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Optimistic Rug: 2007
By Barbara J.Taylor
My sister and her husband are Donald Trump supporters. She didn’t break the news in person because, for obvious reasons, we no longer speak. An acquaintance—Sylvia, addicted to Facebook—e-mailed me about it.
The slight rift with my only sibling broke wide open back in 2007 after George W. Bush said the best thing to happen in his presidency was catching a fish—a perch or a bass—in Texas. Prior to this, his vice-president went quail hunting there and shot someone by accident. George W. went on to say he delegated the final decision to Laura when he needed new floor covering for the oval office. He wanted the rug to say “optimistic person.” In my experience, rugs don’t talk; they just lie there on the floor. My sister had been a headache lately, but I took a risk and introduced the rug topic at Starbucks.
“I don’t see anything wrong with being optimistic,” she said.
“It’s twisted false optimism,” I said, spreading vegetable cream cheese on my toasted bagel. “And he’s the worst president in American history.”
“I doubt that,” she said, blowing on her decaf. As far as I could tell, she didn't eat anymore.
“Name a worse one.”
“They’re all only human,” she said. “Nobody’s perfect.” Transparent statements designed to induce guilt.
“I’m not asking for perfection,” I said. “I’m asking not to be in this useless war in Iraq. I’d like for him to stop lying. Like a rug.” She avoided meeting my eyes. I avoided looking at George W., especially when his mouth moved, because it brought on painful digestive problems. This condition started shortly after 9-11 when I heard him comment that he and Laura had had a fabulous year.
“You’ve been watching too many Michael Moore movies." My sister said this to me.
“You voted for him the second time, didn’t you?” The finger I used to point at her had cream cheese on it. She had snuffed out my appetite for the bagel.
“Who? Michael Moore?” She laughed in that cynical way Republicans do, like you’re stupid. A throwback to a peace-loving era. Camelot, maybe.
“You know good and well who.” It was her husband’s doing, I suspected. She married him and started having strange Republican thoughts. He might be poisoning her bottled water. She’d adopted the Laura Bush look; the hair, the frozen expression. How could she bring herself to smile? Wasn’t she ashamed? What sort of pharmaceuticals was she on?
“Maybe we shouldn’t be talking about politics. Let’s stay away from controversy altogether. Religion, too.”
“George W. also said one of the great things about Germany was freedom of religion. Can you believe it? Our so-called president has forgotten the Holocaust.”
“The Germans aren’t into that anymore. Where's the Sweet’n Low?” I slid the white ceramic container in her direction. She picked out a little pink envelope and shook it around. “Can’t you move on? We should all stay optimistic about the future and let bygones be bygones.” She sprinkled the toxic sweetener into her coffee and sipped. She was on her way to aerobics after our little get-together.
“He’s not really our president. The Republicans cheated. Al Gore won. John Kerry might have, too, for all we know. Bush is in the White House on false pretences.”
“John Kerry is a very negative individual. That’s why he lost the election. All the criticism. Rehashing the past. It was such a downer.”
“He didn’t wiggle out of serving in the armed forces like some people I could name.” She rolled her eyes. “Just tell me this. Are you registered Republicans now? Has it come to that?” A distinct possibility. She drives a Land Rover. He’s a corporate tax attorney.
“We’re Independents,” she said, lifting her chin. She actually believed this.
“Old George is saying his brother should be president next. Jeb. As if we haven’t all suffered enough with that family.”
“Who do the Democrats have?” she asked in a mean, whiney way. Her husband labors night and day to help the wealthy hang onto their money. That's his mission in life. Meanwhile, my sister had on a little jacket like Laura Bush might wear. Something was terribly wrong here. My sister never went out in public in jeans and t-shirts anymore. She didn’t leave the house without lipstick and a touch of blush. Her nails tapped sharply on the table and that’s when I realized she’d had a manicure, too. “Well?”
“Who do they have? The Democrats?” She was sneering now.
They? They? “Hillary Clinton,” I said, loudly enough that other customers swiveled towards the front door and craned their necks to possibly catch a glimpse of her.
“She’s too angry,” my sister said, sounding exactly like Ken Mehlmann. As if Hillary didn’t have a thing or two to be angry about. Men resort to the angry woman accusation if all else fails. But my sister?
“Wouldn’t you like to see a woman president?” I asked, regaining some composure. “Don’t you think it’s about time?”
“What I’d like is to focus on the positive,” she said. We were back to that again.
“First Bush said we had to find Osama Bin Laden. Remember? Then he said it wasn’t a priority. And here we are, years later--"
“Bin Laden is hiding. Bush said so.”
I stared across the table at this stranger in an outfit from Talbot’s. She was under a scary spell, all right. What if it was permanent? I grasped at one last straw to make my point. “Did you watch Ronald Reagan’s funeral? The three-day thing? Or was it a week?”
“He was a great American. It was a tragic loss.”
“All his movies are on at 3:00 a.m. 'Bedtime for Bonzo.' We can see him whenever we want. I mean, why didn’t they just bury the poor man? Why did they have to drag him back and forth across the country and put the whole thing on TV? Don’t you think it was a trifle excessive? And all because he said things people wanted to hear. That’s what started it.”
I swallowed. “The national addiction to optimism and positive thinking. It’s wormed its way into the very fabric of our culture. It’s sick.”
She slung her designer purse over her shoulder and stood. “All right, that’s enough. This conversation has put a damper on my whole day. It was a lovely series of memorials and funerals. Nancy looked elegant and thin when she threw herself over the coffin. You really should try to snap out of it and go shopping for some new clothes.”
“Maybe I’ll buy an optimistic rug.” I admit to feeling bitter and disillusioned. I never dreamed any relation of mine would cross over to the political dark side.
“A little optimism wouldn’t hurt you,” she said, and left in a huff.
A Starbuck's guy walked over and offered me a refill.
“Do you have any optimism?” I asked, bracing myself for some canned, robotic response.
“If you want my opinion, we’re on the highway to hell,” he said, looking like he meant it. I brightened at this; the first hopeful thing I'd heard all day. I smiled, and he filled my cup.