Wednesday, November 5, 2014

THE SEESAW EFFECT -- Election Day excerpt

Another excerpt from my almost done work-in-progress, THE SEESAW EFFECT, about what happens when a Democrat married to a Republican has to watch him become the next Rush Limbaugh. Progress on this work has taken a while... I started it during NaNoWriMo two years ago. As in, right when Obama got re-elected.

This morning sucks for Democrats, but it's no different than 2006. I saw this coming two years ago -- everyone should have. Things will get better. Remember what Martin Luther King Jr. said: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

* * *

Jessica opened her mouth to protest, but then the camera closed in on Jack, and we were on our way.

“Good evening, America,” he said. “Tonight’s the night we’ve been waiting for for the past two years. Tonight’s the night we take back our country.”

I felt dread in my stomach as I looked at my husband’s eyes. He seemed to believe what he was saying.

In the end, it was as bad as I’d feared. Republicans took every close seat, and I spent the evening sending out press releases while watching Jack gloat on TV. Whenever a Democrat went down, he played the chorus from “Another One Bites the Dust.”

“Dad’s acting like an asshole,” Jessica complained.

“That’s what they’re paying him to do.”

Michael thought his dad being on TV was the coolest thing ever. He laughed at everything Jack said, even when he wasn’t trying to make a joke. And he gave me a hard time when I insisted that he go to bed at his normal bed time.

“But Dad –“

“I’m DVRing it,” I assured him. “You’ll be able to watch the whole thing again tomorrow if you want. You can watch it again every day for the rest of your life if you want.”

“What. Ever,” he said. At the next commercial, he trudged off to bed.

“I don’t get it, Mom,” Jessica said. “How could all those Republicans win? I don’t even know any Republicans, except Dad. And most of the time I think he’s faking.”

“Republicans are good at scaring the crap out of people. And scared people are more likely to vote than people who are content.”

“Then why aren’t you scaring the crap out of people?” she demanded. “The entire planet is going to melt because of global warming. You’re supposed to be getting people elected to stop that. But you didn’t!”

There’s nothing like having your teenage daughter blame you for the destruction of the entire planet to really put your failures into perspective.

Right at 11pm, Jack gleefully called the final contested races on the west coast. I sent out the last of my press releases, and Jessica headed off to bed. When TRC replaced “You Vote, We Report” with a repeat of their headline show “Tempest in a Teacup,” I texted Jack: “Great job. When do you think you’ll be coming home?”

I cleaned up the kitchen, brushed my teeth, changed into my pajamas and set the alarm. By the time I fell asleep, I still hadn’t heard back from him.

Chapter Five

When my alarm blared at 6, I rolled over, but Jack still wasn’t there. I grabbed my phone – he had texted me around 2:00am:

“Party still going on. Staying at hotel tonight.”

Fabulous. I guess I should be grateful he had at least bothered to text me.

I dragged the kids out of bed and made sure they were getting ready. Mercedes took over at 7:00am, and I left for work.

The sun was shining and everything seemed normal – the stop lights still worked, although traffic itself was light. Walking down the sidewalk to my office, I noticed a feeling of gloom in the air. Everyone I passed had slumped shoulders and a dazed look on their face. It wasn’t surprising – at its heart, Washington D.C. is a Democratic town. Sure, there are plenty of Republican congressional staffers and lobbyists, but mostly the idealists who move here to change the world tend to vote blue.

At the office, there was a huge spread of donuts, coffee and bagels in the conference room. My colleagues were chowing down, but Ken was nowhere in sight.

“This is a surprise,” I told Robyn as I eyed the donuts. “A celebration after we got the shit kicked out of us last night?”

“The chocolate glazed ones are filled with vanilla cream,” she said. “I think I’m going to eat every single one of them.”

“The powdered white ones have chocolate cream in them,” I said. “Don’t ask me how I know that.”

“I’ll just have one of each.” She snatched several onto a plate.

What the hell. I grabbed a glazed one. Didn’t Weight Watchers say donuts had the same amount of points as bagels?

“How’s your resume looking?” Robyn asked.

“I … what… the election was yesterday!”

“You’re right. We should have started looking months ago.”

I crammed the donut into my mouth. And then I grabbed another one.

About ten minutes later, Ken walked in, trying to swallow a smirk. Ordinarily a happy boss would be a good thing, but I didn’t trust Ken. He wasn’t one of us, and every so often he’d let us know it.

“Is everyone here?” he asked, clapping his hands together.

Mike looked around. “Everyone but Randi. She’s on the phones.”

“Have her set it to voice mail and come join us,” Ken instructed.

I felt a pit in my stomach that had nothing to do with those donuts. Mike brought in Randi, who looked as pale as one of the white powdered ones.

Ken motioned for us to sit down. Robyn shoved another donut in her mouth.

“There’s no easy way to say this,” Ken said. “I just got off the phone with the chairman of the board. Considering the results of last night’s elections, they feel our organization is, as he put it, ‘a pointless waste of money.’”

There were several indignant gasps around the table.

“As such,” Ken continued, “they’ve pulled all our funding, effective immediately.”

No one said anything for several moments. Then Randi raised her hand and asked, “What exactly does that mean?”

“It means we’re done,” Robyn snapped. “This organization no longer exists.”

“We have until five o’clock today to clean everything out,” Ken said. “Everyone is getting two weeks’ severance pay and one free counseling session with a job counseling service. I am not sure about your health benefits. I don’t believe COBRA is in effect when an organization folds. But thank God for Obamacare, right?

“I am terribly sorry. You are all wonderful workers and I don’t think any of you will have a problem finding another job. Of course I’ll be happy to provide a reference.

“Please, take your time getting everything together. If you have a company laptop, I’ll need you to turn it in before you leave. And, oh -- have as many donuts as you’d like.”

He left, closing the door behind him. Several of my now ex-colleagues burst into tears.

Robyn just looked mad. “So he doesn’t think any of us will have any trouble finding a job? Does he have any idea how many Democrats are losing their jobs today? There aren’t going to be any jobs out there for any of us!” She shoved several donuts into her purse and stormed out.

My entire body went numb. I stood frozen for several minutes as everyone else cried or ate donuts, or both. My heart pounded throughout my entire body, right down to my feet. My chest heaved in and out. When I realized I was hyperventilating, I forced myself to sit down and breathe deeply.

It was only a job.

I’d get another one.

Jack had a good job.

We were going to be fine.

I took a deep breath and got back up.

All the donuts were gone.

I spent the rest of the morning getting files off my laptop, packing up the few personal items I had in the office, and trying to reach Jack. His phone must have died – my calls were
going straight to voice mail and my text messages weren’t being marked as “delivered.”

I was beyond annoyed.

Since it only took two hours to pack up everything I had done in the past three years, I spent some time revising my resume and sending out emails. I had a sinking feeling that a lot of my contacts were in the same position I was. That would make a bad situation even worse – there would be a lot of competition for the few jobs available for professional Democrats.

After exchanging goodbye hugs and contact information with everyone else, I headed to Robyn’s office. She hadn’t packed up anything. Her space always looked like she was auditioning for a business version of the “Hoarders” TV show, and all her little piles were still in place.

“Do you want me to bring you a trash can?” I joked.

She didn’t seem to think it was funny. “All of that stuff’s important. I’m taking it with me.”

“Did you rent a truck? Because you’re not going to be able to get all that stuff on the Metro.”

Robyn sighed. She looked around her office like Sophie regarding her children.

“Bring it,” she mumbled.

I came back with the biggest trash can I could find. Robyn began tossing in her piles of paper without even looking at what she was throwing away.

“What’s the point? This job is over. There’s nothing here I’ll ever need again.”

“If I hear of anything…” I started.

“I’m thinking about going out on my own,” she said.

“Wow.” I couldn’t imagine doing that; being that brave.

“By the way, Jack was really funny last night. He looked pretty good, too. I bet he’s pretty full of himself today.

“But how can you be married to someone who thinks that way?”

“He doesn’t really,” I assured her. “It’s the job. And last night, he was playing a part.”

“Then he should get an Emmy.”

I got home a little after 1:00pm. Mercedes was sprawled out on our white leather couch, watching a soap opera and eating Cheez Doodles.

“Mrs. Murphy!” she cried, dropping the bag and spilling the curls all over the sofa. “I was not expecting you so early! And with so many boxes!”

Thank God I hadn’t caught her with a sex toy.

I helped her clean up the mess, then broke the news: “I lost my job.”

“Oh no,” she gasped, her hand to her mouth. Her orange-dust-covered hand. “But you work so hard. You do such a good job.”

The only thing she knew about my hard work was how often I came home late, but I was desperate for compliments, so I took them.

“It wasn’t just me. It was the whole office. We’re being shut down.”

She pushed the bag of Cheez Doodles at me. Despite all the donuts I’d had this morning, I took a generous handful. Then another. After all, I hadn’t had lunch.

Mercedes helped me carry the boxes upstairs to the office that Jack and I shared. It wasn’t that big to begin with, and by the time we were done, all the boxes on the floor made it look that much smaller.

“You want me to help you unpack?” Mercedes asked.

I shook my head. “I’m not quite ready to deal with any of this now.”

“I’m sure you’ll find another job real soon.”

Then it hit me. What I had to do. I washed the Cheez Doodle dust off my hands and face. When I went back downstairs, Mercedes was in the kitchen, surveying the contents of the refrigerator.

“What you want for dinner?” she asked.

“You know, Mercedes… I think I can handle making dinner on my own now.”


A long silence, and then she asked, “You probably can handle children on your own now too?”

“I think so, Mercedes. At least until I find another job.”

“I wait for you, then.”

“Mercedes… no. You need to look for another job. If I find one first, I can hire you back. But right now… without my salary, I can’t afford to pay you. You understand, right?”

She nodded, smiling, but her eyes were filled with tears.

I gave her my severance check. After all, she was going to need it more than we would.

After Mercedes left, I went back into the office and unpacked my boxes. Funny how what seemed important at work didn’t seem all that necessary here at home. I looked through my old press clippings, press releases, newsletters. Was any of this stuff going to help me get another job?

Around 3, I heard Jessica bounding up the stairs. “Mom? Are you here?”

“I’m in the office.”

She poked her head in. “What are you doing here? And where’s Mercedes?”

I stood up and brushed the dirt off my skirt. I should have changed when I got home. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t be wearing business clothes for a while.

“My office closed.”

“For the election? You got a day off?”

“No… I mean, for good. I don’t have a job anymore.”

“What! Why? You were doing something important!”

“Apparently, the board didn’t think so. We lost the election so dramatically, they don’t think the country cares about environmental issues anymore.”

“What does it matter what the country cares about! This country is full of stupid people who watch TV every night and vote for the best singer or the best dancer and think Election Day is the same thing! The planet is going to die! It’s going to die and no one is doing anything to stop it!”

Jessica started crying. I couldn’t believe it. She cared more about my job than I did.

“I did the best I could,” I said. “We all did.”

She dragged her palms down her face to wipe the tears away. “Where’s Mercedes?”

“She went home.”

“Is she coming back tomorrow?”

“No, Jess… she’s going to be looking for a new job, just like I am. And she’ll probably find one a lot quicker than me. Nannies are always in demand.” Maybe I should become a nanny.

“So I’m never going to see her again?”

“I told her if I found a job before she did, I’d hire her back in a heartbeat.”

“That’s not going to happen! You just said, everyone needs babysitters!”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you’d get so upset.”

“Why not? The woman practically raised me, I’ll probably never see her again, and I didn’t even get to say goodbye. Why on earth would I be upset?”

Jessica ran into her room, slamming the bedroom door behind her.

Practically raised her? Those words hurt. Sure, Mercedes was there for the day-to-day stuff, but I was there …. At night! Mostly. I was the one who took her to the doctor and the dentist. I was the one she told her problems to.

Maybe she told them to Mercedes, as well.

Maybe the day-to-day stuff was more important than I’d thought.

Luckily, I didn’t get the same kind of freak out from Michael.

“If you lost your job, does that mean you can take me to the soccer try-out tomorrow?”

“Oh my god,” Jessica shrieked from her room. “Why is it always about you?”

“I guess so,” I said. “It doesn’t look like I’ve got anything else planned.”

Michael literally jumped for joy. “This is the best day in my entire life!” He threw his arms around my waist.

At least one child appreciated me.

Jack still wasn’t picking up. I even called the office line a few times, but the receptionist couldn’t find him either, although she assured me he’d made it in that morning. A more concerned wife might have worried that her husband had been in an accident and was bleeding anonymously in a hospital somewhere. I just wondered which blunt instrument I’d use to kill him when he finally got home.

With time on my hands for the first time in years, I thought I’d cook a real meal for dinner. Kids Taxi came to take the kids to their respective practices, so I had the house all to myself again. It echoed, and felt kind of lonely.

I pulled out my favorite chicken recipes and went through the ingredients. Unfortunately, most of the recipes called for fresh herbs or vegetables that I didn’t have. I thought about making a quick run to Giant, but even a quick run would cost me an hour. Instead, I pulled out a few cans of condensed soup and poured it over chicken.

Mommy fail.

The kids reappeared around 6, sticky and sweaty. Jack still wasn’t home, and I was starting to get worried.

“Run upstairs and take showers,” I told them. “Dinner will be on the table when you’re done.”

“Why?” Michael whined. “You never made us take showers before dinner before!”

“I was never home before you before,” I said. “Now get hopping.”

“I hope you find a job fast,” Jessica said.

“That makes two of us.”

The kids were still upstairs when Jack finally rolled through the door. He was wearing yesterday’s clothes, but the suit didn’t look nearly as good as it did when he’d first put it on. He looked like he’d spent the entire day celebrating.

“Your team won,” I said. “I get it. Time to get back to earth. You could have charged your phone. Or checked your messages.”

“Oh, you’re not cooking, are you? I wanted to take everyone out to celebrate.”

“The celebration’s over. Of the four people in this family, two are very upset about the election, one doesn’t care, and then there’s you. Who’s obviously done enough celebrating.”

“I’m not talking about the election. And how did you get home early?”

I took a deep breath. “The board closed us down. I lost my job.”

I’d been expecting a lot of different reactions, but not this. Jack burst into laughter. Crazy, maniacal laughter.

“What the hell is so funny about unemployment? I thought things were supposed to get better with Republicans in control.”

Tears streamed down Jack’s face. He ran into the bathroom – presumably to keep from peeing in his pants. He came back just as I pulled the chicken out.

“That’s what we’re having tonight? Ugh. Hey, why don’t I take us all out to Ruth Chris.”

Jessica and Michael padded in time to hear the offer.

“I don’t want to go to some fancy restaurant,” Michael said.

“I don’t eat red meat,” Jessica added.

“Then maybe you two bozos can stay here and your mom and I can go out.”

“She’s not watching me!” Michael shrieked.

“Sure I will. For twenty bucks an hour.”

“I just want to stay home tonight,” I said. “It’s already past six, and I’m hungry, and everyone else is ready to eat. Jessica, can you set the table?”

“Whatever.” She opened the cabinet and pulled out plates.

“So Jack,” I said, “maybe you can tell me why you thought it was so funny that I lost my job today.”
“It’s just one of those bizarre coincidences. I lost my job too.”

My stomach dropped to the floor. This wasn’t possible. Jack’s party had won. Why would they fire him? Because of something he said on TV? How would we survive? We had savings but it wouldn’t last us two months.

Then I realized Jack was grinning. And he had said he wanted to celebrate.

“How did you lose your job?” I asked.

Jack pulled a folded set of papers out of his suit jacket. “The American Business Association refused to match the offer that TRC made me.”

“What offer was that?”

The grin ate his face. “A million dollars to host my own TV show.”

“A million dollars!” Michael screamed. “We’re going to be millionaires!”

“You wouldn’t believe the calls they got last night,” Jack bragged. “America wants me. America loves me.”

“Well, the white, angry disgruntled America that watches TRC,” I said.

“Thanks, Erin. I really appreciate the support.”

“And I appreciate being the last person you told about this. Thanks a lot, Jack. Were you worried I might try to talk you out of it?”

“No, babe. I wanted to tell you in person. I wanted to see the look on your face when I said, ‘a million dollars.’ Guess I should have just called.”

I was too ashamed and hurt to say anything else. The kids stared at us, waiting to see who would hurl the next verbal lightning bolt.

“I’m going to go take a shower,” Jack finally said. “Get started on dinner without me.”

So we did.

While we ate, I could hear Jack’s cell phone go off repeatedly, and the sound of his voice. He was happy, taking congratulations.

“We really should move to L.A.,” Jessica said. “That would be best for Daddy’s career.”

“I’m pretty sure Daddy’s show tapes right here in D.C.”

“Maybe they’d change it. If we asked really nicely. And then maybe one of those Disney shows would be looking for girls like me…”

“No one wants to see you on TV,” Michael grumbled. “You’re not cute enough. You have to be little and cute. Or hot.”

“Hey,” I snapped, “Don’t talk to your sister like that.”

“No, he’s right,” Jessica said. “I’m too old to be cute. So I have to work on being hot.”

When Jack finally came down, his chicken was cold. He poured himself a bowl of Frosted Flakes.

“What did your friends think about me being on TV last night?” Jack asked the kids.

“My friends don’t watch TRC,” Jessica said.

“My friends weren’t watching the election,” Michael added.

“I think my friends might have been impressed,” I said, “But they were too upset about losing their jobs.”

“When does your show start, Daddy?” Jessica asked.

“December first,” Jack said as he shoveled cereal in his mouth. “It’s called ‘The Business of America.’ It’s all about where business and politics intersect. I’m going to be talking with business leaders and politicians with a business background.”

“Oh my god, that sounds so boring,” Jessica complained. “No one’s going to watch it.”

“You’re not exactly my target audience.”

“Why can’t you interview superheroes or athletes or movie stars?” Michael asked.

“Maybe I will,” Jack said. “If they’re Republicans.”

“They’re not,” I said. “What time does the show air?”

“Six o’clock, five nights a week. Not prime time, but not two a.m. either.”

“So you’re never going to be here for dinner ever again?” Michael asked.

“The show tapes at three. But apparently taping can take up to three hours. So, yeah, looks like you’re going to be on your own for dinner for a while.”

“Did you think about that,” Jessica asked quietly, “before you took the job?”

“Hey, your father’s going to be on TV,” Jack snapped. “That’s pretty cool. Why don’t you think about that. And here’s another thing you can think about – a million dollars. That’s pretty cool, too.”

Jessica’s eyes filled with tears. I grabbed her hand under the kitchen table and squeezed it.

“And another thing,” Jack added. “A million dollars means your mom doesn’t have to work. So she’ll be here for every dinner, every basketball game, every school play. How does that sound?”

“Terrific!” Michael shouted.

“Horrible,” Jessica screamed. She dropped my hand and ran out, tears streaming down her face. “We don’t even do plays!”

After he wolfed down his cereal, Jack retreated into the living room, where he proceeded to make and return more congratulatory calls. It was like one big happy circle jerk Republican love fest. Michael went into the family room to do his homework, and I stayed in the kitchen and cleaned up. Ordinarily on the rare nights when I cook, Jack does the dishes without being prodded, but there was nothing ordinary about tonight.
His happy voice was booming and loud and giving me a headache. I wanted to be a good, helpful, supportive spouse. But I couldn’t help the jealousy that was coursing through my body. Jack got the job of a lifetime, and the paycheck to boot. And I got canned. It sucked.

When I finished cleaning up the kitchen, I went upstairs to check on Jessica. She was lying on her bed, cell phone in hand. The tears were gone, but her face was still streaked.

“Why does he have to be so mean?” she asked.

I sat down next to her and stroked her back. “He is very excited about his new job. He wanted us to be just as excited.”

“It is exciting. But he didn’t seem to care that you lost your job, or that he wouldn’t see us at nights anymore.”

“He will. Once things calm down. He’ll go back to normal.”

She put down her cell phone and looked at me.

“Are you really going to be a stay-at-home mom?”

“Well, I won’t be going back to work tomorrow!”

“Really, Mom. What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know yet, Jess. But I am going to get another job. I can tell you that much.”
Jessica smiled. “That’s good. You’re too important to stay at home.”

I shut her bedroom door and headed into the office. The boxes were where I’d left them – the detritus of my career.

I had always worked. From my first internship at Ketchum Public Relations while I was at Georgetown, a few years as a press secretary on the Hill, back to another public relations firm, then to the world of non-profits and associations, I’d always had a job. I’d never been laid off; I’d only quit when I had a better opportunity. I took a week off for my honeymoon (Jack and I met in a bar on Capitol Hill; how appropriate) and six weeks with each baby. And that maternity leave was in name only; I was on the phone and sending out emails within hours of being sewn up.

I went from being a striving young Hill staffer with a boyfriend and plenty of friends, to a married woman who double-dated with other married co-workers, to a working mom who spent coffee hours commiserating with other women in the same situation. One by one -- usually after the birth of the second child -- these women would drop out of the labor force. Their stories were all quite similar. Their bosses were understanding about the constant doctors’ appointments, late nannies, and snow days, but not that understanding. And their husbands’ jobs had exploded, with travel every week, promotions and huge paychecks. And then there was a nanny crisis or a sick baby and it just made sense that Lisa, or Kristine, or Vicki be the one to quit her job so their children would have a parent they could rely on.

It hadn’t happened to me. Jack had always been supportive at home and flexible at work. He married me for my brain, and he loved our pillow talk, sharing the gossip we’d heard that day. Who was running. Who was sleeping with whom. Who was about to get fired.

Without a job, I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know who my marriage was.

I had to find something, and fast.

Jack crawled into bed hours after me, but I was still awake, staring at the ceiling. He kissed my shoulder, and put his head on my chest.

“Do both my girls hate me?”

“Hate is a very strong word. One is upset that she won’t see as much of you, and the other is jealous as hell.”

“Maybe I can get The Right Choice to hire you, too,” Jack suggested. “Kind of a point/counter point thing. Like that old SNL skit with Jane Curtain.”

“They’d make me look like an idiot. They made Alan Dershowitz look like an idiot. The magic of editing and cut-aways.”

“Alan Dershowitz is –“

“Don’t go there!”

“Okay.” He kissed the back of my hand. “This is going to be good for us, Erin. For all of us. You’ll see.”

I didn’t know about all of us. But it would certainly be good for him.

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