Friday, June 29, 2012

White Trash in the Snow - Chapters 9 and 10

It's Friday with the Saplins !   Cristol visits Planned Parenthood. Field's girlfriend gets a government job.  
And, of course, any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. It is an original work, written by Allison, and published for the first time on the blog The Palin Place. 

All rights reserved.


 by Allison


On a beautiful day one week before summer’s official start, with signs that her period was coming, Cristol was grateful and relieved. It had been downright scary to think she was pregnant; it had made her emotional and crabby and physically sick with headaches and nausea.

I’m going to make an appointment at Planned Parenthood, she resolved. I’ll get free condoms and a prescription for birth control. Though relieved and determined to take the steps necessary to avoid getting pregnant, Cristol was apprehensive. She had never talked freely with an adult about sex. Her mother’s lesson on the subject was five words. “Don’t do what I did,” then she forced Cristol to attend sex education classes at church, taught by the same woman who had dissed Rachael ten years before on Easter Sunday. The Youth Minister’s wife was, by then, a mother of six. Every three months, she took the girls aside for a one hour “abstinence only” message while her husband delivered the same to the boys. When it came to alternatives, the church teaching said Planned Parenthood was an evil organization that profited from killing babies. One evening was almost intolerable for Crystal, it was the night the teens were given white t-shirts and fabric paint and instructed to design their own pro-life messages to wear to church on Pro-Life Sunday. The homeschooled kids in the bunch really got into it, and Cristol frowned with distain as she painted the shirt that was headed for the trash as soon as she got home. Unless Pro-Life Sunday fell on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve or Easter, no one at church was going to see her, anyway.  Cristol hated every minute of those sex education classes and added to her life list “I hate going to sex ed” and “ I hate that Mom never made Field go to sex ed classes.”

In spite of the indoctrination, Cristol was now thankful that Planned Parenthood had an Azzolla location. It was a God send after all. Wow, pastor would say that’s blasphemy, thought Cristol. But I can’t afford a doctor. And even if I could, I can’t be seen buying contraceptives in a drugstore. Pastor could never understand how hard it is to be me.

Everyone in town knew the Saplin brood. They knew whose truck she rode in, and recognized her boyfriends. This meant Wrangler couldn’t buy rubbers locally, either. She’d made that clear to him on their third date, after she’d noticed a nearly empty box of them in his glove compartment. “Like, if someone saw you, and told my grandparents, or my folks…” she didn’t have to finish the thought.

“I know,” Wrangler agreed. “People talk.” He shook his head. “Now that I’m hangin’ out with you, if I were seen buying Trojan 12 packs, extra-large, there’d be talk.”

Cristol gave him a playful punch. “God, you are such a liar.”

“What?” he said, pretending to be offended. “That’s the truth.”

“Oh, sure.” She rolled her eyes and made a face. “Yeah, okay, you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right.” His eyes twinkled.

Cristol looked at his silly grin and laughed, “You’re right about one thing, people would talk. They’d say, extra-large? Wonder who he’s shopping for.” She laughed again and gave him a quick peck on the cheek.

They used his last Trojan that night.

There were two days a week when volunteers from the Azzolla Evangelical Church picketed on the corner near the clinic. Cristol knew enough to avoid those days. Even when she eventually would go, she planned to hide her face with a hoodie.

Her friends had it so much easier. Some were on the pill and kept them in their pillow cases so they remembered to take one each day. That would never work for Cristol, she was too often “on the road” for First Family trips. She would have to carry them in her purse and run the risk that nosey sister of hers, Maple, might find them.

Cristol had been inside Planned Parenthood once before. It was last December when Nova, a senior that she met through Field, had confided to Cristol that she was pregnant and not sure who the father was. The girl needed a favor. She had an appointment for an abortion and the clinic required her to bring someone with a license to take her home and stay with her for the afternoon.

“Why?’ Cristol asked. “Aren’t they supposed to treat you as an adult?”

“Just in case there’s complications,” the girl answered.

“Oh, okay.” Cristol didn’t have any idea what a “complication” would look like, and she didn’t want to ask Instead, she tried to play it cool. “Sure, I can do that for you. No problem,” she said, then added, “I’m a good driver. Only two tickets so far.”

Nova hadn’t told her friends and family about her predicament, that was why she needed Cristol’s help. She assumed Cristol knew how awful it was to be gossiped about and therefore she wouldn’t be a gossip.“Oh yeah, I hear you,” Cristol commiserated. She felt worldly and almost grown up.

It was very dark on the morning of the scheduled termination. Cristol drove slowly, down the dead-end street looking for the right house. Nova’s street was deserted, but a set of tracks in the new fallen snow proved someone else had gone out early, too. The tracks led to Nova’s parent’s driveway. Cristol pulled Field’s truck over to the curb and while she waited she watched the falling snow beginning to remove evidence of tires and footprints.

At the clinic, Nova signed in at the reception desk and Cristol took a seat. She felt exposed, self-conscious. Could anyone could tell she was a Christian trying to pass herself off as “one of them”?

No one gave her a glance, and after a minute it dawned on her that the others in the room had more to think about than who she was. But, there was nothing to prevent her from looking around. This was like being behind enemy lines. Something she could tell Maple about…

A girl about Maple’s age caught her attention. Sitting alone and looking nervous, her iPod was so loud Cristol could hear a tinny syncopated whine from across the room. She’s probably trying to drown out her thoughts, Cristol assumed.

Other teenage girls sat in pairs. Knowing that it was the time slot reserved for the procedure Nova was scheduled to undergo, Cristol found herself wondering which in each pair was the client and which the support-giver. Sometimes it was hard to guess. Then she had a startling thought. Maybe friends come together and they’re both pregnant. Maybe they have a driver waiting outside for them. She began to think there was a much bigger world “out there” than she had ever imagined. The pleasant headiness of feeling grown up was replaced with the weight of feeling old and burdened.

When Nova was called into the back, Cristol picked up an old copy of “Who” magazine, a tabloid her mother loved. Snippets of Hollywood’s most famous couples pictured on the glossy pages held her attention briefly, but it soon made her realize the room she was in was comparatively short on men. Where are they, she wondered - the boyfriends and husbands? Didn’t guys feel a responsibility to at least provide an arm to lean on when it was over? Or did most girls keep this from them, like Nova had with her baby-daddy, whoever he is.

The only male in the waiting room was part of a young couple who sat whispering in corner chairs. They didn’t look yet twenty years old. When the girl was called, the guy went with her. Married, thought Cristol. And then she realized that was a big assumption. I’m so conservative, she thought. But, is that a bad thing? No, of course not. I’m conservative because I’m a Christian. This led to thoughts about fetal heartbeats and half-inch footprints – stuff she’d learned in church. Don’t these girls know that stuff? she wondered. She looked around for information on fetal development, but didn’t see any. Don’t they have to provide clients with all that technical stuff? Isn’t there a law about telling…maybe mom needs to make it a law. Maybe these girls don’t know what an abortion does to that tiny life growing inside them.., jeeze, some of these are just kids, like, thirteen maybe. If they don’t know… The taste of bile distracted her from finishing the thought.

After a while, Nova reappeared walking with an escort. She looked tired. She pointed to Cristol who set aside the magazine and went to join her friend. A woman in a lab coat with cartoon characters on it gave Nova a list of instructions, emphasizing the importance of following them all and taking care of herself for a few days. Bed rest, apply heat, eat lightly, etc.  This was the last day of school vacation, and Nova was cleared to go but excused from gym class.

The girls spent the rest of the day at the Saplin house where Cristol got out the heating pad and opened a can of chicken noodle soup and played nursemaid. The patient was up and moving around by the time anyone else came home, and just before suppertime, Cristol took Nova home, neither of them spoke. Nova thanked Cristol when she got out and walked to the house without looking back. They never spoke to each other again.

In early March, Cristol was in a checkout line at Wal-Mart and overheard heard two girls talking.

“She dropped out?”

“I heard she’s working at the Chocolate Caribou Cafe and she’s getting her GED.”

“Why would she drop out just before prom?”

“I know, right? Who would do that?”

“She can’t go to graduation with us.”

“Or the parties afterward!” 

“Do you think she’s pregnant?”

“Nova? Pregnant? Sure. Maybe.”

“Why would she drop out for that? S' no reason to quit school.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Nobody drops out for that.”

Cristol tacitly agreed. A baby wasn’t a reason to drop out. A baby was a reason to celebrate, buy new clothes, shop for cute baby gear, have your friends throw a big shower, and get lots of presents. After ninth grade, being pregnant was a pathway to instant popularity. All the pregnant girls dressed to show their baby bumps and compared belly measurements. They made lists of baby names during study hall and asked opinions during lunch. It was semi-chic.

Besides, Nova wasn’t pregnant. Not anymore. No, Cristol concluded, Nova’s dropping out couldn’t have anything to do with a baby.

                                                   CHAPTER TEN

Finished packing up her last minute toiletries from her room at the mansion, Cristol walked over to the office to find her mother. It was only a couple blocks, and the June air felt wonderful. Turning the corner, she saw extra flags lining the walk and stairs leading to the capitol building. Still high with relief that she wasn’t preggo, Cristol watched the tri-colored fabric flap and snap in the late afternoon breeze and thought, It’s as if they are celebrating with me!

She pushed through the glass doors, nodded to the security guard in the lobby, and impatiently pushed the elevator button twice. Monitoring its descent she sprang forward as soon as the doors began to open, and bumped into a lithe, blond girl wearing a purple polo shirt and khakis. It was an outfit no self-respecting teen would pick for themselves, worn only by the lucky ones who landed jobs as legislative aides. This girl, however, was working out of title. Officially, on the payroll, she was a commissioner.

“Cristol! Sorry! How are ya?” It was Field’s girlfriend, Brianna Hoofilter.

Brianna, like Field, was a recent Azzolla High graduate and came from a family well known in the valley. Nearly everyone liked Reverend Hoofilter, Brianna’s father and Mrs. Hoofilter was a social worker; “nice people,” as Grandpa Heat would say. In this case, it was true.

The Saplins were thrilled that their wayward son was dating a preacher’s daughter and they were doing everything in their power to keep Brianna around, which accounted for the uniform and Brianna’s job in the Saplin administration. It was a perk that had been doled out very recently.

Last month, Governor Saplin was on the dais at the Azzolla High School’s commencement ceremony, distracted by worries of what the future held for her son, and fearful that graduation might signal the end of his relationship with the one consistently positive influence in his life – Brianna Hoofilter. Then, an idea popped into her head. She sent orders to Tad by text. “will this ever end? When it does you & grls find Field & i will catch up with you.”

After Tony Zepata crossed the Azzolla Sports Center stage, parents gathered their things and slowly made their way to lobby to begin looking for their own graduates in the sea of identically clad young people. The Hoofilters were pleasantly surprised when the Governor waved and made a great effort to reach them through clumps of hugging graduates, squealing girls with too much eye makeup and boys stripping out of bright blue robes.

The Reverend greeted Rachael warmly with an outstretched hand and Mrs. Hoofilter, who reminded Rachael very much of younger version of Aunt Bea from the old Andy Griffith show, gave her a reserved hug, graciously accepting congratulations for Brianna’s achievement.

“Congratulations to you too. Did we hear that Field had decided on State College? Is that his plan? You must be very proud of him,” the Reverend’s wife offered.

“State College? Yeah, well, n-no,” Rachael stuttered slightly. The Governor and Tad had never saved for college for any of the kids. Tad didn’t have a degree, and he’d done alright, so any money they had above the mortgage and the bills had gone into snow-machines and recreational land and cabins. (Cabins which weren’t mentioned on their taxes, saving them money each year that they now wish had gone into a college savings account.) They had tried to get Field into the state university as an expense of the governor’s office. When they didn’t find any loophole that would permit it, Tad got to work on a project that would create full scholarships to be awarded by the Governor’s Office, with provisions that one would go to “the son or daughter of a government worker – someone who has no other scholarships and who excels in one or more sports.” He hadn’t gotten very far when it became obvious to others that Field was the intended recipient. A close advisor warned, it would be “illegal as hell” and Tad resentfully ditched the idea of a scholarship program.

“Hardworking families serving the State should have assistance, certainly there is a need and I’m working on getting a law, free tuition, you know? But that’s not the case at the present wherein there’s no help for those like us, too, in the long history of this state and this country who serve and want their kids to have better, also.” Mrs. Hoofilter’s brow furrowed as she tried to follow the gibberish coming from the state’s highest elected official.

“Well, you make an interesting point,” Rev. Dr. Hoofilter hedged. He had no idea what the point was, but it wasn’t a lie – the way she made her point was interesting.

“Oh, don’t get me started,” she said. “There are those who, the elite it seems, they send their children to Ivy League schools, don’t you know, then, of course, real Americans get no help. Patriots like you guys and us, too, of course, we pay taxes and shouldn’t our kids get to go to college? We are so proud of Field because he won’t let that stop him, no he’ll be workin’ hard to save up some money. We have a fishing business you know.”

Genuinely interested in his daughter’s boyfriend, Brianna’s father tried again. “So, he isn’t going to college?” Realizing that sounded harsh, he hastily added “Field will  work first? That’s admirable.”

“Oh yes, Field will be going to college, of course, although, too, as I said before, the family fishing business this summer - he has a native fisherman’s license. Couldn’t have that if he weren’t Tad’s son, you know, ‘cause it’s the law you got to be native.” Rachael took every opportunity to confirm that Tad was Field’s father just like she never missed a chance to say her kids were hard workers. She learned from her father how to create false impressions to cover weakness. His life was an example of the truth in the saying “In the absence of knowledge, perception is reality.” His daughter was following his footsteps, and taking it to a statewide level.

The Hoofilters wanted to move on, but they were standing exactly where they’d arranged to meet their daughter. They were stuck listening to Rachael, “…then, perhaps circumstances will be such that he will take a couple summer school courses at the community college after the fishing season. So proud of him, yup. Also, too, he should take time to hang out with friends and, you know, just enjoy being back in Azzolla. After all, he’s still a kid.”

“Oh, yes, we’ve all missed him.” Mrs. Hoofilter liked Field, but she hoped Brianna would date other boys in college. Field wasn’t “mature” enough, at least that’s the nicest way she could put it when she had the discussion with her daughter. “And you are absolutely right, Rachael.  Field is still a kid.  He needs some growing up time.”

A short silence followed while each of the three of them scanned the area, the Hoofilters looking for Brianna.

“Here’s why I wanted to find you,” Rachael was finally getting to the point. “What are Brianna’s plans? Has she found a job?”

“Yes,” the reverend answered, “she’s been hired by Fred Meyer’s - customer service work. But she’s still looking around. That job won’t cover a semester abroad, you know. If she’s going to make that happen, she’s got to find something better.” Rev. Hoofilter shrugged his shoulders. “Her mother and I can’t do much more; we’ve got the three boys in college already.” The couple smiled gently at each other. Very minister- and social worker-like smiles–meek, kind, longsuffering. Then he broke eye contact with her, stood a little straighter and with a loud, almost theatrical clearing of his throat, he delivered the proclamation “God will provide.”

“Amen, Praise the Lord,” said his wife.

“Amen, amen.” Rachael nodded, her head bobbing in an exaggerated vertical arc. Between that, and her clenched hands held chest high, Mrs. Hoofilter thought the governor looked like a parrot grasping her perch and repeating stolen words.

“God wants to bless His people, so true, and He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and of course, we are meant to enjoy His riches, us bein’ the children of the King!” The exclamation was punctuated with a waving fist and a wink.

The minister had heard shysters preaching the “God wants us all to be rich” message, after which they solicited contributions from the poor so that they, themselves, could live affluently. He wondered if the governor bought into that philosophy. Someday he might discuss that with Mrs. Saplin, but at that moment, she had already switched from scripture to self-pity.”I’m just a public servant, and Tad is a blue collar worker and he pays union dues so, again, we are middle class, too, of course our kids are hard workin’ and it seems Field is going to have to pay his own way through college, then, in perhaps two years Cristol will, too, and again, Maple only a few years after that. They’re all gonna have to do like I did, well not win beauty pageants, of course, though they could, each one of ‘em, my kids are so beautiful, but, um…so like I said, I paid my own way through college, too.  It’s a shame this country has gone so far from what the founding fathers meant it to be.”

“Pardon me?” Mrs. Hoofilter asked. “The founding fathers?”

“I was saying we’ve lost our constitutional right to education. The founding fathers wanted everyone to have a college education. They had common sense, there, which it is that’s been forgotten, you know?”

“Well, I do agree that Americans have some misplaced values,” said Rev. Hoofilter.

“Yes,” said his wife. “Even with graduate degrees, some professionals are hardly making ends meet. Americans don’t value those who help others, we value people who promote themselves. When someone becomes famous, they make millions selling the use of their name. Look at models and reality TV personalities. Narcissism can be a quick road to riches. And there’s no accountability or generosity. No contribution to society. Just interviewing, partying, and self-promotion. Meanwhile, some of my colleagues with MSWs have to work two jobs to make the rent. It’s absurd.”

“I hear ya. It really burns me when I see them on the highway.”

“See who on the highway?”

“Foreign cars.”

“What foreign cars?”

“All of ‘em. MSWs and Mercedes and all the rest. My daddy taught me to buy American. I drive a Chevy, I think.”

 The Hoofilters looked at each other and shrugged. Rachael plundered on. “So hey, here’s the thing. I want to offer Brianna a job. I’m thinkin’ she’d be a good Commissioner. It’s honest work and a great gig - good pay, good benefits, and she can have a room in the mansion. We’ve got lots of ‘em. Free room and board,” she hesitated, and corrected, “Well, not free, but, anyhow, no cost to you. Taxpayers are paying for the whole house anyway. Might as well have another room filled.” She winked again. “And it will pay so much better than Fred Meyers. So, what do you think?”

The Hoofilters were silent. Neither could believe what they’d heard. “You guys look like Saul on the Road to Damascus!” Rachael joked.”Do I look like a talking donkey?”

The minister’s wife politely laughed, which only encouraged Rachael. “Most people see me as more of an elephant.” She winked again, adding to Helen Hoofilter’s  discomfort but causing her to chastise herself. Perhaps the governor has an involuntary facial tic. I shouldn’t judge her. “John?” she asked with an inflection that told him she hoped he could somehow get them out of there.

Rev. Hoofilter wasn’t ready to move on. Not until he asked the logical question, “Commissioner? Commissioner of what? Frankly, Governor, that sounds farfetched. Brianna’s high school diploma is one hour old. How could she be commissioner of anything?” His wife  nodded.

“ John, Helen, I understand. You’re afraid it would be too much for her. Let me assure you, it’s just a political appointment. As Governor, I’ve already made 1700 appointments to lots of different commissions. Most of ‘em don’t really mean anything.”

“They don’t mean a thing? But they pay well? How can that be honest work?”

“Well, that’s not exactly what I meant.” Rachael, embarrassed, groped for a good answer. “It’s real work. It’s, um…it’s a place on the State Service Commission. Those are the folks that help match needy citizens with agencies that can help them. Brianna will be doing the Lord’s work, helping the poor, the widows, and the orphans.” Rachael relaxed, pleased with herself. She had pulled that one out of her ass. Orphans? It sounded stupid, even to Rachael. But she kept on smiling while she thought, Now, I’m going to have to remove that guy who’s in there. Hooten? Whorten? Something like that. Whoever. He’s a left over from the last administration, so it doesn’t matter. But it’s going to be awkward. I do wish I hadn’t told him only two days ago what an asset he is. Oh well, I’ll have someone else give him the news.

She gave Brianna’s father a pat on his arm, and said, “Yep, it’s a great gig, and Brianna is perfect for that spot. It takes a real Christian to do it right.”

It was four weeks later that newly appointed Commissioner Hoofilter stood in the lobby talking with the governor’s daughter. Brianna was dropping off outgoing mail at the security desk. In the two weeks she’d been on the job, mail duty was the only administrative responsibility she’d been given.

“Brianna! Hi! Isn’t this a great day? I got -” Cristol caught herself from blurting out that she got her period.

Brianna was happy to see another teenager. “Yeah, Cristol, what a beautiful day for Flag Day. I never even knew there was such a thing. I’m learning so much here. It’s awesome. And your mom, she’s awesome, I really owe her.” These were practiced lines, practiced to recite to her parents. The truth was, she was a glorified babysitter.

“She likes you a lot, too. But not as much as Pride does. Man, she’s thrilled having you to play with. Talks about it all the time.”

“Pride’s fun. I hope your mom’s happy with the job I’m doing. It makes a big difference around here; when the governor’s happy, everyone’s happy. When the governor’s not -” Brianna reddened. She realized she being blunt might cost her dearly. Her mother had drilled into her head before she left, “Never offend a Saplin.” She held her breath.

“Happy? Are you kidding? Mom and dad are thrilled! You keep Pride from getting underfoot. You’re their favorite employee.”

“Really?” Brianna breathed out a sigh of relief. “Gee, that’s so nice.”

“Yup, at home Mom calls you Commissioner of Babysitting. Says she should have thought of it months ago.”

 The words stung, but Brianna didn’t let on. “Ha! It’s the best babysitting job ever. I’ve got health insurance, paid vacation, tuition reimbursement, and a job title that makes even my dad jealous.” The truth was that the first couple paychecks felt like dirty little bribes. But, after a couple of weeks she was ripping open her pay envelopes with a sense of entitlement. After all, she reasoned, Commissioner Hoofilter was providing an important service to the State by entertaining the Governor’s six year old. That freed the Governor to do real government stuff - whatever that was.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Levi's Public Postings

Not everyone has a Facebook account. Levi and Sunny started one to reach us, but hey, if you don't do Facebook, you aren't being reached.  I'm going to help them connect a little further by reposting here messages from the PUBLIC Levi Johnston Facebook.  I consider it a public service.

The picture of Levi and Tripp watching TV was taken in December.

Mercede and Sunny are both saying that BIG changes are in the works.  Let's hope so.

Here is the link:  Levi Johnston on Facebook

Monday, June 25, 2012

SUNNY OGLESBY - A Candle Shines in Wasilla's Darkness

Sunny Rae Oglesby might be to Levi what Diana was to Prince Charles – a very young and inexperienced woman who fell in love with a public figure and improved his likability. And what’s not to like? Sunny, like Diana, gives every appearance of being genuine in every way. Both were working with young children when they caught the eye of a certain young man. Sunny, glows with the anticipation of “happily-ever-after” in a household that is going to welcome a newborn; if you can remember 1981, you saw that look on the Princess of York.

In 1981 there was Camilla, the ex, if you will, a woman that Diana knew about and tried to befriend in what might have been an attempt to practice the adage  “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”  Sunny tried to be civil with Bristol, Met her for lunch. Talked with her about Tripp.  According to Sunny, Bristol used their meeting to try to put Levi down. No doubt that’s true.

How does this comparison bode for Sunny? Well, it’s not good. A few years of happiness, and then the witch re-emerges to cast her spell. I sure hope Diana and Charles marital history doesn’t repeat itself with Sunny and Levi, but that woman no one else would look at twice in all of England and the woman from Wasilla whose face changes every few months have a lot in common from my distant observation. Looking at either of them (Camilla as a younger woman) you see jealousy and meanness carved on their faces. Putting what’s best for the children doesn’t get in their way. Church be damned, they will have sex outside of marriage if they want to and with whom they so please. And sneaky? And cutting? Oh yeah, those things are included in the package. Would either of them step away once their old lover has settled down and started a family with a sweet girl who just happens to be quite easy on the eyes? Nope.

Of course Levi isn’t Prince Charles. The only one who would think of Levi as a prince is Sunny Oglesby.  But, like Prince Charles, Levi was smitten by a girl others would have run from. Levi Johnston is forever connected to Bristol Palin. And Levi did return to her in the summer of 2010, even after she had treated him horribly  on every level and flogged him relentlessly in front of a world of witnesses. The chemistry must be so powerful that none of Levi’s human functions, are strong enough to resist. That may sound strange to you, but look at a picture of Camilla Bowles side by side with Princess Di circa 1985 and give me a better explanation than chemistry at its most potent.

There is the potential for this soap opera to run longer than The Guiding Light.  I'd have inspiration to keep me writing fiction for years.  "White Trash in the Snow" could have as many volumes as the Harry Potter series. Unselfishly, though, I wish for Levi and Sunny  to be able to enjoy baby Breeze without the drama of the Palins. ( But, if good wishes had power, Diana would still be on magazine covers.)

I’ll post again soon about Sunny.  I like her, I’ve learned some things about her, and she’s welcome bright spot, a little candle shining in the darkness I talked about in a post in February..

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Chapters 7 and 8 of White Trash in the Snow

TGIF ! Time for another visit with the Saplins. This is a totally fictionalize coming of age story about a couple of teenagers,  their parents and siblings,  politics, pregnancy, deception, and blind ambition. If you are here for the first time, follow these quick links to find previous chapters:

And, of course, any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. It is an original work, written by Allison, and published for the first time anywhere on the blog The Palin Place. 

All rights reserved.


 by Allison


According to her mother, Cristol’s suitor-de-jour Wrangler Strauss had numerous black marks against him: he was poor, from a broken family, his mother was believed to be on some kind of public assistance, his father liked to gamble, and his fifteen-year-old sister had “Wrangler” tattooed on her wrist like a bracelet. The boy was not a keeper.

Jerrie and Kevin Strauss had divorced years before, and Wrangler and Porsche lived with their mom. It was a struggle for Jerrie who supplemented child support with work as a hairdresser until two years ago when a back injury limited her ability to stand for long lengths of time. Lately, household expenses were exceeding income. Jerrie Strauss’ near indigence was also, in itself, a disabling condition -  it caused a very specific kind of blindness. No, it wasn't Wrangler's mom who had the visual impairment, it was the elite in Azzolla who simply didn't see Jerrie, or Porshe, or Wrangler, or anyone who didn't have at least three vehicles and a home in the right neighborhood.  Most of the people who didn't see the Strausses would have called themselves friends of Rachael and Tad Saplin.

Meanwhile, Wrangler was anything but invisible to the 13 to 19 year olds in the valley. There were two reasons for this. One, his hockey playing prowess and two, he was cute. Those qualities paid his entrance into the most popular cliques in school. He was “a catch” by AHS standards and regardless what her parents thought, Cristol was thrilled to have the name Strauss linked with her own. In fact, she dreamed of having that name herself, someday.

Grandparents Betty and Buck Heat also disapproved of Cristol’s latest boyfriend. They told her she could do better. “You should be dating one of the nice boys,” Grandma Heat said. “Nice boys” came from “nice families” - code words for people with money. “Nice families” were not exempt from personal weaknesses and failings; they experienced divorces, DUI arrests, drug addictions, and domestic violence at the same rates as the general populace - the local population, that is. (The valley, Azzolla, and the state, had rates much higher than national averages.)  Some made their money by applying wits and hard work, others inherited small fortunes, and still others found ways to avoid the law while profiting nicely from illegal activity. Almost like a scientific rule, the "nicer" the people the more arrogant they acted.  Indeed, Azzolla’s “nice people” clung to their self-proclaimed superiority like the general populace of the valley clung to guns and religion.

It was Rachael’s opinion that held sway in the family. If she liked someone, Tad and Betty and Buck liked them, too. And when Rachael’s opinion of someone went south, her parents used their influence in the community to make life difficult for whomever fell out of favor with their most stubborn daughter. Tad involved himself in Rachael’s interpersonal crusades, too. Stealthily, Tad Saplin launched whisper campaigns and delivered veiled threats. He didn’t do these things out of any emotional feeling for his wife, he did them for sport. Tad was a sportsman at heart. Racing snow mobiles was fun, but hunting was a real challenge. Human prey was the most challenging of all, and Rachael provided lots of opportunity for him to become skilled. Maybe it was something in his native genes that made his ancestors so good at hunting and fishing. Maybe those natural abilities evolved into the dark, sneaky side that came out after he was transplanted into a valley of strip malls, movie theaters, and massage parlors. However it happened, Tad was an expert in career detonation. He could sniff out someone’s personal weaknesses, choose the most efficient and effective weapon, and go for the kill. The number of people who had been in the Saplin crosshairs over the years had become legendary by the time Wrangler began dating Cristol.

Tad’s success record in bullying was likely the reason that, after she gave Tad orders to have the kids split up, Rachael put it out of her mind. She moved on. Time being a limited commodity, there was only so much she was willing to waste on her daughters’ fly-by-night crushes.

Fortunately for all the Strausses, neither Rachael nor Tad imagined that, in private, their daughter and her boyfriend talked about marriage. During blissful exhaustion that followed hormone-driven activity (called “f*n” when they gossiped on MySpace), Cristol and Wrangler inevitably segued into the subject. Launched with the word “someday…” they were naively sincere. Wrangler initiated the talk as often as Cristol. He wanted to be a dad someday. He wanted a son to hang out with him, to go with him everywhere – a son that he would teach to hunt and fish and skate, a son that would be a rugged outdoorsman, just like him.

As soon as Wrangler-the-toddler could stand, he’d balanced on skates and chased after a sliding puck. Like a mountain goat surviving and thriving in a perilous landscape, he had a sixth sense that allowed him to balance, charge, react, and shoot his way into the elite top tier of local sports fame. In Azzolla, helping the hockey team win was considered community service. Coaches and other exuberant adults said he was the best their town had ever seen; said he belonged in the National Hockey League. He loved when someone said that.

Equivalent to hoop dreams in Harlem, young boys in the Azzolla valley fell asleep imagining they were tying on skates and taking the ice in an NHL playoff game. Wrangler Strauss nurtured visions of traveling the US and Canada wearing a jersey that would be duplicated and sold in huge numbers. Little boys with “Strauss” emblazoned across their narrow shoulders would seek his autograph – little boys like the two six-year-olds who, after the varsity team's victory to cinch the league championship had approached shyly, and told him they want to be like him when they “grow up.” He liked that. He liked that a lot.

As one of only two freshman in the starting lineup his first year in High School, his mother told him he had a responsibility to be a positive role model. At her suggestion, he began volunteering at the community hockey league, helping coach the nine and ten year old boys. They asked if he would help with the special needs kids next year. He might. He was going to have to take a CPR course first, and that could be cool. At least that’s what a couple of his friends said, “If you know CPR and some girl passes out, you get to open her shirt, pound her chest, put your mouth over hers… “ Yeah, he would probably take the CPR course in the fall.

Wrangler was a natural all around sportsman. If he wasn’t playing hockey, or fishing, he was hunting. Big game was his favorite. He was only seven when he shot his first bear, since then Dall sheep had become his favorite challenge, in part because going into their territory was an awesome trek. Kevin Strauss bragged to people that his son was probably the most experienced hunter his age in the state. “When it comes to stalking, citing, luring, using bait or a trap, my boy’s a natural.” He would pull out pictures and show Wrangler posed with various animals, each one dead and bleeding. Kevin had a sense of humor, too. He usually followed the hunting pictures with one of Wrangler surrounded by girls his age. “Sometimes he’s the one being hunted,” he’d say with a laugh. 

Actually, Wrangler had always avoided serious trouble of any sort. The only time he’d had his name in the paper for something that embarrassed his parents was last summer’s fishing citation. It was fitting that Wrangler’s one mention in the paper for a misdeed would be a sports-related item. And it didn’t bother Cristol when he brought it up to her. In fact, she giggled and said that her mother, the governor, had been fined three different times for fishing without a proper license. He wondered why that was a reason for giggling, but whatever put Cristol in a good mood was fine with Wrangler.

Cristol talked about her parents a lot. Lately, she'd said she expected that in a few months, things would quiet down for her parents, and the four of them would have a talk. She pictured them sitting in the living room, her Dad hearing about Wrangler’s athletic achievements and his plans for college. College was definitely in Wrangler’s plans; for sure, some college would want him to play hockey. Her father should really like that. After all, that was what they had expected of Field, but that was before he began to make what Cristol described as “bonehead choices.”

“Mom and Dad are going to like you when they get to know you,” she said. “You don’t make bonehead choices like my brother.”  Wrangler liked the idea of being accepted. Maybe they’d welcome him like a son, have him over for Thanksgiving. Why, he could show her mom how to use that gun she kept under her bed.

The sad thing about the way things would eventually turn out was, if Rachael, or any of Cristol's family had bothered to get to know Wrangler, they would have liked the kid.


Later, she’d look back and wonder about that deceitful wake up call. How could she not have figured out the truth? At the time, she thought it was the mid-June sunrise that nudged her awake at 4:20 am. She’d slept restlessly, resenting that she had to catch a 9:30 am flight back to the capital to pack up her stuff and bring it home for the summer. Add that to plain old feminine intuition and there were fully three reasons she had let go of her worries when, on June 14, Cristol awoke to find a little spotting in her underwear.

Halleluiah! Every day since Memorial Day she’d anxiously awaited her period. Many times a day she chastised herself for trusting Wrangler, and told herself she hated him for having been selfish. If she had been pregnant, it would have been entirely his fault.

From the start, that holiday weekend two weeks before had seemed too good to be true. Her parents and sisters had gone to a ribbon cutting event 500 miles away and Field had gone camping with friends.  Cristol had stayed home on the pretense that she was too new to ask for time off from her summer job, waitressing in the Nordstrom’s snack bar.

Her plans were to call in sick both days, but to her parents, she said, “I’d love to go, but, um, you know how it is…um, I have, ah, I have responsibilities now. Oh well, um, I’ll definitely miss you. Definitely.” She was no actress, but her parents fell for it anyway. To make sure they would agree, she told them she planned to save all the summer’s tip money for college, and only spend what she earned at the hourly rate.

It was all Tad needed to hear. “Stay home, then. Work hard. We haven’t got any money to send you to college, it’s up to you to earn it yourself,” he said.

Rachael agreed, “Yup, you gotta find your own way, but you will. You’re a hard worker, Pistol.” 

Cristol’s eyes flashed. She hated that nickname, and her mother knew it. This time, though, there was too much at stake to throw back an angry retort. Names were important, and she didn’t think girls should have gun names. Only the day before, the subject of names had become an afternoon-long discussion with Wrangler. He liked gun names -Winchester, Remington, Magnum, Colt, Ruger, Wesson, and Mac were tough-sounding and suitable for a boy. If he and Cristol had a girl someday, he’d like to call her Uzi, Miroku or Beretta. Cristol relented a bit with the boy names, but she said she would “absolutely never, ever, ever” give any daughter of hers some name that might cause people to ask “what were her parents thinking?”  To some extent, Wrangler agreed, which is why the name Weatherby didn’t make the list at all. 

“What’s the matter with using guns as names?” Wrangler asked. “I love guns. I love to hunt. So those names are my favorites.”

“You can’t name a kid after a gun because that makes me think about pulling the trigger, and pulling the trigger isn’t something nice to name your kid after,” she explained. It was no explanation at all as far as Wrangler was concerned, until she told him that “pulling the trigger” was synonymous with giving a hand job. “All my friends call it that,” she said. “And a hand job should not be what comes to mind when someone hears my baby’s name.” 

“Okay, that makes sense, sort of,” he agreed. Heck, babies don’t come from hand jobs, everybody knows that.  No use arguing, though, or I won’t even get that today.

Her mother’s dig with the nickname made it all the easier for Cristol not to feel guilty for duping her parents about Memorial Day weekend – that, and the fact that lying was practiced openly by her parents as well. Learning from their elders, Field, Cristol, Maple and even Pride had pretty much mastered misrepresentation and prevarication. And if Cristol had experienced a momentary pang of shame, it would have disappeared when her mother added, “Too bad you aren’t pretty. Easiest money I ever made was winnin’ the Miss Azzolla pageant. That paid most of my way to college. Paid for a couple of those schools, anyway. It’s unfortunate, certainly, too, that you look like your Grandpa Heat. Not that there’s anything to be ashamed of there, certainly there are those things which it is that are far worse off…girls who it seems don’t have the looks…but your looks, well, there are those who can cash in and there are others who can’t take it to the bank.”

Fuck you thought Cristol, Fuck you and your crossed eye, too. Her mother’s right eye was a bit lazy giving her an ever so slight crossed eyed appearance. It was one of the reasons Rachael wore glasses even after having had laser surgery to correct her vision. Her glasses were not corrective, they were cosmetic. It muted the cross-eyed look and she thought they also made her look intelligent. With Rachael Saplin, everything was about the sale – selling her looks, selling her story, selling a false impression of virtues she didn’t own.

Cristol continued to mentally talk back to her mother  And here’s a big middle finger to your plans for me to go to college. She and Wrangler were going to get married in a couple years. She didn’t need college. Wrangler! That’s what this was all about. Her thoughts returned to the upcoming three days alone with him and she smiled. Next weekend, we’re gonna fuck our brains out. Ha, that’s funny – that’s why I’m not college material. I won’t have any brains left by graduation.

The unwitting teen’s timely tryst over the 2007 Memorial Day weekend had consequences no one could have foreseen, from gossip in the halls of Congress to tabloid headlines in London the names Wrangler Strauss and Cristol Saplin would be linked together. Coming of age in the information age, the deeds they did in secret will be discoverable forever in a cyberspace galaxy of a million cached pages. A lesson Cristol would some day sum up as: “Be careful what you wish for.”

Friday, June 15, 2012

Two chapters! White Trash in the Snow Chapters Five and Six

I'm getting anxious to get to some of my favorite chapters. In order to get there faster, I'm releasing two chapters this week. Chapter Five is about  how the Saplin family members deal with being in the public eye.  In Chapter six we easedrop on Cristol's parents talking about her dating that boy, Wrangler Strauss.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads who read The Palin Place and to all the husbands whose wifes read it to them!

 by Allison

Remember, folks, this is fiction. Any similarity to real persons is strictly coincidence. If you think you find some coincidence, and it amuses you, thank the founding fathers who said we all have the right to pursue happiness.  I wrote this for my own entertainment, and nothing would make me happier than to hear that you found some enjoyment here today, too. And if so, do come back next Friday for more White Trash in the Snow.


Governor Saplin was unconventional in many ways, particularly when it came to protecting her children’s privacy. They had none. She shown a spotlight on them for their mere existence, and in election season she would tell them “My getting elected is God’s plan, and God told me He expects you all to help.”

Every time she won an election, she said it proved she was right about “understandin’ God’s will.” If she lost, it was because “God doesn’t force his will on anyone and heathens vote, too - most of the time for Democrats, of course.”

Even with God on her side, the long gubernatorial campaign with its repetition of parsed promises, lies, and misrepresentations was enough to make anyone callous. Rachael and Tad mastered an impressive level of  phoniness in the stage act they honed while stumping across the state. The phrase “I love you,” dropped from their daily discourse many years before, was resurrected for use during platform speeches in front of gullible voters. “Here on stage is my husband, Tad. I couldn’t be here without his love and support.” Turning three quarters to look at him, consciously presenting her best profile to the audience, she’d finish with “Thank you Tad, I love you” and give her trade-mark wink.

The stump speeches became so predictable that Cristol and Maple, bored backstage, amused themselves mimicking their parents. Cristol would mime her mother’s hand motions, words and facial gestures in synchronized perfection, while Maple, playing the part of their father, stood with a flat, stretched smile, chin up, eyes blinking from imaginary spotlights. She’d make a thumbs up sign in tandem with her father. Then they would both have to stifle their giggles. The two girls thought themselves quite funny.

After the votes were counted and the winners proclaimed, the kids always expected  their own public appearances would recede to a tolerable level. It must have been wishful thinking, because it was never how it worked out. Rachael brought her husband and children into meetings, onto stages, requested extra seats at luncheons, dinners, and performances, including them in ways that were often inappropriate to the occasion, inconsiderate to the sponsors, and awkward for everyone except the Saplins. And that was while she was mayor. Six months after Governor Saplin took office, the grifting and grabbing so exceeded the bounds of propriety that watchdog groups began to question the use of tax dollars being used for the personal expenses of the entire Saplin family.

Governor Saplin called them “frivolous complaints” and set about to prove the troublemakers wrong. State accountants were told to compile and compare travel costs for herself and her family and those of the previous administration for each administration’s first six months. The results showed her family’s expenses were greater by far. Never one to concede, she declared the first set of figures “flawed” and sent the auditors back to tally it again from scratch, authorizing overtime to get it done. Only the accountants in the administration saw the irony in adding the cost of  overtime to the already spectacular cost of Saplin-family-related-expenditures borne by the taxpayers. The recount results came back even worse for the new governor.

Not able to use factual data to defend her family’s travel perks, the governor doubled down on her message that “every member of the First Family represents this great state wherever they go” and that each one of them “serves proudly.” Covering the story for tuned in taxpayers, an on air reporter used an unfortunate term to describe the Governor and The Shadow throwing their children into adult situations in exchange for state financed travel, lodging, entertainment and banquet meals. Never missing an opportunity to play the victim, Tad and Rachael made a big show of indignation, demanding that the reporter apologize. “The governor and I, as parents, are trying to give our children a strong work ethic. To compare that with the business of a pimp, is the most insulting and ludicrous accusation we can imagine. We are deeply offended.” Their plan worked. The travel expense story was dropped from the news cycle statewide and replaced with massive week-long coverage of the reporter’s gaffe and subsequent suspension. The governor’s office received an unprecedented number of sympathetic emails and snail mail. The First Couple were thrilled. They’d learned a valuable political lessen: whenever you can, make an accusation that your children have been unfairly used as a political tool, and wring every drop you can out of the story no matter how humiliating it may be to your children.

After that, the tentacles of political pandering wrapped themselves even more tightly around Cristol’s schedule. Saturdays, Sundays and vacation days were captured. There was little time for fun and friends. Cristol called it her “job.” She envied her friends who had “real” jobs - even Sparkler Jones’ minimum wage job at McDonalds.

Sparkler challenged her on that one day.  “You’d rather wear a polyester smock and shake the grease from the French fry basket than grin and shake hands all afternoon? Are you crazy?”

“No, I’m not crazy. You have a counter between you and other people. I have no protection. Have you any idea how creepy people can get? Leering old men want to hug me and wrinkled up old ladies with stinky perfume want to kiss me,” she wrinkled her nose. “You don’t know how lucky you are, Sparkler. Being the governor’s daughter is real work. And it’s hard work.”

Field, the oldest, outright refused to be used. Starting at the age of about thirteen, he said no and got away with it.  Cristol thought when she reached those magic teen years she'd get the same pass on political propagandizing that her brother had gotten. But somehow, what worked for him didn’t work for her.

At the other end of the age bracket, Pride had a different perspective. The baby of the family  had been steeped in attention since birth, and loved being team Saplin’s mascot. Constantly smiled upon and offered treats, she believed she was special and expected attention wherever she went. Six months ago, however, even Pride’s magical life had taken a downturn.  In the evening, after the huge mahogany front door of the mansion closed, shutting out the public, she had difficulty adjusting to the quiet. She didn’t like having to entertain herself. She missed having a surrounding cloud of kiss-ups hovering and doting. And maybe even more, she missed her grandparents and cousins. So did Maple.

“Maple-in-the-middle” as Tad called her, had been uprooted from middle school in Azzolla just as she had won the attention of a cute new boy. Maple’s problems were not insurmountable, however. With cell phone calls and text messages, MySpace postings and frequent flights back to Azzolla (on the pretense of state-business, of course), she kept close to all her friends, old and new. Within a month of the move, she had boyfriends in each town. Unlike Cristol, Maple was pretty and perky. Cristol hated that about her.

Cristol hated a lot of things about her life, her siblings and her parents. She kept a list on her computer called “Things I hate about being a Saplin.” No one else had ever seen it. Not even Sparkler. It was updated as needed, and had grown to over fifty entries since she started keeping track at age twelve. Early entries documented jealousy of her sister Maple’s good looks and ability to make friends. There were things she hated about everyone, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Uncle Ed used to be her favorite until the separation from Aunt Sally. He’d made the list a few weeks ago when he’d called her an “arrogant ass.”  She was the instigator, but he was the adult, so that put him in the wrong. All she’d done was walk past him at the school carnival, stop, sniff the air, and check the bottom of each of her shoes. Ed was voluntarily working security for the event, so even though she told on him and her father wrote emails and letters to just about everyone, he didn’t get in trouble.

Cristol was nearly clueless that being a snitch was not an admirable quality. Whenever she told her mother or her father about any perceived slight, one of them would fight her battles for her, even against teachers or police officers or family friends. Saplin kids were rewarded for whining and tattling. It had always been that way and Cristol had learned to use it. The only time she had a problem with snitching was when it was her brother or one of her sisters getting her in trouble. Such had been the case when the last Field-related complaint had been typed in “I hate my brother for being a snitch.”  That came from his telling their parents she was “a stoner,” but she’d gotten even with him.

Rachael and Tad had underestimated the stress of working together in the governor’s office. Because they rarely spoke, it was awkward to now spend so many hours together. People noticed. Until the gubernatorial victory, only family and friends saw the canyon that had grown between them during the eighteen years of Tad’s distant employment. Now it was evident to staff that surrounded them at home, at work, and during their travels. Their quarrels in the office were as common as the pens and Post-It pads they flung at each other.

About six months into the job, Rachael complained to her sister Helen about the adjustments she and Tad were trying to make as a couple.. “I’m just wrung out. Tad and I are fightin’ about who’s going to do this, and who’s going to do that and all the while we are so tired and have so much to do already, I never thought it would be this much work.”

Helen nodded. She could relate. She and her husband had gone through times of upheaval, re-evaluation, and redistribution of work - it was called being new parents. The last time, the child had special needs. Now, that was exhausting!  

“I get it, Rachael. It’s like bringing home a new baby. It’s a lot of work, and you know that going into it and you do the best you can every day. So just do your best. You’ll be great.”

Rachael frowned. “I shouldn’t have expected you to understand. You’re a stay at home mom, makin’ cookies and calling that a job. Honestly, Helen, you have no idea what work is. Kids are simple compared to real work.”

Helen was deeply offended. Her sister had never understood the work involved in having a child with a disability. Nor did she ever try to understand. Determined to keep her temper, Helon drew from a favorite Bible verse to compose her thoughts: Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, it does not boast –

Rachael was  impatient to make her own point. She didn’t  notice her sister’s downcast eyes, and she didn’t wait for Helen to respond. “Believe me, I know both sides of this. I’ve had four kids. Just birthed ‘em and went back to work. But being Governor, well, you have no idea of the responsibility I’m carrying.”

Compared to her sister, Helen was a real saint. ”You wanted this job, now you have to do what it takes to be the best governor you can be. All I’m saying is, you’ve done this before, you’ve done this as a mom. You have to listen a lot, learn from others and, of course,  you’re going to lose a lot of sleep. But it will be worth it. Just like motherhood.”

“Yeah, right,” Rachael groused. Helen doesn’t get it. She just doesn’t know how really, really hard it is to be me.

By the spring of 2007, the governor’s job had, indeed, become like a pseudo fifth Saplin child. The governor and Tad nurtured it and lavished attention on it. She woke up in the night to check on it via two Blackberries. Tad's mind was on it and he bragged about it when he was away at work. It was needy and demanding. It was an under-achiever that needed extra care, extra coddling and constant attention. If Pinocchio’s fairy godmother had been summoned to turn the Saplin administration into a real live girl, it would have been a spoiled six year old wearing a snow princess coat and a rhinestone tiara.


It was late. Tad was settling into his recliner, ready to turn on some sports show and fall asleep. As he picked up the remote, his wife came in with a mug of hot chocolate and a cinnamon bun. She set the plate on the end table and curled up on the sofa.

He hesitated, then put the remote back down. He knew the signs. When Rachael went for a double-sugar fix just before bed something was bothering her. Sometimes she ate in the kitchen, and other times in her room, but, when she brought her comfort foods near his sleep zone it was the harbinger of a fitful night for him, too.

Tad pulled the lever that stretched the recliner out full, laced his fingers and laid his hands on his chest, and waited. Whatever was on her mind, it wasn’t going to be spoken until the level of tension and her blood sugar count were maximized. Rachael began ripping off little lengths of the sugary bun and popping them into her mouth in a making-it-last-as-long-as-she-could way that she knew would get under his skin. Not tonight, though. Because on this night, he was in a pretty good mood. He’d had a long massage before he came home and he was mellow.

Holding the mug with two hands, she began blowing across the steaming surface. “Crap!” She pulled her head back after the first scalding sip. She set the mug down and scowled.

While she ate, he closed his eyes and tried to guess which of the reoccurring late night discussions they were going to have. Had her sister Sally called with another complaint about that good-for-nothing brother-in-law? Was there some problem with his having charged those snow machine parts to the credit card this month? Did the school send a note home complaining about the number of days the kids have been pulled out from school for First Family duties?  That was probably it – teachers were such a demanding lot. Well, he’d take care of that. Those damn school teachers were  public servants. They ought to understand that the people of the state had a right to meet their new First Family. Besides, the school year was almost over, so this was just harassment. Political harassment. Teachers are liberals, everyone knows that; who else would go to college and get into debt to do a thankless job for so little pay? And some of them were men! Yup, they were goddamn liberals intentionally messing with his kids. He’d handle it with a phone call in the morning.

Setting the half eaten bun down, Rachael licked her fingers one at a time, and wiped them on a paper napkin. Tipping her head to the side, she looked at Tad out of the bottom corner of her glasses.

“Okay,” he said, humoring her, “what is it?”

“It’s a crisis, Tad. If you paid any attention to the kids at all, you’d know what the problem is.” Through clenched teeth she hissed, “It’s that Strauss boy.”

He was thrown for a minute by the words. “Strauss boy” conjured up an old image of a ten year old with a two-toned mullet, playing hockey in the backyard with Field. Tad remembered the boy’s skill controlling the puck. That boy had become the kid named Strauss playing varsity ice hockey since last year. Tad had gone to only a few games before Rachael announced she was running for governor. That put an end to any free time to go to Field’s games. Maybe it was a good thing. Wrangler playing as a Freshman really upset Tad. If only Field had shown that potential… Then after last fall’s election, Tad got even busier. He followed the team through the newspaper and Field’s reports. And wouldn’t you know, that Strauss kid had gotten the most coverage in the sports section of both the city’s Daily Press and the town’s weekly, the Azzolla Holler. That was important in this hockey-crazed valley, it gave a young man some legitimate bragging rights.

After all that review, Tad couldn’t comprehend a problem, so he ask straight out, “What about that Strauss kid?”

“He’s been hanging around with Cristol.” She pursed her lips, the corners of her mouth went down.

“Okay…” He still didn’t get it. Maybe he was thinking of the wrong kid. Were there two Strauss kids? He tried to clarify, “Is that the kid the paper called a game changer?”

Rachael stiffened. “Humph." It was a cross between a snort and a grunt. “That’s him.”

“Oh. Does he still bleach his hair?”

“Really, Tad! That was when he was – what - like, in fifth grade?”

“Oh, good. Can’t have our daughter hanging around a guy with a mullet.”

“I didn’t say he got rid of the mullet. I said it’s no longer bleached at the top.”

“Really? A mullet?” Tad grinned a silly grin. No self-respecting guy still wore a mullet, did they? Where do you even find a barber who would do that?  “He must tuck it up under the helmet when-"


            "Umm, yeah, so, okay…sure. I don’t want Cristol seen with a guy with a mullet, either. Glad we got that settled. Now, can I get some sleep?”

“Good lord, Tad! It’s not the mullet. It’s his family! The Strausses aren’t people we want Cristal getting mixed up with.”

“What? Why? Didn’t Field bring him around when they were kids? What's the problem?”

“For one thing, I’m the governor now,”


“And the kids have to be more selective! This boy…” she stopped. Shaking her head, she said, “Sometimes I don’t know why I bother explaining things to you.” She picked up the remaining half cinnamon bun and shoved it all into her mouth. Chewing while talking, her next words were muffled, “I hate to use the term white trash, but it fits also…this kid is that, ...this kid who likes Cristol and she likes him…” She picked her teeth with the nail of her pinky finger and squinted at Tad, waiting for him to say something.

Tad raised the chair to an upright position, buying time to think how to get this over with so he could go to sleep.

Rachael walked over, stopped in front of him and glared down, hands on hips.“His parents are divorced, Tad. And his mother is a hairdresser!”

“Really?” His voice almost squeaked. “That’s where he got the mullet?

“Enough of the mullet, already! Don’t you see? We have to break this up!  You know how Cristol is, they must be foolin’ around…”

She leaned over, got in his face and, with a locked jaw spoke slowly and deliberately. “If Cristol got pregnant by Wrangler-fucking-Strauss it would be the worst thing that could happen to this family.”

“Don’t you think you’re taking this a little too far?” Tad was being brave. Her stone cold glare  warned him she was not going to back down.

“Me going too far? Have you any idea how many girls are pregnant in Azzola High right now? There's no such thing as going too far in this town. ” She leaned in close. “So don't be so stupid.” In the execution of “so stupid” Tad was sprayed with cinnamon spittle. Rachael straightened and went back to the sofa. Bringing her knees up to her chest, she hugged her legs, turned her head and rested cheek on her knees. She closed her eyes.

Tad stared at the blank television set and waited, knowing that eventually, she would speak. He also knew that when she did, it would be a calmer, quieter Rachael. It was her makeup. She seethed and then she stewed, and eventually, her storms subsided. His stepmother said it was a sign of mental illness. He figured she was just like her father. (The two things were not mutually exclusive.) He’d learned to cope, he closed his eyes and rested.

A full thirty five minutes passed before Tad was awakened by someone talking. It was Rachael using her “don’t- want- to- wake- up- the- kids” voice.

 “… immature. Not ready for a serious relationship.”

He shuffled in his chair and sat up straighter.

 “The way she hangs all over that boy – scares the heck out of me. I’m just trying to be a good parent.” She saw that he was awake, and said “I want you to tell them they have to break up. They are through.  Just like that boy JJ before. These guys want one thing. You have to do it Tad, you have to set your foot down.”

 Rachael talked a lot about being  the mother of four kids, yet it was Tad who gave the kids what parenting they got. He gave the occasional pep talk, wrote absence notes to take to school, gave advice on surviving a strict teacher, and ate ice cream with whoever had suffered the betrayal of a best friend. Certain he knew their daughter better than Rachael did, he gave advice, “Don’t worry. This will pass. Cristol is only trying to be cool. She’s at that age where a girl wants to be seen with the star of the basketball team or the captain of the hockey team. She's interested in him because he's a star. Wait ‘till track season, she’ll move on to some other jock.” He was enjoying being a voice of reason. “You know, how it is. Remember how you claimed me when you saw me play basketball?”

Smiling, he clasped his hands behind his head. He was intentionally leading her away from her angst and into familiar territory – their own story of young love. In their eighteen years of marriage they’d joked about this so many times, it was like a comedy routine. The first lines were his: “Oh, yeah, why I’d no sooner stepped off the court from showing your Dad my jump shot, than you swooped in and latched on to me. I didn’t have a chance.”

No immediate reaction, this was the point where each was to pause and mentally linger in the past. Individually, they envisioned their senior year at Azzolla High - the thrill of reciprocated adolescent flirtation, first love, and awkward fumbling in the back seat of a ‘72 Dodge Charger.

Eventually, Rachael broke the silence. Tad knew she would. “Oh, really?” she said, smiling, “I swooped in? Is that how you remember it?” They both knew he was right, but she always disagreed. “Seems to me, hotshot, you were the one who asked me out.”

“Of course I did. It’s the unwritten rule of high school sports. A boy wants to make the team – he has to ask out the coach’s daughter. Especially if she’s practically throwing herself at him.” He got the usual reaction - she defensively jutted out her chin and squinted her eyes. Then came  the part where he liked to change it up. He always had fun with this part. What animal would he compare her with tonight? A cow? A moose?

“Don’t tell me you really believed you were Miss Popularity? Heck, I’d have asked you out even if you’d been a gorilla wearing those thick glasses.”

She picked up a throw pillow and flung it with medium force toward her grinning target. “Liar,” she said. He batted it away.

“Yeah, I lied.” His ice-blue eyes twinkled

“Darn right.”

“I lied about the glasses. Good thing you got contacts that year or you might have been a spinster.”

They smiled at each other. Full, relaxed, creases-in-the-corners-of-the-eyes smiles. This was the most tender moment the two had shared in many months. It felt good, and neither wanted to return to the uncomfortable subject of their teenage daughter having sex.

Tad forced a yawn and stretched his arms, then picked up the remote, turned on the television, and began changing channels. Rachael got up and took her mug and plate to the kitchen. After rinsing and stowing them in the dishwasher she hesitated at the bottom of the stairs. “Well, good night.”

“Night,” Tad replied, eyes on the screen in front of him.

She felt a sharp pain in her heart as she climbed the stairs. For a few minutes, down in the living room, it had felt different. She'd thought maybe Tad would come to bed with her tonight. The irony of the last hour struck her as she reached the landing. I’m married and  my sixteen year old daughter is having more sex than me.. Unflippin’ believable.”