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In These Troubled Times

In These Troubled Times

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In These Troubled Times

365 página
3 horas
Nov 4, 2018


In These Troubled Times is the story of how a disparate group of friends in Washington D.C. copes after the 2016 presidential election. Resisting, raging, accepting, totally freaking out.
Liza protests at the State Department yet sleeps with a right-wing real estate hustler. The same hustler is in love with a leftie caterer who changed the name of her business to "We Don't Cater to You" after the election.
Bella won't go out with anyone who voted Republican. Yet her good friend Mandy the house-flipper proudly voted with her home state of West Virginia.
Emile, despite his outrage, says it's no surprise the country elected a racist real-estate shark.
Dinah writes a preposterous, inflammatory blog until the FBI shuts her down.
Domino tries to help immigrants, refugees and homeless people – and is rewarded with an obscene message scrawled on his car.
Like everyone else, these friends had to deal with the new reality.
They messed up royally.
Then they pulled themselves together.

Nov 4, 2018

Sobre el autor

Janet McMahon is an American writer who has lived in France for 24 years, working as a translator, dubbing supervisor and photographer. Before that she lived in Greece for three years, working as a newspaper columnist and English teacher. She grew up in New York and also worked as a reporter and photographer in Virginia.

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In These Troubled Times - Janet McMahon

In These Troubled Times

By Janet McMahon

All characters and events in this publication are fictitious, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

ISBN 978-0-692-18886-6

Copyright © 2018 Janet McMahon

Printed at Harvard Bookstore


For George

With thanks to Ferruccio Nuzzo,

Denis Grenier of Radio CKRL and Davide of MIMIC Radio


Sudz was a centrist bar slash laundromat on Capitol Hill that started out as a left-wing laundromat slash bar (wash your duds at Suds) back in the seventies. People were not so hoity-toity in those days.

Marco Echelon bought the place in 1999, changed the spelling to 'Sudz' and gradually removed most of the washers and dryers to make way for booths and a tiny stage. But a vestige of the laundromat remains, and a few fanatics still wash their duds at Sudz.

Bella Malinowski is a laundry fanatic – her pleas and cajoling were partly responsible for the remaining machines – but tonight she was there just for a drink.

She and Luke were jammed in at the crowded bar. They’d been talking about Luke's current obsession: God.

Luke says to Bella, I think you once said you were a Catholic?

My parents were. Or let’s say my grandparents were. My parents kind of dropped it.

So you’re a second generation lapsed Catholic.

I guess.

So what would you do if you had kids. Would you send them to church?


Okay, so how would you give them the idea there’s more to life than just, you know, occupation, procreation and recreation?

First of all, I’m not sure there is.

Me neither, but I think maybe that’s just my limitation. What if I’m wrong, which I usually am, and I’ve failed to pass on the big picture—as it were—to my kid, and he goes though life a fuck-up like his father?

Or worse, like the President of the United States?

Don't think it hasn't crossed my mind.

In these troubled times.'

It's a changing world.

A whole new ballgame.

Bella selected a peanut from a little dish on the bar and placed it in her mouth, supplanting thoughts of the President by reflecting on the fact that some men, when they eat cocktail nuts, take a few and shake them in their fist before popping them one by one into their mouth. No woman has ever done this, she observed to herself.

Come to think of it, she said to Luke, You’ve always shown the signs of a religious fanatic. As it were. No, not a fanatic, a mystic. Some guy just out of the desert, yes. She reached for an olive. She realized she was starving after two hours on the river but she was watching her budget and didn't intend to order any food. Except for one thing. You have no faith whatsoever. Bella liked talking to people at the bar, as it spared them her intense and off-putting gaze, which she hadn't been able to shake.

Yeah, currently, as you would put it, I’m a religious fanatic, but if you’ll recall, it wasn’t so long ago that all I could talk about was Pee-Wee Herman.

There was a kind of religious aspect to that phase, too.

Come on.

Maybe it's just fanaticism pure and simple. Because I can certify that you're not obsessive-compulsive.

Thanks for the diagnosis. But I just like to read books about people. Pee Wee Herman, Zbigniev Brzezinski – Now it happens to be Mother Teresa.

But with you it’s not exactly like reading. Nor is it just a self-improvement program.

Yes it is. He lifted his chin and gave a sly smile. That’s exactly what it is.

No, there’s something more. You’re looking for something all of these people have in common. There’s something devotional to it.

Now that’s the last word I’d have expected to hear from you.

It's free-association. I'm light-headed from hunger.

Have a hamburger. I've gotta go, said Luke, reaching for his wallet and putting one foot on the floor. Anyway, this is only the beginning. Now we're on finding baby sitters. Next he'll want to know is there a God, and then, pow, he starts in with the reefer. Opioids. Petty larceny. Jail time, and all our fault.

Luke called for his tab, and after he left, Bella stayed to finish her drink. The solitude was a shock, even amid the raucous voices and clattering glassware. Friday night. She stirred her drink with her finger and stared at the bottles behind the bar. She had ordered a Pimm’s Cup out of curiosity. Now she didn’t know what to do with it.

Isn’t wanting to believe the same thing as believing? said the man to her right.

Exactly, said Bella, not missing a beat, only barely glancing at him in the bit of mirror that showed between bottles. She couldn’t see a thing anyway at that distance, and she refused to turn her head. But she realized she had been conscious of him sitting there. He had been sending out invisible signals of interest.

He makes a profession out of doubting, but I think in fact he is a great believer, said Bella, hunching over her Pimm’s.

The mere fact that he questions his doubt, said the man.

Bella nodded. I think I have more faith in his doubt than in the certainty of a priest.

He understands the risk, he takes it seriously.

Oh, yes, that’s Luke. For all his irony, he’s the most serious individual I know.

It’s good to have a friend like that.

Yes, only — she flushed, and grabbed a peanut. I’m just his shrink.

You’re a shrink?

Well, I used to be. Not an analyst, just a psychologist. Anyway I gave that up. Luke’s one of the few clients I still see. She refused to look at him. She'd said too much. She already knew he had ten years on her. Full head of hair, however. But she didn’t like his shirt. Nautical-blue and white stripes with a white collar. So then what was he doing talking about belief and doubt?

You gave it up, you’re a lapsed shrink.

Now she straightened up and called for the bill.

Let me, said the man.

Out of the question, said Bella.

Wait a minute, aren’t you at least going to say ‘enough about me, let’s talk about you?’

No, said Bella, relaxing her posture with a half-laugh. But it’s been a pleasure, she said as she put money down on the bar—slowly, because she didn’t know how to keep him going if she walked out just like that. He had a nice open face, sensuous mouth over excellent teeth, and clear blue eyes. She gave him a quick smile, feeling very fake now.

No exchange of business cards, nothing? said the man.

Before she could respond she felt two hot hands on her shoulders, and a big fat head got itself between her and the man and said, Hey, baby, how’s your underpants?

She looked skyward. I was just leaving, Brice. But he had sat down on the vacant stool to her left. Another drink for the garter-belt queen, Tim, he yelled to the bartender. Then he leaned his left arm in front of her on the bar and contorted himself to look at her head on. But seriously, he said, Tell me something about those itty-bitty G-strings? I mean, not to be crass, but how do you—

Tim! Cancel that drink, I’m leaving! she called. But now Brice had his anaconda arm around her shoulders. I mean what if you—

That’s enough. Bye. She was praying the man in the striped shirt wouldn’t—

But he did.

Is he bothering you, Bella?

Oh-ho, a date with a genuine GOP fund-raiser, said Brice, who was attired in jeans and a gray T-shirt that had once been orange. He had a mop of wavy blond hair encircling a bald spot, and a three-day growth that was not stylish on his sagging jowls. Glad to meet you, he said, reaching across Bella. Bruce Peterson. I was just teasing my old friend Bella, I didn’t mean to be unruly.

Harry Vaughn, said the man in the shirt, grimly.

Brice, I don’t know this man! said Bella.

Well he knows you, said Brice as a beer was placed before him.

Tim the bartender asked if Bella was sure she didn’t want anything. Tim being a square-jawed, dead-serious twenty-something with a strict haircut and the stature of a guy who liked his dumbbells and shoulder press.

A Pimm’s Cup for the lady, said Harry.

A what? said Bruce. Okay, Bella, where’s the flag, where’s the little flag pin. He flipped up the collar of her blouse. I know it’s there somewhere.

I’ll have a white wine spritzer, Tim, Bella said to the bartender. And some potato chips or something. To Harry she extended her hand. I’m Bella Malinowski.

Harry Vaughn, said Harry.

Dude. The Company, said Brice in an undertone, turning slowly to his beer. Spook. Recruiting operation. Don’t do it.

Bella glared at him. Are you out of your mind?

Just offering a friendly warning, Brice said through his teeth. There was an awkward pause as she continued to glare. Well. I’m obviously de trop, he said, rhyming the last word with ‘hop.’ Farewell, then, he sniffed and moved off with exaggerated dignity to a table across the room.

It’s because I’m working in a lingerie store, said Bella. I’m running the shop for a friend who’s had a gastric bypass.

Harry Vaughn let that information, and some of the previous data, sink in. Then he said, How’d you get mixed up with that guy?

Oh, he started bothering me while I was varnishing my kayak. Years ago. I couldn’t get away. One thing led to another. He’s not so bad, this is just his bar behavior. He regresses when he's in a bar.

You have a kayak?


That takes varnish? A wooden kayak?

Yes, it’s an old one. My father's.

You were varnishing your father’s kayak.

Right. I inherited it. I’m a paddler too. He was a champion, I’m not. He was a champion. I’m not. I just said the same thing twice. She wondered if she should drink this spritzer. Maybe she should smoothly gather up her backpack and slip away.

Where were you varnishing your kayak?

Bella leaned away from the question. Are you a lawyer?



No. Sorry. He put up a hand, jiggled it, and turned away, slowly.

At the boat club, she enunciated, as though talking to a retarded person. Brice is an oarsman. He rows.

I thought his name was Bruce.

It is. We call him Brice. Brice from Nice.

Harry started to ask another question, thought better of it. Then he thought again and tried: Nice, France?

Right. But he’s not from Nice. We just call him that.


"Of a character in a French movie. Brice de Nice."

Huh. Never heard of that one.

Me either.

Harry winced as though he’d just bitten down on a piece of tin foil. Then he turned toward Bella and leaned away from her at the same time.

I’ve never met anyone like you.


Well. . .

Most of the people you meet all resemble one another?

He exhaled sharply and jerked his head up toward an antique metal sign reading Management not responsible for articles left on the premises.

Actually, yes, he said.

Bella Malinowski

Age 46, Caucasian

B.S. in psychology, UVa., PhD in Psychology, Georgetown.

Guidance counselor, Brentwood Middle School, Arlington, VA, 1995-2000

Clinical psychologist, 2001-2009, Arlington

Currently between jobs, working on renovations for Mandy Meadows and filling in at Come Hither, a lingerie store in Georgetown

Kayaker at Georgetown boat club

Lives at Baileys Crossroads, Virginia

Bruce Peterson

Age 48, Caucasian

Known as Brice de Nice

Gym teacher and crew coach at Prescott High School, Arlington.

Lives in Arlington, Virginia


The following is excerpted from the April 2017 issue of The Troubled Times ("Check no facts"):

Citizens Rally to Protest High-Level Tax Evasion

Who the hell does he think he is, refusing to produce his tax returns like every other American president for the past forty years? How do we know he's an honest taxpayer (LOL)? How do we know his tax plan, if he has one, won't be designed exclusively for HIM? Why should we pay taxes if HE DOESN'T? If he did pay his taxes correctly wouldn't he show his returns?

Even NIXON released his tax records!

Thousands of citizens met at the Capitol yesterday and marched down Pennsylvania Avenue demanding that this bilious lowlife show us proof he's a legal American taxpayer.

Come to think of it, maybe we should make him produce his BIRTH CERTIFICATE!

One fellow yesterday showed up dressed as a CHICKEN. Because that's what the big slob IS.

This reporter opted for a navy blue suit and Easter bonnet, with Keds and straw purse. Many compliments received! #tax evader #chicken #slob

In These Troubled Times. . .

All citizens must remain vigilant. He wants to ban innocent MUSLIMS and MEXICANS from our country.

Who's NEXT?

Your neighbors could be hauled away in paddy wagons for no reason. AND SO COULD YOU!

We urge solidarity among people of all races, religions and sexual deviations. Even the occasional cross-dresser must be PROTECTED from the FASCIST REGIME. Try to be tolerant, even of horrible people whom you detest. At the same time, look out for SPIES and MOLES! (See below)

News from the Mews

The man at N°4 STILL has not put out one single chair, table or flowerpot in his courtyard. Does he not realize that having a courtyard is the main reason for living in Pews Mews? Who is this man and what is he hiding? His curtains (or drapes? Seem to be heavy washed linen, natural ecru, abundant folds and excellent hang – is he a homo?) on the ground floor are drawn, the white shades on the upper floor all closed. Windows front and back have been checked.

This is likely some sort of safe house — OR ITS OPPOSITE! We hesitate to say ‘torture chamber.’

There appear to be no visitors, at least during the hours of observation, which extend well into the night. Otherwise we might assume it to be a house of You Know What.

The gentleman has lived on the premises SINCE JUST AFTER THE ELECTION, being a renter. And from whom do you suppose he rents his house? You’ve got it: HOOVER CINNAMON. Stay tuned. #Hooverville #verysuspicious #Mister X

Health News

Steer clear of the sloppy blond gentleman who shall remain nameless except to say some call him 'Brice.' Informed sources say he has crabs!

Inside the Hideous Edifice

In the eyesore en face, the third floor one-bedroom apartment that has been vacant for four and a half months at a loss of $10,865.17 has finally been rented, to a fairly normal looking woman. (If she has a partner she keeps what we now call them well hidden.)

What took so long? What is wrong with this apartment? What happened to the previous occupants – a middle-aged white couple who entertained infrequently and seemed to enjoy a placid if not boring relationship – and what has kept potential renters away? Are there physical signs of a crime scene, or is it an indefinable aura of TRAGEDY that has sent clients scurrying away like startled mice?

#hideous edifice #where are they?

And I quote

Sun City, SC, speech, July 2016:

Nuclear is powerful; my uncle explained that to me many, many years ago, the power and that was 35 years ago; he would explain the power of what's going to happen and he was right—who would have thought? But when you look at what's going on with the four prisoners—now it used to be three, now it’s four—but when it was three and even now, I would have said it's all in the messenger; fellas, and it is fellas because, you know, they don't, they haven’t figured that the women are smarter right now than the men, so, you know, it’s gonna take them about another hundred and fifty years—but the Persians are great negotiators, the Iranians are great negotiators, so, and they, they just killed, they just killed us.

Guest editorial

Scientists have yet to discover the source of that foamy yellow backwash overtaking his frontal lobe, millimeter by millimeter, but the day will come when it curls over his beady eyes, down over his childish pout and under his jutting chin, cutting off all oxygen to an already starved brain.

A.D. Blue, Washington


Pews Mews is a double row of narrow rowhouses in Foggy Bottom, eight on the first row, six on the second, built in the 1820s by a rat named Thomas Pugh, and known until well into the twentieth century as a sordid slum. Eventually due to decades of aggressive misspelling, Pugh's was changed to Pew's, and finally the possessive apostrophe was ditched.

Liza Lovejoy has the smallest rowhouse in Pews Mews: ten and a half feet wide. Others go eleven or twelve. Her rent is only eight hundred dollars, whereas other renters pay two or even three thousand a month. But the low rent is not because of width. It's because the owner of her house, Hoover Cinnamon, is afraid Liza will reveal to all the world that he is a crook. Which Liza finds amusing, since all the world already knows this. Cinnamon is a right-wing real estate speculator, why wouldn’t he be a crook?

Few people know, however, that Cinnamon has not always been a real estate crook.

He started out as a bright young Pentagon bureaucrat who discovered that certain suppliers of defense materials were willing to pay to play. In 1988 – he wasn't even thirty years old – he was offered $250,000, half a million in today’s dollars, merely for a favorable opinion on a nose-cone contract. That the bid was accepted was sheer coincidence, but it took only one further contract for Cinnamon to cash out of DOD and place his winnings in real estate.

He coveted Georgetown, but rowhouses in nearby Pews Mews were still fairly cheap, and he bought every unit he could get his hands on. Meanwhile Washington was named murder capital of the U.S., and while buyers were becoming scarce, properties were plentiful,

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