They wouldn’t send real Americans away to be stored.  Radical Muslims, sure.  Illegal immigrants, yeah.  Maybe welfare queens.  But not just…regular Americans.

That’s what Judy had nervously told herself for that entire six weeks, between the day she was first called in for questioning and the day when she was, in fact, sent to one of the country’s resident storage facilities.

She was young and stupid when she took those pictures.  Since then, she had turned her life around.  She was born again and regretted the things she had done when she was lost.  She was no longer that woman.

But in President Pence’s America, that didn’t matter.  Pictures “of an inappropriate nature” like hers meant she was a defective citizen.  A friend found the pictures somewhere and submitted a complaint…because of course they did.  Everybody did that.  If the situation were reversed, she would have done the same.

Defective Americans went to storage centers, where they could be stored away from society–and, most importantly, where they could be used for free labor.  Because hard labor was the one sacred thing which made America better than any other country in the world.

The customer service representative whose job it was to interrogate her grinned when he saw the printouts of her photos.  “You should’ve known better,” he admonished her, the grin still in his voice.  “Don’t worry, ma’am.  The place I’m sending you is a great deal, and you’ll only have to stay for four years…”

***

She remembered how she wanted to scream at her neighbors:  “I’m not a bad person!  I’m just like you!  I voted for Trump and Pence too!”  But she was suddenly on the other side of the fence, and they didn’t really want to talk to her or look her in the eye.

How she had wished back then that they would see her side of the story.  Now it was four and a half years later, and she didn’t care anymore.  She was tired.  This was her old neighborhood, but it didn’t feel like home.  She limped slowly up the sidewalk to her house.  There was a child she didn’t know playing in the driveway.  His mother stood nearby, watching.

The house had been confiscated and sold while Judy was locked up.  The walls had been newly painted a bright pink, and a magnolia tree had been planted by the front steps.  There was another, smaller house being constructed in what once was the backyard.

The mother finally noticed Judy and started walking towards her.  “Can I help you?”  Her question was made softer by her accent.

“I used to live in this house,” Judy said.

The woman’s face hardened.  “We don’t want any problems.  We bought this house all legal.”

“Right.  I know.  I was in a center.”

The woman shrugged.  “So was my brother.”  She picked up her child and went inside, locking the door behind her.

***

A couple days before, Judy had gone to see Mr. Rodriguez, an attorney who was working with storage center survivors.  Just a few years ago, she would have viewed him with suspicion–was he in the country legally?  Now she only wondered if he could help her.

Mr. Rodriguez shook his head sympathetically.  “It’s going to be very difficult to get any compensation for you.  It’s pretty obvious from your online record that you were an avid supporter of the Pence regime in its early years.”

She fidgeted with her paperwork.  “Well, I believed him when he said he would bring back the jobs and all that.”

The lawyer sighed.  “I don’t want to get your hopes up.  The new government has focused on specific groups of Americans which were harshly targeted by the Pence administration.  It will be hard to make a case for you.  I will file an application…but I doubt you will get any results.”

She did not argue, as something in her sensed he was already being kinder to her than he needed to be.  She picked up her papers and stood up to go.

But she felt a twinge of desperation and bent down to him again.

“You had friends in…the resistance?  Yes?”  she whispered.

“If I did, what makes you think I would tell you who they are?”

***

Her nephew, Nick, lived at his mother’s place, in a suburb on what used to be Judy’s side of town.  Their last conversation before they fell out of touch was on Facebook, and it had ended with Judy mocking him for being a “snowflake.”  He had been whining about his gender identity or some such nonsense.

She thought about all of that again on the long bus ride to see him.  She hadn’t called or texted him about her visit.  What if he didn’t want to talk to her at all?

But Nick gave her his usual quiet, easy going nod when he opened the door.  “Hi.  Mom isn’t here right now.”

“That’s okay.  How are you doing?”

He let her in.  He was still very pale and very skinny.  Maybe a little skinnier.

“I’m fine.”  He perched on the side of the sofa.  “I should be asking you how you are.  Mom said you got locked up.”

“Yes.  They let me out not too long ago.”

“That’s rough.  I was arrested a few times.  I never went to a center, though.  I guess I didn’t have much they wanted to take.”  He chuckled.  “Was it bad?”

“It was…”  She found that even after all this time she didn’t want to talk about or think about what it was like.  The house–that was what she wanted to think about.  Her house.

Nick’s dark eyes squinted a bit.  “Do you still believe the people in the centers brought it on themselves?”

“No, no.  I was wrong, and I understand that.”  She was lying.  It had all been a mistake with her.  She only took a couple of pictures.  She wasn’t like those types who protested every week–she never blocked traffic or burned anything.  And she wasn’t a terrorist.

“We should put it all behind us, anyway.  I’ve forgiven you for what you said about me,”  Nick announced.  So full of himself, she thought.  “You’ve always been my favorite aunt.”

She hesitantly accepted a hug from him.

“If you need any help…Mom sometimes gets extra stuff from the church pantry.”

She tried not to sound too eager.  “Thanks.  So, there’s that group of anarchists…they’re liberating homes, is what they call it…”

“No worries.  I don’t hang out with them anymore.”

“I actually wanted to meet with them.”

“Wow.”  Nick raised an eyebrow.  “Not a good idea.  They would hate you.”

Her face flushed with anger.  “Why?  Is this because of how I voted again?  Most of America voted that way–deal with it.”

“But you realize you hurt yourself with your vote, right?”

“Not true.  President Pence wanted to help the country.  The bureaucrats are the ones who came up with the centers and they made it all spin out of control.  It wasn’t his fault.”  She realized her voice had become shrill.

“I sense some unresolved guilt there in your response…”

God, how she hated it when the millennials went into their psychobabble.  Next, he’d want to talk to her about her self-esteem.

“I’m not guilty of anything,” she snapped.  “I’m one of God’s children, and He has washed my sins away.”  She turned and left before he could say anything else to her.

***

It was on the way back, the ride to her tiny rented room, that it hit her hard.  She would never get her house back.  It was so unfair.  All because of one mistake she made.  One little mistake!

And, for the life of her, she would never figure out what that one mistake was.

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Every morning, rain or shine, I see them on my train ride in to work–the line of worshippers. On camp chairs or concrete, covered with plastic if it’s coming down as it often does here in Portland, entire families and groups of teenagers. They’re waiting to be admitted into the giant glass cube that is their temple–the Apple store, with its cheerful priests, ready to dispense technological blessings. The people cluster on the steps in front of the store like lepers hoping for a cure….and I suppose you might as well be a leper if you don’t own a smart phone.

The store opened months ago, so it’s not exactly a novelty anymore, but the faithful continue to show up daily. And this week, the disciples of other churches of consumerism are already lining up and camping outside their doors, as the holiday miracle of Black Friday discounts gets ever closer.

They really do remind me of cult followers awaiting a Second Coming, like Jehovah’s Witnesses or those unfortunate people who listened to what Harold Camping had to say about the end of the world. But the Messiah never arrived in clouds of glory, and you will never get the happiness and fulfillment you’re looking for from that TV you’re wrestling away from the other customers at the Wal-Mart sale.

In fact, you will probably only find that fulfillment if you *stop* shopping…and eating..for a moment…and reflect. There are so many reasons to have a moment of silence this Thanksgiving, from Ferguson–to the insanity that Black Friday has become–to just your own peace of mind. So I will do my best to find that moment today. Have a wonderful holiday, everybody.

I hear a lot about the real America. I’m told it’s a very particular kind of place. It’s the heartland with its God-fearing and armed Christians which is the real America. Not the perverted coasts. Not elitist New York or liberal Hollywood.

Problem is, I love the fake America. I’m an immigrant–I know, we’re not quite as fashionable as we used to be–and I definitely didn’t come here for the real America. If I wanted to be surrounded by farms and church-goers, I could’ve stayed in rural Eastern Europe. Those of us around the world who dream of America dream of a glamorous and exciting place. I dreamed of the land of skyscrapers and city skylines, of jazz and rap. I didn’t think of Americans as people who followed conservative tradition, I thought of them as people who outraged their elders by doing inappropriate dances, and doing them with inappropriate dance partners. My parents imitated Americans with jeans and hippie hair and rock’n’roll. When we lived behind the Iron Curtain and we fantasized about the States, we didn’t fantasize about being a televangelist (except maybe for their wealth).

Our patriotic pundits like to remind us that America is exceptional. I agree that it is. But if it looked like they wish it did, it wouldn’t be exceptional at all. There are already plenty of narrow-minded and theocratic places on this planet–there’s no need for more. There’s not nearly enough of the mixed-up and the crazy and the sinful. Those are the parts of America I love the most. And I hope that God or Goddess will continue to bless them for many years to come.

It looks like my native country of Poland is just as politically divided right now as my adopted home country of the United States.  In last week’s EU parliamentary elections, the two main rival parties received the exact same number of seats–19.

The party which is the “winner” of the election–with only 32.8% of the popular vote–is Platforma Obywatelska (PO) or Civic Platform, a center right party.  And this may be the one time that I will be excited about the right winning an election.  Because PO is–there is no other way to put it–the sane party.  They are right wing in a very moderate sense–perhaps this is what the Republicans in America used to be like, or wish they could be like again.  They are interested in free markets, open to Poland being a part of the European community and the economic benefits that can bring to the country.  They have previously come out in favor of privatization and deregulation, but have been in charge for the last few years and privatization has only happened on a small scale.  They don’t seem to be interested in dismantling society.

On the other hand, there is the opposition.  Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (PiS)–the Law and Justice party.  It’s a bit unclear to me if they would be considered left or right by American standards.  What they are, more than anything else, is religious.  PiS followers are fervent Catholics.  They are nostalgic people of the sort which wants to wind the clock back to a better time in the past, in this case possibly back to the Middle Ages, when the Church was safely in charge and the priest was the ultimate authority figure.  Hence their opposition to Poland’s involvement in the EU–they don’t want Polish culture to be influenced by all that Western moral decadence, with its pesky feminism and pride parades.  This would also be why some Catholic right talking heads have actually expressed support for Putin’s expanding influence.  Sure, Russia may endanger Polish sovereignty, but at least it doesn’t have gay rights.  The spiritual scene in Poland has become a lot more diverse since the fall of the Iron Curtain, with Buddhists and pagans popping up, and PiS followers are not big fans of that.  While we’re at it, they would also prefer it if women would step back into the kitchen where they belong, thank you very much.  This would mean no rights to abortion or contraceptives, and a proposed tax rebate for each successive child, to encourage Poles to continue following the Catholic big family model.  There is definitely a populist streak to the PiS platform–they are in favor of welfare programs and at one point made promises of a large-scale guaranteed housing project for Polish families.  This is where your average American observer might get confused.  PiS essentially combines social conservative values with some progressive safety net ideas.

Funny thing is, the Civic Platform party isn’t that terribly liberal about social issues either.  But they are closer to the middle, which has caused them to be accused by Law and Justice of being depraved and sinful heathens, ready to take Poland over the brink into heresy, which is enough to recommend PO to me.  And I guess there’s the similarity–whether in Poland or America, elections aren’t about voting for the party you love, they’re about picking the less crazy option of the two.

So just as I decided to be whiny about it, I’ve been given a good reminder of why I should be grateful to live in Portland.  The entire Internet has been mocking the Idaho gubernatorial debate today, with its wacky Bible-quotin’ conspiracy-theory-spoutin’ candidates.  This brings back lovely memories, as I used to live in Idaho.  Only for a short time, but still, wow.

The Idaho of today seems at least slightly less homophobic, as one of the debaters opined that gay people love each other more than he does his motorcycle.  I can still remember the guy at my Boise school who told me that if he found out a person was gay, he would have no problem whatsoever with killing them (shudder).  Then there were the male students in my college class (a college class!) responding to a female professor’s lecture by saying that yes, in fact, women should be barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.  While the boys were a bit more rude about it, the girls explained to me in a nice and polite way that they were going to submit to their husbands when they got married.  I think my jaw dropped to the ground and stayed there for the entire five years I lived in that state. 

In the end, it was too much for us.  We couldn’t handle Idaho.  Having just come from a stint in Holland and New York, the culture shock was too extreme to overcome.  We were singing on the day we packed up our U-Haul to leave.  And then it was time for our romance with Portland to begin.

I would like to add that there were a few wonderful and open-minded people I met in Idaho as well.  I feel for them–it’s not an easy life for those brave individuals.

And possibly born into the wrong generation.  (I’m supposed to be either X or Y, don’t remember which letter of the alphabet).  The more I hear about the millennials, the more I see that I agree with their values–which are often portrayed in a negative light.

Millennials don’t think of owning a car as a necessity.  For those raised in our car-centric culture, this seems downright un-American.  I happen to love being a non-driver.  It all depends on what kind of lifestyle you’re looking for.  Living in an urban area where you can take the train–or better yet, walk!–everywhere is a beautiful thing.

Millennials also don’t consider homeownership to be as important as their parents and grandparents did.  Again, this is viewed as a failure of this generation, or as a sign that they are giving up on the American dream.  But maybe the dream is simply changing.  I am a homeowner at the moment, but as time goes on, downsizing to a condo or apartment is looking more and more attractive.  Taking care of a home with a yard is a hassle, and living in the suburbs is a screaming bore.

Millennials believe in a work/life balance, and they’re right about this one as well.  We exist with the delusion that our lives will be better if we sacrifice them on the altar of work.  But what’s the point of making the money if you don’t ever have the time to sit back and enjoy what you’ve earned?

They are also socially liberal and accepting of diversity.  I’ve always thought this was a no-brainer, but unfortunately, recent events in the news show us that it isn’t.  Maybe this new generation will finally get it.  And they tend to be spiritual rather than religious.  Religion adds structure to spiritual practice, which can be useful, but spirituality is where the true connection with God is found. So it seems the young have their priorities straight.

There is only one area in which I will have to part ways with the millennials–they are disillusioned when it comes to politics, and mostly not engaged in political activism or even voting.  I can’t blame them for feeling this way, considering the way our political system works these days.  But I still believe that it’s crucial to be active.  No matter how cynical you may be about it–and I am–it’s best to be alert and involved with your lawmakers, otherwise the day may come when your lawmakers decide to become involved with your life in ways you didn’t expect.

So I guess if nothing else, I’m younger in spirit than I am in body.  Now where’s my latest time-bending invention?  I have to make sure to be born in the correct year this time.

When you go on a journey, you discover that the world is full of dangerous people.  My life has been no different.  I’ve come far and faced off against many villains.

For example, when I was a child, I was told that evil American capitalists wanted to drop a nuclear bomb on me.  But then I moved to a different land and found out that it was, in fact, evil Russian Communists who wanted to drop a nuclear bomb on me.  That was confusing, but then things got even more complicated.

When I lived by the northern European seas, abortion and gay rights were considered good things, and anybody who opposed them was strange.  But when I lived in the American desert, I learned that abortion and homosexuality were sins, and anybody who supported them was immoral.  Now I live by the Pacific Ocean, and once again it’s those who are too religious and too traditional that are suspect.  I’m having a hard time keeping track of all this.  Maybe it would be easier for me to tell the good guys and the bad guys apart if I had stayed in one place and didn’t move around so much.

What makes it even harder is that so many people wear magical disguises and are not what they seem.  For instance, those who aren’t Christian aren’t really American, even though they pretend to be.  Just like those who aren’t Catholic aren’t really Polish.  Ah, but hold on–it’s not enough to know that someone is wearing the Christian label.  If they are liberal, they aren’t really Christian.  You see how tricky this gets.

Now I feel as if I’m living in a cursed time, because everyone is starting to look like an enemy.  The conservatives aren’t true patriots and neither are the progressives.  I’m supposed to be on the watch for thieves who will steal my money through taxes and robbers who will steal my work by paying me too little for it.  There are hawks who want to attack everyone and doves who want us to get attacked.  Gun nuts want to shoot me, but then again I hear that those who favor gun restrictions want to see me defenseless and shot.

So how do I move forward on my way when I’m surrounded by dragons?  Could it be?  Is it possible that I’m the only one who’s right and everybody else is wrong?  After all, many wise men and women around me are making this claim–that they are the only ones who hold the key to true knowledge.

Believing that those who think differently from you are monsters to be fought is one way to journey through this world.  I find the travelling lighter and easier when I don’t carry all that heavy weaponry with me, though.  The dragons are imaginary anyway–they’re just imperfect human beings, a lot like me–and our battles are unnecessary.