I wrote a new story that I read at the Fictlicious Protest show last Sunday that’s a bit snarky and (hopefully) funny, but also one of the scariest things I’ve ever written. And in researching it, I had to spend way too much time reading Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, so please appreciate the sacrifices I make for you, gentle reader. If you’d like to read it, the full text is below.
Big thanks to Natalia Nebel, Anne Calcagno, Ian Belknap and Amanda Goldblatt for reading and Stephanie Rogers, Rikki McRae and Wesley John Cichosz for the music, as well as all of you who came out to see it.
Acts of Sedition
The ground is frozen solid, and no matter how hard I jab the post-holer into the ground, all I have to show for my troubles are stinging hands and an insidious idea. My daughter, Emma, suppresses a giggle when I accidentally let a swear word slip out. I’ve tasked her with picking up the splinters and kindling that is left of the last mailbox, and she dutifully collects the pieces into a shopping bag. It’ll be my third mailbox in as many days, and the police have shrugged it off, saying someone’s just having fun with me like it’s a harmless joke. But I’ll be goddamned if these bat-swinging assholes think I’m going to plant a fourth.
I’ve spent the morning trying to figure out how to turn this whole ordeal into a teachable moment for Emma, but I’m not sure where to start. If I had a dollar for every time my mother warned me that my smart mouth was going to get me in trouble, I’d be able to afford the lawyers I’m going to need before this is all over, so maybe that’s the lesson. Or maybe it’s the obvious one: never engage in a Twitter pissing match with the leader of the free world. There was a time where that would have been an absurd piece of advice, but welcome to 2017.
I start towards the garage to find a regular shovel, but stop myself and call for Emma to come with me. She whines that she’s almost finished with her chore, but I put that “dad reigns supreme” inflection into my voice, and she drops her bag and races to my side. There was also a time when I wouldn’t have thought twice about letting her play alone in the yard.
Truth be told, I don’t even care for Twitter, but it’s a necessary evil to anyone in the comedy business. My style caters more to the NPR set: winding anecdotes and thoughtful chuckles rather than bon mots and belly laughs, so it’s hard for me to distill my wit into a handful of words. That fact is born out by the meager amount of friends and acquaintances who follow my @HarrisHaHaHa feed and occasionally click the little heart button under my daily tweets. No, I’m no comedian; I’m a humorist—and only in the evening hours when I’m not working my real job. But no one these days breaks out lacking a dedicated Twitter following, so I approach those 140-character witticisms like my own chore, assuming that if by some miracle my name ever does get out there, I’ll have an impressive history for people to look back on.
When I hit the enter key the evening before the inauguration that kicked the world right in the squishy parts, I didn’t even think about it. Just another mildly amusing shout into the echo chamber, another entry in a long line of disposable digital refuse that only served to make it look like I had a brand that was worth building. The tweet was one of dozens of easy shots I’d taken at the Mar-a-Lago menace: “How do you suppose the wingnuts who considered Obama’s golf schedule an impeachable offense will excuse the new guy?” But somehow it caught the sunken, spray-tan-protected eyes of the new leader of the free world.
He must have been too geeked up to sleep before his coronation, because the first retweeted response came in the middle of the night: “There will be plenty of time for golf once I #MakeAmericaGreatAgain!” That was followed up at 4:00 in the morning with “@HarrisHaHaHa is a failed comedian. No one’s laughing. Sad!” And finally, 20 minutes later, “Liberal elite comedians out of touch. Very unfair to me! Starting at noon, Real America will have the last laugh!”
By the time I left for work that morning, I had 2,400 new Twitter notifications, an unplugged land line and a shattered mailbox in my front yard.
Emma wants to go inside to play, but I’m going to need her help putting up the new mailbox once I get the base dug out, so I ask her to be patient. She chooses to argue the point. Lately, she has developed what is apparently a very presidential characteristic: the need to have the last word. She’s 8 years old, though, and has no command over B-2 stealth bombers or Minuteman III ICBMs, so it’s forgivable in her.
I let her hold the shovel and ride in the wheelbarrow atop the bags of concrete mix. She squeals and hangs on for dear life as I swerve our way to the curb. With a real shovel, I’m able to break ground easily enough, and it only takes me a few minutes to dig out a base. And while I’m doing it, I keep a mental tally of the cars that drive by. It’s a quiet neighborhood and the traffic is light, but I have to keep track. Call it profiling, but I’m not worried about the Priuses and the Odyssey minivans. It’s the pickup trucks rolling coal and the dinged-up SUVs with rebel flag front plates that have my attention. If I see any of them pass by again, I’m calling the cops.
That first morning, my initial instinct had been to strike back. “Better a failed comedian than a failed building developer, steak salesman, bottled water impresario, casino magnate, vodka peddler, magazine publisher, airline entrepreneur, board game creator, mortgage broker, university chancellor and, as I’m sure we’ll soon discover, president.” His response was to teach me what gaslighting was: “Nice try. All incredible successes. Made millions!” And then my Twitter feed started filling up with poorly-spelled rebukes and pictures of beady-eyed cartoon frogs. It didn’t take long for the media to catch on to the story behind Trump’s latest Twitter tantrum, and for a few minutes, I entertained thoughts of escalation. But there were death threats, too, and I remembered that in the story of David vs. Goliath, David’s outcome wasn’t the safe bet, but rather the exception that proved the rule. The line between petty pissing match and Acts of Sedition gets blurrier each time I see a black Suburban with tinted windows and government plates parked outside my office, and that’s not a fight I’m equipped to win.
So far, I’ve been able to keep Emma insulated from all this. She thinks the first mailbox was an accident and the second the result of my shoddy workmanship. But she won’t be going to school tomorrow, and I haven’t decided what to tell her when she asks why. Maybe that will be the teachable moment. A lesson about the first amendment that explains that freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences for the stupid shit that comes out of our mouths. Not for most of us, anyway.
Once the mailbox is stood up and the concrete base has set, I thank Emma for her help and release her from her obligations. This one is aluminum with our surname Harris stenciled to the side in white paint, but it’s attached to a black steel post that’s planted deep enough to stop a yacht. When she gets inside, I turn my attention back to the wheelbarrow, open another bag of concrete mix and begin stirring in water.
I pour this batch into a cast I’ve made, and feed a short length of rope into the middle for a makeshift handle. Once it’s hardened, I take it out of the cast and try to remember to lift with my legs.
As much as it pains me, I’ve taken the advice of the legions of foaming-at-the-mouth Twitter eggs out there and deleted my account. Really, it’s no big loss. 140-character homilies aren’t going to change anything in this world. I’m not interested in playing that game any more because that’s not where the real battles get won. That doesn’t mean I’m going to roll over, though.
All this is an absurdity that won’t be laughed away. Let the Jon Olivers and Saturday Night Lives have their fun with Trump and his alt-right ilk. The difference between being righteous and self-righteous is being right, but that’s cold comfort. It won’t change anything, because the bubbles we live in aren’t really breakable. But hands are. And wrists and arm bones.
After a struggle to get it positioned, the 120-pound concrete block I’ve made slides into my new mailbox almost perfectly, with only a slight sag under the weight. There won’t be any room for mail, but that’s ok, because I’ve canceled my delivery for the next few days. Swing, batter batter, swing. We’ll see who has the last laugh.