All original work © 2009 - 2017 Alexey Provolotsky

27 June 2016

STRIPTEASE


for B.E.E.


At a big round table of a Lower East Side restaurant, we were talking politics. The waitresses were flying past us at speeds that far outstripped our basic desires. The gin was good and the mood was upbeat. The prospect of Hillary becoming president seemed less and less frightening. Even Bernie Sanders had voiced his unequivocal support. However, there was a problem: one of us was going to vote Trump. We had no idea who that person was because no one would publicly admit it. In fact, for all we knew – it may have been me.

'Salman Rushdie what?' 

Christine wasn't listening. She was staring at the bottom of the cocktail glass that was all dark, muddy red. The colour of Manhattan. Christine was a visual artist from L.A. who specialized in sculptures and who was about to open a gallery in New York City. I suddenly realised that her present reverie may have been a clever smokescreen for the fact she was the one who was voting Trump.

'Well, Christine', this was John. 'Philip was about to tell us what Salman Rushdie thinks about the whole mess'.

'The fatwa guy?' said Sarah, throwing up a cloud of smoke. 'I covered that shit back in the day'.

Sarah had been writing for The Washington Post since late 70s. She was one of those fearless old-school Americans who made you believe you might not die at the age of thirty-nine of kidney failure or lung cancer.

'Well', I continued, 'this may sound far-fetched, but the idea is that Donald Trump was the project of the Democratic Party'. 

'Sounds far-fetched', said Jeremy.

'It does now. Back then, everyone believed that if he beat Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz, Hillary would have a free ride. Nobody could predict just how many Americans would buy a T-shirt saying 'Trump that Bitch'. I mean, let's be honest here. Any person sitting here at this very moment could be wearing one'.

We all looked around, in half-amazement and half-suspicion. The restaurant looked big, cozy and nonchalant. This was the perfect moment to strike.

'I mean, each one of us could be wearing the 'Trump that Bitch' T-shirt. Myself included'.

Have you ever noticed that a frown makes a room darker? It was five times that the moment I suggested one of us could be a Trump supporter. Because there were six people at the big round table of this Lower East Side restaurant. All beautifully suited, respectable citizens. High class, even if those words don't really mean anything this side of the Atlantic. John, Sarah, Christine, Jeremy, Dan and myself. 

'But we are not wearing a Trump T-shirt', said Christine.

'And yet we could, right? What I mean is – there's no way of knowing. For the record, I'm not wearing one either'.

The silence that then followed physically hurt my senses and I was relieved when it was finally broken by John.

'Typical thing to say for a writer. Believe me, I know these people. Cute, clever. And completely off the mark. Also, Midnight's Children is one of the most overrated books of all time'. 

'I liked it', said Sarah. 'Christopher gave it to me in 1994 or something. Christopher… Oh God how I wish he was still alive! I would literally give my right hand to see him squash that piece of shit with a fucking tennis racquet'.

'Hitch hated sports', this was Dan, who was a billionaire and one of the primary sponsors of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign. He owned this restaurant, figuratively speaking.

'He would have laughed him off', I suggested. 'He wouldn't have gone past the hairstyle'.

'It kind of makes sense to me', said Christine, lost in Manhattan, getting back to Rushdie's idea. 'I mean, who knew?'

'Who knew what?' this was Jeremy. Ever the cynic. He was one of those cool, smart jerks from Wall Street you may remember from The Big Short. 'Everyone knew he was a joke'.

'When millions of people don't get the joke, it's no longer a joke. And now his rallies are like Triumph of the Will all over again. Except that one had taste. 'Hillary sucks but not like Monica'. People find it funny. That's just sick'.

'But in a clever way', said John. He was a language professor from the University of Santa Fe and claimed he knew Cormac McCarthy.

This was a wild comment, totally uncalled for. We felt uncomfortable and while no one said anything, there was an understanding between us that it may have been John who was going to vote Trump. But next, the conversation veered towards Brexit, the fall of Bernie Sanders and the latest episode of Veep. We relaxed a little. However, it was well understood that the lightness and the warmth had been lost for good.

'Triumph of the Will?' said Dan. 'That's an apt comparison. At rallies, these people scream 'BUILD THE WALL!' and compare immigrants to snakes. This is fascism'.

'You think they believe it?' said Jeremy.

'You think they get paid, pretty boy?' asked Dan.

'No, I don't think they get paid', said Jeremy who was trying to let the 'pretty boy' remark fly by unnoticed. For now. 'I think it's a lot worse than that. It's mass psychosis'.

‘It’s disgrace’, I suggested.

‘Borne of fear’, said John. ‘Sławomir Mrożek had a play. There was this huge hand that told you to take off your hat, your jacket, trousers. Down to your underpants. And these people did. The fear was totally irrational, mind…’.

'I went undercover to one of those rallies', said Sarah. 

'Washington Post is banned, right?' said Jeremy.

'Yeah, and they barely let me in. I must have looked way too intelligent to those fuckers. But you know what? You get caught up in that'. She winced in her glass of gin, remembering something. 'The monstrosity'. 

'So you mean to say it's contagious?'

'All I mean to say is that I had to take a long bath after that. And it is contagious. It is very fucking contagious'.

We tried to read her face but there was nothing for us to read. Sarah was a professional journalist, cold and smart. You could not just take a knife and carve her open, even if what she said made you feel unsettled. Contagious? But how infected was she? Enough to vote Trump come November 8? It certainly felt like the longer this improvised party pushed into the night, the more drinks were poured, the more intense it became. So much so that at some point I began to feel the first gusts of some strange wind. And all along – Christine was lost in Manhattan.

'It's all in the name', continued Sarah, as if trying to whitewash herself. Although possibly too late, as some of us may have already made their silent verdict. 'You don't become a president with a name like that'.

'I agree', said John. 'Language-wise, it's laughable'.

'It's cartoonish'.

'And short'.

'George Bush?'

'Someone bore that fucking cross before him'.

'But a name is vital', said Dan. 'I once read a short story about this guy, this little-known French composer, who wakes up in the morning and feels it's all over. He's not going to make it. There’s no point in writing music as he will not be another Bach or Schubert. Why? His name sounds bad. There’s no ring to it. His name will never appear in any newspaper…'.

'What was his name?' asked Christine, suddenly coming alive.

'I don't remember'.

'Speaking of names', I said. 'Jeremy, what do you make of your British namesake?'

'Corbyn? Oh not much. Very middle of the road. Boris all the way for me'.

'Boris?' I screamed, startling the girl with a new bottle of gin. 'Boris fucking Johnson?'

'British Trump', said Dan.

We all looked at Jeremy. All five of us, respectable people, Democrats with perfect credentials, well dressed and governed by reason and common sense. While in the meantime, some constant movement around the restaurant made us feel like we were the only ones who remained seated. Suddenly, there was a sense that the place was about to close (it was too dark to keep it open anyway).

'British Trump?' said Jeremy. 'Dan, can you prove you don't have a 'Trump that Bitch' T-shirt underneath your suit?'

This was direct, revengeful and overly cruel. We stared on, intensely, as Dan closed his eyes and we began to shiver with unfamiliar chill and suspicion. There are summer nights that are just too cold, and it looked like the owners of this restaurant had long opened every window and exposed us to the wind of New York City.

Seconds later, Dan opened his eyes and did something I could not expect. He looked at me. They all did.

'Philip', he said. ‘But it was you who brought it up'. 

At which point I muttered a few curses, looked around, took off the tie and began to unbutton my white, impeccably starched shirt.