here at sinkhole, we’re explorers, not explainers – our goal is to chart the world's complexities, to resist the echo chamber, and to engage in the difficult work of empathy.
story | 3.1.17
James Chipperfield hadn’t filed with the Federal Election Commission yet. He hadn’t established an exploratory committee, political action committee, or all the fundraising one needed to become president of the United States. James had never even held public office before, and such inexperience was sure to plague his eventual campaign.
At thirty-five, he had worked his way up to assistant manager at the last remaining Huggins Grocers of the entire nationwide chain. The Des Moines Huggins was hanging on by its last breath. James knew that his days there were coming to an end like an old, self-aware Scottish terrier with tumors who could barely walk and whose owner regrettably had to put him down. James was that owner. And his faithful companion, Macbeth, was that dog.
The hamburger James had for lunch reminded him of how much he hated his life. It was too salty and unsatisfying, and he had waited in line for over an hour. Busey Burgers was a trendy new restaurant chain owned by the actor and professional reality TV trainwreck, Gary Busey. The grand opening was on a Saturday, and James thought it might be fun to check out.
The line went around the entire building, all the way to the parking lot. James waited alone with his thoughts as his stomach growled, planning his next move for president. He didn’t mind standing alone in a line for a taste of the “Busey Burger Family Recipe” as heralded by an outside banner. He did a lot of things alone. One day, he would be president, and he’d have an entire secret service detail to keep him company.
His wife, Eleanor, thought him mad. “You don’t just run for president, James,” she said from the couch, tossing her crossword puzzle on the table.
“Give me one good reason why I can’t,” he said from the kitchen.
Eleanor paused as though the answer was so obvious that it didn’t need to be thought, let alone said. “I don’t even know where to start.”
James strolled across the plush living room carpet in his blue bathrobe with two glasses of orange juice in hand. He set one glass down in front of her and began pacing the room. “You don’t think I’ve given this thought? You don’t think I know how difficult it will be?”
Eleanor shook with so much frustration, she could barely speak. “W-what’s your platform? What are your ideas? You didn’t even vote last election!”
“I’m an outsider, Eleanor,” he said and took a sip. “Think about it. It’s perfect. You’ll be like Eleanor Roosevelt, and I’ll be… James Buchanan.”
“Or Madison,” she whispered.
James spun around. “Yes, Madison. You’re right!”
“James…” she began. “I need you to return the loan you drew for your Political Action Committee, and stop this madness.”
“No dice. I’m in too deep.”
Eleanor threw her hands down. “How is that?”
James stormed closer—too close. “My ‘James for President’ Facebook page has twenty-one likes already.”
Eleanor tossed her head back and laughed. “Okay, you’ve made your point.” She put both hands on her legs and leaned forward. “Is this about me not spending enough time with you? Is that it?”
James scoffed, crossing his arms. “Not everything is about you. You wanna go to your book clubs and bridge games and spin classes and leave me out in the cold? That’s fine with me. This is about something bigger than the both of us.”
She studied him like an astute professor. “I have to admit you haven’t been the same since…” she suddenly stopped, catching herself.
“Since what?” he asked, narrowing his eyes.
Eleanor bolted up from the couch. A string of graying hair fell loose from her pinned bun. It was Sunday and she was already dressed in her Cardigan sweater and white slacks to have brunch with the girls. “You return that money, and drop this entire charade.” She paused and took a breath, daring him to respond.
“I’ve decided to leave my job at Huggins to focus on my campaign,” he said in his best rehearsed politician voice.
Eleanor whipped around, grabbed her purse, and slammed the door without turning back.
Five months later, James Chipperfield was center stage with a gallery of misfits who, like him, had decided to run for president. The Des Moines Register hosted the debate to present a look into the growing phenomenon of inexperienced candidates emerging all over the country. Six men and two women participated in the debate of all backgrounds and political affiliations. Most of them represented their own party—from the Reform Party to the Mad Hatters to the Screeching Eagle Coalition to the aptly titled Blue Party, whose spokesman donned blue war-paint across his chiseled, angry face. There was even a Libertarian among them.
The female moderator nodded, brushing back one side of her blonde shoulder-length hair. “Yes, Craig Livingston from the Madder than Hell party. Please go on.”
“Certainly, Janice,” the man continued. “First, I don’t want us to be confused with the Mad Hatter party, who have an entirely different, and dare I say, absurd platform.”
A frazzled, petite woman wearing an old-fashioned tricorn over her permed hair looked up. “Who came up with their party name first? Wasn’t you! Hell, you don’t even look mad.”
Livingston shook his head and smiled, exposing pearly white teeth. “I’m plenty angry, but I don’t need to dance around with my head on fire to make a point.”
James stood at the third to last podium stage left, sweating under his only suit. His throat was dry and swallowing only made it worse.
“Mr. Chipperfield,” the female moderator began. It was finally his turn. He had completely zoned out. The other candidates had been going at it for some time.
“We haven’t heard much from you. Is there anything you’d like to add?”
His clammy hands gripped the podium. “Um… yes. I have… much to add.” He tried to look into the crowd but couldn’t see past the blinding spotlights. His mind went blank. Taxes. National security. Health care. Social issues. The economy. Immigration. What else was there? What did the voters want? What could he say without half of them hating him? Where did he stand on anything? He leaned toward the microphone amidst impatient glares from the other candidates and cleared his throat.
“Yes, Janice. From everything I heard tonight, it’s clear that we have a long and difficult road ahead.”
Livingston cut in, waving James off. “Nothing but meaningless platitudes.”
“Let me finish,” James snapped. The room went quiet. His microphone screeched with feedback. All eyes were on him as he continued. “My dog, Macbeth, passed away six months ago. The grocery store I worked at, Huggins, recently closed. My wife, Eleanor, wants little to do with me. I guess I just wanted to see what it was like. To run for president. Frankly, I don’t think any of us are qualified. But then again, who is?”
“Certainly, not you,” Livingston said, followed by pockets of laughter from the audience.
James looked around, trying to see beyond the blinding spotlights. He then turned to Livingston and spoke. “If I were president, the first thing I would do is make an asshole registry just for people like you.”
The crowd erupted. James looked up, startled. The cheering continued as the moderator tried to regain control. Furious, Livingston flung vulgar insults from his mouth, unheard by the domineering crowd. James saw his moment and walked off stage, leaving the spectacle behind.
He got home later that night to find Eleanor in her nightgown on the couch with a glass of wine watching television.
“I didn’t think you’d still be up,” he said, taking his coat off.
She turned her head slowly. “I couldn’t sleep.”
James stared at the carpet.
“Why’d you walk away?” she asked.
He halted and turned to her, loosening his red tie. “You watched it?”
He walked over and sat on the recliner next to the couch. His eyes remained on the carpet as he could barely bring himself to look at her. “I don’t know,” he sighed.
He shifted his view, finally making eye contact.
The lines of her mouth moved upward. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it almost looked like a smile.
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