I had three events that day, which made it the busiest day on the campaign schedule so far. I had a morning meeting with the Hanover County Sierra Club about water quality. They’d seen my commercial where I said that I’d fight for clean water, which they were of course also interested in, and decided that they needed to tell me everything that went in to making water dirty. I learned how to pronounce "trichloroethylene," for one thing.
Then in the afternoon, I had to make the drive over to the Ellington Estate, which was in the southern part of the county. Old Mr. Ellington’s heirs were trying to bulldoze the mansion where he’d spent his final days. Considering that Old Mr. Ellington had spent a big part of his career bulldozing low-income housing in Hanover County, I kind of thought it was appropriate, but the Hanover County Historical Society didn’t, and so I spent the rainy afternoon huddled under a too-small umbrella, and holding up a protest sign. After the protest ended, I grabbed a veggie sub at Subway and headed north for my next meeting at the Hanover County Community College with the Young Democrats. It was a long drive, so I called my dad to check in and see how my mom was doing.
"She’s better," he told me, "but the doctor says she’s still not able to travel. And that means you need to watch your mailbox."
"I thought she moved her newsletter over to electronic-only," I said.
"That’s not why," he said.
*
"Please calm down," I said to Emma. "You’re going to injure yourself."
I had barely gotten out of the Prius when Emma rushed over to me, jumping up and down, which was a testament to her pregnancy-yoga routine.
"I can’t stop jumping," Emma said. "It’s so exciting! Read! Read!"
"Read what?" I said, and then I spotted an envelope in her hand. She shoved it in my direction, and I pulled out the thick card. "President and Mrs. Barack Obama cordially invite you to a State Dinner…"
"We’re going to the White House!" Emma screamed. "We’re going to the White House!"
"Well, let’s hold on a second," I said. "Can we at least go inside before we get our invitation all wet?"
Emma stopped and looked at me for a long moment, and then started screaming again. "We’re going to the White House! We’re going to the White House!"
*
"We’re not really the ones who are invited," I tried to explain.
"What are you talking about?" Emma asked. "Your name and my name are on the invitation."
"I talked to my dad, earlier. I think he and my mother got invited. She’s still not well enough to travel, so he must have asked the White House Protocol Office if we could go in their place."
"Who cares how it happened?" Emma said. "We’re going to a state dinner in the White House. I’m going to meet Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau, and who knows who else will be there! It’s going to be so magical."
"That’s the other thing," I said.
"You are not making this about Justin Trudeau. Please don’t tell me that. I am not going to miss out on going to the White House because you have a fixation on Justin Trudeau."
"They’re already making fun of my name in campaign ads," I said. "If there’s a picture of me with the other Justin Trudeau, and there will be, it will be used against me. They’ll use pictures of me and Obama, too."
"You should be proud to be associated with Trudeau and Obama!" Emma said. "And, hello, dinner at the White House. Are you seriously going to turn this down?"
"I don’t want to," I said. "But I’m not sure I have a choice."
"That’s right," Emma said. "You do not. We’re going. And it’s going to be magical. You watch."
*
We walked along a gleaming corridor on a pale-marble tile floor, with the walls festooned with yellow flowers. Emma was wearing a sumptuous green velvet dress that accentuated her female gender expression. I was wearing the best tuxedo that Hanover County Rent-a-Tux had to offer. We walked past a bank of photographers, who were apparently all waiting for Michael J. Fox or someone else who was actually a celebrity.
We had a table at the far end of the room, with an NPR host and someone from the trade representative’s office. Everyone was very nice and cordial, and more than a few of them asked when the baby was due, which annoyed me and delighted Emma, for reasons that I can’t even understand. The dinner was lovely, the music was lovely, and everything was lovely except the time that Emma pinched my arm because she saw Ryan Reynolds.
The speeches were even lovely, as the President gave a nice speech about Canada, and Trudeau gave a nice speech about America, and then it was time to get up and get in the receiving line, and I started to tense up.
"Whatever you do, do not embarrass me," Emma whispered.
"Do what?" I asked.
"Do not say anything about tar sands. Or Keystone."
"I wasn’t going to," I said.
"See that you don’t," she said.
After an interminable time waiting, the protocol officer announced, "Mr. Justin Trudeau-Fairchild and Ms. Emma Pratt," and we went forward and shook hands with the President and Mrs. Obama, and had our picture taken, and then worked down the line to where the other Justin Trudeau was waiting."
"So there you are," Trudeau said. "You’re the other Justin Trudeau." His tuxedo looked sharp, but his hair was arranged in a sort of awkward pile that was slipping off to one side.
"In a manner of speaking," I said.
"You’re running for Congress, right? I would love to help you with that, if I could, but it’s not such a good idea, you know, Canadians messing around in American politics."
He seemed to be doing okay, but I didn’t say so. "Thanks anyway."
"Good luck with your race," he said, and the cameras clicked.
*
We left the White House together. Emma was floating on a cloud.
"Thank you so much for taking me, Justin," she said. "I know you didn’t want to come. But everyone was so nice, and you seemed to be hitting it off with the Prime Minister."
"It was fine," I said.
"I mean, I was so afraid you were going to start yelling at him and make a scene."
"I would never," I said, and then I stopped to think about it a little. I would have, this time last year. Trudeau was a fake progressive, after all. It wouldn’t hurt him to hear a little truth. Why didn’t I make a scene?
"We’ll be back again," Emma said. "Back to the White House, you and me. You just watch. There’ll be more state dinners in our future."
"My mother would have said something," I said.
"No, she would not have," Emma said.
"How do you know?" I said.
"Because I called her, and asked her for advice."
The world tilted violently on its axis. "You did what?"
"She said that, although state dinners were a holdover from the capitalist patriarchy, they represented our country reaching out to another country, and we ought to encourage that instead of pointing out our differences with the other country."
"That sounds very rational and reasonable," I said. "Are you sure you were talking to my mother?"
"Yes. She also said that your father wouldn’t let her protest at state dinners, because he knew he wouldn’t be invited back otherwise."
"Well, there’s that."
Emma turned to look at me, or as closely as she could without her belly getting in the way. "She said your father was good for her, as he was a moderating influence, and suggested I could do the same for you, which of course I have been doing. She said that made them a good team, which they must have been, because they raised you."
So I kissed her there, out in front of the White House, and we took a cab back to the hotel. It turns out that state dinners are magical. Who knew?
*
Check out the previous installments:
Last year:
Week Forty-Nine:The True North
Week Fifty:The Garden State
This year:
Week Four:The Brain Trust
Week Six:The Snow Day

Week Seven:The Coin Flip

Week Eight:The Wicked Witch
Week Ten: The Negative Ad