First Night: The Conflict Between Hope and Cynicism
Story by Dr. Lee Brazil
Foreword and Epilogue by:
Written by Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved
Senator Clayton’s Office, Hart Office Building
December 20, 2019, 10:33 A.M.
Optimist: Someone who tells you to cheer up when things are going his way.
~ Edward R. Murrow
“I know. I know, Fred. We have no chance of preventing Hollocore from getting the contract. But Senator Greenwood and I are still voting against it.”
Fred Bolin, her Chief of Staff, looked away and said dismissively, “I’m sure you feel you have to vote your conviction.”
“Fred, look at me. This is really important. It’s probably the most important thing I’ve ever dealt with in my whole political career. Someone or something has to stop Hollocore.”
“I know, Senator. I just don’t know who or what is going to be able to do that. Chambers has half of the committee in his back pocket. Your colleagues are frightened of him. I don’t think they will take the risk of crossing him.”
“But, Fred, you saw that recent poll. Most of the American people would favor what I’m proposing. Most people would welcome an opportunity to slow things down. To think about what we’re doing before we do it. It’s corporations like Hollocore that are full-speed ahead and damn the torpedoes.”
Fred nodded in agreement.
“And what do you know about TransSea?”
“Not much. They’ve been around a few years. They’re privately held. They’re in the energy business like Hollocore, and they’re Hollocore’s main competitor. But they seem different in their approach to things.”
“How so, Fred?”
“Well, from what I’ve heard, they treat their employees well. They don’t seem totally motivated by greed. In fact, they’ve worked fairly closely with the Environmental Protection Agency on the wells they operate in the Gulf. And their management team is a bit of a mystery. It’s not a company run by personalities. They certainly don’t have anyone like Dick Chambers leading the charge.”
“Fred, do you realize what could happen with this supercomputer in the hands of someone like Chambers?” Fred shook his head again.
The Senator looked at Fred with a very serious expression, “I just don’t like or trust Hollocore and their CEO Chambers. He’s a real piece of work.”
Fred smiled again and chuckled. “As my old daddy would say, ‘I wouldn’t trust him in an outhouse with a muzzle on.’”
Senator Clayton laughed.
“Fred, where do you come up with those sayings? Or should I say, where did your daddy come up with those sayings?”
Nancy Clayton had always tried to act on her convictions, but it seemed each year to get harder to do. The Senator had come up through the ranks. Six times in the House, and now she was the Junior Senator from California. This business of being a presidential candidate seemed to make it even harder. She was told not to fight battles if she knew she would lose. The party leadership did not like that. They weren’t sure she wouldn’t self-destruct before Election Day, and she wasn’t either. But Election Day was a long way off, and she had to get the nomination first.
Fred Bolin wasn’t sure he wanted her to get the nomination. For the first time in all the years that he had worked for her, he was ambivalent about this campaign. He wasn’t sure that winning the nomination or even winning the presidency would be what she really wanted. She had wanted a good marriage and her family, but politics, he felt, had robbed her of both. Fred, who was now in his late fifties, had worked for Senator Clayton first in California. Then he had followed her to DC. He had never married. Her career had been his life.
He could write a book about Nancy Clayton. She was from a small town in the Midwest. She had worked to put herself through college. Her mother was a passive woman, perhaps because she had a physical disability and felt she had few choices. Her father was a hardworking man, but distant.
Nancy Clayton earned a Bachelor’s degree from an Ivy League school, but had had to live at home and commute to school to do it. She was a Catholic in a school primarily made up of students from “old money” Protestant homes. That’s when Fred had met her. He was one of those students from old money.
Nancy Clayton, to survive, had learned to be a good politician, to negotiate. She got a law degree and met her husband in law school.
When Fred had finished college, he took a job in the family firm. He didn’t have to. He had a trust fund. His parents seemed not to really care what he did. When he did poorly in college, they wrote him off, certain he wouldn’t live up to his “potential.” They ignored him.
Then to Fred’s amazement, one late May afternoon, Nancy Clayton showed up at his office as a legal intern. An intern for the summer. She didn’t ignore him. Their old friendship was rekindled. But her boyfriend, Brian, from law school was now her fiancé. They were married soon after she finished her law degree. Fred followed her to a law firm in San Francisco. She was a rising star, and Fred rose with her.
Nancy Clayton wanted to have it all. When she gave birth to her daughter in her mid-thirties, Fred became a part-time babysitter and surrogate parent. She wasn’t there enough, Fred felt, when Kimberly really needed her. When Kimberly got into trouble in her early teens, Fred helped cover it up. Nancy tried to be there for her, but Brian didn’t even try. He, like Fred’s parents, had written Kimberly off when she needed him most. Brian was a womanizer. Fred knew that from the beginning. Nancy wouldn’t hear of it. She threw herself into her work and continued to deny that he was involved with other women and had a drinking problem. She focused her attention — that is, the attention that she had for her family — on Kimberly. Kimberly returned to college and, like her mom, she met a guy. But unlike her mom, she had gotten pregnant immediately. Getting pregnant had been a struggle for Nancy, making the decision and then being able to make it happen. But not for her daughter. Nancy was about to be a grandparent. Excited about this prospect, she decided to fly back to the coast to tell Brian their daughter was pregnant, hoping it might draw the family together again. When her afternoon committee meeting on the hill had been cancelled, she took an early afternoon flight. But when she arrived home, she found Brian in bed with another woman. It was finally enough for Nancy. She filed for divorce and never looked back. At least that’s what she was fond of saying. Again, she threw herself into work and that was okay with Fred because he got to see her more now.
When she had first talked about the presidential nomination, Fred had tried to talk her out of it. Fred was ambivalent about doing this. Some days it seemed to be the only thing that kept her from giving up. It was sad, he felt, for it to come to that. Could he have given her more than Brian? Brian was a man’s man. Handsome, a sharp dresser, and a risk taker. All the things that Fred wasn’t.
Fred had fantasized about telling her how he felt. But he never had and he assumed he never would. She liked him. She cared about him, like a good employer cares about a good employee. But was there more there than that? He didn’t know, and most likely he would never find out.