Every morning an hour after the Zane Gray Coffee Shop opened, old white men from Pistol River gathered around a table to hold court on the state of the nation as they saw it, as they positively knew it with the surety of gravity and the belief that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Every morning they wore their Trump ball caps, sweatshirts and underwear, drank drip coffee and regurgitated the Fox News red meat gnawed down the previous 24 hours. Every morning they ripped Barak, Michelle, big cities, the homeless, bicyclists, gun control wimps, Deep Staters, NY Times, Pelosi, AOC, Kapernick, liberals, PETA, Hollywood, illegal immigrants, LGBT people, Black Lives Matter, teachers, unions, France, socialism, Europe, tennis, cannabis, the Clintons, asylum seekers, voters, the godless, tree huggers, climate change fools, all scientists except ones on the take from industries ruining the planet, whales, sea lions, wolves, electric cars, Muslims, abortionists and whatever else Fox News invented for them to fear, hate, deride.
Every morning they gathered to rail against the government even though Medicare and Social Security kept them alive. Every morning they were loud and punch drunk on a cocktail of bile and certitude. There’s nothing quite so stomach churning as having to digest the guffaws of old white men in their contempt for other people.
Every morning they never tipped and drove away customers with their blowhard swaggering. They never put change in the containers to support the animal shelter, food bank, or the senior at the high school who wanted to travel abroad and volunteer at a leper colony. They gathered in the town’s only place where a few of the county’s progressives met to survive. They wanted the progressives to see them in their numbers, their all knowing, their clairvoyance, their mastery of facts that everyone was blind to except the Russian teenagers inventing them online from a warehouse in Minsk while swigging vodka and watching pornography.
Every morning they farted through their mouths toxic clouds that poisoned anyone in the shop. The ants died. So did the mint hanging in a pot from the window.
Every morning they all agreed on every issue. NO ONE ever questioned the opinion of another because there was only one opinion. No one at the Trump Table ever uttered a single original idea or insight. They had none. They didn’t think. They had lost that ability. Everything was scripted. Everything in their brains had been expertly programmed after 20 years of watching Fox News. Their hearts had atrophied. Their souls were sick. They lived inside a vacuum, an echo chamber. They were canned hams as human beings.
Every morning they managed not to use the word nigger, bitch, faggot or wetback during their broadcast and somehow to them this demonstrated their social progress since the days of lynchings and church bombings.
And every morning, Jennifer the 29-year old owner and barista at the Zane Gray Coffee Shop, had to listen to their vitriol and vendettas, witness their petulance and posturing.
But not this morning, a week before Christmas. She was mad as hell and wasn’t going to listen to it anymore. She could have just demanded they leave and never return, but in a way, they would have cherished that persecution, the martyrdom of it all, and Jennifer didn’t want to give in or truck with their delusions of grandeur. No, there had to be another way to handle them. She was not without hope that there remained something decent lurking inside these old white men. If only one molecule. Why did she believe this? Well, it was Christmas for chrissakes! Peace and tidings of good joy toward all old angry white men and all that jingle fake news jazz.
What finally pushed Jennifer over the edge?
No, it wasn’t their screed about Satan’s spawns attempt to crucify the Christ out of Christmas. No, it wasn’t their belief that the Messiah was actually a blue-eyed, blonde-haired white dude who trumpeted the virtues of capitalism in his dusty wanderings. No, it wasn’t their declaration that Die Hard was the greatest Christmas movie of all time. No, it wasn’t even them wearing MAGA Santa hats, although seeing that did induce nausea.
It was: that very morning the old white men had made fun of a kid with Down’s Syndrome after he sang Silent Night in the coffee shop and butchered it. After the kid left, Jennifer shot three double espressos in the aftermath, seethed, and schemed how she was going to confront the table. How do you confront this kind of reckless, lockstep, jackboot, divisive, diseased, self congratulatory behavior that Hermann Goring would have applauded? How do you confront it if the goal of confrontation is to enact positive change and not just spill more anger into an already angry America? Trump people live to lap up more anger!
Jennifer watched the table. The men yukked it up. She palmed her face and twisted her long brown hair. A strategy swam to the surface of her mind. It swam like an sea otter who poked his bewhiskered face barely above water and looks ready to get into mischief.
She removed her apron, turned off the the Christmas music, and darted out from behind the counter. She didn’t say a word of explanation as she passed three customers waiting in line. Jennifer marched up to Trump Table. She knew all the old white men and they all knew her. She’d grown up on the Rogue River and won a dozen titles in track and field in high school. She hunted and fished and grew super dope weed. She’d returned to the coast and her family after graduating from Oregon State with a degree in botany and wanted to open the first pot shop in town. But the old white men who ran the city council like a medieval fiefdom hated pot and thwarted all attempts at recreational shops with a series of absurd and expensive ordinances that made it impossible to start a business. Jennifer had spent many an evening testifying in vain. She gave up and opened a coffee shop instead. It quickly became the most popular joint in town, and not long thereafter, the reactionaries decamped there to unwittingly ruin it.
The men stopped talking when Jennifer appeared at the table. She knew many older Americans weren’t like them. In fact, they represented a minority. That’s why she was standing at the table. She wasn’t giving up on them. She didn’t remember old angry men like this in her youth.
“Gentlemen,” she said, “for the past couple of years I’ve listened to your constant and annoying bitching about America. In my shop. Every morning.”
Not bad. Keep it rolling. Keep it calm.
“But I haven’t heard a single thing you’re doing about it in our community.”
Everyone in the shop stopped their conversations or fiddling on their gadgets and turned to watch.
Jennifer continued. “Instead of bitching around this table, I want you to go out today, starting right now, and perform some kind of random act of Christmas kindness. Then come back tomorrow and talk about that. Free coffee tomorrow and brownies if you do. Let’s call it the Christmas Kindness Challenge.”
Christmas Kindness Challenge! Where had that come from?
“It only has to last one day. One act.”
No one at the table responded. They looked at the containers on the counter.
Jennifer saw them looking. “No, that’s not good enough. Get off your ass. And you can’t know the person, either.”
That hadn’t been part of her original scheme, but it was now.
Silence settled over the room. It was thick.
A transient appeared outside the window, a regular. He was pushing a baby stroller full of cans. He passed the coffee shop every morning at about this time. The nearest store to redeem the cans was over a mile away. No one knew his name or story, but the table loved to joke about him.
“Go give that guy a ride,” said Jennifer, pointing to the transient. “That’s a great place to start.”
One of the men started to get up, but sat back down. Maybe he wanted to act. Maybe he just couldn’t muster the courage and slice a way out the canned ham.
“Well,” said Jennifer. “Do you accept?”
Nothing. The men stared at each other.
“Do you accept?” said Jennifer.
Jennifer stood there. The rest of the patrons watched and waited, waiting for the men at the Trump Table to not turn this story into an existential Christmas tale, because nobody wants to read that. We want sweet transcendence in our transforming tales of bitter Americans and desperately want to believe they remain a possibility.