I was sitting at my desk in my cubicle, looking for vintage photos of clowns piling out of clown cars to illustrate the race for Speaker of the House, but I kept getting interrupted.
“Congratulations,” one of the new interns said.
“Not funny,” I said.
“Oh, come on,” the intern said. Her name was Martha, and she was a Cornell graduate who had been the mascot for the basketball team. This involved, I was told, wearing a large furry bear costume. She’d made the mistake of posting pictures of herself in the costume on her public Facebook feed, which had led to a truly alarming level of attention from various creeps with fur fetishes.
“You are the fourth person to congratulate me today,” I said. “I did not do anything.”
“You’re going to be the next prime minister of Canada,” she said. “That’s quite the achievement.”
“It is not funny,” I said. “If you want to congratulate Justin Trudeau, feel free to call him and do that. I am Justin Trudeau-Fairchild, and we’re not the same person or even related.”
“Call it a humorous coincidence, then,” Martha said.
“It is very deeply not humorous to me,” I said. “Microaggression.”
“Just trying to cheer you up,” Martha said. “Sorry.”
“Congratulations,” Aunt Joan said. “It’s not every day you get to be named Prime Minister of Canada.”
I couldn’t call Aunt Joan out on a microaggression, of course. She’d just think I was joking. So I just hung my head.
“Oh, what’s the matter?” she said. “Please tell me that you’re not so touchy that you can’t put up with a little bit of teasing.”
“It’s not that,” I said.
“You’re not worried about the Biden thing, are you? It’s not going to be a problem. You’ll see.”
“It’s not that,” I said.
“Okay, well, I don’t know what it is, then, but stop being so mopey. Did you pass on the message about the Trump 9/11 thing?”
“Not to press the issue?” I said. “I didn’t follow that.”
“If people start asking themselves why Bush didn’t stop 9/11,” she said, “they might ultimately remember who was President before that. Not anything we want to encourage.”
“Okay,” I said.
“So that’s fine,” she said. “Is it?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said.
“The important thing to remember, Justin,” Aunt Joan said, “is that nobody in this country cares anything about Canadian politics. In a day or two, this will all blow over and everyone will forget about it, and you can go back to being your usual self. Okay?”
“You say so,” I said.
“I do,” she said. “Now get back to work.”
“It’s not that big of a deal,” Emma said.
“It is,” I said. “I must have had twenty people come up to me and make fun of me because I share a name with that guy.”
“Poor you,” she said. “I spent all of middle school with idiots making fun of my name. ‘Emma Pratt, fatty-fat.'”
“That’s terrible,” I said. “Being bullied like that.”
“Well, I was kind of fat, then. I lost thirty pounds the summer before I started high school, and the teasing stopped. Not saying that the idiot boys who called me that had a point, mind you, but it was still annoying.”
“I can see how that would be annoying,” I said.
“Of course, I’m going to get fat with this baby, you watch. So be prepared, because I might get some of those same comments.”
“I see,” I said. She hadn’t told me she was definitely keeping the baby before. So there was that. I was going to be a father. Any other time, I might have felt something about that.
“Unless we get married before that,” she said. “You have to admit, ‘Emma Fairchild, fatty-fat’ doesn’t scan quite as well.”
“Not Trudeau-Fairchild?” I asked.
“Well… I thought about going with Emma Pratt-Fairchild, but that sounds like an aviation merger. Emma Trudeau-Fairchild sounds like my maiden name was Trudeau, which of course it isn’t. If you were to ask me to marry you, which of course you haven’t yet, not that I am putting any pressure on you, I think I would just go with plain Emma Fairchild. Unless that’s a problem.”
“Can we not have this discussion right now?” I asked. More than anything else, I found myself wishing Emma would just go to bed so I could raid the kitchen. I had three frozen Snickers bars that I’d hidden in a box of veggie burgers, and I wanted them so badly I could taste the chocolate melting in my mouth.
“Justin, for God’s sake. What is the matter with you today?”
“Do you really want to know?” I asked.
“Justin, of course I want to know. We live together. You are the father of my child. We’ve just been talking about getting married. If something is bothering you, I want to know about it.”
I didn’t say anything. I just handed her my iPad.
“Okay, you got an e-mail from your mom. That’s not the end of the world.”
“Read it,” I said.
“All it says is look how well your namesake is doing, and see what you could do if you would just apply yourself. Sounds like she’s teasing you. Which is kind of mean, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the sort of thing parents tease their kids about.”
“You don’t understand,” I said. “This is like the fiftieth e-mail I’ve gotten from her about… about that guy in Canada. It’s like she’s got a Google Alert set up for my name, and every time he does something, it trips the alert, and she reminds me of whatever it was that Justin Trudeau did, with the suggestion that if I applied myself, I could….”
“Become Prime Minister of Canada?”
“Well, maybe not that, but… I mean, he’s the leader of his country. And he’s going to make a difference, even if he is more of a centrist than I’ll ever be. And here I am, doing social media for Hillary Clinton, not even making any money doing it, and I’m doing the best I can, and it’ll never be good enough, not for her.”
“Good Lord, Justin,” Emma said. “You’re twenty-five years old. He’s forty-something, and his father was Prime Minister. It’s like comparing yourself to a Kennedy or something.”
“I’m not a Kennedy,” I said. “I’m a Fairchild.”
“Justin, please,” she said. “You’re just a couple of years out of college, and you’ve done very well for yourself. Justin Trudeau was a drama teacher when he was your age. You have plenty of time to become great in your own way.”
“Making a difference,” I said.
Emma sat down on the couch next to me. “Your problem is that you don’t know what your true north is,” she said.
“Another Canadian reference?” I asked.
“You think your true north is making your mother happy.”
“I don’t think that.”
“You do, at least subconsciously, or this wouldn’t bother you so much. But that’s not your true north. Your true north is working as hard as you can for the progressive cause, same as me. As long as you’re staying true to your true north, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Not your parents, not your Aunt Joan, not Justin Trudeau. Just what you think.”
“I think I want to change my name,” I said.
“You could be Justin Pratt,” she said.
“Oh, great. Justin Pratt, fatty-fat.”
“This reminds me,” she said. “I ate all those frozen Snickers you hid in the freezer.”
“Great,” I said.
“No, but Justin Pratt sounds nice. You should consider it.”
“I will take it under advisement.”
“Hey, it could be worse. You could be Justin Time.”
“Stop it.”
“Justin Case,” she said.
“I am begging you.”
“Justin Timberlake.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Never mind. Let’s go to sleep. Things will look better in the morning.”
The next day, we woke up and went to work, and the Vice President announced his decision not to run for the Presidency, which meant that the last serious major rival for the nomination had evaporated, and not incidentally proving Aunt Joan right. And not one person came up to me and said anything about Justin Trudeau. That meant that I could spend the next year attacking Republicans on social media. I was in a position to make a difference. But for the first time in a long time, I burned to do something more, something higher, something significant. All I had to do was follow my true north, just like what’s-his-name in Ottawa.