Matthew Lickona 2:29 p.m., May 24
Government Salami (a short story)
Mrs. Marti Brewer-Bodner, Deputy Undersecretary, U.S. Dept. of Education
I have already cried, three hours worth alone here in my office on Maryland Avenue. I have an unobstructed view of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum across the street, and it is doubtful that even in another galaxy could I elude this televised microscope on my life. But now my husband has arrived, and he looks like hell, like he’s lost ten pounds just this afternoon. I’m glad. His blue suit is soaked black with perspiration, his newly mowed Brillo pad of thinning and graying hair is stiff with cheap gel. I want him completely gray by tomorrow morning. To get here to my office, he first had to walk through the reception area and then through the long bullpen of aides and assistants, all eyes gawking at his shamed and bowed head, and every moment of that humiliation is what I wanted him to endure. And now I rant. Closed door but semi-public, exactly as I have planned it. Just loud enough to do the job, not a decibel more. He hates that.
“Why didn’t you ever actually meet any of these women? You could’ve f-cked any of them any time you wanted, or so it seems. Should I count this in your favor? That you never set up a rendezvous? Or were you just being the voyeuristic nerd who couldn’t get a date before he got one with me? Is that dick really too big for your brain still? Is that it? It’s there, okay? It’s huge, massive, top one percent, villagers marvel at it, but do you really need fifty online women hanging off it to compensate for that goofy crooked face of yours? Are you really that insecure still? Still??”
As I say this, unleash it, my husband pinches his bony chin and gazes out the window. He is struggling to absorb the humiliation, to find the right words, as if they exist. But he thinks they do, that he can spin some smooth rhetoric and free himself, I can tell by the tilt of his head. He’s not listening, he’s strategizing. Such the politician, at all times. If only his infamously bulging cock could speak for him now. And who knows, as recognizable as it’s become, the organ may have to make a public statement soon. That monster is the real Andrew Bodner, or most people in this dumb country think so anyway, so what’s the difference? He took so many pictures of it, venerated it, displayed it like a prize-winning reptile. He sent photos of it to, and texted and emailed with, at least seven women, or so the current tally stands. I’m sure I’ll never learn about all of them. Nor would I want to. But let’s see one of them try to deal with the monster in person, to accommodate his torturous presence. Though I’m not quite sure which monster I mean. I could just as easily be referring to either one. Politics are like that.
But this is beside the point. It’s my husband and that cell phone of his. Sexting photos of his dick to strangers?? Tweeting come-ons like a teenage stalker?? And one of these photos had our wedding picture in the background, and the skewed perspective made the wedding picture appear, dear Lord, to be balancing on his semi-erect tip. It’s just weird, and creepy, and I wish he would’ve just had a real affair with an aide, sodomized her on a desk in the Senate basement, or sodomized him, I don’t care, just something normal. But do I really mean this? Am I serious? Five seconds. Of course not. Breathe. Technology makes things seem creepier. Breathe. While it may be true, I feel no relief. But the media are a technology, all to themselves, and a creepy one beyond question. Hordes of them are camped outside our house like a caravan of pervert American Idol hopefuls. I’m happy to be in my office. They keep talking about how pretty I am, how they can’t understand it: why would he cheat on such a beautiful wife?
I don’t know whom they are talking about.
I have never been considered pretty before this. I have a long, arcing, pointy face that makes me look like a bird. And my teeth, dear God, they’re as big as floor tiles, and my lips have never been full enough to cover them. As a result, these prominent incisors are the first things people notice. “Woodchuck” was the elementary school nickname given me by my tormenters. “Hey Woodchuck, be my pencil sharpener!” the boys would tease. “Your bucky beavers are faster than a machine!” Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!
Later, in high school, I heard a new catcall: “Nice ass, Ugly Face!” This was shouted out to me not simply as a one-two comparison, but instead “Ugly Face” was said in the manner of a proper name, who I was. Am. But they were right about the ass, and the body, I was a distance runner of some merit and ran at the collegiate level. I am lean and tight and the envy of my always dieting colleagues. My feet, however, are still like gnarled leather from those pavement pounding days, but that’s an insecurity for another complaint.
To reiterate: I am not pretty. Nor is my husband, with his lopsided and nerdnosed countenance. This partly explains why we are here in the first place. We fear every glance in the mirror, or reflection in the window. We are still, to a disturbing degree, those same ugly ducklings from our school age. Co-dependent butterfaces, this is what our equation simmers down to.
That my husband’s oversized sexual organ is now the instrument of our discord, the center of this most recent mess, is thus no real surprise. It’s the only ace my husband was dealt physically. Combine it with being a major league pol (what did Woody Allen say of politicians, that their ethics are a notch below child molester?) and it was only a matter of time. What is a surprise, however, and an altogether grotesque one, is that, no matter how much they attempt to pretty me up, my husband’s broadcast-in-HD schlong has become the face of both of us. For six years I have known that penis, and the man attached to it, and this rote public shaming before all of puritan America is the absurd culmination of my relationship with both of them. But I cannot blame a penis. There is only my husband.
We have not yet had children. We have only had that dick of his.
The Penis, translated from the French
When we woke up this morning, he wanted me to perform, but I refused to rise to the occasion. I am tired and physically sore. His hands disgust me. The thought of posing for another cell phone snapshot, egad, I’d rather stay in our pants all day and read. Just leave me be. He needs to clear my appearance schedule. I can’t be a workaholic like he is. It isn’t healthy. Listen to me, I can hardly stop to breathe. But my image and reputation are just as shot as his, are they not? So what am I to do? As I say this, I can feel how dry my skin is, which is always a problem, I’m in desperate need of moisturizer. I wish he would ask to borrow some of his wife’s lotion, it smells like pumpkin spice, so tasty, and it makes me hungry. But she and I have a tense relationship. We’re not a good fit. Literally. I’m not overly lengthy, but my girth is unmanageable, painful really. To her credit, she has always tried to be a good wife in this arena, but her options are limited: relaxation techniques, vaginal exercises, apparatus, what more can she do? Have an operation? You’d need to dig a railroad tunnel to deal with me, and it’s just not feasible or desirable. What woman wants to maim herself that way? I don’t want to meet her.
I lower my book, hearing them argue. We are in her office. “I’m done,” she tells him, earth to congressman. “You can try to answer now. I’d love to hear it.” She is angrier than I have ever heard, but she’s cool about it, measured. He is looking out the window, the extra light on my book tells me so. He thinks, rethinks, then he says, “We’re all of us, every one of us, sexual creatures. It is as strong a biological impulse as eating or going to the bathroom.”
Did he just say that? Does he actually think that PBS jive is gonna play?
“Why couldn’t you just’ve eaten a bunch of prunes then?” she replies, mocking. “You could’ve just shit your way through it. And I doubt ‘Congressman with Marathon Diarrhea’ would’ve made headlines.”
He squirms in his seat, and I twist to the right, sinking further between his legs, ouch. But I don’t care. He’s losing this debate, and that’s good news for me. I sense a long and much needed vacation in my near future. He pauses, and pauses some more, and he does not seem optimistic. Nor should he. I am not helping, tormenting him purposefully, stiffening up on him terribly. Because, I have to admit, he’s right about the biological impulse. They’re animals. This is fact. They’re also supposed to be smarter than us when it comes to such things, and this guy has no excuse. He went to prep school; I didn’t even pass the GED when I tried to take it. Late bloomer that I am, pun intended, I didn’t read with any frequency until I was in my thirties. The fluent French, my cousin taught me.
His wife is steaming again. “But cell phone photos?! Twitter pics?! Were you really that goddamn stupid?! Really?!?”
There is another long silence, only the squeaking of shoes audible. Rendered submissive, the congressman is now reduced to panhandling for Ps and Qs. “Will you please just appear at the press conference with me? As a final gesture?”
She says no.
“Because, as you can probably guess, it’s not exactly the gesture I had in mind. And it would not be final. I’d have many more.” I get a chuckle out of this, but I’m concerned that my safety may be an issue. I can’t picture his wife as a lopper, or at all inclined to disfigurement, but you never know people, we aren’t clairvoyant. And I don’t want to end up in the garbage disposal either, like one unfortunate comrade in crotch I heard of recently. Not what I need to think about. I go limp at the worry. He says damn. The awkwardness is palpable.
I return to my book, a serial mystery about a female detective with a sexual addiction. My Kindle battery is lower than it should be, about to die. I can see, believe it or not, but I also have trouble turning pages. E-readers are a godsend for me.
Rep. Andrew Bodner (D-CA), U.S. Congressional Representative
I thought, I genuinely did, that she was going to hit me. I was prepared for a blow to the face that would require stitches. I deserve it. But it never landed. I guess I made out alright on that one. Am I as big an as-hole as I sound like?
I thought so. It’s my plight. Is that a copout?
I thought so.
My wife and I agree that I will do the press conference on my own, and that the decision to resign rests with me. She has offered me her opinion (“Take a guess, Einstein,” being the entirety of it), but it is ultimately up to me. She has attached no consequences to a decision either way. Will she leave me if I fail to resign? Was “Einstein” an absolute directive or simple anger? I am getting more confused. I cannot read her anymore. Could I ever read her? I have caused her to shed a skin and the new one is too thick for me to recognize. We will see each other later in the evening. We exchange no hug and certainly no kiss.
Such an idiot, I feel as stupid as men of my stature possibly do in these situations. The way my mother reacted on the phone, when I had to tell her, I literally believed she had passed away as I confessed. And that one photo, where my cock looks crooked as an elbow, what the hell? I never even sent it. Hackers are the scum of the earth. But I wonder if they can plant photos on someone’s phone, I’d give anything to embarrass that skunk Pillnekker, who chairs the ethics committee. That piece of crap is the biggest inside trader on the hill, makes a bundle gaming the market, but that’s legal because we have our congressional loophole to cheat. But his thing for sixteen year-old boys, there’s no loophole for that, I just can’t believe he’s never been caught or exposed. Bastard.
To hell with him, with everyone, in a few hours you’ll all be jerking off to hotyoungjailbait.pig or barnyardbeauties.ugh or whatever gets you hypocrites off. I’m the only one of you who voted against that goddamned bank bill. Well, me and that socialist Benders, but he votes against everything, he doesn’t count. And what about that war in Atlantis you wanted me to help you with? How’s that going? Please, you’re a boatload of idiots. And this is what I get for going on an ill-considered voyeur run? The full Salem treatment?
I stare out at the room full of reporters with disdain for every one of them. Except for Mia Boxton from IET, she’s out there somewhere, and she’s always been nice to me, I think we have a crush on each other, those eyes of hers melt me, where are they? But the rest of you, I have nothing but contempt, all your cameras pointed at me, all your pens and notebooks at the ready. Pens! How quaint. Meanwhile, real news takes place out in the world where people actually matter. These are not people I am talking to. They are clones. And I will not let clones see me cry. Even though I probably should. Crying would assuredly help my poll numbers, provided it came across as genuine. This podium is too low, I can’t see my notes. Sonofabitch, I forgot my glasses! I can’t hold this paper up and read it on camera, I’ll look like an idiot. What the hell am I going to do?
Ten minutes later, my prepared remarks a distant memory, I am “weeping” my way through an improvised statement/apology that will humiliate me until long after I am dead. I am such a chump for playing this game. I’m smart enough to call this bluff, to offer up The Sex Speech of the New Century, but here I am instead, begging crooked preachers for their indulgence. Not even Mia Boxton will smile back at me. Damn she’s beautiful. But I must act like I am a wretched man, this is how it works.
I only wish I could remember where I left my glasses. This mental distraction is what truly gets me through the charade.
“And as a result of much soul-searching,” I continue, cameras clicking, “I have decided to resign, effective immediately.” There is a buzz in the room now, calls being made, stories being saved to file and sent, the congressman is toast. “But let me add!” I bark with a marked increase in volume, “that I have never actually searched my soul. Nor do I care to.” Now I have their full attention again: “It is not my soul that I’m worried about.”
Scattered laughter. Fools.
“So thank you, and screw you, and leave us alone,” I conclude with wasted effort. “Good night and bad luck to you.”
As I walk away from the podium, ignoring the mangled noise of reporter questions yelled at my back, I am now relieved that I tossed aside my original speech. I am happy. I may not have been a smart man, or an honorable man, or a particularly decent man, but at least, well, at least I’m still a man?
Perhaps this was not the best way to salvage things.
Minutes later, the congressman finds his glasses in his pants. His penis says he forgot he was wearing them, then fell asleep reading before they could be returned.
“Very good plan,” the congressman tells the penis.
“Thank you,” responds the organ. “The spotlight was killing me. I couldn’t take it anymore.”
“What book do you have there on your Kindle?” the congressman asks.
“Oh, this? It’s your wife’s memoirs.”
“He’s editing them,” the congressman’s wife tells him, packing her bags. “And he’s punching up some of the dialogue. It is Washington D.C., after all.”
She has a “working” vacation planned, a week in Bermuda with her staff and handsome new boss, Carl. Team-building, this is how she describes it. Her husband sees a new bikini in her suitcase.
He: “Is Carl gay?”
She: “Or is Carl not?”
Exiting, she informs him: she is pregnant. “Someday you’ll have to explain yourself to your child, as will I. Good luck to you. I won’t need it.”
The congressman slumps botanically.
“I’m as shocked as you,” the penis says. “I thought I was too fat. We should read about divorced fatherhood.”
The congressman considers the organ’s Kindle: what a strange world, books don’t even have pages anymore. So why, he wonders, must I still have them?
The penis chuckles: “Because you still have me.”