Heidi Wendel

Heidi Wendel

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.

 

“What?”

 

“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.  

“168.”

 

“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.”

When you feel so at home in America you say whatever you want

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:

    “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 your biggest problem is you weren’t nursed long enough

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:

“Would you be both husband and mother to me now that my mother has dementia?” Angela asked Ethan. Her mother had recently moved into assisted living.


    “Yes I will,” Ethan said, without taking his eyes off the tv. “But now run along, your mother has to watch pre-season football and scratch his crotch.”


    He’d been glued to the TV all month long watching the Olympics and the steady stream of election news. When Angela complained about not taking a vacation, he said it was unpatriotic not to cheer on American athletes competing in the Olympics or follow the struggle between the alt-right and progressives in real time. Apparently the same argument applied to pre-season football.


    At any rate, trying to beat him at his own game, I told him if he was so patriotic he should come hike Mount Katahdin with Grace and I to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the national parks. But Ethan pointed out Baxter is just a state park. Only Tim agreed to go on the trip.


    Meanwhile Angela was getting more and more annoyed. She’d gone camping every summer in August with her mother as a kid and thought of it as a birthright.
    “Can you at least stand up long enough to get Henry’s Frisbee off the roof?” she asked. “I set up the ladder.”
    Ethan tried to make Tim do it.
    “I’m not going up there,” Tim said, shaking his head. “What if I fall off and break every bone in my body right before my vacation? I’m scared of getting killed right before I’m supposed to leave.”


    That got him a dirty look from Ethan.


    “It’s not that I don’t want to help,” Tim said defensively. “You know how I am. I like to take action, get things done. I take out my tools, some of them electric, some of them acoustic, fix things, and move on to the next problem.”
    Ethan glared at him again.
    “You haven’t even finished the articles I told you to do before you go. Not to mention proofing and posting the editorial.”


    “It’s not that easy,” Tim said. “First I have to make sure Brendan hasn’t insulted anyone, though I probably have to put it up regardless. Then I have to fact-check everything, though it doesn’t have any facts. So it takes more time than you’d think. You see my pointlessness?”


    What we could see was that Ethan and him had been watching a lot more TV than usual without seeming to care what they watched, including events like kayaking that never interested them before. Watching all those sports in the Olympics had gotten them totally out of shape.


    At first Tim tried to blame it on the heat. “No, I’m not going outside,” he said, when Henry wanted to play frisbee. “You want my eyeballs to fry in my head like eggs on a hot sidewalk?”


    In reality he was trying to preserve himself for vacation. “I always get sick right before vacations,” he said, as I went out to do the yard work he wasn’t helping with.
    “Your immune system is much better than mine,” he said. “I wasn’t nursed very long, you know. Because I got a tooth at 4 months.”


    It was a lot more information than anyone wanted.
    “Look, I already have eczema,” he said, pointing to a rash on his arm.
    “I thought you had shingles,” Ethan said.
    “I had that too.”
    “Leprosy?”


     By the time we left for Baxter, Ethan was glad to be rid of Tim even if he didn’t think he deserved a vacation.
    Not that it was easy to have him along. Nature made him nervous too. While Grace was admiring the views from Mount Katahdin he was worried about her falling off.


    “Make sure your shoelaces are tied,” he shouted from down the trail.
    Then he was afraid of a moose we spotted at a distance in the woods.


    “Look, there’s a bull over there,” Grace said excitedly.
    Tim averted his eyes. “You’re not supposed to look at them.”


    At least Grace saw the humor in it, but it only made Tim even more scared.
    “You’re especially not supposed to point and laugh.”


    Plus he was also anxious about not working. “I dreamed Brendan was editing my articles and I kept saying I knew those edits needed to be made.”
    “It’s almost not even a dream,” Grace said. She was getting sick of Tim’s issues herself, even when he tried harder to participate.


    “Look at that beautiful hawk,” he said, as a shadow passed over the path.
    “It’s a crow,” Grace said.
    He squinted at it. “How do you know?”
    “It says so on it,” she said, rolling her eyes.


    Then when she saw a marmot in the brush, he annoyed her by constantly trying to spot one himself.
    “Is that a marmot or just a bird?” he asked, as something dashed across the path in front of us.
    “I don’t know,” she said desultorily.
    “Can they climb trees, because whatever it is just went up a tree?”
    “I don’t know,” she said. “I realize when I go on vacation with you how much there is I don’t know.”


    There were also little conflicts in our tent.


    “What is this pile of socks over here?” Grace asked. “They have holes and they’re filthy. Are these being thrown out?”


    “I don’t know,” Tim said, looking through topographical maps for the next day’s hike, “I have to go through them.”
    “There’s some t-shirts in here too. Also with holes. What about them?”
    “What are we talking about?”


    “What do you think I’m talking about?” Grace asked. “Old socks and t-shirts. I didn’t switch to talking about Nietsche.”


    Tim also inserted himself into our private conversations even when most men would have known to stay out of them.


     “I wish I had a swimsuit that fit me more like my underwear,” Grace said to me conspiratorially, when we’d gone for a dip in a pond near our campground. She’d gotten a new bathing suit that turned out to be a little too retro.


    “I know what you mean,” I said. “A bit more youthful.”
    “Hm,” Tim said. “Claws come out.”


    It was a relief when, a few days into our trip, we got a text from Ethan saying they were coming up to meet us. We needed more people around to dilute Tim. And I figured Ethan would have to acknowledge he was wrong about vacation. But he had an explanation.


    “It’s not just Baxter anymore,” he said. “As of a few days ago, this is now a national park, thanks to Obama and Burt’s Bees.” Sure enough, the signs for Katahdin Woods and Waters were already up.


    When Ethan pushed a kayak out onto one of our new national lakes, even Angela had patriotic tears in her eyes. She hesitated a moment looking for a tissue.


    “I thought you didn’t like kayaking,” she said to Ethan.
    “It doesn’t matter what I like,” he said, smirking at her. “Your mother’s telling you to get in the boat.”
    

When thinking you’re cool is just a false positive

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:

    ‘“Supermodel, high IQ, rich, witty and fun.’” Tim was trolling on match.com. “What do you think?”

    “Not a good fit for you,” Ethan said.

    They were at the kitchen table relaxing before dinner. But Angela didn’t view it that way.

    “I see you wasted no time doing the dishes,” she said, coming in from straightening the boys’ rooms. “What are you doing instead?”

    “Looking for a woman,” Ethan said.

    Angela banged open the pantry door. Apparently someone was supposed to have started the pasta sauce instead of seeking romance.

    “I don’t even know how to make it,” Ethan said, looking accusingly at Tim. But Tim claimed he didn’t either.

    “I’ve taught you everything I know,” he said defensively. “Take the plastic off before you cook the food.”

    Then he tried a different tack.

    “Look, it’s an emergency. I need to find somebody quick,” he said. “You can’t understand because you have Angela and the boys.”

    Ethan shrugged. “That’s all an illusion.”

    “And yet I feel so real,” Angela said, turning around from the stove with the spatula in her hand.

    “I know what you mean,” Ethan said. “But it’s almost like you’re too real.”

    Fortunately Angela was distracted by one of the boys needing help with his homework. As real as Angela is, the boys are even realer.

    “I was okay being single for a long time,” Tim said, “but once I got used to having somebody, I can’t go back, I’ve got to have somebody else.”

    He hesitated. “Actually that made no sense. Please ignore everything I’ve said to date.”

    “You mean for the past 20 years?” Ethan asked, still scanning the profiles on match.com.  

    But Nicole sympathized with Tim. She’d had the same experience of withdrawal and panic when she’d been dumped, and had only recently gotten a temporary fix by finding that special somebody else.

    “Where’d you find him?” Tim asked.

    “Same place you’re looking,” she said. “I bought him on the internet.”

    But it didn’t seem to have made her less panicky or lonely.

    “I like your boots,” Tim said, as she put her feet up on the chair next to him, trying to relax while anxiously shaking her foot.

    “They look stupid, huh?” she said.

    Part of the problem was she always worried about her weight and the new guy didn’t make it any easier. “My weight fluctuates all the time,” she said. “I’m constantly waxing and waning.”

    And he wasn’t a good listener either. “Which is fine,” she said, “because I don’t really want to talk.”

    It didn’t sound like that great a fit to me, but at least Nicole was attracted to the guy, as Tim and Ethan pointed out. Attractiveness was the main thing they were looking for too as they skimmed through profiles.

    “You don’t think I should try the model?” Tim asked, along that same line.

    Ethan still conveniently had her profile open. “You’ll never get her. Women like that go for guys like Trump.”

    Meaning no matter how good-looking Tim was, without money he couldn’t get somebody hot.

    “What if she doesn’t want a guy who’s rude and obnoxious?” Tim asked. “Plus I have more hair.”

    “It’s not happening,” Ethan said. I felt like he was getting a little overly invested, but nobody else seemed to notice.

    “What do you have to lose?” Nicole said to Tim. “You’re cute. And you’re different. She might think you’re sort of cool.”

    He made a face. “I used to think I was kind of cool in a way but I don’t anymore.”

    “Yeah, that was definitely a false positive,” Ethan said.

    But Angela was more interested in Nicole’s situation. “You shouldn’t date a guy you can’t talk to. I talk to Ethan about everything and he always listens.”

    “What?” he said. She was getting too real for him again while he was trying to look at models.

    Meanwhile Tim was trying to get back to reality. In case Milagros wanted him back before he did something she’d regret, he sent her a picture of the two of them at Christmas in paper popper crowns in happier days. But she wasn’t impressed.

    “We look like old people,” she wrote back.

    He should have stopped there but he was desperate not to have to date the supermodel.  

    “Did you go out last night?” he asked.

    “Uh huh,” she said, annoyed. “And I had a great time.”

    He took a deep breath. “Why, because people said you were sexy and fun?”

    Then he tried to apologize. “I’m not doing too well at the moment.”

    “I can tell,” she said. “You have no muffler and no shock absorbers. Or bumpers.”  

    There was a pause. “Though you do have some chrome.”

    “Steering wheel?” he asked.

    “No.”

    “Do I have wheels?”

    But she had hung up.

    “It’ll get better soon,” Nicole said, as Tim sank down in his chair. “This is how break-ups work. You have to give it a little time and then dive back in. There was an article about it today in the Sunday Review.”

    “In the newspaper? People should get their own life and stop living mine.”

    It was good advice for Ethan, who was reading the fine print in the model’s profile when Angela finally seemed to notice.

    “You forgot to take the garbage out again,” she said.

    He rolled his eyes. “I didn’t forget. I did it on purpose. I don’t want to take the garbage out anymore.”

    So Angela stomped out of the room and Ethan and Tim had to give up on the model and finish making dinner instead.

    It wasn’t a big success.

    “You put too much ricotta in this,” Angela said, when we were all finally sitting down to dinner. “How much did you put in?”

    “A cup.”

    “It only said half a cup.”

    “I always figure more is better,” Ethan said.

    It’s not how you’re supposed to do things but it hadn’t turned out that bad. From Angela’s perspective, she finally got to relax in the living room while somebody else made dinner. The phones were off and we were all together around the table.

    It wasn’t perfect but at least it was real.  

The unified theory of what’s wrong With America

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:

 

    “Can someone help me?” Ethan was lugging a cooler down to the beach at night.

    “What do you have in there?” Angela asked.

    “A 12 pack.”

    “You brought a 12 pack for yourself? That’s all on you.”

    “They’re not all for me. If they were all for me, I would have only brought eleven.”

    He hid the cooler behind the rocks at the beach, reached in and stood back up in a hurry.

    “Why is there a gun in the cooler?”

    Dale looked over casually from his blanket. “My swim suit doesn’t have pockets.”

    Ethan reluctantly took the beers out and passed them around, skipping Dale.

    “You can either have a gun or a beer.”

    But gun control is hard to achieve, as we have seen, even at the most basic level.   

    “I’m having whiskey,” Dale said, pulling out a Ziplock bag of booze. The whiskey stays inside, same as if it were pb&j or apple slices. And since Ziplock bags are so light, you can carry enough for the whole family, especially if someone else carries your gun.

    But Dale had almost all of it to himself. Only Tim didn’t catch on that the official drink of the evening was beer. Despite Ethan’s dirty look, Tim stuck a straw in the bag of contraband and took a long drink. He’s an advocate’s worst nightmare.

    “Did you go to the concert last night?” he asked Dale.

    Dale shook his head. “June doesn’t like me going to concerts without her because I always cheat.”    

    You could see her point even if it was bad for the economy. Of course it’s also true China cheats, but it’s a whole lot worse for the economy to make them stay home.

    “What about you?” Dale asked. “How was your date last night?”

    “She was a tall drink of water. I was a short glass of scotch.”

    He was feeling the effects of the Ziplock bag.

    “What’d you do yesterday?” he asked, too wobbly to venture farther back than that.   

    “Watch tv.”

    “Oh, yeah? What shows do you like?”

    “I switch back and forth between porn and the weather.”

    Hearing that, Ethan came over and threw the straw in the sand.

    “You’ve had enough.”

    Tim tried to defend himself. “How drunk I am now is just a sign of how sober I am at heart.”

    But Ethan was more focused on Dale.

    “Why’d you bring a gun to the beach?”

    Dale smirked. “It’s for hunting.”

    “You’re going to shoot a fish?”

    “Actually we brought food,” June said nervously, before Dale could answer. She and Angela started unpacking the picnic baskets. I planned to help too as soon as I finished some urgent emails for work.

    But Dale has a strong sense of justice and he sees elitists everywhere. “I guess lawyers are too important to help with dinner.”

    I was trying to explain why my clients always had to come first.

    “That’s what I have to do to make a living. I only eat what I kill.”

    “So? That’s what I do too,” he said.

    We weren’t talking about quite the same thing, but he also had a deeper problem with my situation.

    “You need to get a life,” he said, meaning a real American life -- mom, dad and the two kids, cars, guns, tv, and a suburban house.

    Maybe I worked too much, but I wasn’t going to apologize for being an effete intellectual.

    “I have a life,” I said. “I just don’t have time to live it.”

    I didn’t know why my clients always needed answers right away. I assumed they had a reason, but they didn’t explain.

    “That’s how it is,” Tim said. “Important people only impart small amounts of information.”

    That made sense to Dale. He hates elitists, but he worships power, money and celebrity.

    All that thinking worked up an appetite for him and he wanted his dinner. But he wasn’t too happy with what he got.

    “What the hell is this?” he said to June.

    “Dandelion salad.”

    “Are you kidding? I can’t eat this.”

    “We’re not ungulates,” Tim said. “You have to have more than one stomach to eat this.”

    Dale grabbed the guacamole instead.

    “It’s got onions,” June warned.

    He didn’t have a problem with that. “My father never liked onions. I hated them as a kid but now I love them.”

    “I wonder what will happen in the future,” Ethan said. He hadn’t forgiven Dale for bringing a gun to the beach.

    “How’d you and June meet?” he asked Dale critically.

    It was a great question since they seemed to have come from different universes, at least politically.

    “I saw her at a bar and couldn’t stop looking at her. Her Nazi blond hair, blue eyes and pink cheeks. Like she just stepped out of a gingerbread house.”

    Now even Angela thought he’d had enough to drink. But she tried to be as diplomatic about it as possible.

    “Tomorrow’s a work day,” she said.

    Of course he didn’t exactly have an office job. He smirked again.

    “What are you doing with yourself these days?” she asked.

    “Oh, this and that.”

    “He’s gambling,” Grace said.

    “I see, this and that,” Tim said. “Is that why you brought a gun?”

    Dale shook his head and raised himself up to get another straw.

    “Then why’d you bring it?”

    “Because I believe in law and order,” he said. “That’s what’s wrong with America today. We need more law and order. Think about it.”

    I had to admit it had the advantage of simplicity in a complex and confusing world. But I had a few questions about the details.

    Unfortunately it was too late. He’d closed his eyes and was already snoring with his head in the sand.

   

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