Love, At a Trump Rally
A Work of Fiction by Ed Heffernan
After giving my Mexican-American Uber driver a sympathetic shake of the head, I make my way towards a sea of Red, White and Blue from all white walks of life. My credentials swing in front of me and I adjust my glasses. The atmosphere is festive. Motorcycles roar, footballs spiral through the sky, somewhere effigies of Hillary Clinton burn and a troop of Boy Scouts get fresh tattoos of eagles shooting machine guns. It’s a sweaty afternoon in muggy Tucson and I’m here to cover the Trump rally.
As I make my way through the uneducated masses to the reporter’s area, I scowl. Not one of these people have read Flaubert, or have had tea with Margaret Atwood, or have any idea that heteronormative shows like The Walking Dead corrupt our culture. *Article idea: “10 Reasons Why Americans Have Become the Walking Dead.” Yet here I am, spending the day in this blistering Arizona heat before flying out of Tucson early tomorrow morning. As I edge my way past a bulbous woman on a scooter eating a churro, I think about how this article could easily write itself. Everything is exactly as disturbing as I knew it would be.
I arrive at the media’s designated platform and witness a reporter with a large Adam’s apple from the San Francisco Chronicle having a hard time with a group of teenagers playing keep-away with his lanyard. Next to him, supporters of all shapes and sizes hurl insults towards me and the other members of the press. The negative sentiments were expected (their benevolent leader called us the “worst of the worst” or “dirt” or something creative like that) but the fervor of this horde is surprising. I pull out my phone (my refuge) and live tweet away - careful not to offend any of these bigoted racist neanderthals.
As I glance up from my phone at the crowd, I notice something. In this singular moment, a point fixed on the infinite plane of time and space, the world seems to stop spinning and the sea of angry Trumpheads part. A bolt of lightning hits me from under the bright red brim of a Make America Great Again hat.
The red hat pinches the skin behind a round bald head. It sits atop a body that resembles the shape of a bowling pin. The man stands erect, his hands circumnavigating the sides of a hefty paunch, thumbs thrust inside a tweed belt that divides his belly into two hemispheres (his natural equator) above a pair of camouflage crocs. The man oozes sex.
“The media are pigs!” he squeals. Then, for a split-second, the bowling pin makes direct eye- contact with me.
I forget how to breathe. The shock of having just been hit with love-at-first-sight is so disorienting that I feel as though I’m going to throw up. I steady myself on the lanyard next
to me. The journalist on the other end starts choking and gasping for air but I don’t notice. I can only think of the bowling pin shaped man that hath struck my heart.
Just as I start to get my bearings back, an especially rabid motorcycle gang obscures my vision. My eyes scan the swirling mass of people. Have I lost him? My heart is beating so hard it feels like the Black Eyes Peas decided to remix it. I look back at the place where I saw the man. But he’s gone, he’s slipped away into another part of the crowd.
“Pam!” my fellow reporters shout as they watch me dive off the reporter’s platform. I’ve lost concern for my own safety. “Grab hold we’ll pull you back!” a reporter from BuzzFeed calls out from the deck as a lifebuoy lands somewhere in the crowd next to me. But I refuse to turn back, fighting my way past the stars and bars bandanas, past the Lock Her Up buttons...
A loud croaking bird with a New York accent squawks overhead. I duck, hoping that the bird won't hit me. The bird squawks again with a “Thank you Tucson!” The crowd swells with a cacophony of hooting and hollering. I’m lost and drowning in all this noise. Then suddenly, an arm reaches down and grabs my elbow. I’m pulled up from below, only to look up and see the bowling pin man staring back at me.
That spark, that Nicholas Sparks spark, sparks between us. I breathe in the intoxicating smell of Irish Spring deodorant and old Dunkin Donuts coffee grinds. I stare through the large rectangular wire-rimmed glasses at my other-half.
In my head, I know that the two of us could go through the whole give-and-take, the whole “we’re not right for each other” story-line. But I want to skip that part.
“Let’s get out of here,” I say to him. “I want to have one of those millennial romances. Let me be your Zooey Deschanel.”
The man gives me a puzzled look, as if I had just told him that Macklemore had a new album out. And I’m thinking, let’s just run-away together, escape to some island that’s just off the coast of everywhere. A place where you can get solid wifi but it doesn’t seem like it. A place where there’s no politics, no pain, no men, no women, no prefer not to answer, just bodies.
The exhilaration of it all gets to him. He unclips an inhaler from his belt holster and takes in a deep seductive drag. Then he coughs, a gruff cough, the kind I imagine George Clooney would cough. The man reaches down and picks up my lanyard, which had fallen off in the chaos. His eyes linger over my initials.
“Are you PC?”
“Pamela Christobaldi, yes.”
He hesitates, fighting his impulse to call me an evil media pig. But he doesn’t.
“I’m Ronald Nougat,” he says as he hands me the lanyard.
The teenagers who were tormenting the reporter from the Chronicle, spot my media lanyard and disheveled appearance think I Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ or something.
“Dirty rotten media whore!” a young man in a bro-tank says with vigor. He smiles and high- fives a dude next to him. There’s a ripple effect to his name-calling and in no time at all it seems as though I really am startin’ somethin’ as everyone’s attention has turned towards me. I feel so outraged and violated that I’m about to scowl at all of them and tweet something really biting and apropo. Before I can though, the angry bird on stage starts cawing, “Get her out! That’s right, get her out!”
Obedient Trumpheads start to descend in on me from all sides. Their hands reaching towards me are like thousands of angry talons.
“I’ll take her out!” Ron shouts at them. He quickly intercepts my hand and guides me past the talons. From a distance, I notice the reporter’s platform rescue searchlight scanning the crowds for me but they should know by now that it is too late, that I will not resurface at this rally. And though the insults crash down on me from all sides, all I can sense is Ron’s hand in mine.
Outside the arena, Ron asks if I’m diabetic and I blush. It’s his cute little way of asking me on a date I guess. Ron’s not from Tucson so we don’t know where we should go for food. I pull out my phone, ask Siri and scroll through the options to find a place called Spoon with $$ and three stars on Yelp (based on seventeen reviews).
We take the SunLink bus, and go up the stairs to the open-air second floor. As the romantic Tucson skyline passes by overhead, my hand drifts down beside my chair. So does Ron’s. Our hands slip into each other’s and interlock. I think about how crazy the two of us are. Wordsworth was right. There is such a thing as the sublime—and it really is more feeling than logic.
We get to Spoon and discover that the restaurant is actually a store for custom made spoons. We laugh and laugh. And then we laugh again.
And then it starts to rain.
The SunLink doesn’t come for another fifteen minutes and the rain is soaking through Ron’s Police Lives Matter shirt. Not that I mind (the wet shirt that is, I still mind the shirt itself). I giggle as we run across the street and under the shelter of a Chick-fil-a overhang.
It’s raining hard now as we stand next to a large sign for Chick-fil-a’s Spicy Chicken Deluxe (pressure cooked in 100% refined peanut oil). I’m allergic to peanuts and the sign is disconcerting and so is Chick-fil-a. But Ron puts his hands on my shoulders and tries to warm me up by rubbing his palms quickly against them and in this moment I couldn’t care less that I’m allergic to peanuts (but I still do have some reservations regarding Chick-fil-a’s homophobia).
We’re breathing heavy. I forget that I’m hungry and cold and my eyes drift over to the Best Western sign down the block. Ron follows my gaze and our thoughts becomes one, once more. Ron pulls out his inhaler, anticipating our jog down the street. I’m giggling and Ron’s giggling (and coughing) all the way to the lobby and even as we check into a room...
We’re in the hotel room. Everything is happening so fast. Ron fumbles with his phone before managing to play his love-making selection: Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name”.
We stand in front of each other, fully clothed still, just looking. I suggest that we trade-off removing items of clothing (like an I go, you go, kind of thing). He takes off his glasses. I take off my glasses. He takes off his nasal strip. I take off my shell necklace. He removes his gun—
I watch as he sets the rifle he’s been carrying in his pants on the table.
There’s something about that gun. For some reason I wasn’t expecting it and, to be honest, it frightens me a little. Ron waits for me to take my turn and remove an item of clothing but I can’t. I slump down onto the Best Western bed.
“I should have realized you were one of those gun people.”
Ronald sits on the other end of the bed.
“I love to shoot things. I like knowing I can shoot things at any time and in any place.”
There’s a quiet moment where Ron’s eyes linger over the gun on the hotel table. It rests next to a promotional pamphlet with a picture of man and a woman riding an inner tube on the front. I wonder if the man and the woman in the photo are in love like we are and if the man also has a gun somewhere in those neon trunks.
“What is this?” I ask him, letting the question hang in the air. After an ample dramatic pause, I rephrase the question. “We don’t share any of the same views Ron. How could we fall in love at first sight like this?”
“All I know is that when I saw you, it was like I was a kid and you were a kid and I wasn’t worried about anything other than getting home before the street lamps came on.”
“We’re not kids though Ron. We can vote.”
“I feel like a kid.”
“Maybe all this being scared of other people is really because we’re scared of ourselves. We’re just scared because we really are just kids that can vote.”
“Maybe. Except I’m scared of Mooslims—”
“Shhhh,” I say as I press my finger up to his lips. “I think we’re both lonely. That’s what I think.”
I curl up on the bed, my clothes still on. Ron hesitates for a moment and then lies down behind me. He slowly scoots his body closer to mine until eventually we spoon (only this spoon would have gotten five stars on Yelp).
And I realize we can’t be together, at least for now. My article is due by the end of the night and the street lamps come on for me tomorrow at 8:30am on a United flight to DC. Still, it feels so warm in this spoon.
“In four years, if the United States is still around at that time, will you promise to meet me here?” I ask.
Ronald brushes my cheek.
And somewhere, far away, Richard Linklater sighs.