Saturday night, after dinner at Plume, Cerise and I watched Lang Lang perform Beethoven’s piano concertos 2, 3 and 5 with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, then spent the rest of the night clubbing on U Street until the bars closed. We went to bed at my home in Great Falls, Virginia, around four in the morning, and I’m sure we didn’t get to sleep until well after seven. So, by most calculations, I’d had less than twenty minutes of REM when the phone rang at 9:30. It was my dear sister Rose.
Tom: Uh? Rose? What? Where are you?
Rose: At 9:30 on Sunday morning? Where do you think? I’m the same place you should be – at Mass!
Tom: Um… I went last Wednesday after work, okay? And obviously, you’re not in the church at the moment, are you, because you’re yelling at me on your cell phone.
Rose: Of course I’m not in the church! I’m in the parking lot. I snuck outside to call you.
Tom: I see. What’s so important you have to do that?
Rose: Tom – Hank and Shannon have… I don’t know… disappeared.
Rose: I… I’m not sure how put it Tom! They’ve… run off… together!
Tom: Run off?
Rose: They cleaned out the bank accounts, took the Explorer and… vanished.
Tom: Look, Rose, I know they’re both long-term unemployed, highly conservative and even more highly opinionated, but surely you’re not suggesting that they’ve… eloped or something?
Rose: Um… no, I suppose not.
Tom: I mean, you don’t really think the two of them would…
Rose: Well, actually, if they both got drunk enough, I wouldn’t put it past them to jump in the sack. But I can’t see anything… permanent going on between them.
Tom: So what…
Rose: I think it was the election, Tom – Obama and all that!
Tom: You’re saying, your husband and his brother’s wife ran off together because Barack Obama got re-elected?
Rose: You can’t imagine how that hit them, Tom! It’s been… years, Tom, literally, since either of them have watched anything but Fox News. And for months, ever since Romney became the Republican nominee, they became more and more convinced that not only was Obama the Devil Himself incarnate, but that Mitt Romney was destined by nothing less than the Divine Providence which guides the American Republic to win with the biggest electoral landslide in United States history.
Tom: Because that’s what Fox News said?
Rose: Not in so many words, but yes, essentially.
Tom: And how do you know this?
Rose: Come on, Tom, how do you think? I live in the same house as both of them, for one thing, and don’t you think I know what kind of television programs my husband watches? Not to mention him and Shannon constantly yammering about Obama being a Kenyan Socialist out to destroy the country – in front of the children, no less! And Wednesday morning, when they couldn’t deny the truth any longer and reality started to intrude on their fantasy world view, the cognitive dissonance just started tearing them apart! When Fox News finally announced that Obama had won, Shannon started screaming at the television screen, yelling about liberal media saboteurs hijacking the signal and substituting fake videos! Hank rushed into the kitchen with the emergency transistor radio from the basement and turned it up all the way, demanding that we listen to it, declaring that what was being said on the one o’clock news obviously proved that the government had taken over the WTOP studios and was broadcasting liberal Democrat lies. And after that, Shannon spent all day on Facebook, cooking up election conspiracy theories with her like-minded conservative friends. Hank was following Donald Trump, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, George Will and God knows whatever other right-wing nutcases of that ilk on Twitter, tweeting and re-tweeting like a maniac about how Obama’s going make the IRS raise the tax rate to ninety percent, use the BATF to stop gun sales everywhere, make the FBI confiscate all licensed firearms, make the INS open the borders to unrestricted immigration, have the Department of Health and Human Services start up the Medicare death panels, sign an executive order legalizing federally-funded abortion on demand, tell the CIA to call in the black helicopters, hand the government over to the UN, set up concentration camps for conservative patriots, institute Sharia law, mandate gay marriage, force the arrest and federal prosecution of anyone teaching creation theory, espousing intelligent design or questioning man-made global warming; it was incredible, Tom, just incredible – the two of them are supposedly mature adults and not certifiably insane, Tom, but the way they’ve been behaving since the election, they could have fooled me, I’ll tell you that. Shannon spent five hours on Wednesday morning, retching her guts out in the upstairs bathroom. I don’t think Hank has got four hours of sleep between Monday and yesterday afternoon – there they were, moping around the house all week muttering about how this is the downfall of America, the harbinger of complete economic collapse, the last chapter in the story of civilization, the Apocalypse, the ultimate triumph of evil. They’d pick up these… what do you call them… memes? They’d pick up these conservative memes about the election from other people like themselves and repeat them over and over again, like a magic charm or a mantra or something. Then, on Friday around half past twelve in the afternoon, when everybody else was either at work, in school or at the day care center, the two of them packed up all the camping gear and emergency supplies in the house into the Explorer, cleaned out our bank accounts and drove away to places unknown!
Tom: So how’s Arthur taking all of this?
Rose: Well, his brother and his wife have simultaneously disappeared along with his favorite vehicle, leaving him with his sister-in-law, two large Catholic families of children, an overcrowded house in Fairfax, Virginia that’s way underwater on the mortgage, and a zero bank balance. He’s in shock, more or less, that’s what I’d say; he displays rather less affect than he should and doesn’t talk much. Since Friday, he’s spent a lot of time in their bedroom by himself, mooning over the stuff Shannon left – dress shoes, formal gowns, work suits, that sort of stuff. Shannon only took her outdoorsy stuff – down-filled jackets, hiking boots, flannel shirts and so forth, except for her real jewelry – she took every bit of that.
Tom: What have you told the kids?
Rose: That… Hank and Shannon have gone out of town for job interviews in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and they decided to go together and share driving and stay at Red Roof Inn so they could save on air fare, taxis and expensive downtown hotels.
Tom: And the children believe this?
Rose: Well, some of the older ones are skeptical. They think it’s a… um… remarkable coincidence, and want to know why Hank and Shannon never told anybody about their job interviews in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Tom: And how did you and Arthur cover that?
Rose: By saying that the positions are both with the same Big Four accounting firm and opened up at the same time, but in two different cities, very suddenly.
Tom: Nice work. I couldn’t have come up with a better pack of lies myself.
Rose: Hmph… I guess I’ll take that as a compliment, Tom. You have no idea how difficult it can be sometimes, to explain the way their parents behave to children in such a way as to avoid undermining the basis of their parental authority.
Tom: I will defer to your experience as an elementary school teacher on that subject, I think. Have you called Hank Jr. at Brown yet? Maybe he has some leads on where his father is and what his Dad and his uncle’s wife are up to.
Rose: No, I haven’t.
Tom: Why not?
Rose: I… I’ll get around to it. I needed to talk to you first. Tom, I don’t know how else to put this – Hank and Shannon ran off with every last cent we have, and…
Tom: Oh, that’s not quite true, is it? You still have what, fifteen thousand in T-bills left, don’t you?
Rose: You know as well as I do, Tom, that I can’t get cash for those Treasuries for another five months. What are Art and I supposed to do for mortgage payments, utility bills, real estate taxes, and food and clothes for all the children until then, not to mention how are we going to pay for the music and ballet and gymnastics and riding and tennis and karate and archery and diving lessons; and Cub Scouts and Brownies and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and…
Tom: So Shannon didn’t leave Arthur with any readily accessible liquid assets either?
Rose: No, she didn’t, and Tom… I’m at wit’s end with worry… I don’t know what…
Tom: Okay, okay, turn off the waterworks already. Will twenty thousand dollars, delivered tomorrow morning, be sufficent?
Rose: Oh, Tom, thank you, thank you… you’ll never know how grateful Arthur and I will be for…
Tom: Right – I’m sure. So, make out a deposit slip on your bank account for twenty thousand and leave it in the drawer of the writing desk in the hallway next to your front door foyer. I’ll write a check to you for twenty grand and give it to Gretchen first thing Monday. I can’t drive out to Fairfax myself during the day tomorrow because I’m booked up solid with consultations from seven in the morning until six-thirty at night, so I’ll give her that front door key you left with me and tell her where to find the deposit slip. Then she can drive to the bank and deposit the money. That way, you won’t have to take time off from…
Rose: Tom! It’s a joint bank account! What if Hank decides to take all the money out of it again?
Tom: Oh, right, yeah, so it is. In that case, you’ll have to take off work – in the morning, anyway – and meet Gretchen with the check at the bank so you can open a new one, in your name only. But she’ll have to drive out to Fairfax from downtown, so it will have to be after nine-thirty at least… hey, wait a minute, there’s a call coming in from Shannon’s cell phone. Yes, this is Tom. Is Hank there? You what? It’s where? Okay, hold on, I’m going to conference you in. Rose, it’s Hank and Shannon. They’re in the Explorer with Shannon’s cell phone in the cradle set to Hands Free mode, so we can talk to both of them. Wait a sec… there. Hello, Shannon?
Shannon: Hello, Tom.
Tom: Where are you?
Hank: We’re in West Virginia.
Tom: I see. What are you doing in West Virginia?
Shannon: Looking at real estate. That’s why we called you.
Tom: About real estate?
Hank: Yeah, Tom, we’ve picked out some… um… farm land here. It’s way up on top of a mountain, it has its own water source, it’s easily defensible from all directions…
Tom: Thanks for considering me, but I don’t think I would be interested in…
Shannon: Oh, no, we don’t want you to buy it. We want to buy it. What we want you to do is buy our place in Fairfax.
Rose: It’s not yours to sell!
Rose: How dare you call Tom and try to sell him our house? Where will you and I and our children live?
Shannon: Up here in West Virginia on top of this mountain where you’ll be safe from Obama’s jackbooted, fist-bumping, black Panther storm troopers, that’s where!
Rose: Mrs. Shannon Palikowski, I am speaking with my husband, if you please! Hank, have you gone completely insane? I just had to borrow a huge amount of money from Tom just so Arthur and I can take care of our children – and Shannon’s children – while you two go traipsing around the central Appalachians scouting out suitable locations from which to fight the armies of the Antichrist during the Battle of Armageddon!
Shannon: We’re doing this for you, Rose – for you and our children!
Rose: For me? For our children? Where am I supposed to work after we move out there in the middle of the West Virginia hills? What’s your husband Arthur supposed to do for money? What are you supposed to do for a living? What is Hank supposed to do? Where will the children go to school?
Hank: Look, Rose, after six months of Obama’s second term, none of that’s going to matter! There won’t be anyplace for you or Art or Shannon or me to work, because the economy is going completely fall apart! That’s why, after we bought the guns and ammo…
Rose: Guns and ammo! What guns and ammo?
Shannon: We thought about it very carefully and decided to standardize on the AR-15 .223 assault rifle and the Smith and Wesson .45 semiautomatic pistol.
Hank: Yeah – none of that Euro-faggot NATO metric [expletive].
Shannon: We purchased a set of both weapons for each of the adults and every child in the family over the age of fifteen.
Hank: And a thousand rounds of ammunition for every gun. Then we put almost all of the rest of it into gold.
Rose: Gold? Tom, how much is gold selling for at the moment?
Tom: About seventeen hundred and thirty dollars an ounce.
Hank: What the [expletive]? The guy said eighteen ninety-five! Did it fall that much already?
Shannon: Like he said, Hank, what Tom’s talking about are the prices controlled by the Federal Reserve Bank, not the real prices.
Rose: Oh, Lord. And how did you two manage to buy what… sixteen… did you buy a rifle and a pistol for Hank Jr., too?
Hank: Sure we did.
Rose: All right then – make that eighteen firearms and all that ammunition in just two days?
Tom: Rose, this is Virginia, you know. People here can buy as much guns and ammo as they want, any time they want. If a firearms shop won’t sell them everything they ask for, they can just go to another one, and then visit as many gun shows as they want until they have what they’re after.
Rose: Oh. Shouldn’t somebody do something about that?
Shannon: No, they should not! That’s what Obama and the rest of the Socialist Democrat conspiracy wants!
Hank: Come on, Tom, why don’t you buy the house in Fairfax from us? You can rent it out to some of those illegal aliens that are going to flood into Northern Virginia during Obama’s second term and make a fortune!
Rose: Henry Palikowski, you are not selling our house to Tom or anybody else! We’ve talked about this and you know we can’t get squat for this house until we refinance it and we can’t do that until you get a job and we re-establish a credit rating where the bank will give us a refinance loan!
Cerise: Excuse me?
Cerise: Hi, Tom. The sunshine woke me up and I got out of bed to close the curtains, then I decided to call my voice mail to check for new messages, but when I picked up the phone, I couldn’t help but overhear this… discussion. Tell me, is it true, Hank and Shannon are out in the West Virginia mountains looking for a place to wait out the End Times which they are convinced will start soon, now that Obama has been re-elected?
Shannon: Yes, as a matter of fact, we are. And you and Tom are invited to come join us after you’ve seen the error of your ways. But you’ll have to bring your own guns and ammo. I would suggest the AR-15 .223 assault rifle…
Cerise: And the Smith and Wesson .45 semiautomatic pistol, I know. But I can’t help but wonder about some of the… details involved with this plan. For example, you and Hank are Catholics, right?
Shannon: Sure. So what? Patrick Buchanan is a Catholic, William F. Buckley was a Catholic, Bill O’Reilly…
Cerise: Yes, yes, I know, but very few West Virginians are Catholics. As a matter of fact, Catholics aren’t particularly popular in West Virginia.
Hank: Really? What have they got out here instead?
Tom: Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals and Pentecostals, mostly.
Shannon: Okay, then, we’ll convert.
Shannon: Look – it’s a matter of survival, okay? If we want to blend in with the local population, then we’ll have to make some compromises, so what?
Hank: Oh, that’s easy for you to say – your kids are half Polish and half Irish! But mine are half Polish and half Italian!
Shannon: Yeah, but Rose and Tom don’t look, you know – Italian – and neither do Rose’s kids, so no problem.
Tom: Oh, like being named “Palikowski” isn’t going to be a dead giveaway.
Shannon: We can change it.
Hank: To what?
Shannon: Oh, I hell, who cares? Something that sounds white, Anglo Saxon and Protestant, like I donno, Tom, what does “Palikowski” mean, anyhow?
Tom: “Son of Paul.”
Shannon: Okay, so we change our names to Paulson, and then we convert to what… Cerise? Tom? Any suggestions?
Cerise: The best choice would depend on the part of West Virginia you’re in. Which denominations have you seen around where you’re looking to build your… uh… fort?
Hank: Um… Full Gospel Pentecostal… ah… Holiness Movement Evangelical…
Shannon: Hensley Church of God… Church of Gods with Signs… Holiness Pentecostal…
Tom: Looks like you selected a location right in the middle of snake handler territory.
Tom: Oh, yeah – Pentecostal and Evangelical denominations based on the revelations of the Book of Mark Chapter 16 and the Book of Luke Chapter 10. They use poisonous serpents as part of their Sunday services, along with consuming strychnine and…
Rose: Strychnine? That does it! No child of mine is attending a church where they drink rat poison and play with snakes! I’m going back into this real church here and lighting candles for both of you! Tom – tell Gretchen I’ll meet her at the bank at… um… ten tomorrow morning. And you two, Hank and Shannon, if you know what’s good for your immortal souls, you’re getting out of there and coming back to Fairfax – right now!
Shannon: Don’t listen to her, Hank! She’s been brainwashed by the liberal media! She’s nothing but a helpless Obama dupe!
Hank: Don’t talk that way about my wife!
Shannon: I’ll say whatever I want about…
Tom: Hello? Hello?
Cerise: Hello? Just us, then?
Tom: So it seems.
Cerise: In that case, can I call my voice mail now?
Tom: Sure, go ahead.