Cerise is away on vacation, and Veronica disappeared about a week ago with a soft drink industry lobbyist, so this morning, I was alone at my home in Great Falls, Virginia – except for the company of my cat, Twinkle of course. Cerise invited me to accompany her, actually, but on this occasion, her vacation was to a rather remote region of the United States where the states of Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee meet. She went there for a festival of something known as contra-dancing, which is derived from English country dancing, but has evolved into its own rather eccentric genre. I like dancing, but “contra” as its aficionados call it, involves intricate patterns of interaction among the participants that call for gentlemen to hold hands with one another. Well, here I am, a gourmet cook who is fond of opera and visits art galleries – a straight guy’s gotta draw the line somewhere, and holding hands with another man is where I draw it.
So I stayed home, much to Twinkle’s satisfaction – she loves having me all to herself – and was halfway through the latest issue of Harper’s when my land line rang. Caller ID didn’t say who, but the number indicated a serious downtown Washington DC exchange, so I answered.
Tom: Hello, this is Tom Collins.
Caller: Greetings, Mr. Collins. You can call me John.
Tom: Just call you John? As in the euphemism for the men’s room?
Caller: You’ve heard of Stuttering John?
Caller: Okay, then – this is Shuddering John.
Tom: Sure, sure, whatever. Tell me, why are you shuddering, John?
Caller: Because Stuttering John called up my boss’s boss and made a damn fool of him, and now my boss’s boss is furious.
Tom: Are you by any chance calling from the White House?
Caller: I might be.
Tom: On a Saturday?
Caller: That’s what today is, isn’t it?
Tom: Quite. May I ask, how did you get his number?
Caller: This is the [expletive] White House! We can get anybody’s number, any time we want it!
Tom: I see. And why are you calling me on a Saturday morning, interrupting what little time I have off from work to enjoy a cup of Grand Marnier cappuccino on the couch with my cat and good magazine?
Caller: I want some of that free advice I hear you give out.
Tom: Oh that – yes, well, all right. It’s my marketing policy, so I’m professionally bound to apply it impartially, although you are obviously some sort of rude ignoramus lickspittle lackey of the Trump administration. Therefore, how may I help you?
Caller: You get me out of this one, Collins, and not only will I not hand you your [expletive] for calling me that [expletive] you just did, I’ll even see to it you get some decent consulting hours to charge at that ridiculous [expletive] hourly rate of yours.
Caller: They say you’re the smartest person in Washington.
Tom: Which is a lot like being the tallest building in Baltimore.
Caller: Baltimore? [Expletive]! Isn’t that [expletive] [expletive] Democrat [expletive] Nancy Pelosi from there?
Tom: Yes, she is, but in fact, she’s no more of a [expletive] [expletive] [expletive] than Ivanka or Melania Trump are. Now – what about Stuttering John making a fool of your boss’s boss, whom I assume is none other than Donald J. Trump?
Caller: That [expletive] called up the White House on Wednesday and asked to talk to the President. Said he was a member of Congress.
Tom: Ah, yes – so he did.
Caller: He claimed he was senator Bob Menendez.
Tom: Actually, I think the name was presented to the White House as John Melendez, which is the real name of the comedian Stuttering John, by one of Melendez assistants. But those Hispanic names all sound alike to you Tumpistas, don’t they?
Caller: All right, okay, maybe we did get a couple of [expletive] beaner names mixed up, so what?
Tom: So President Trump got punked, apparently. The comedian John Melendez took advantage of the most lax and sloppy White House security since the Fillmore administration to pose as a US senator and chat with President Trump while Air Force One flew back to Washington from another one of those moronic Trump rallies you’re all so fond of over there at the White House.
Caller: Moronic? What do you mean, “moronic?”
Tom: Just exactly what the dictionary says.
Caller: Oh yeah? And I suppose you think us letting this comedian fools us was moronic, too, then?
Tom: No, I think letting a comedian fool you was positively idiotic. But let’s not split hairs here. What exactly do you want, sir?
Caller: Look – you know Marc Short?
Tom: No personally, but I know who he is – the White House Director of Legislative Affairs.
Caller: Yeah, well, it was like this – a call came in from somebody claiming to be Menendez or Melendez or whatever and Marc Short said [expletive] that, don’t call back. But then somebody else let the call go through and …
Tom: Somebody else? Pardon me, but am I speaking with Jared Kushner?
Caller: Um… What makes you think that?
Tom: Because anybody else but Jared Kushner himself would have said, “… but then Jared Kushner let the call go through and …” whatever else you were about to say.
Caller: Not necessarily.
Tom: Oh, right. Okay, Shuddering John, what advice can I offer you concerning this situation?
Caller: Okay, it’s like this – Trump is storming around, kicking furniture, ranting and raving, completely [expletive] off about this fake Senator Menendez thing. It’s so bad, he won’t even talk to me… uh, I mean, to Jared Kushner, except to call him all kinds of [expletive]-up [expletive].
Caller: So tell me how to get Jared Kushner off the hook so… um, I don’t get fired.
Tom: Oh, is that all?
Tom: It simple, really. So simple, if I didn’t know how dumb you guys in the Trump White House are, I would have thought you had figured it out yourselves – you and… your boss, Jared Kushner.
Caller: Simple? What’s simple?
Tom: Look – all you have to do is insist that Marc Short put the call through, not you or Jared Kushner or whoever.
Caller: But Short will say that’s a lie!
Tom: So what? Does being called a liar ever stop the President from saying whatever he wants, as often as he wants?
Caller: Um… no… I guess not.
Caller: But Short can produce the phone records! Those will prove that I… I mean, my boss, Jared Kushner approved the call from that comedian and I put it through to the President.
Tom: Who cares what the telephone records say? Claim they’re rigged! Say they Chinese changed them to get back at Trump for the tariffs! Say it’s an EU conspiracy because we’re always complaining about what lazy, cheap bastards they are in NATO! Say the Democrats did it! Hell, say all of those things are true at the same time! You and Jared Kushner, of all people, ought to know that facts don’t matter anymore! If it’s your opinion that Marc Short is responsible for letting that comedian make a damn fool of the President, then Marc Short is responsible for letting that comedian make a damn fool of the President! End of story!
Caller: Holy [expletive] you mean, that’s all I have to do?
Tom: In the Trump White House, yeah. But just to make sure, why don’t you make up an insulting name for Marc Short and start calling him that, too?
Caller: An insulting name? What would you suggest?
Tom: “Fumbling Shorty-pants?”
Caller: Hmmm… not bad. How about “Leaking Shorty-pants?” That makes him sound like he’s leaking White House secrets and [expletive] himself at the same time.
Tom: Very clever. No doubt it will be very effective.
Caller: You think so?
Tom: With your crowd, I’m positive. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have other pressing matters to which I must attend.
Caller: Uh, yeah, okay. Look, like I said, if this works, I’ll make sure you get your beak wet, understand?
Tom: Got it. Goodbye.