The Potomac - Mark Doten
July 2007 - THE POTOMAC

Bush at War #17
   Mark Doten

They wanted to hear more about the names, how he’d assembled the list.

As if he could tell them, even if he wanted to, how he’d assembled the list.

He had hoped to say something about the Crew, about the shadows at the margin…

And did not.

Or spoke in distant allusion, eyebrow raised.

Senator Coburn suggested he be fired.

But he couldn’t be fired.

He was nice-looking, he was pleasant and familiar.

It was a hearing, he was candid about legal options, he even played his trump card, the cousin who was just taking the bar, the cousin whose specialty as it so happened was unlawful termination.

People call for oversight when there is no oversight, they only make fools of themselves, he thought.

People overstep their boundaries and stand, unwittingly or otherwise, on the side of the shadows, the wickedness there.

His seat (lowered) in the Senate Committee room faced their seats (elevated), a newly refurbished conference room, the cameras whirring, a gavel somewhere striking wood.

This cousin had graduated at the top of his class, not the very top, but in any case, the top, and liked to wear a hat. He invented this lawyer-cousin whole cloth in front of the senators, he actually said the word whole cloth several times in his mind, perhaps even once or twice out loud, then he casually added that yes, he and this cousin had been exceptionally close as children, back then his cousin Pierre had always worn a mood ring, now he wore a hat, and was probably wearing it now, he was the kind of cousin who reaches a certain age and trades his mood ring for a hat and fancy law degree, never for a second losing sight of his beloved cousin. He silently dared them to dispute these facts, and they in turn cleared throats and cast a wary eye in his direction, no doubt wondering what sort of hat, and of course he wouldn’t say. He was seized by the impulse to shout homburg at the top of his lungs, but he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of a homburg.

He could feel the pressure of their skepticism building, no doubt he could prick their skepticism, annihilate it by identifying the hat, but he categorically refused, he wouldn’t flick a single crumb in their direction, this was an ideal hat we were dealing with, his cousin wore only of course the Platonic ideal of hats, and how dare they sit in judgment over him, these Pierre-doubters and Pierre-destroyers who made him so sick he was at the point of vomiting right there in the hot seat, and in fact did vomit, a teaspoon of bile he immediately swallowed.

He’d been transferred many times in recent years, up and up. Sometimes to a different floor, sometimes to Jackson or Minot, Boston or Vegas, but that was alright, he had trunks of clothes, clothes for every climate, and he could at last escape his parents. He was sick to death of leaning on his parents, of relying on them for financial and emotional support, no matter how hard he leaned on them they were leaning back harder, the truth was his parents were crushing him and it was a good thing he’d been transferred, it was be transferred or he’d be destroyed…

Nevertheless, he worried about socks. There was always the sock question, which shoes and socks were right for the new office environment. Even if the new office looked just like the old, even if screensavers and desk-height and ficus placement were perfectly congruent, that said nothing about expectations regarding shoes and socks – indeed, it was often a clue that unspoken shoes and socks code had shifted dangerously.

He would pull sock after sock from his bureau – from his suitcase if he had not yet unpacked, and in fact most often he hadn’t unpacked – and the tears would stream down his face, and he would give in and call his parents.

His parents were sick of his sock-questions and his sock-anxiety, his mother and father and stepfather were sick to death of hearing about it, but who else could he turn to, if not his parents?

Very often the call wasn’t long distance, no matter how many times he was transferred, it was almost always to a town where either his mother or father or stepfather were living.

And even if one of them wasn’t living in the city where he was transferred, soon enough that would change, his mother or his father or his stepfather would move to town, and often not just one, it usually happened that all three of them would soon enough be living within a few miles of him, and this couldn’t be just a coincidence – what were the odds? – but to a certain manner of thinking it was all right, it did give him a place to live, and that was lucky, or in any case a relief, since no matter how much overtime he put in at this or that department, no matter how much pleasure he gave the President, he never had a dime left for rent when his debts were finally tallied.

He didn’t know where the list had come from, he couldn’t say why this name and why that name, this went on for hours until at last he shut off his microphone.

He went down the hall, socks in hand, and asked his deputies to sort it out.

He stepped into the restroom.

A white porcelain smell, so clean it hurt your skull.

Someone hugged him. Someone said, You have my full support.

Someone said, You do not serve at their pleasure.

He nodded.

He missed Pierre.

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