“Have we made a choice for dessert?” the waiter asked Jim and Janet Crawford.
The couple sat in a corner in Knoxville’s Ye Olde Steakhouse going over the menu. Finally, Jim put his menu on the table and looked at Janet.
“Want to do the Hershey Bar Cake?” he asked.
She smiled and nodded.
“Will that be to share?” asked the waiter.
Jim nodded.
“I’ll be right back with it,” said the waiter.
When the waiter left the table, Jim stood up.
“Sorry, I have to go the restroom,” he said.
“That’s fine,” said Janet, as she pulled her iPhone out of her purse to begin scanning it.
Jim move quickly moved towards the bathroom. It was the second time he had to go during dinner, but it just seemed to be part of his aging. He did his business and he returned to the table the same time the waiter did with the cake. Janet put her iPhone away when both arrived.
The waiter set the cake, a legendary concoction of Hershey bars and syrup, on the table. The words, “Happy Anniversary,” were written on the side of the platter in chocolate syrup.
“Congratulations on 35 years Mr. and Mrs. Crawford,” said the waiter.
“Thank you,” said Jim.
When the waiter left, they each picked up a spoon and took a bite. Jim shook his head, a move that those who knew him well saw to be a sign of high praise.
“Wow,” said Janet.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” agreed Jim.
Janet nodded.
“So what was going on in the world while I was in the bathroom?” he asked.
“Oh, Donald Trump is just being an asshole,” said Janet.
“How so?” asked Jim with a slight tone of condescension in his voice.
Janet smirked and reached into her purse for her phone, pulled up the article she wanted him to see and slid the phone across the table to him. Jim picked it up and read the article, which focused on a Tweet Trump sent that read, “Pocahontas is at it again. Goofy Elizabeth Warren, one of the least productive U.S. Senators, has a nasty mouth.”
Jim shook his head.
“Well, that was rude, but he’s got a point,” he argued. “What he’s saying is that–“
“I know what he’s saying,” Janet interrupted. “She called him a thin-skinned bully and we’re not sure if she is really genuine about her Cherokee heritage. Still, what a racist asshole.”
Years of futility had taught Janet that it was useless to engage her husband in actual political debate. He simply would not waver on his beliefs and the more he doubled down, the more she questioned his sanity. But he was a good man and the political rants had only become more prevalent in the last decade.
However, on this night – a night that should have been a beautiful one filled with talks of great times – she could not bite her tongue. She started the conversation by sharing that Tweet. Maybe it was the two glasses of Merlot. Maybe it was the Tweet. Maybe it was just the political climate. Regardless, she was fired up and ready for a debate.
“Is he really?” asked Jim. “I mean, he’s succeeded in every business he ever owned and he raised those kids right.”
“You don’t know that,” retorted Janet. “You just saw that on FOX News.”
Jim gave her a perplexed look. His wife rarely debated him on any issues and he often felt that her silence meant that she agreed him. She had never said anything before when he pondered about the possibilities of a Trump presidency or tried to make sense of his remarks and teetering positions.
“I just wish the media would do a thorough job of vetting him,” said Jim.
Janet’s jaw dropped. Jim held out his arms.
“I mean we really don’t know anything about him other than the crazy things the media has reported on him saying,” Jim continued.
Janet bit her bottom lip and looked up at the ceiling before speaking.
“You ever seen the movie Christine?” she asked.
Jim shrugged.
“I think the girls had it on once when they were in high school,” he said.
“Well, the best thing about it is the line, ‘You can’t polish a turd’ and that sums up Trump to a tee,” she answered. “No matter how much you and everyone else tries to find a silver lining in all of this.”
“Are you not even considering voting for him?” Jim asked.
Janet snorted.
“I’m voting for Hillary,” she said. “I made that decision the day John Kasich dropped out of the race.”
“Oh honey,” Jim pleaded. “A vote for Hillary is a vote for four more years of Obama.”
“Maybe… but Hillary’s pragmatic.”
“She’s just fake,” said Jim.
“Yeah. She’s so pragmatic that she’s even fake about being pragmatic,” said Janet.
“This country is going to hell in a handbasket if we don’t figure out a way to get our fiscal house in order. There won’t be a day of reckoning in our lifetime, but girls will probably have to pay for it,” he said.
Janet rolled her eyes.
“I hope you don’t say that to them,” she muttered, knowing that he did.
“The thing about Trump is that he’s not part of the political machine,” said Jim. “He could really get in there and shake things up. It could really be an exciting time.”
“Vietnam was an exciting time. So was Watergate and I don’t want to live through either one of those ever again,” said Janet.
Jim placed his spoon on the platter and simply stared at her.
“You’re not going to budge on this, are you?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“My mind is 100% made up,” she answered.
He nodded. He wanted to tell her why Hillary was wrong for America and why it was important for the Republican Party to unify and rally around its candidate to stop her. But he also wanted to have sex when they got home.
“Well, I won’t try to change it then,” said Jim. “We can talk about something else.”
The ride home to Pennyroyal was quiet, but not tense. Janet felt there were few things less sexy than an angry, middle-class white man railing against the government and extolling the virtues of conservative politics, but it was their anniversary. Once she put the cats up for the night, she took him into her arms and forgot about the conversation at dinner and the thousands that preceded it.
The next morning, she walked into the kitchen in her bathrobe and poured herself a cup of coffee. From the living room, she could hear a commercial for “Money in the Bank,” an upcoming World Wrestling Entertainment pay-per-view special. Oh good, she thought, maybe he’s watching SportsCenter or a movie.
When she entered the living room, she saw that he was sitting in his recliner watching “Fox & Friends.” Janet felt the tears well in her eyes.
“Good morning,” he said.
She nodded and sat on the couch. On the TV was a shouting match between a Trump and Clinton surrogate over abortion.
“You know,” said Jim. “Hillary and other elitist liberals always point out the assault on women’s health. The media never reports on how government is slowly taking religion and Christianity away throughout the country.”
Janet rubbed her forehead, knowing she should have had a glass of water before going to bed.
“There are churches in this county every two miles and we pray before all events around here,” she said. “What are you talking about?”
“I’m not talking about here,” said Jim. “I’m talking about the rest of the country. The Obama administration has shown a huge level of arrogance in the regulations they have put out in this last term. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. That man is a socialist and -“
Janet slammed her coffee mug down on the end table, splashing coffee all over it. Jim leaned back in his chair in shock.
“You know what,” she said. “I don’t like Obama either, but if a man walked into the Oval Office and jumped on his desk and took a dump, I’d side with the President. You’d side with the man who took the dump.”
“Actually, I’d be more concerned that the Secret Service under his watch let it–“
“Whatever! You can’t reason with people who take that approach and since I’m being honest with you, I blame you for Trump,” said Janet.
“Me!” exclaimed Jim. “I voted for Rubio in the primary.”
“Fine,” said Janet. “You’re one of thousands of angry old white men, who sit around and watch FOX News and listen to Rush Limbaugh all day and talk about how this country is falling apart.”
“I’m just trying to stay on top of the issues,” said Jim.
“Why, so you can be the most informed man at Hardee’s?” asked Janet. “You’ve got two wonderful daughters and two grandkids and a nice home, but you’d rather sit around and spew bile about how life isn’t like the ’50s, which was a great time… for white men!”
Jim stared at her for 30 seconds before speaking.
“You know, we’ve got such little time together, we really don’t need to spend it fighting,” he said.
Janet bolted out of her chair.
“No, and we don’t need to spend it watching FOX News while you sit and bitch either. I need to get out of this house,” she said.
She packed a bag and went to stay with her daughter Carol, who was 25 and had no grandkids that would ask questions. Once Carol got her mother situated, she went to see her father. When she pulled into the driveway at 4:00 in the afternoon, she expected Jim to meet her at the front door. He didn’t. When she entered the house, she feared the worst. Instead, she found the second worst: her father sitting in front of the television, drinking coffee and watching FOX News.
“Dad?” said Carol, trying to get his attention.
He turned and showed no emotion when he acknowledged her, but he did pick up the remote and mute the television.
“Is your mother with you?” he asked.
“She’s staying with me,” said Carol. “I left her at home.”
“I don’t understand. I’m not a drunk. I don’t chase other women and I’ve never laid a hand on her,” he said. “All I’ve tried to do is stay informed.”
“I know,” she said.
“This country is falling apart,” he said. “I probably won’t have to pay the price for all the spending and entitlement programs, but you will I’m afraid.”
“No shit,” said Carol.
“Have I told you that before?” he asked.
“About 200 times,” she said.
Carol had engaged with her father countless times on politics, with both of them getting red-faced in many instances during her college years. Yet like her mother and her sister, she just decided it was pointless to argue with him and stopped doing it.
“Well, I’m sorry, I haven’t meant to be a broken record,” said Jim.
She started to speak, but then heard her father’s stomach growl.
“Did you not have lunch?” she said.
He shook his head.
“I just forgot,” said Jim.
Carol went into the kitchen and fixed a couple of sandwiches. They sat at the table, eating in silence before Carol got the nerve to speak.
“I don’t know if what Mom is doing is right or wrong, but I do know that I cannot last more than 30 minutes while you watch FOX News and rant,” said Carol. “I don’t know how she does it.”
“I’m just–“
“Let me finish, Dad,” Carol continued. “You have a good life, but you just choose to be angry.”
“I’m just concerned,” said Jim.
“So am I Dad. So am I,” said Carol.
“You know she said she blames me for Trump’s nomination?” said Jim.
Carol smiled.
“I don’t think she puts the blame solely on you,” she said. “I think she’s just disturbed that a man she loves and admires is so consumed with rage that he could support someone who has been repeatedly foul. We all are.”
“Well, it ‘s just–” Jim began.
“You’re not going to convince me,” said Carol. “You need to think about Mom and what you want to do. She can stay with me until you do.”
Four days passed, and while Carol had admired the truth to power stance her mother had taken against her father, she did not appreciate that she took the same approach on how she kept her house. As she drove home from her job at the hospital, she was ready to have a hard talk about what her mother’s next steps would be, and was relieved to see her father’s Ford Ranger parked in her driveway. Carol drove past her house, hoping for the best. Inside, Jim and Janet sat on Carol’s couch, both staring straight ahead.
“I’m sorry I left like I did,” said Janet. “That wasn’t fair to you.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “I’m sorry I haven’t been easy to live with lately.”
Janet did not respond.
“Thanks for not arguing with me on that,” he said.
“What do you want me to say?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he said, his voice trailing off. “When we got married, did you think I had a bad temper?”
“Oh yeah,” said Janet. “It scared me for awhile.”
“I know and as time went on, I tried to work on it, but I think the anger is still there. It might have manifested itself in politics,” said Jim.
“Thank you. I’ve been saying this to you for years,” said Janet.
Jim laughed.
“I know, but if it doesn’t go through politics, it will come out in other areas of life,” he said.
Janet sighed.
“Honestly, I’d rather have 10 knockdown drag-out fights a year with you than listen to you rant one more time about abortion, the national debt, assault on religion or liberal elitism,” she said.
Jim smiled.
“So what are you saying? I have to choose between FOX News and you?” he asked.
“No,” she said. “You have to decide if you’re either going to be my husband or an angry white man. You can’t be both.”
Jim roared with laughter.
“I don’t even need to think about it,” he said. “I want to be your husband.”
Janet turned to face him.
“Will you vote for Hillary?” she asked.
Jim met her gaze and then looked at the ground.
“I can’t do that, but I promise you that quality time will never again be watching FOX News together,” said Jim.
Janet exhaled.
“That’s good enough,” she said and gave him a hug and kiss.
They held each other for what seemed like minutes.
“Do you want to take a drive?” asked Jim.
Janet nodded and they walked outside and got in Jim’s truck. When Jim turned the ignition, the voice of Sean Hannity blared through the speakers. Janet frowned and Jim quickly turned to the classic rock station. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” played and Jim turned to Janet.
“We were together the first time we heard this song,” he said.
“I remember,” said Janet.
She put her hand over his as he shifted gears and the truck sped away.