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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This blog post dedication goes out to a very special presidential candidate…and the way he’s changed my life.

As some of you may know, I work in the health insurance industry, for a local company which shall remain nameless.  Yes, it feels paradoxical to be working in that field when I’m a supporter of a single payer system, but that’s life for ya.  Working in insurance may seem like the most boring career path ever–I’m like Kafka without the brilliant novels–but over the years, I’ve enjoyed my job and found some good friends among my co-workers.  It’s been a nice stable paycheck, and I was hoping to keep working there for years to come.

And now the company I work for is imploding.  Why?  Well, there are multiple factors, but a major one stands out.

When insurance companies agreed to join the Obamacare exchange, the government promised them payments from something called a risk corridor program.  This was meant to compensate them for the fact that they would be taking on a large number of new customers who had been uninsured for a long time, and thus would be very sick and would need costly treatment.  This turned out to be true, and costs for the industry have been even higher than expected.  If anything, this is evidence for just how broken our healthcare system was previous to the Affordable Care Act.  All these newly insured Americans are now finally receiving care for medical conditions they were often forced to neglect because they couldn’t afford to have them treated.

I certainly do not expect sympathy for insurance companies in this scenario.  However, the risk corridor payments were supposed to make the transition to Obamacare smoother and keep the health care infrastructure from falling to pieces.  Supposed to.  But only 13% of the risk corridor money which was promised has been paid out.  And it’s all because of that one very special guy.  Yep, Marco Rubio.  Marco cut most of the risk corridor money out of the budget, and he’s very proud of it.  He brags about being the only conservative who has truly succeeded in damaging Obamacare.  Because it’s so much more important to stick it to the President than to allow Americans access to health care…

So now, insurance companies across the country are going out of business, employees are facing layoffs–and the truly frustrating thing is that Obamacare is getting the blame.  I’m hearing it myself around my own workplace.  It’s easy to think that it’s Obama’s fault, if you haven’t heard all the facts.  Rubio knew what he was doing.

Okay, so saying that I’m not voting for Marco for President is a bit of an empty threat–it’s not like I was going to vote for him before.  Still, I’m definitely never voting for him now. Not for dogcatcher.  I’d gladly vote for Bernie over him.  A shoe could be running against him and I would vote for the shoe.  Call it a personal grudge.

Say it with me, everyone:  elections have consequences.  Think there’s no difference between the candidates?  Think it’s not worth your time to vote?  Nope, nope, nope.  My future, and the future of almost 2,000 other workers, hangs in the balance right now because of the actions of one man.  Vote like the quality of your life depends on it… because it does!!!

When I was younger, I used to daydream about Prince.  I would imagine what it would be like to be at one of the legendary parties at his mansion.  These were your typical lame-ass young girl fantasies.  Prince would come trotting out in his stilettos like the sexy little satyr that he was and he would play guitar for us.  Perhaps our eyes would meet for one magical moment.

But then I grew up, and I got a newsflash courtesy of Cold Hard Reality:  I would never actually go to one of Prince’s parties.  It just wouldn’t happen, in the same way that I would never date that old school crush or become a good dancer.  It wasn’t a painful realization, as by then my life had turned out to be far more unpredictable and meaningful than any celebrity fantasy could be.

The problem is, I live in a nation which still believes it’s going to get invited to the party.  Too many of my fellow Americans suffer from the mansion party syndrome.  They genuinely believe that one day they will be friends with Donald Trump.  One day, they too will be winners.  They will find a way to get rich.  Maybe they will make some brilliant investment, or their singing talents will be discovered on Youtube.  Or maybe they will win a million dollars on a reality show.

Here’s the thing–you won’t.  Your chances of joining that club are tiny to slim.  And that’s fine.  But please, don’t vote based on the delusion that your membership in that club is possible.  Stop voting against your own best interests.  You keep thinking that the oligarchs would love to be BFFs with you.  You’re waiting on the curb with that sad little bouquet, but your prom date isn’t coming to pick you up.  Wealthy and powerful America isn’t going to make out with you in the back of the limo.  They don’t care about you.

So don’t vote for the mansion.  Vote for who you are, for your little house or apartment, if you still have it, because even that is slipping through your fingers already.  There’s no shame in being a regular working person–you’re the one building this country, not Trump.  You deserve to have a glamorous party thrown in your honor for all the blood and sweat you put in every day.  Since that will never happen, at least stand up for yourself, and when Donald or Ted ask you out to the dance, turn them down.

“Well, are you ready for a fairy tale?”

“Oh, yes!  Things have been so depressing lately.  Tell me a good one, Uncle Fox!”

“Once upon a time, there was a future President who was born deep in the African savannah, under the acacia trees.  From the time he was a little boy, it was his goal to bring the Islamic faith to the American nation.  As a young man, he made the long, perilous journey from Kenya to America.  His Marxist mentors were already waiting here for him.  They subjected him to the toughest kind of mental training, until he was turned into the perfect instrument of subversion.  When he was ready, his handlers helped him infiltrate the Senate.  Little did the American people know that a fascist dictator would soon be unleashed upon them…”

“But I thought he was a Marxist…”

“Shhhhh!  Don’t ruin the story!  Remember, this is a fairy tale.  Now, do you want me to go on or not?”

“Yes, yes!  I’ll be quiet, I promise!”

“The young politician had strong black magic at his disposal…haha, see what I did there?”

“Hehehe!  You’re so politically incorrect, Uncle Fox!”

“Don’t I know it!  He used his magical spells to create all sorts of things out of thin air–cell phones, food stamps, birth control pills…  He enchanted the voters by showering them with free gifts.  He turned them into sheep and they elected him to the presidency.”

“Oh, no!”

“They were under his spell–they were unable to resist him.  And so, the long dark years of the new President’s reign began.  The people of the nation suffered…”

“Ooh, ooh!  Tell me about all the terrible things that happened.  Did they lose their jobs?”

“Well, actually…the economy improved.  But not as much as it could have!  Also, the President gave more people health insurance…”

“That doesn’t sound so bad…”

“Just wait, it gets worse!  There were weddings all over the land…”

“I love weddings!”

“But these were gay weddings!”

“Eep!”

“See what I mean?”

“Uncle Fox, I know another bad thing that this President did!  Mama told me that he used drone strikes to hit innocent people…”

“Silly bunny…drone strikes are a good thing!  Stop messing up my story!”

“Keep going, Uncle Fox…”

“Misery and evil descended upon the country.  Thankfully, there was a small band of brave Tea Party warriors who were willing to stand up against the dictator…”

“Wow!  What did they do?”

“Let me tell you!  They took out their…”

“Swords!”

“…flag pins!  They put on their patriotic flag pins, and they rallied with American flags and anti-Medicare signs.  They even dressed up as the Founders!”

“Awesome!”

“They were armed and ready!  When the time came, they pulled out their guns and…”

“And??”

“…took selfies with them!  They shared Facebook memes!  These were true freedom fighters.  We don’t have men like that around anymore.”

“Sigh…”

“Finally, the dictator’s eight-year term was about to come to an end, and the patriots were ready to breathe a sigh of relief.  But then the thing they had always feared came to pass.  The population of America was so mesmerized by its smart phones, they didn’t notice getting microchipped in the neck by the government.  Also, the military was easily able to go door to door and confiscate all the guns, since the gun owners were too busy blogging in their underwear about how they were going to assassinate the politicians they didn’t like.  The FEMA camps had waited around for years, but now, they were going to be used…”

“I’ve heard all about the FEMA camps!  What did the patriots do?”

“After the microchipping, they could no longer fight, so it seemed all hope was lost.  But God was on their side!  And so was a giant bald eagle!  The eagle grasped a nuclear bomb in its talons and dropped it on the dictator, annihilating him.  As the smoke of the explosion cleared, Jesus appeared in the clouds and appointed a new President, a godly one who would restore this nation to its biblical foundation of huge mansions and strippers with big hair.  President Cruz would rule the land in peace and liberty…”

“So all those stories about the voting machines malfunctioning in 2016 and President Cruz stealing the election are untrue?”

“Of course they are!  Those are all liberal lies.”

“And the stuff about our wages going lower and our pension funds getting stolen?”

“Don’t you worry your little bunny head about that nonsense!  Now that a real American is President again, we’re going to live happily ever after in the land of the free…”

“Awwwww, Uncle Fox!  You tell such nice stories.”

“Now hop along to the meadow, little one!  We need to fatten you up…I mean, make sure you’re healthy and well!”

“I’m on my way, uncle!  Thank you for everything and have a good night!”

“Sweet dreams, bunny!”

Not so long ago, I posted a blog about being an old and jaded woman who doesn’t believe someone like Bernie Sanders stands a chance in the general election.

Well, now I…still don’t believe Bernie could win. (Although Scott Walker has dropped out, thank the gods!) But I do have to make note of something I’m seeing… Yesterday was National Voter Registration Day, and I took the day off from work so I could spend it all registering voters. Because I’m a giant political nerd. Oregon does technically have the new law where you automatically get registered to vote if you have a driver’s license or ID at the DMV, but a lot of (especially younger) people who don’t have IDs might fall through the cracks, so voter registration drives continue to be an awesome thing.

We did our registration drive at a local college, and the students were incredibly enthusiastic about signing up. And the main reason for their enthusiasm? Yep, you guessed it. Bernie. Lots of young people who wanted to make sure they could vote for him in 2016, who wanted to make sure they were registered Democratic so they could vote for him in the primaries. So Bernie’s campaign to win the White House may not be realistic, but he is getting a whole new generation of Americans excited and involved in the election process. I doubt that the students would have been so fired up if it had been just Hillary or Biden running.

Or maybe they would have been. The number two reason I heard from our brand new voters was: “I don’t care what happens–I don’t want Donald Trump to win.” There are certainly some colorful personalities involved in the 2016 race, and that may motivate high voter turnout. Whether or not that’s a good thing? We shall see when the election results come in…

As I voted this year, it’s been tempting to cast a vote for politeness. That is, for those who don’t engage in excessive phone and mail harrassment.

It was my father who first came up with the idea of answering political calls with: “Which party or candidate do you represent? Okay, I’ll be sure to vote against them! Don’t you know it’s rude to call this often?” I never did try this method out, although I wish I did–it would have been nice to make everyone feel a little nervous.

And there has been so much obnoxious behavior to vote against this political season. The piles of printed junk stuffing our mailbox. The endless ringing of the phone, sometimes ten to fifteen times per evening. Multiple calls from the same number within just a few minutes, trying over and over again when I refuse to answer the phone. The Monsanto-sponsored voicemail which was impossible to turn off even after hitting the “Off” button on the phone repeatedly, but instead continued talking at me about why I should oppose labeling of GMO foods. (If anyone ever needed more proof that Monsanto was satanic, this would be it…) Last but not least, the robocall which started with the words: “I know you’re tired of political calls, but….” Yeah. Yeah, I am.

But while the urge to vote against the rude people was strong, that probably would have only resulted in my voting for minor party loser candidates…since publicity = success in our political system. So I went down the usual boring road of voting on the issues. I have a feeling the causes I supported will lose anyway.

No matter what the election results are, I’m happy the calls will stop after tomorrow.

It’s been difficult enough to wave my Democratic pom-poms lately, but now my feelings are even more divided than before–this time, about my local vote for governor.

John Kitzhaber, the Democratic candidate running for re-election as governor of Oregon, has found himself in the midst of exploding scandal over the past few days. It has to do with his fiance, Cylvia Hayes, and various revelations about her–that she was paid $5,000 for a “green card” marriage to a young Ethiopian immigrant, and about her one-time plans to run a pot farm. I don’t care about either of those very much. These are the actions of the fiance, not Kitzhaber himself. What does bother me is that she was employed as a consultant to the governor and landed some plum contracts as a result, possibly in breach of state ethics. When it comes to Kitzhaber, I also can’t forget that CoverOregon–our state version of the Obamacare exchange–was bungled as badly as it was. Kentucky did a better job on its website. I’m a big supporter of the ACA, but the CoverOregon site didn’t work for months and cost the state millions of dollars.

I want to vote for the Democrats. I’m glad that Oregon is a blue state. But I get the sense that the Democrats who have been running the state for so long have gotten a little too comfortable. They know that people are going to vote for them, almost no matter what. (I’m pretty sure Kitzhaber is going to win his fourth term this year.) They have become a ruling clique. We need fresh liberal blood in this state.

But with that being said, I’m not excited about voting for Kitzhaber’s Republican opponent, Dennis Richardson, either. His values don’t match mine. We’re talking someone who opposes both Obamacare and marriage equality.

So what do I do now? Is there some Green Party/Socialist Party candidate I can throw my vote away on? (The only third party candidate I see in my voter guide is the Constitution Party guy, which…ugh.) Should I just abstain from voting? Seriously, somebody advise me. I’m no longer a voter divided at this point–I’m a voter torn to shreds.