The Fairchild International Gulfstream glided down the runway of the Hanover County Airport, its silvery wings glinting in the bright sunlight. The plane taxied over to the hanger and Polly Pennington came rocketing down the stairs as soon as the door was open. "Where’s the restroom?" she asked.
I pointed in the general direction of where I thought the bathroom should be, but it didn’t matter. She took three steps and then threw up. Part of it landed on my shoes, but it didn’t matter because they were canvas.
"Are you all right?" I asked.
"Flying," she said. "Does it to me every time, especially on little airplanes like that. Is that, like, your personal airplane?"
"Not really," I said. "Fairchild International owns it, and they lease it to my super-PAC on an as-need basis. Or I think that’s how it works. Dad got someone at the FEC to explain it to me, but I didn’t take good notes."
"Dear God in heaven," Polly said. "Justin Trudeau-Fairchild has a super-PAC. I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or throw up again."
"Please don’t throw up again," I said.
"Not an issue," she said. "Let’s get started, shall we?"
We drove in the Prius back to the house, which, as I may have mentioned, is still undergoing a certain degree of renovation. "Good Lord," Polly said, "you live all the way out here?"
"My fiancee picked it out," I said. I was a little defensive about the house. It was absurdly large and opulent for two people (soon to be three) and it wasn’t the best argument for income inequality. But then, neither was the airplane Polly had taken up from Wilmington, or my trust fund, or any number of things.
"I knew this was a rural district, but I wasn’t expecting quite this rural. How many acres do you have?"
"I’m not sure," I said. "Fourteen, maybe. Or forty-five. They said something about it at the closing. I need to actually check that, because owning all those trees factors into my carbon footprint."
"Justin, you need to know all this stuff. Remember how McCain forgot how many houses he had?"
"Well, that’s why we just have the one. Come on, let’s go inside."
I parked the Prius in the circular driveway, and we went up the stairs and through the foyer and into the sitting room, which we hadn’t yet had the nerve to touch and was still brimming with Gilded Age rococo.
I found a spindly chair to sit on, and motioned Polly over to a floral-print couch.
"This is just surreal, Justin. Sorry. I am used to seeing you in my office, cringing because you’d done or said something stupid to the wrong person. You look like a robber baron in this house."
"It used to be owned by one," I said. "Really, it’s just a house. We’re redecorating, or at least trying to before we hit the real election."
"That’s my first question," she said. "Are you really serious about this? I know you’re still doing the exploratory-committee thing, and I understand that, but you need to have all your ducks in a row before you announce, and I am not seeing that."
"I am very serious," I said. "I’ve got the backing of the DNC, and the Hillary campaign, and a line of credit that I can tap whenever I need it. I’m going to run, and I think I can win."
"Then why haven’t you announced?" Polly said.
"I need a campaign manager to help me manage details just like that–when I announce, where I do it, media coverage, all that stuff. I know you can do it, and I’d like you to start right away."
"Which leads me to my second question: why me? You must be able to afford a lot of people more qualified, not to mention people that know the district."
"You’re from Delaware. Demographically, it isn’t all that different than Hanover County. And you’re as qualified as anyone else I can think of."
"Justin, for God’s sake. I was an intern, same as you. I got fired, and I’ve been doing social media for the Attorney General’s office ever since. I’ve never run a campaign on my own; I wouldn’t have the first clue."
"You have something that nobody else has, though," I said.
Polly sat back on the couch and started playing with a tassel on one of the pillows. "And what might that be?" she asked.
"You think I’m an idiot," I said.
"No, I don’t," she said.
"I have heard you call me an idiot to my face, more than once," I said.
"I never once said that," she said.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"I never said that. Maybe I thought that, like ten or fifteen times. But I would never call you an idiot to your face."
"This is what I’m saying," I said. "Look, this is really hard for me to admit, okay? I mean, my parents are really smart. I went to school in New Haven around a lot of people who were scary-smart. My fiancee is very smart. And all of these people think I’m stupid."
"No, they don’t, Justin," Polly said.
"They do. And I know it’s not true. I know I’m not stupid. But I make mistakes, like anyone else, and you know as well as I do that it just takes one big mistake to wreck your political career."
"That’s not always true. Look at the Vice-President."
"Nonetheless, I don’t want to make any mistakes in this campaign, if I can get away with it. I know I will if I keep going by myself. I already have. And I’m afraid that if I keep going on like this, people are going to find out that I’m not all that smart, and they’ll find out who I really am."
"I begin to see your point," Polly said. "You know about impostor syndrome, right? When you start to think that you’re a fraud, and a phony, and that you’re going to be discovered at any moment, and it makes you all neurotic and weird?"
"I thought that was normal," I said. "Doesn’t everyone feel like that all the time?"
"Not exactly," she said. "But in your case, it seems to be well-founded. And you know you have it, so you’re ahead of the game. But I don’t see what that has to do with me."
"I need someone to run my campaign who can tell me when I’m doing stupid things. Someone who knows I’m an idiot. Anybody else that I hired would be all, ‘yes, Mr. Fairchild, no, Mr. Fairchild, right away, Mr. Fairchild.’"
"’Know thyself,’ huh. Good advice."
"The best."
"So," Polly said, "you are looking for someone who can stop you from quoting Leon Trotsky in public."
"Except for when I talk to the local Trotskyite cell, of course. Assuming there are any this far out."
"Assuming," she said.
"So, can you help me fool the public long enough to get elected?" I asked.
Polly twirled the tassel on the pillow. "You realize that hiring me gives you the reciprocal obligation to listen to me, right?"
"Of course."
"And not be offended when I tell you to get rid of all those zhe/zher pronouns on your website?"
"I’m trying to show that I’m a transgender ally," I said.
"Yeah, figure out another way to do that. Okay, third question."
"Go ahead."
"Is your fiancee on board with me? She seemed a little skittish the last time I talked to her."
"Honestly, I don’t think so. She would rather be my campaign manager, and I think she’d do a decent job. But she’s pregnant, and she’s due around the time of the primary, assuming that there is one, so I need somebody else."
"I get a reasonable budget," Polly said, "and discretion to hire my own staff, and I supervise your social media. All of it. You do that, and I’m in."
"I hired Polly," I said.
"To do social media?" Emma asked. "Shouldn’t you have hired a campaign manager first?"
"She is going to be the campaign manager," I said.
"I don’t know, Justin. I don’t think she’s ready for it."
"I don’t know that she is," I said. "I just know that I trust her to keep me on the rails." I was trying to inject a lot of rail-related imagery in my conversations to help build support for increased funding for public transit for Hanover County.
"She’s not an idealist, like you and I are," Emma said. "She’s a political hack. She’s just in it for herself."
"So far, everything that I’ve done that’s been based on idealism has been wrong. I need someone who can counterbalance that."
"She’s a phony, Justin. Don’t you see that? She’s…"
"An impostor?" I asked.
"Yes, exactly."
"Isn’t everyone?"
"Not everyone. I mean, you aren’t. You are just who you are, and I love you. I’m just worried that this is a bad decision."
I was worried, too, but if I’d made a mistake in hiring Polly, at least it was an honest mistake. "We’ll see what happens," I said. "We just have to have faith that it will work out in the end."
"Faith," Emma quoted, "is the substance of things not seen."
"True enough. Having said that–don’t you ever feel like an impostor?"
"No, but I’m sure I will when this baby gets here. You will, too. Come on, let’s get some sleep."
Updated, see the next in the series, Week Six: The Snow Day
Check out the previous installments:
Last year:
Week Forty-Nine: The True North
Week Fifty: The Garden State
This year:
Week Two: The Pipeline
Week Three: The Matchlock Gun
Week Four: The Brain Trust
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