montana election trying to get her wish by calling strangers through Swing Left, begging them to vote for Quist, the progressive, peaceful, down-home candidate, instead of the hostile, right-wing billionaire, Gianforte. But not enough people in Montana cared whether Grace got what she wanted for her birthday. They wished for something different, it was hard to know exactly what.

Then the same thing happened with the special election in Georgia when Jon Ossoff wasn’t elected.

I tried to distract Grace as best I could with blueberry pancakes for breakfast. But she wasn’t in the mood for anything festive under the circumstances. Instead, she just took half my bagel.

“You can have the whole bagel if you want,” I said. “Along with any of my organs.” Except I didn’t mention that last part for obvious reasons.  

“How are those bagels anyway?” I asked instead, looking at the date on the bag. “Still edible?”

She was too distracted to answer while scanning FiveThirtyEight for the latest polls on the Virginia gubernatorial election in November. Tim had to fill in for her.

“They’re old,” he said. “But not bad if they’re toasted. They eat themselves.”

Best we could tell, he wasn’t as badly affected by the political calamity of our time. Food still interested him, among other things.

“I had a dream last night I was with a whole bunch of people in a crowd and everybody really liked me,” he said, musing over his coffee.

“How could you tell?” I asked.

“They said they liked me.”  

That mindset explained why he might be more insulated from politics than Grace. But at least he’d remembered to get her something for her birthday, even if it was just a tiny cactus.

“You don’t have to keep it if you don’t want to,” he said. “If you don’t feel like taking care of it.”

Grace shrugged. “I think I’m responsible enough now to have a cactus.”

“That’s lucky for my grandchildren,” I muttered. Not that Grace would consider bringing a child into Trump’s America.

She took my phone to photograph the cactus.

“Why do you have so many videos of flowers on your phone?” she asked, peering at my photo gallery. I’m always in trouble now for wasting time that could be spent fighting the system.

I looked over her shoulder at my phone.

“They weren’t supposed to be videos.”

Fortunately, she hadn’t noticed the ballots interspersed amongst the flowers. Ballet is also marked down as too frivolous an activity these days.

Under the circumstances she was only willing to see one ballet in the whole season – Swan Lake – since she’d seen it every year for most of her life. But this year even Swan Lake upset her. After the opening scene, when the evil sorcerer von Rothbart seizes Odette and turns her into a swan, Grace elbowed me.

“I finally realize what’s really going on here,” she whispered, as Odette struggled in von Rothbart’s grasp. “Why does it say he captures her and ‘transforms’ her into a swan? He’s obviously raping her.”

She hadn’t seen it that way before in all those more innocent years before Trump. It was a further sign of the wounded and fragile state she’d been in since he’d taken office with his henchmen and started destroying everything good and decent.

“You want them to say in the program that Odette is raped?”

I peered over quickly at the family sitting near us with two little girls, to make sure they couldn’t hear. The girls, sitting there in tutus, were too young to understand that in the last six months the ugly underside of the world has suddenly been revealed. Though in many ways, Grace is just as vulnerable since she understands more of what is going on.

All I could do to help was offer my paltry services against the forces of evil. Meaning, on that particular day, volunteering with Maine Audubon to pick swallow-wort out of Back Cove. This was something important to Grace.

Tim walked over with us. “How long are you guys going to be weed picking?” he asked. He was supposed to get things ready for dinner.

“It’s not weed picking,” Grace said. “We’re removing invasives.”

Tim smirked at her.

“Then let us go up these weed-infested steps,” he said, as we walked into the park. “Or perhaps I should say step-infested weeds. Unless they’re invasives, in which case perhaps we should say weed-invaded steps. And speaking of Genghis Khan, and the invasion of the steppes, I’m going to attack somebody if these mosquitos don’t stop biting me.”

He was frantically swatting at insects right and left as we walked along the water.

I wasn’t too thrilled about spending my day standing around in the humidity with a bunch of strangers getting eaten alive while tearing out weeds either. Especially when the swallow-wort was everywhere and could just replant itself the moment our backs were turned. Once the environment had been degraded and conditions were more difficult to live in, invasives like the aggressive, domineering swallow-wort could move in and push everybody else around. This is what happens in a bad economy. Why try to fight it?

But to Grace restoring even one patch of the earth, however temporarily, was a small step toward pushing back against darkness. Maybe the swallow-wort had inserted itself in pockets everywhere but if we could just get rid of it in a few places – even if Montana and Georgia weren’t going to be amongst them – we could begin the slow process of trying to restore what was good, healthy and beautiful in our world.

“What’s the point?” Tim said. “There’s nothing really left of the nature that used to be here.” He pointed to the asphalt path and the grass. “In fact, the weather was all that was left of the nature that used to be here. And now not even the weather is natural.”

He wouldn’t help out with the invasives even though it was Grace’s birthday and he wanted to make her happy. He said he was afraid the bugs and the heat and humidity and the pointlessness of trying to defeat the swallow-wort would get him too angry.

“Believe me, I could easily go over the edge,” he said. “For some reason I’ve become so aggressive these days, it’s like I have rabies.”

Suddenly I realized he wasn’t so immune to the effects of the political situation. In fact, he was too upset to try to do anything about it.

It was left to people like Grace to keep pushing against the tide, even if she didn’t know exactly what she should be doing or what would really work. Almost everybody in Montana and Georgia had hung up on her.

“Maybe we could just do a puzzle,” Tim said, trying to make Grace happy since she loves puzzles. But Grace said that’s exactly what we were doing.

Imagine if you’re doing a puzzle but there’s no picture on the box. You start doing the puzzle and you have no idea how it’s going to come out. Not to mention that in this case, the pieces didn’t even come in a box.

When You’re a Vegetarian But That’s Not to Say You Don’t Eat Meat

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Global warming, motherfucker.

“Don’t say that, this is a family march,” Angela said to Ethan, as we headed to DC on a bus for the Peoples Climate March. Halfway through the unending ride, a man in one of the seats in front of us had gotten a little excited and Ethan was joining in.

“Shush,” the man’s wife said, looking around at the criticism.

“Why? Am I in the library car?” he asked.

Angela leaned over toward the rest of us. “We aren’t marching with those people,” she whispered.

Nobody had a problem with that since we didn’t even know them, but we did have a problem deciding which group we approved of enough to join.

Grace wanted to march with some people chanting “Climate rights are human rights!” She had a lot of company, considering the Paris Climate Treaty takes that view as well. Then again, since Exxon and Shell also support the Climate Treaty, maybe it’s not exactly the most radical document.   

At any rate, Tim and Ethan were opposed to that particular chant.

“What about animals?” Tim said.  

I had to agree with him for once. It seemed more appropriate to protest on behalf of animals rather than humans beings at a climate march. After all, humans are the ones who’ve caused climate change in the first place, while nature is the innocent victim.

Not that I was particularly surprised Grace didn’t see it that way. As she’d gotten more interested in art, I felt like she was less interested in nature. Recently we’d almost had an argument when I wanted to go hiking but instead we went to a minimalist art exhibit she wanted to see.

“I just don’t like it that much,” I said, when she asked my opinion afterwards. “You know what I think would make it better?”

“Moss. Rocks. A mountain. And a river.”

She wasn’t entirely wrong, though I didn’t want to admit it.

Along the same lines as Grace, Angela wanted to march with the immigration rights contingent. But Tim and Ethan again objected.

“What is the point of that at a climate march?” Tim said.

“How can you be so callous?” Grace asked, close to tears.

Tim claimed he liked animals better than people.

“You’re not even a vegetarian!” she protested.

“I am a vegetarian,” he said. “That’s not to say I don’t eat meat.”

He said he didn’t want to spread himself too thin by worrying about everything. But his self-preservation was jarring at times in situations involving the suffering of real people.

He had a particularly unappealing reaction one night when I told him I was worrying about the effects of the immigration crackdown on the undocumented woman who cleaned my office building. Her husband was cheating on her but she was afraid to go to court to get a divorce in case she might get nabbed by ICE. Meanwhile, her husband hadn’t spoken to her in six months, the rest of her family lived in Colombia, and she had no friends in the U.S.

“She must be so miserable,” Grace said. “Not even having anyone to talk to.”

But Tim didn’t let it get to him.

“You never know,” he said. “She may have a rich internal life.”

In any event, seeing that Grace and Angela were getting upset with him as various groups went by at the march, Tim said he would compromise by joining the labor contingent. He claimed that should make Grace and Angela happy since it was human-focused.  

I was hesitant at first but after listening to a speech by one of the labor leaders, I went along with it.

“He was great, didn’t you think?” I said.

But Ethan thought the labor organizer was too vague on where he stood on the environment. “Sure, he talked a lot, but his wind-up was a little long before the pitch. I mean, did you shoot the dog or not?”

It was an odd comment for a self-described animal rights activist, but in a way he had a point.

“What does ‘Climate, Jobs, Justice’ even mean?” he said.  

At any rate, it turned out what really worried him was being taken for a socialist if we marched with labor since all the other blue collar types have gone over to the right wing.

“What are you talking about?” Tim said, rolling his eyes. “This whole march is socialist. Why do you think it’s called the Peoples Climate March?” He looked to Grace for corroboration since she was the one who signed us up.

“I really have no idea and furthermore I don’t care,” she said.

Supposedly, millennials don’t make those distinctions anymore because they’ve grown up in the sharing economy. But you can make a good argument nothing has really changed in the sharing economy.

“It’s not so much a sharing economy as an e-crowd-omy,” Tim said.

While they discussed that, Angela was still focused on the human side of the equation. “Stop climate change for our families and communities now!” she shouted with the crowd.

“Why is it always about families?” Tim said. Half of all adult Americans are single, he noted, not to mention himself.

“Stop climate change for rank individuals!” he shouted.

So Grace and Angela agreed to march with Tim’s preferred group to keep him under control. But Ethan wasn’t as willing to cave.

Tim wanted to march with the Audubon Society since he’s supposedly a bird watcher, but Ethan didn’t see the point of that at a climate march.  

“Why birds?” he said. “How long do they even live? Do birds live more than a year?”

Part of the problem was he’d been so disappointed the only time we’d gone a bird watching trip together.

“I’d love to see a scarlet tanager,” Ethan said, jotting down another sparrow on the list of the birds we’d seen. “But we’re probably not going to.”

“How about we list all the birds we’re not going to see,” Tim said. It turned Ethan off bird watching forever.

In any event, though his question showed a shocking ignorance about the lifespans of birds, Ethan’s broader point was that climate change would be harder on animals that live longer and thus can’t adapt to change as quickly. He pointed to the groups with the polar bear signs like the World Wildlife Fund.

But Tim objected. “Some owls can live 80 years and so can turtles,” he said defensively. He was trying to make the point that focusing on big animals was taking an overly human perspective.

“So probably the tortoise bird can live over 100 years,” Ethan snapped. “It can’t fly though. Makes you wonder why it’s called a bird.”

Finally Tim said he didn’t care who we marched with as long as it had to do with nature.

“Even from a solely human perspective, the most elemental experience of human life is communing with nature.”

“But who can just commune with nature?” Grace said. “People need families and communities.”

Tim was thinking about John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, who supposedly lived alone in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness for much of his life. Apparently Tim assumed John Muir, one of his heroes, was up there just communing with nature.

“John Muir had a wife,” Grace said. “I know it because I was signing people up for the march for the Sierra Club and their database is named after Helen Muir, John Muir’s wife. Considering he also started a club, which had people in it, you can’t really say he didn’t understand the importance of family and community.”

That came as surprise to Tim, who had somehow always pictured John Muir as a rank individual. It was even more of a surprise to me, particularly the part about Grace registering people for the march for the Sierra Club. Despite my lack of faith in her, it appeared Grace really hadn’t lost her interest in the environment. She’d evidently been devoting much of her free time for the past few months to outreach and organizing, and arranging buses, which was a lot more than I had done.

Seeing my expression, she seemed to know what I was thinking. “Plus, I helped make a lot of the signs we brought down in the bus along with various artists’ groups who were contributing to the march. It’s the art, along with the big crowd, that will make the march memorable.”

I could see her point then about why maybe it didn’t make sense to draw distinctions between any of the groups at the march, whether they were carrying signs representing immigrant rights, gay rights, labor rights, or the environment. Or in trying to determine whether someone cared more about nature or about art. We were all in it together.

As we headed back to the bus at the end of the very long day, I tried to make it up to her.

“Do you want a shirt from the march?” I asked, approaching one of the many vendors selling commemorative t-shirts with all sorts of different logos and messages. “What kind do you want?”

She smirked at me, seeing right through me.

“I want a double scoop, chocolate and strawberry,” she said. “With sprinkles.”


Why Taxes Make You Drink

“You fill it out for once,” Ethan said, handing Angela back their tax returns without looking up from the ball game. “Why do I have to do everything.”

That seemed a little unfair since in fact Angela is the one who does everything, like cooking, shopping, cleaning, and taking care of the kids, not to mention working. But taxes are more of an everything since they take a big effort all at once, usually the night before they’re due. Plus if you’re one of the little people who actually have to pay taxes, they also affect everything, including how much money you have left to cook, shop, clean and take care of the kids. That’s the very reason Ethan usually insists on doing the taxes himself every year.

“Okay, let’s see,” Angela said, opening the accountant’s questionnaire at the front of the return.

It was somewhat slow going.

“There’s some questions I need answers to,” she said, pausing. “First, did we enter into any sale-leaseback arrangements with a tax-indifferent person in 2016?”

As a tax-indifferent person himself at the moment, Ethan had no response. That could have ended the ball game for him, based on Angela’s look, except that Tim came over to try to help her.

“Can that happen by accident?” he asked.

Having never done the taxes before, Angela wasn’t sure. She put a question mark in the margin and moved on. “What about this one: Did we receive any gifts from a covered expatriate? Or a distribution from a foreign trust funded by a covered expatriate, not including expatriations of dual citizens from birth and individuals who relinquish prior to age 18.5?”

I felt like we would have noticed if an exotic gift had suddenly arrived in the house, but Tim was more cautious.

“Who knows?”

“You can answer yes, no or uncertain,” Angela said.

“Put uncertain for everything.”

Tim has a lot of confidence in uncertainty, which may be an asset or a liability for him depending on the situation. But Angela tends to be more confident with certainty, even if it turns out to be a liability.

“Did you already do your own taxes?” she asked, apparently as a check on his competence as a tax advisor. It wasn’t entirely clear from his response.

“This morning I went to mail my taxes by Fed Ex since the Post Office ripped open my last two deliveries, threw everything out, and left a note with the empty envelopes saying they regret what they did.”

That got through a little to Ethan. “We’re not paying to send our taxes by Fed Ex. I’d rather go to jail.”

I thought he might finally take the taxes over at that point, but he still didn’t move from the tv.  

“You should know Federal Express is very cheap if you get the slow delivery,” Tim said. “I have to warn you though, the guy at the Fed Ex is on drugs. His hands and his lips were shaking, and suddenly for no reason he stuck two fingers up his nose in the middle of typing in my information. Then I guess he realized it was a weird thing to do because he turned around to try to hide it.”

Angela didn’t look up but Tim continued anyway.

“I’m sorry to say when he did that I stole the Fed Ex pen I was writing with, because when you work at home there are no pens.”

Angela held up her hand. “Hang on just a second, I’m still trying to read this.”

“Okay, but this is important, so let me know when you’re done,” Tim said.

Angela sighed and handed him the accountant’s worksheet. “Can you make out what this means?”

He looked at the first couple of pages. “Okay, I’ve had enough of this,” he said, handing it back. “I’m unimpressed.”

“Is anyone here good at math?” Angela asked, looking at Ethan pleadingly. But Ethan still wasn’t interested.

“Math is such a waste of time,” he said.

“Tell me about it,” Tim said, nodding. “I took geometry three times and I’m only making $18,000 a year.”

When Angela glared at him again, he finally took the worksheet back from her and tried to follow it.

“I meant to tell you,” Ethan said, smirking. “You can now rent time on a supercomputer in the cloud. So you don’t have to do those computations in your head anymore.”

But Tim ignored him. He rummaged through the file of tax forms and pulled out one of the documents.

“Do you think the accountant has this already?” he asked Ethan.

“Well, if she doesn’t I’ll send it to her. But if so, I’m not making a copy.”

Angela was still reading the worksheets, her brow furled. “I just can’t make out what these forms mean. I don’t think what you put here can be right, Tim.”

He read it again and nodded. “Right, I was doing the wrong thing.” He scribbled some numbers on the worksheet and handed it back to her. “Now I’m not doing the wrong thing anymore, but am I doing the right thing?”

It did not instill confidence and I couldn’t understand why Ethan still wasn’t getting involved.

“I know what’s going on,” Tim said. “They’re trying to get people to give up. They want you to say, ‘Fine, you got me. Take everything I have.’”

He thrust his hands in his pockets to demonstrate. Then he paused.

“Now wait just a doggone minute. Everybody slow down. I feel something in the lining of my jacket. I think it’s a quarter.”

Ethan rolled his eyes.

“Incidentally, why did you even submit a tax return?,” he asked Tim. “You can’t possibly owe any taxes.”

Tim made a face. “What do you take me for? Donald Trump?”

That seemed to drive Ethan over the edge. He said he was heading to a bar until Angela threw the tax return on the floor.

“Okay, if you would rather have my beers at home, we can do that,” Ethan said. “But first we’re going out to take in stores so I can get plastered. Then if I can still see straight you’re going to do the taxes for me.”

And I realized what had happened. With Trump not paying taxes, hiding his returns, and promising more breaks for the rich, Ethan was on a tax protest.

How Trump Gave Everybody PMS


“I need to get my daughter Grace’s birth control pills a few weeks early,” I said to the pharmacist. “She’s going on her first business trip.”

Then I realized that might sound bad.

“Not because she’s going to have sex with a lot of strangers on her trip but just so she doesn’t have a sudden hormone imbalance by running out of pills.”

But the pharmacist couldn’t have cared less about Grace’s hormones. He wouldn’t even call our insurance company until I demonstrated how unbalanced my hormones get when people are rude to me.

After a two-minute call, he turned back to the counter.

“They said no,” he said, waving me aside. “Next guest.”

He wasn’t a very gracious host, but on the other hand he had to do a lot of entertaining every day and many of his guests had bad etiquette themselves.

At any rate, my bigger worry was not having Grace’s birth control pills when I arrived at her apartment at college that weekend, shortly before she was leaving on her trip. But I soon discovered it didn’t matter.

“I don’t need them anymore,” she said. “I got an IUD.”

“What?!” I shouted. In the first place, IUDs scare me, probably because of the Dalkon Shield fiasco. But besides that, Grace’s doctor wanted her on birth control pills to help with PMS and mood swings.

“It was that or pay hundreds a month for birth control once the Republican health care bill gets passed. So I just had this window of time to deal with it before the ax comes down.”

That shows how well the Republican health care agenda has met its purported goal of freeing the doctor-patient relationship from federal interference.

She tried to reassure me. “Don’t worry, pretty much everyone I know got an IUD recently for the same reason. Absolutely everybody’s doing it.”

That’s a lot of IUDs to fit into the first hundred days of a presidency.

“Of course, I probably could have just gone off birth control,” she said. “I haven’t really dated anyone in ages.”

At least she hadn’t gone with that option. But it was unusual to see her so down about her love life.

“I thought you had a date with someone today in fact,” I said. “Did it get canceled?” That seemed a safe assumption since she was wearing beat-up overalls and an old fisherman’s sweater.

“Why, because I haven’t changed my clothes in two days? I warned the guy that I had yoga, math class, and pottery today so I was going to be disheveled.”

“That probably fit right in with him,” I said, since she usually dates hipster types.

She shook her head. “He wore a long-sleeved, button-down shirt and slacks. Oh -- and a nice car. So you get the point. We have nothing in common. It’s not going anywhere.”

“You never know,” I said. “It could be like Love Story. Except he dies at the end instead of you.”

But she’d already written it off.

“Maybe I’ll meet up with this guy I met at the train station,” she said.

“Is he a student?” I asked, hopefully.

She shrugged. “He was a pie-maker but he quit his job last month. Now he wants to be a bread-maker.”

“So you could say he’s an aspiring bread maker,” I said.

But she didn’t find that amusing.

Anyway, everybody had been disappointing her. She suspected another guy she’d met through friends had just asked her out to try to get in with her boss at the art gallery.

“He is an artist, after all,” she said, showing me his texts. “So he’s probably just trying to get a show.”

“Then why would he send you pictures of dogs with sunglasses?” I asked.

At any rate, I was more concerned to hear she was thinking of quitting her job at the art gallery.

“You know what the owner said to me when I told her I was thinking of leaving? She said if I stay, she’ll fire the manager and give me his job. Then she said, ‘Tell you what, I’ll give you his office and move him to the windowless room in the back. Or give you whichever of his responsibilities you want and tell him to do all the things you don’t want to do.’”

I had to admit that was lacking in diplomacy but on the other hand Grace seemed to be missing the compliment. I’d rarely seen her so down about everything.

“How about I make some dinner?” I asked, searching around for the possible problem.

But unusually for her, she had nothing to eat in the house.

“I’ll run out,” I said. “What should I get? Fish tacos from Santa Fe?”

“No, I don’t want to kill a fish today.”

“Tofu from the Japanese place?”

“I don’t think the tofu is local.”

“Then you’ll have to move out of town,” I said.

But that prospect didn’t seem to bother her much, even though usually she loves Tivoli.

“Why don’t we stroll around and see if anything looks good?” I suggested.

She shook her head. “All the places around here depress me. I always feel like I have to buy stuff or they’ll go out of business. It’d be better if they just took donations so people don’t have to buy things they don’t want. If you walk in they look at you like ‘Hey, a customer, maybe now we can pay the rent.’”

Anyway, she also had a pain in her side she thought might be cancer.

“How long has it been hurting?” I asked her.

She shrugged. “It doesn’t hurt that much, but I always think of The Death of Ivan Ilych.”

I didn’t exactly get the connection but it seemed like a bad idea to ask about it, given her mood. Anyway, it was unlikely she could be too sick since she’d just spent two hours doing yoga. Instead I reminded her about her business trip and how exciting it would be. A few months ago, she’d really been looking forward to it.

But it seemed like nothing could cheer her up. She found a problem with everything.

Then suddenly she burst into uncontrollable tears and I finally realized what was wrong. Having gone off birth control pills, she had PMS again for the first time in years. Maybe the IUD would work for birth control, but it wouldn’t replace the medication that helped her, like so many other young women, feel their best all month long.

When the tears passed and she was a little calmer, I tried to suggest maybe the IUD wasn’t the way to go. But considering what the Republican health care plan would do to birth control, she really didn’t have a choice.

“Hopefully it’ll only be four years,” she said, choking back another burst of tears.

Not that I didn’t already know this, but it sure was going to be a long four years.   


You Need the Right Gripe to Make the Right Whine

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:


“Those guys are such naysayers,” Grace said. “I want to say to them don’t worry, something is going to go right.”


She’d just come home from another protest and had run into Ethan and Tim in the living room, sitting around dismally, as usual, talking about how everything was going to shit under Trump without actually doing anything about it.


They had briefly joined a 350.org committee to help organize support for renewable energy but they didn’t last more than a couple of weeks.


“You’re going to be kicked off the committee,” Ethan told Tim after their first meeting. “You’re not paying attention to what anyone else is saying.”


Tim shrugged. “That may be but at least I’m constantly angry. You really need someone who’s constantly angry on a committee.”

When they missed the third meeting and it survived without them, they decided they weren’t needed enough to bother going again. Supposedly they wanted to concentrate their protest energies where the need was greatest.


The real problem was the supply was so limited. Granted conservation is the best energy policy, but Tim and Ethan took it to an extreme, barely getting off the couch despite the emergency situation with Trump’s anti-environment agenda.


Only Grace had truly grasped the concept of renewable energy. Every petition drive, phone bank, and committee meeting she went to revitalized her and inspired her to do more.


      Among other excuses for doing nothing, Tim claimed he was too busy trying to make a living, walking the neighbors’ dogs for example.

Meanwhile, the dogs did a lot more lying around than actually walking, same as their supposed caretaker.


One of them protested by trying to sneak out when Grace came home.    


“Grab her, she doesn’t have her collar,” Tim called critically from the couch, as the dog ran past him.


I hurried after her. “We take it off in the house. Would you want to wear a collar?”


“Has that been proposed?” he asked, putting his hands anxiously to his neck.


He was too busy listening to some sort of experimental drum music to get up himself.


“How would you rate this album?” he asked Ethan.


“I give it a 9.”


He’s been more generous toward the arts since Trump announced the end of the NEA.


“It’s out of 5.”


“You can’t do the math?”


I suspected Ethan’s protest spirit was also dampened by his stock market gains.


“In the last two months, my investment account went from $50,000 to $52,000.”


Tim nodded approvingly. “So you won $2,000 dollars. Not bad.”


“They call it interest, actually.”


But Grace wasn’t very interested in hearing about it. For some reason, she’s upset stocks that have gone up based on the planned rollback of Clean Air and Water Act regulations, along with worker protections. Not to mention Trump’s plan for a massive increase in spending on weapons and coal burning power plants.


“What do you plan to spend the money on? A gas mask?”


But Ethan didn’t plan on spending it. He was just excited to be richer.  


“What I love about interest is you don’t have to do anything for it. Like manna falling from heaven.”


Grace glared at him.


“Even manna turns a little sour after it sits for a while.”


She wasn’t just talking about the money he made in the stock market.


“So now you can buy even more beer. Won’t that be great?”


Ethan didn’t get the sarcasm.


“Not today. I was out late last night at a party and got overserved. And if they could please give me back my Amex card.”


Then he noticed Grace’s expression. “What? You have a problem with making money in the stock market?”


Grace rolled her eyes. “Don’t you see this is the whole problem with our system? Our economy’s dependent on people making and selling widgets and it doesn’t even matter if they’re destroying us.”


“You can’t blame me,” Tim said, raising his hands defensively. “In my whole life, I’ve never made one single widget.”


Not that economists have any better understanding of it.


“The least you could do is give up meat if Trump rolls back the auto emission standards we need to meet our climate treaty obligations,” Grace said, as Ethan got up to make hamburgers for himself and Tim for lunch.


Ethan looked at her skeptically.




“We’re asking people to give up meat until Trump agrees to keep the Paris climate treaty. If everybody quit eating meat it would make up for the extra carbon pollution from cars and power plants. Did you realize that? That’s how polluting animal agriculture is to the environment.”


“Then what am I going to eat for lunch?” Ethan said, rolling his eyes.


Angela opened the fridge. “Why don’t you make vegetables? You never eat a single vegetable unless I make you. If I die would you ever eat a vegetable?”


He chuckled. “Course not. That’s why men die right after their wives. Because once their wife’s dead all they eat is meat and buttered bread.”


Apparently, he wasn’t going to join the protests even to the extent of giving up a hamburger for lunch.


“Come on,” Angela said to Tim. “Eat beans instead of a hamburger. At least you usually do everything I say.”

Tim sighed. “Yes, for fear or hope of punishment.”


Angela put the hamburger back in the fridge. “Tell you what – I’ll make you a nice veggie lunch. Beans and rice with lots of hot sauce. And do you want cilantro on your beans?”


Ethan shrugged. “I don’t know. Just make it taste good. It’s not up to me to tell you how.”


That was the last straw for Grace. “You’re seriously not going to do anything to resist Trump?”


Ethan threw up his hands. “I’m resisting. I hate him, I hate everything about him, okay?”


“No, not okay,” Grace said. “You have to do something. Resisting is doing something. Everything else is whining.”


“Well, I’m not going to give up meat,” Ethan said and Tim agreed.


“Then do something else.”


But it was hard to know if either of them really would.


“Very little is as satisfying as griping and whining,” Tim said, “but you have to find the right gripe to make the right whine.”


When the Women’s March Almost Pushed Over the Washington Monument

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:

“Did you find that sign on the ground?” Tim asked a sweet-looking, young blond woman marching near us with a sign saying “Never fuck a Republican” — except that on the sign it was spelled out, “I’m having trouble reconciling your sign with how you look.”

We were at the Women’s March in Washington D.C., staying with friends of Ethan’s. Or rather, we were corralled in a fenced-off space a block away from the march, inching along in a large crowd that seemed to be going in circles.

“We need to be in the march,” I said, desperately looking for a space in the chain-link fence where we could break through. “Otherwise we might not get counted.”

Meanwhile, Angela was desperately trying to prevent Henry and Marcus from reading the signs.

“If you grab my pussy, I’ll bite your dick off.”

“This shit smells.”

And leaning against one of the Port-a-Potties: “Take a Trump Here.”  

Besides the signs, Angela was worried about whether the boys would be okay in the large crowd.

“Where are the cops?” she asked nervously. “There are no cops anywhere.”

“They’re hoping we’ll trample ourselves,” the blond woman snickered.

As if to help out with that, a stream of big, square-headed men in Trump hats came through on their way to look at weapons at the Air and Space Museum, wearing t-shirts reading: Gun Owner Victim

Not that anyone couldn’t have told that from their general hostility. The rest of us had to crush ourselves to avoid ending up in that other box.

Of course, we’re getting used to that. There are a lot more of us than them, but as we’ve seen, you can win the popular vote in America and still lose the election.

“I thought Neanderthals were extinct,” the blond woman said.

“Yes, but only 50,000 years ago,” Tim said. “That seems like a short time when you think about it.”

The blond woman wasn’t feeling that philosophical.

“You’re orange, you’re gross, you lost the popular vote!” she shouted with the crowd.

I saw her point. We need to stop musing and take action. Especially overeducated people who tend to be too philosophical to be activists.


As we found out the hard way, the electoral college is not like other colleges: education doesn’t lead to success. It’s anachronistic, same as the Neanderthals, but apparently, we can’t get rid of it any more than our Neanderthal genes. All we can do is fight to have the homo sapiens part dominate.

But it wasn’t going to be easy.

“Look,” Angela said, trying to focus Henry and Marcus away from the more radical signs. “See that one? 'Without Hermione, Henry would have died in Book One.’”

But they were a lot more interested in “Mind Your Own Uterus,” “We Need to Talk About the Elephant in the Womb,” and “Get Your Filthy Laws Off My Silky Drawers.” They had better pictures.

“I’m going to take the boys home,” Angela said to Ethan. “Anyway, I need to get back to make the Bolognese sauce for dinner. It’s supposed to sit for a couple hours before we eat it.”

Ethan didn’t say anything.

“Your friends are kind enough to put us up for the weekend and I don’t want them to think we’re not good guests.”


Still no response.

“Are you okay? You haven’t said anything all day. Are you feeling claustrophobic? Maybe you should leave too.”

Ethan shook his head. “I don’t have to talk.”

I knew what was going on with him. He may have been physically present, but all he was thinking about was the Patriots game, based on the brief conversations I’d overheard between him and Tim on the side.

“I have to recite all the players on the active roster before anybody interrupts me or else we lose them and it’s all my fault,” Tim was telling Ethan.

“Do you have to say them out loud?” Ethan asked.

“No, but I have to at least whisper them.”

Ethan was obviously doing it too, judging from the fact that his lips were moving and nothing was coming out.

“If I’m interrupted I have to start over from the top,” Tim said. “That’s why it’s all on me whether the Patriots win or lose tomorrow.”

Apparently, Ethan was taking some of the pressure off him. But the attractive blond woman was helping pull him back a little in the direction of the march.

“Build bridges, not walls!!” she shouted. Ethan shouted it too.

“You know where they should build a wall?” he said. “Between the blue states and the red states. They should do it when Trump’s out in Kansas sometime so he won’t even be able to get home. Sure it’s unconstitutional, but who cares? Might makes right.”

That got the blond woman’s attention finally. She laughed.


“We shall overcomb!” she shouted with the crowd. Only Charles didn’t repeat it. He didn’t approve of the fact that the march seemed to like Ethan and Tim better than him.


“Female anger makes me very unhappy,” he said, taking cookies out of my pocket. “Male anger makes me very unhappy too. Oreos don’t make me unhappy.”


But I wasn’t paying much attention to him. We had finally broken out of our cage and were marching in a sea of signs and shouts down the mall.

“Are we going to push over the Washington Monument?” Marcus asked, seeing it rising before us.

It really felt like we could do it, but instead, we turned right toward the White House, shouting and stomping. That was enough for Angela.

“I better head home,” she said to the blond woman. “We’ve done this. I have to make a Bolognese sauce for dinner.”

But when she was out of sight on a side street, the blond woman had a comment.

“Fuck the Bolognese sauce.”

That certainly got Ethan’s attention again.

“Just so you know, I’m a Democrat,” he said, gesturing to her sign. “So.”

She laughed. “Yeah. I also know you’re married to Bolognese. So.”

Then suddenly we saw the Trump motorcade making its way up the next street and the joke was over. We ran in a mass across the lawn shouting and shaking our fists. I lost sight of Ethan and Tim and Charles, and only the blond woman was still next to me, screaming “Dump Trump!”

And a single cop across the street with a gun stared us down.

How Trump Will Get Rid of the Environment

“First I went to the assignment without my phone, my notebooks, or a pen,” Tim said. “Basically I went out naked.”


He was having a lot of trouble adjusting to Trump, even more than the rest of us for some reason.


“Then I got in an accident on my bike. My wrist still hurts in fact.”


He examined his left arm.


“I’ll have to take your word for it,” Charles said. “I don’t feel a thing.”


As usual, he was taunting Tim, who didn’t want to admit he was still depressed about Trump.


“Look how smug he is about it,” Charles said, pointing to one of the ubiquitous photos that has ruined the news.


“For now,” Tim said. “But he’s going to find out it’s a lot of work even if you do a lousy job. I wouldn’t want to work that hard. I’m glad I’m not the President.”


He was casting about for something to lord over Trump.  

“Really?” Charles said. “I was going to elect you. I wrote your name on the ballot.”


I tried to distract Tim by asking what he’d been doing all day, but it turned out he’d spent another day alone with his music collection.


“I had to separate the post-hard-core from the spaz rock, the twitch rock and the space rock. Yes, I used my time wisely.”


At least he had done it at a bar so he got out of the house for a while. Not that it seemed to do him much good.


“The cats were pissed as usual because I was home late.” It was never a good sign when he was obsessing over the cats.


Apparently he hadn’t eaten anything either. “I was going to get a yogurt pop but it was $5.”

“So? You’d pay that much for a beer.”


“I know, but with a yogurt pop the buzz is gone the moment you’re done with it.”


He said he was too worried about his blood pressure to eat anything.


“Do you still drink three beers a day and eat cheese?” the doctor asked him at a recent visit.

But recently his numbers had improved, probably because his intake was so low. After the shock of the election, he was only just getting back enough appetite to eat a little cheese again.


“If all you eat is cheese your blood pressure is going to go right back up,” Charles said, still trying to go after Tim. “And you thought it was so great to be you.”


“You’re probably right,” Tim said. “Well, for a few weeks it was incredible to be me.”


“What do you weigh now?” Charles asked. It bugged him Tim was looking more buff since the election.  



“Why did you whisper it?”


“Because I don’t want anybody to hear me. That’s my ideal weight. It’s like my social security number.”


But despite that good news, he was still panicking about his health. I tried to point out it was probably just because he felt out of control.


“I’ve read about this. What you need to do is remind yourself there are lots of things you can control. Write down the things you can control on a notecard and read it to yourself when you’re feeling panicky.”


“What should I write?”


“What can you control?”


Tim thought a moment. “How much water I drink.”


“Anything else?”


“How much laundry I do.”


It wasn’t too promising. Anyway, he was convinced he was just down because of Gronkowski being out for the season. But I didn’t see how he could be that affected by it.


“Does that mean you’re out too?”  


“Yes, I can’t play without him.”


He was so low I was suspicious he’d fed the lunch I’d left for him to the cats.


“What is Chicken eating behind the radiator?”


“I don’t know,” Tim said,  “but I don’t think it’s exactly cat food. Nor is it necessarily food of any kind.”


When she saw us looking at her, she came over and stuck her face in Tim’s tea mug. “I can’t believe she’s still after it even after she found out it isn’t food,” I said.


“She’s having an exfoliating steam mask,” he said. Apparently, he didn’t see that as anything unusual.


Then she tried to get Barbados to lick her face. “He just cleaned you this morning and he’s not going to clean you again,” Tim scolded her. “He’s not a car wash.”


You could see how the lack of other distractions might be adding to Tim’s difficulty in dealing with the election.


“Could you keep it down in there?” he called to Angela, who had dropped something while making dinner. “You woke the cat.”


Barbados opened one eye. “Could a guy get some peace around here? I haven’t had any sleep in at least two and a half minutes.”


Tim’s punishment for yelling at Angela was having to clean a raw egg off the kitchen floor.

“It’s like cleaning up a giant booger,” he said.


He tried to use it as an excuse for skipping dinner, along with other various other ones. When we passed him the chicken he said he wasn’t eating it anymore. “If you couldn’t kill a chicken you shouldn’t eat chicken,” he said.


“So if I can’t build a house should I be homeless?” Charles snapped.


I passed Tim a bowl of mashed potatoes instead.


“Fine, I’ll try it,” he said.


Henry gave him a spoon. He was getting worried about Tim too.


“I don’t want a shovel,” Tim said. “Give me a rake.”


But he still didn’t eat anything.


“So what was the story you were covering yesterday?” I asked. Maybe he’d gone without pen or paper but at least it was better than doing nothing. But it turned out he couldn’t even bring himself to write the story. It was about Trump’s views on climate change, endangered species, and the national parks.


“Is Trump going to get rid of the environment?” Henry asked.


Tim slumped down even farther in his chair and I realized that’s what was really getting him down.


“I can’t believe so many people would vote for a guy who doesn’t even believe in climate change,” he said. “I thought he was just speaking untruths to the powerless. How is it possible people like that can now be running our country?”


Even Charles finally was on Tim’s side. “Try to have hope. He might not be able to quit the climate treaty. Other countries are going to put up a fight.”


“What difference does that make?” Tim said. “Trump loves a fight. Especially if somebody might get hurt.”


I tried to remind him at least we were all in it together. But there was no denying it was going to be hard getting through the Trump years.


“What time is it?” he asked later, while we were watching a movie to get our minds off things.


“11:30, time to go to bed.”


“How convenient,” he said. “Because I don’t want to be awake anymore.”

The Port City Chronicle

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.”

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