You can read this series from the beginning here.
"So, you guys work together on the Hillary campaign?" he asked.
I never figured out if he was Emma’s mother’s brother or Emma’s father’s brother or just who he was. Emma called him "Uncle Jeff," and he had been invited to Easter dinner at Emma’s parents in New Jersey, just like I had been. He was about the right age to be her uncle. His hair was thinning and he had a round gut and it looked like there was a golf tee in the corner of the pocket of his polo shirt. I had him pegged for a Republican just based on the red-and-blue stripe pattern.
"It’s not really the former Secretary’s campaign just yet," I explained. "She hasn’t officially announced yet. Once she does, then the organizational leadership will decide whether to fold it into the campaign or keep doing issue advocacy."
"So you’re basically doing an end-run around the campaign finance laws," Uncle Jeff said. "Taking dark money to advocate for Hillary without using her name."
"I think it’s wrong to talk about money being dark," I said. "Just because some of it’s coming from overseas. Saying that it’s ‘dark’ has a very uncomfortable racial overtone."
"We wouldn’t want that," Uncle Jeff said.
Emma was helping wash dishes in the other room, and happened to look up and see us talking, and called for me to come and help her put away a serving dish on a high shelf. "Be nice," she warned me.
"I am being nice," I said. "Your mother said so."
"That’s because you haven’t sat down with her for an hour and a half to convince her that she’s complicit in societal inequity," she said. "Can’t you go and watch the basketball game with my dad or something? You’d like him. He gave fifty bucks to the Cory Booker campaign."
"What did you tell me on the train ride up here?" I said. "Every family has its own little traditions. In my family, we spend holidays doing consciousness-raising."
"Justin, please. Don’t."
"It usually works out okay. Mom did a big Filipino buffet just last week to celebrate Emilio Aguinaldo’s birthday, and lots of people came over and learned something about native resistance to American imperialism."
"I am begging you, Justin. Do not embarrass me in front of my family."
So I didn’t.
Nothing happened until after dinner, and dessert. Emma had two blackberry tarts and two shots of blackberry liqueur, and curled up next to me and fell right to sleep, and I realized that I had been conned. I couldn’t get up from the couch without waking her up, and of course that’s when Uncle Jeff sat down across from me.
"I don’t suppose you play golf, do you, Justin?"
I decided not to explain that Trotskyite revolutionaries don’t golf. "I sunburn too easily," I said. It had the advantage of being true–one of the few true drawbacks of white privilege.
"They make sunblock. Let me guess. You don’t look like you ever played lacrosse or rugby, or even peewee football. And you’re not lean enough to have done cross-country or soccer. I’m guessing tennis or squash."
"Volleyball. My mom wouldn’t let me play tennis because the rackets weren’t cruelty-free."
"Sounds reasonable. You ought to try golf sometime, though. I manage a course out in Annapolis. You two should come out sometime, hit a few range balls. We can get you some sunblock."
"Thanks. It’s really not my thing, though."
"No, seriously. We have a low carbon footprint–all the grass and trees, you know. We use reclaimed water for irrigation. And we have a whole fleet of zero-emission electric vehicles."
"You have what?" I asked.
"Golf carts," he said.
"Oh. Well, do you cater gay weddings?"
"No, we don’t do that."
I took a deep breath. I would have tensed my muscles if I wasn’t afraid of waking up Emma. I was a social justice warrior in that moment, ready to do battle against the forces of intolerance and bigotry.
"I mean," he continued, "we don’t have a catering facility. It’s a small operation–the golf course, the pro shop, and the bar and grill. We don’t do any kind of weddings, gay or otherwise."
"Oh," I said.
"We did a funeral one time. It was more of a memorial service, really. One of our regulars had a heart attack and died in a bunker on the sixth hole. His wife asked to have his ashes mixed into the sand, so we did it."
"And you would have done the same thing if he were gay."
"Oh, sure. I don’t know that we have that many guests who are gay, though, come to think of it."
"Is that a fact?" I asked. I was ready for this. I had every possible rejoinder right at my fingertips and was ready to blow poor Uncle Jeff out of the water, rhetorically speaking.
"Lesbians, though, definitely. Lot of lesbians. Call it a stereotype if you want to, but a lot of our women golfers are lesbians."
I sagged back into the couch. Emma wasn’t showing any signs of waking up.
"I tell you what," Uncle Jeff said. "If you ever want to learn something about women, go out and play behind a lesbian foursome sometime. It’s an eye-opening experience. Especially if they’ve had a couple of drinks first."
"Sounds charming," I said.
"You learn a lot about people, playing golf. You really ought to try it. We’ve even got a racially diverse workplace."
"What does that mean?" I asked. "Mexican groundkeepers and African-American waiters?"
"Not exactly," he said. "Our golf pro is from Fiji–they play a lot of golf in Fiji, you’d be surprised. Bar and grill manager is from Barbados, originally–great guy. Waitresses are from the community college–we have a work-study arrangement with them. Two of my greenskeepers are Mexican, though."
"Undocumented?" I asked.
"You mean illegal? Oh, goodness no. Both of them born in this country–fourth generation, I think. Neither of them even speak Spanish. We can’t hire illegals anyway; it’s against the law. E-Verify and all that."
I was momentarily disappointed, because if he was opposed to immigration reform but hired undocumented workers, that made him a hypocrite, and you can always win arguments against hypocrites. "But you’d hire them if you could. To keep down wages."
"Hell, no. I pay those guys good wages–more than the minimum. You can’t just hire someone to do real greenskeeping without any kind of experience, around golf. Maybe to cut your lawn, or to do construction, but not for golf course maintenance. There are a lot of variables to consider–how you shape your fairways, how much do you let the rough grow out, all that good stuff. Your average illegal immigrant doesn’t get to this country knowing all that."
"I never thought about it that way," I said.
"I mean, if we got an illegal immigrant from Scotland, then that would be one thing. But that ain’t happening."
"So you’re in favor of immigration reform?" I asked.
"Yes and no," Uncle Jeff said. "What they’re talking about in Congress, absolutely not. You can’t just open the doors and let everybody in and make them citizens. You do that and you’d turn the entire country into the Oklahoma land rush–everyone from all over the world coming here all at once. It’s a recipe for social breakdown, here and overseas."
"That’s not necessarily the case," I said. "Besides, we need new immigrants if we want to keep Social Security solvent."
"It is if you don’t work hard to assimilate new immigrants, and we’re not doing that with the immigrant population we have, at least not very well. Having said that, you’re right, we do need new immigrants. But just dumping people here won’t work. What we need to do is to fix our current immigration system, which is the most dysfunctional bureaucracies that there ever was. That’s where immigration reform ought to happen–clearing out the backload of applications, handing out green cards, and generally making the system work better."
"I know what you mean," I said. "My dad had to call Christopher Dodd about a couple of dozen times so he could convince the INS to let Marta’s sister come over from Germany on a temporary work permit when Marta strained her back taking out the garbage that time. And my mom complains all the time about travel restrictions–she almost missed her last trip to North Korea because they supposedly ‘lost’ her visa."
"Too bad for her. You want something else to drink? I’m going to fix myself a glass of bourbon. That blackberry stuff is too sweet for me."
"Thanks anyway."
Uncle Jeff got up and fixed his drink and wandered into the other room, where the TV set was showing the aforementioned basketball game. Emma was still asleep and was grinding her elbow into my ribs. I shifted a little bit to get more comfortable. Then I reached out and snagged a nearby throw pillow and used it to prop up my head. Two hours later, Emma was awake and was trying to pull me off the couch so we could say goodbye to her parents and head back to the hotel.
"Did you have a good time?" she asked, when we were alone in the car.
"Just fine," I said.
"You didn’t raise anyone’s consciousness in there, did you? While I was asleep?"
"No," I said. It wasn’t from lack of trying. I hadn’t made a difference at all that day, and resolved to do better next week.