It was October 7, nearly a week after the government shutdown began. Representative Joseph Perry from Nebraska walked across the mall, a bit sore, but feeling slightly better. His workout in the exclusive House gym was the first step toward some serious changes he needed to make. As he walked through the depressingly empty mall lawn, the feelings of guilt returned. It was, after all, partially his fault that most everything in D.C. had been shut down. Joe headed for the Capital Lounge, his “go to” place when things were not going well. Their beer selection was extensive and unique, they had the best wings in the DC area, and a slogan that read, “No Politics. No Miller Lite”. Perfect. Joe couldn’t wait to find a spot in one of the unique nooks and crannies and decompress for at least an hour.
Since the shutdown, his office phone has been ringing off the hook, mostly with negative calls. His constituents and people were angry about his decision not to reject his pay during the shutdown called non-stop. Some called him a bum, some hurled expletives, others threatened his family in Nebraska. Joe had had enough.
He called the office of the Speaker of the House to report his desire to end the shutdown. Being only a freshman congressman, he didn’t have much clout, but he planned to make it clear that he was ready to vote to end the shutdown without concessions.
It’s time to get everybody back to work. What was the real point anyway? I should have never let the Tea Party influences affect my vote. The callers are right, the shutdown was the wrong decision.
Joe headed for a seat in the “Loser Lounge”, which seemed like the perfect place for him to spend the next hour. Instead of ordering his usual beer, “Victory Golden Monkey Ale”, he ordered two “Delirium Tremers”. Instead of his usual wings, he ordered “Adina’s Deconstructed Nachos”. These nachos were really spicy. To punish himself further, he asked the waitress to bring extra jalapeno peppers. He was hoping to have the table to himself, but was soon approached by an attractive black female.
Alberta arrived at her apartment on Capital Hill exhausted. She had a whirlwind weekend at Miami Beach with her sister. She knew that the furloughed workers were not really supposed to leave town, but she needed a pickup, and it was just a weekend anyway. She wouldn’t miss anything. She saw the light flashing on her answering machine, and pressed play.
“You won’t have to worry about me bothering you ever again. Just watch the news tonight. It will be the story everyone is talking about.” It was her ex-boyfriend, Ralph. The message was left Friday, just before noon.
“Wonder what that fool did this time?” Alberta wondered.
She logged onto Facebook and followed a link to the story about a man dousing himself with gasoline and striking a match on Friday. The description sounded a lot like Ralph. She had heard about the psycho who set himself on fire, but had no idea it was someone she knew. Not only did she know him, but her heartless behavior was probably at least one of the triggers that led to his demise. He didn’t actually say that he blamed her, but she had plenty of reason to blame herself. As she reflected on the way she ended their relationship last week, she was overcome with guilt. After a sleepless night and a day filled with tears, Alberta knew what she must do. She needed a quiet place to settle her nerves, and some alcohol to make this a bit easier. Afterward, she would head to the authorities and tell them what she knew. She hadn’t dated him long enough to know his family and friends, but figured that giving the police a name and a motive might help a lot. Telling them the story, however, will be the hardest thing she has ever had to do. She headed to the Capital Lounge, a place that she often went on Mondays, as that was generally their quietest night.
Alberta headed to the Loser’s Lounge, finding it more crowded than she expected for a Monday night. The most secluded she could get was a small table where a man sat who looked almost as bad as she did. Hopefully, he wasn’t looking for a pick up.
“Is this seat taken?” she asked. “I was hoping to spend some time alone, but that does not seem possible. I won’t be here very long.”
Joe looked up. “Ah….no. Help yourself.”
Alberta ordered a Piña Colada, the only alcoholic beverage she drank. She glanced at Joe. He seemed a bit familiar, but she didn’t know why.
“Did you hear about the crazy nut job who set himself on fire?” asked Joe, hoping to avoid any discussion of politics.
“Yes. What a terrible story,” said Alberta, as her eyes welled up with tears. She did her best to keep them from falling.
“Wonder what makes someone do something like that?” asked Joe.
“I have no idea,” said Alberta. She was careful to avoid eye contact, hoping Joe couldn’t tell she was lying. “I wonder if he had been furloughed. These are desperate times. Do you work for the federal government?”
“No, said Joe. I’m visiting from Nebraska. I came here to look for work. To be honest, I’m not liking DC much. I’m eager to get home.”
“How much longer will you be here?”
“Not sure,” said Joe.
“I know you’re not supposed to talk about politics here, but I’m so disgusted with Congress,” said Alberta. “That whole bunch of losers needs to be furloughed if you ask me.”
Joe started coughing, blaming it on the super spicy nachos. “Some of them aren’t that bad I hear,” he responded.
“They are all a bunch of do-nothing losers. I can’t believe they are getting paid while I am not. Did you hear that their posh, exclusive gym is still open because it was declared essential? This is the most ridiculous thing in the world. I hear the Brits and our other allies are laughing at us. When I leave here, I’m going to call my congressman’s office. I know he won’t be there, but I’m leaving him a message anyway. ”
“Who is your representative?” asks Joe.
“I don’t even remember the loser’s name, but I’ll look it up when I get home.”
“Are you from DC originally?”
“No, I’m from Omaha. I’ve only been here for two months. Hey, we must have the same representative. Do you know his name? “
“No. I don’t remember either, lied Joe. I’m going to have to leave shortly, would you like some of these nachos. I won’t have time to finish them. I just realized that I have to meet someone in a few minutes.”
“No thanks. I need to leave soon too, and the last thing I need is something that will make me cry.”
Joe asked the waitress to put Alberta’s order on his check. When she brought the bill, Joe pulled out his credit card. Alberta recognized the name.
“I thought you looked familiar. You are a bold-faced liar. I remember who my representative is now. Are you too much of a coward to admit that you are one of the ones responsible for this ridiculous shutdown? I can’t believe you sat here and lied to me like that.”
“I-I’m sorry, stuttered Joe. I just needed to escape that whole mess for a little while. I just didn’t want to talk about it. You are right. I am a coward. The shutdown should have never happened. I promise to do what I can to get you back to work.”
“Like I can believe anything you say.”
“Can I at least get you a cab?”
“Where are you headed?”
“The police station. I lied too. The guy who set himself on fire was my ex-boyfriend. I had just dumped him in an evil, hurtful way. I think it might be my fault he did it.” The tears she had been holding in now began to flow in torrents.
“Let me go with you please. I am an attorney, as most politicians are. Although you’ve done nothing wrong, it might help to have someone with you.”
“Thanks. Maybe you aren’t as heartless as I thought.”
Joe and Alberta left the Loser’s Lounge together, neither ready to face all the difficulties that lie ahead, both burdened with guilt.