Sen. Flik Maynard sat in his empty office Wednesday morning, all alone.
He had given everyone the day off. Everyone was exhausted and confused after yesterday’s hearing, but mostly, Flik was too embarrassed to see anyone today.
His ear had been tingling every hour or so, as his wife was still trying to reach him. He never answered, and instead sat on one of his expensive leather seats in the office, slowly making his way through a box of French pastries, as he scanned headline after headline pronouncing his doom.
“Sen. Flik Maynard in cheating scandal.”
“Dawson official turns tables, accuses GOP senator of extramarital romp.”
“Sex accusations liven up dull debt hearing.” Flik actually laughed at that one. Those New York guys always had the best take.
He stood up and looked out the window. It was raining. Perfect.
What the hell happened yesterday? He had his moment, gave the speech he’d been planning for years, and nobody cared. All the talk was about Flik’s affair, the shitty reporting of The Rumpus, and evil Wall Street traders.
I guess that was the point, Flik thought. To destroy us. Jesus Christ. He didn’t even care about the debt anymore. He was embarrassed to show his face on the Senate floor, and figured someone would tell him he’s out of a job at some point. He was up for re-election in three years. Could he survive? Maybe. But what a haul. Three whole years of answering questions about all this.
His ear tingled, someone from the Senate Republican leadership office was calling. Sure, why not?
“Sen. Maynard? It’s Jim, with Senate leadership. I have a request from Majority Leader Bramlage to find out… um…”
“Whether I’m resigning? Whether I’m going to hang myself in my office?”
“The former,” Jim said. “Have you thought about how to handle things? Do you need help from us?”
“I haven’t thought about it much yet,” Flik said. “It’s true, what the White House guy said. I mean, what the fuck. I’m sleeping with my aide. With Tika. Or I was at least. I broke it off yesterday but it was too late. What should I do? Is there like a playbook for this?”
“It… varies a bit,” Jim said. “This seems like the typical consensual thing, and you’re not up in the next cycle. Probably it depends on the next few days. How hard the press pushes the story. See how your wife reacts. It’s survivable, depending on how much pressure you can take from the press. Reporters love this sort of thing, it’s all they want to write about. But leadership needs to know your plans as soon as you make them. If you hang in, there are money considerations. How much money can we afford to help you with, stuff like that.”
“Right, OK,” Flik said. “Give me a few hours or so. I don’t know what to do yet and I haven’t talked to my wife at all.”
“You’ll need to talk with her,” Jim said. “That’s what we’ve learned. You need to be on the same page with her or nothing works.”
“OK,” he said. “Call me tonight.”
Flik hung up. He thought about looking at the news screens again but couldn’t bear it. He wandered toward the reception area of his office and raided some of the free drinks and snacks. He made a shitty lunch out of it and sat down on a nice leather couch to eat it.
This was probably it, he thought. Sure he could fight it, but that just meant more scrutiny. Not my thing, he thought. He came here to get people fired up about the debt, not to defend himself at every turn, answer constant questions about his personal life.
What drove him nuts was that he was finally on the right path. That old coot Blogo gave him a good warning. Clean up your affairs, don’t give them an easy target. He did the right thing, ended it with Tika just a day before the hearing. All the crying, all those apologies, and it didn’t mean anything. That shit Levi Raffets still used it against him.
But what could he do? Claim they had just ended it right there in the hearing room? That was the same as an admission.
Probably it was Blogo who tipped off Raffets. Maybe he should even the score, tell everyone about Blogo’s little escapades in his glorious townhouse.
Eh, what was the use? Guys like Blogo always got away with it, and they were always one step ahead. Probably there was some trap waiting for him if he tried to rat out Blogo. Best to just shut up.
What a fucking downer, Flik thought. Nothing to do but just sit here and take it like a loser. He start devouring a crinkly bag of potato chips when someone knocked at the door. It opened, and in walked Levi Raffets.
“What the fuck do you want?” Flik asked with his right hand shoved deep inside the bag of chips. He must have looked like some pathetic street person to Raffets.
“I wanted to see if you were all right,” Raffets said. “I want to win, but I have no need to thoroughly destroy you. Can I sit down?”
Flik kept eating. He didn’t give a fuck who walked in, he was going to eat this whole bag of chips. Raffets sat down on his own.
“Have you talked to your wife?” Raffets asked. “You should call her as soon as you can. We’ve all seen this before, over and over. You can save your marriage if you just keep your head here.”
“You’re giving me marriage advice?” Flik barked. “You know what would have worked even better? Not telling the world on national TV that I was fucking my staffer. That would’ve really helped out at home.”
Raffets got up, grabbed a bottle of water from the table, and the two men sat across from each other, just chewing and drinking. Raffets watched for a few minutes as Flik calmed down.
“How did I beat you?” Raffets asked.
“How did I beat you?” Raffets said again.
“I dunno,” Flik said. “We’re idiots. Tragic flaws everywhere. We’re so dumb, we would’ve beaten ourselves somehow. And Blogo. That dick. He’s a Republican and he screwed me. I didn’t see that coming.”
“The status quo is very important,” Raffets said. “I know you hate it, but it’s the most important thing to protect. The status quo helps the most people, and old Blogo knows that. But that doesn’t make you crazy, either. You and your friends, they’re true believers, and I admire that. But it’s the nature of this city that you were going to lose. I’ll explain if you like.”
“Go ahead, rub it in,” Flik pouted.
“It’s not to rub it in,” Raffets said. “I just don’t like seeing anyone waste their life. You’ll have to leave now, most likely. Patch things up with the wife. Spend more time with the family, as they say. Even that phrase should tell you something about this place. It’s so screwed up that when someone fucks it all up, their punishment is to go spend time with their family. That’s something they should want to do, don’t you think? It’s what most people want. Time with the family. But for people in Washington, spending time with your family is the worst possible punishment. It means you’re out, and you can’t come back, at least most of the time. It’s an eternal hell, to have to live like everyone else, always spending time with the family.”
“That phrase also helps cover up unspeakable crimes,” Raffets said. “Murder, theft, deceit. Sometimes you don’t know what the guy did, all you know is he’s now spending time with the family.”
“But you should be glad, senator,” Raffets said. “Or I guess, just Mr. Flik Maynard pretty soon. You can’t get anything done here. Go home, fix things up with your wife, write a book, open an ice cream shop.”
“Fuck that,” Flik said. “It’s too much work, to run the place. I want to be an employee at an ice cream shop. Punch in, punch out, no stress.”
Raffets actually laughed at that. He sat back and looked over Flik with a searching eye, then leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms.
“That’s right, Flik,” he said. “Good point. Just work somewhere, take orders. Live a simple life. As I was saying, it’s hopeless here. You can’t fulfill your life’s dream here. What is that, by the way? Cut spending? Save the U.S. from some future debt crisis?”
“That was it, yeah.”
“Well, forget it,” Raffets said. “And here’s why. First, everyone hates Washington, right? Everyone knows this. Washington is evil, and so forth. But what’s the worst part about Washington? It’s not something magical about the latitude and longitude. It’s not the buildings. People love the buildings. They visit all the time, and we put flags on them, and people see all that and think about what a great country we have, where you can walk right up to your member of Congress and ask a few stupid questions, and then tour the White House, where the president lives.”
“But then what?” Raffets asked. “They go home. They scan the news, something drives them nuts, makes them hate this place. And what drives them nuts?”
“It’s the people here who drive them nuts, Flik,” Raffets said. “It’s the people. Because all the people here are what gives Washington its essential character. And as you said, everyone here is flawed. The biggest flaw I suppose is that none of us are content to live normal lives, enjoy our families, see the world. We all need to control others, even if just in some small way. Raise taxes, lower taxes. Make it easier to buy a gun, make it harder to buy a gun. It doesn’t even matter what it is, we all want to change something, right? We’re dicks, we can’t help it.”
Flik was suddenly sobbing in his chair. Like a little boy who wanted to be a baseball player or a fireman and was told it would never, ever happen.
“Not me,” Flik said. “I’m not a dick. I wanted to save this place. I wanted to put us on a glidepath…”
“Don’t confuse it, Flik,” Raffets interrupted. “Your goal was nobler than most, but you’re still a busybody, trying to dictate how we should all live. You wanted to cut spending? On what? Programs that you think aren’t worthy? You think that doesn’t affect lives? Who the fuck are you to decide what’s good and what’s bad? You think you’re the only person qualified to decide that?”
Raffets stood up and pace the lonely office space as Flik sat and sniffled.
“You have the disease just like the rest of us,” Raffets said. “You want control, you would just do something differently if you had it. But guess what? You have other flaws too. All the typical flaws. You’re only so smart. No offense, Flik, but it’s true. The only job qualification you need to get here in your job is to shake a lot of hands, and be so into yourself that you can talk all day and not get sick of it. Well, so what? You think that qualifies you to manage something? It doesn’t.”
“And then you have the classic flaw of everyone in Congress,” Raffets said in disgust. “You sleep around. You’re so pumped up on you that you don’t see the lines anymore. You start thinking all these cute young staffers hang around you because you’re interesting, and not because those staffers are just like you: people obsessed with control and power. People who want to climb the ladder.”
“So how did I beat you?” Raffets asked. “It was easy. I exposed your flaws before you exposed mine. And my job was easier. All I have to do is show them a privileged senator who’s sleeping with his aide, and nobody even remembers what we were all just talking about. The budget? The deficit? The war? Who can even remember?”
“I did the right thing in the end,” Flik said. “I broke it off with Tika.”
“Oh, please,” Raffets said. “You had to be told what to do. You never would have thought of that unless Blogo said something. That doesn’t count. Plus you did it a day before the hearing.”
“So when I pointed it out, all everyone saw was a big, fat reminder of what they hate about Washington,” Raffets said. “A sanctimonious senator barking away at how he wants to save the world, and he can’t even keep his own marriage intact.”
Raffets was breathing heavy, and he sat down again to rest. He took a few gulps of the drink he took from Flik’s refrigerator, and looked over at Flik to see how he was taking it all. The senator was slumped over in defeat. Suddenly he pitied the soon-to-be ex-senator.
“To be fair, the policy stuff is just too dry,” Raffets said. “It’s too complicated. People can’t handle the big stuff, have you noticed? Graphs, charts, the national debt going up. It’s a lot of numbers. And do you know what people do, when they can’t handle the big stuff? They handle the little stuff. Senator cheats on his wife. Now there’s something they can get riled up about.”
“That’s pretty astute for an insider,” Flik muttered. “To be such a big part of the problem, but still to see how outsiders will react to it all.”
“Now get the fuck out.”
Raffets got up to leave just as another call made Flik’s ear tingle. His wife again. He flicked his earlobe to take the call as Raffets watched.
“Hi Nora,” he said. “Yeah. Hold on one second.”
He touched the top of his ear to mute his wife, then stared at Raffets.
“You have any amazing advice for me here?” he asked. “Some kind of psychological game I can play to win my wife back?”
“It’s good that you want to,” Raffets said. “Just resign. She knows how important your position is as a senator, how it fulfills you. Quit. Tell her this place is evil, how it turns good men bad. Show her you’ll leave it all for her.”
“In other words, spend some time with my family.”
“Precisely,” Raffets said. “The ultimate punishment for men like us.”
“What about my report?” Flik asked. “On how much the war costs. Are you writing that? Will I ever get that?”
“No,” Raffets said. “No one has done anything and we figure we don’t need to bother anymore.”
“Get the fuck out.”
Raffets opened the door, walked out, and shut it behind him. Flik could hear his heels clicking in the empty halls, then hit the top of his ear again to talk with his wife.
“Hi Nora, I was just about to call...”