By the end of the Women’s March on Washington, Kelly and I were as drained as our phones. It took over an hour to move two blocks beyond the Mall, onto sidewalks where we could step rather than inch. Chasing the bus we didn’t catch, we wondered about Uber. First, we had to find electricity.
Every restaurant on Connecticut Avenue was packed but a fancy hotel beckoned. We pushed into the elegant lobby and Kelly eagle-eyed an empty power strip beneath a lamp in a sitting area. There was a group assembled but no phones were plugged in. Ours were the first. Younger by 20 years and much more beautiful, Kelly volunteered to dare the bar – already three people thick – to procure wine. I settled on a footstool to guard the phones, trying to turn away from the group whose private camaraderie we had violated by barging in with our needy batteries.
On the closest end of the couch sat a young couple and a woman who had to be her mother. On the snowy fourth finger of the daughter’s left hand, a starter diamond reflected every glimmer from the lobby’s heavy crystal chandeliers. Someday, she would have a diamond like her mother’s, square and chunky with an army of support diamonds marching around the perimeter. Her earnest intended sat ramrod straight in a dark suit and a red tie, his starched white shirt fresh at dusk.
Beyond this threesome was a man who looked like an amalgam of several cable opinion anchors: steely gray hair; patrician thin lips, drained of color, the top one permanently lifted in faint sneer; pale blue eyes. To his right, as the couch turned the corner, an elfin woman with white blonde hair and perfect skin visible for the lack of make-up perched beside a man with thick black hair, brown eyes, and dark skin. An academic outsider, a think tank someone? Definitely not of the same stock but one of them tonight and proof they could never be called any kind of bad names (Racist! Xenophobe!) by the likes of me. Look! here’s our different-colored friend. He has a beautiful white girlfriend. He’s one of the good ones.
Another man approached and leaned down to be introduced to the dark man and the snow-white woman. Jowls hung long from years of battering by butter, cream, and stout. The buttons on his starched purple shirt strained against their burden; at his wrists, gold secured French cuffs. “Spent the afternoon at the embassy,” he announced a tad too casually. The Blonde asked which one. “Hungary,” he said with a toss of his chins. “Talked to the Ambassador,” he added to his Cable Anchor friend. Their exchange sank to murmurs.
I was trying not to strain for every word when I heard the Blonde ask about a city they named. “My grandfather was in a camp there,” she volunteered. She said it without emotion but she caught Purple Shirt’s attention.
“Really?” He craned his neck to look at her. He sounded genuinely puzzled as he asked, sincerely, “Why?”
It was involuntary: I turned and stared. Which is why I saw the Blonde lift her fishbowl green-blues to meet his gaze. “Jewish?” she shrugged. The shoulders of her thick cable knit sweater rose a fraction. The ghost of a smile pulled the corners of her pink lips.
My jaw dropped.
Purple Shirt stammered to recover. “Of course,” he tutted as he directed his remarks past her. The Blonde saw me seeing and smothered a giggle. I shook my head. Still high from the march, I was desperate to reach her. You are not alone. I am a witness. In that arcing moment, I felt like we had communion, solidified by suppressed laughter.
But I pushed too far. I wagged my head too much, rolled my eyes too explicitly. My Blonde friend went from swallowing something almost joyful to ignoring me in less than a minute. Her Mediterranean-flavored boyfriend may or may not have elbowed her.
I focused on organizing a co-op for electricity since more marchers were streaming in with hungry phones. I decreed each would get eight to ten minutes. No two phones from the same group. I unhooked my phone and counted down the minutes for Kelly’s, who still wasn’t back with the wine. Across the expanse of white marble lobby, people not dressed like hotel guests were clustered around power outlets. Kelly did well to spot this one, next to seats, while there was still an opening.
The conversation ebbed and flowed in the group we had invaded, people here to celebrate the Inauguration of the candidate they loved, the president who spoke to their hopes for the future. Cable Anchor tossed several chum lines, like, “Obama,” he had that sneering way of drawing out each vowel, “was the worst president in our history. Cost me a lot of money.”
I wish I had asked, “Why? Because he forced you to protect your employees or because he forced you to protect the environment?” But I was mute.
He tried again. “We went to see about that march today. Most vulgar things ever. Those hats. Those signs.”
I reached up to realize I still wore my bright pink cat-eared hat. I wish I had thought to joke, “Guess you’re more of a dog person?” Instead, thinking about the 80-something-year-old friend who pressed two hats into my hands and said with tears in her eyes, “I can’t be there but you and Kelly can wear my pussy hats,” I pulled off the offending hat and stuffed it into the pocket of my new space-age quilted coat. I held out empty hands. “I don’t have any signs,” I taunted back with the sophistication of a four-year-old.
Kelly arrived with wine and our uneasy detente resumed until I heard him make a vile comment in reference to “snowflakes.” On its own accord, my body whirled to face him as I boorishly barged into their conversation. “Listen,” my finger was out and pointing, “do you know the etymology of that word?”
He mumbled something affirmative. I think I surprised him. I had read about this on one of those internet sites that, in January of 2017, I didn’t know to question. The Fake News phenomenon hit hard, left and right, regressive and progressive. So maybe my certainty of the etymology was unfounded but on Saturday, January 21, 2017, I was certain I was correct.
Since I didn’t believe that he knew, I continued my lecture. “That’s what the guards at the camps called the ash from the ovens. Snowflakes. You may mean to insult people like me, and I can take it. But you might insult people you don’t mean to.” Here I made a pointed visual reference to the Blonde, whose cheeks were flaming as she stared at the flat toes of her soft leather boots.
Before Cable Anchor could retort, Ernest Young Man interjected. “If you’re going to argue politics, we’re leaving.” He reached for his bride-to-be, his hand closing over the diamond he chose for clarity since he couldn’t yet afford carets.
In the form of his threat was the excuse to disengage. In place of resolution, the daggers and bullets were frozen in time and space, missiles temporarily deterred, bile and frustration swallowed by both sides in equal measure. Phones got partially charged and people drifted away. Mine got enough juice to call my sister to say we would be late for dinner. It was time to go.
But after pulling on the assembly of cold weather gear a Florida girl doesn’t know what to do with, I couldn’t leave without a last word. Hands on hips like a petulant infant, I went face to face with him. “I own two businesses,” I started and damn if my lower lip didn’t start to quiver and my voice shake. I always cried in corporate America when I was furious. A weakness then and now.
“Good for you,” he responded. Silky. Patronizing.
“And we are ALL Americans. For the moment, that means we ALL have EQUAL rights.” Not technically correct, since I’m female, but I’m at least six or seven generations on this soil. Not quite Mayflower – some of my ancestors were indentured servants – but damn if he’s going to out patrician me.
“Yes,” he agreed condescendingly, “that’s right. We’re all Americans.”
This was going nowhere and Kelly and I had places to go. We turned and strode towards the gold doors with the polished doormen who bid us a good night from the Mayflower Hotel.
The Mayflower. Of course.
Everything worth talking about in D.C. happens at the Mayflower.