The phone rings. It’s 8:30 a.m. We know it’s Claire Rosenbloom. The phone is on the night table by my side of the bed.
“You’re not supposed to call before nine.”
“I need to know what time you’re picking me up for the movie tonight.”
“That’s eight hours from now.”
“I still have to know when you’re coming.”
I sigh loud enough for her to hear.
“Hold on,” I tell her.
Claire only goes to movies during the week. Weekend crowds make her anxious. It’s Wednesday, January 22, 2020, a day I have been anxiously awaiting. After months of official ceremonies and memoranda, resolutions, debates, and political posturing between the Democrats and Republicans, opening arguments in the impeachment trial of President Trump in the U.S. Senate are slated to begin. I turn to my husband, Bill.
“She wants to be picked up. She lives fifteen minutes from us by car, six minutes to the movie. She can drive herself.”
That’s what I tell him, but really I am trying to protect his health. I have to protect his health. He is recovering from a heart attack that occurred after a surgeon removed a cyst from his back. He was in the best of health before then. A nutritious diet for the last thirty years. No sign of arteriosclerosis. An itinerant clump of plaque from a distant vein clogged a portion of his heart. They slithered a stent up his right arm into the misbehaving coronary artery which would henceforth remain open. I hand him the phone.
“I’ll pick you up at 5:15,” he tells Claire. He hangs up and gives the phone back.
“Why can’t you ever say no to her?” I don’t wait for an answer. My husband knows I don’t expect one.
I rarely paid attention to politics until my mother-in-law moved from Florida to a Maryland senior community near us. She would speak eloquently about senator this or congressman that, and knew them by their first and last names. She’d discuss legislation that had passed and condemn corrupt elected officials in the same breath. Besides being impressed, it seemed to me she was involved in a great deal of important events that I knew little about. Gradually my morning routine began with switching on the radio to C-SPAN’s live news coverage.
Trump’s impeachment is broadcast on every radio and TV news station. It is based on two articles adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives: abuse of power and obstruction of congress. Trump was charged with soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election to help his re-election bid, and then obstructing the inquiry by telling his administration officials to defy congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony.
The hearings don’t begin until one o’clock. I had time to call Claire back.
“Instead of picking you up, meet us at Positano’s. It will save time.”
“You’ll have to email me directions and tell me where to park. I don’t know where to park.”
Claire has lived in Bethesda her entire life. She knows where Positano’s is and she knows the movie is in the same mall where she eats pizza at California Kitchen. She also knows where to park.
“Bill will email you directions. He’ll get our movie tickets online.”
“I need an aisle seat.”
I have known Claire for over thirty years. She needs an aisle seat so she can run to the ladies room with enough time to get back to her seat without peeing in her pants. She considers herself my good friend and treats me as one. I can call on her for a car ride, a recommendation for submitting my latest story, and offering up her spare bedroom for a visiting relative. Claire writes cookbooks. Her “Fabulous Noodle Kugel” is a sure bet, every ingredient a treat. Her “Asparagus with Wild Mushrooms and Roasted Peppers,” my stomach can do without.
It’s 1:00 p.m. The seven Democrats chosen from the House as impeachment managers serving as prosecutors begin to present evidence for why Trump should be removed from office. The managers were selected for their legal and national security expertise and for racial and gender diversity.
The president’s congressional defense team, eight Republicans, were chosen for their typically questionable and overly dramatic behaviours that obfuscate the facts even though the president’s “criminality” is captured on visual and audio tape. Six legal counsellors serve as the team’s backup.
By late afternoon, having witnessed every moment of the TV hearings, my husband and I head out to meet Claire. It’s no secret that along with everyone else I know, I’d like to see this president behind bars for his flagrant and unceasing nefarious conduct.
On our Sirius car radio, one of the House managers, composed, skilled, and dedicated, is stating that Trump committed the worst offense ever by a U.S. president in the history of our country. He threatened to withhold $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until President Zelensky provided dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter, information which would help Trump win the 2020 election. The radio cuts out. Claire’s voice resounds through the speaker connected to the Bluetooth.
“I can’t go the way you said. I can’t make the left turn onto Georgetown Road. There’s too much traffic. It’s across two lanes.”
“You can make it,” Bill, the traffic maven, tells her. “A minute after the light changes, the traffic will loosen up. Be patient.”
“The lineup is as far as I can see. I can’t make it. “
“You’ll make it. Just stay there.”
Claire hangs up. The radio returns. The phone rings again.
“Someone let me in. I made the turn. I’m on my way to the parking lot.”
“Good,” my husband says. “We’ll meet you at the restaurant in ten minutes.”
Now a Republican senator insists there was no abuse of power, no obstruction of justice. Our president and the Ukrainian president were merely having a friendly conversation. Presidents from all over the world have friendly conversations all the time. Nothing about this was new. What’s the big deal? You can’t impeach a president for this. You Democrats, you’re all hysterical.
The phone rings. Claire sounds tense.
“This parking lot closes at eight o’clock. Our dinner is at 5:45; the movie starts at 7:15. I won’t be able to get my car out in time.”
“Claire, you went to the wrong parking lot,” Bill says. “Go around the corner and make your first left. It’s a municipal lot. They give you six hours.”
“Where do I make my left?”
“As soon as you get out of where you’re at. We’ll meet you at the restaurant.”
The hearing returns. Over the radio we listen as one of the impeachment managers asserts quid pro quo occurred. He acted out the scenario: “Volodymyr,” Trump said to President Zelensky, “you get me the dirt I need to win the next election and I’ll give you back your $391 million. Otherwise forget it. No deal.” Minutes later it’s Claire, again.
“The restaurant is closed. I’m knocking on their door. My knuckles hurt.”
“Can’t be. I’ll call them,” I tell her. “I know the owner.”
No one picks up the phone. “Can she be right?” I ask my husband.
Claire calls back. “Someone opened the door. They let me in. I had to wait till 5:30. That’s when they open. Where are you?”
“Go inside. Get a table,” my husband shouts. “We’ll be there in six minutes.”
One of Trump’s prominent lawyers claim that proof of a crime is needed to impeach a U.S. president. But one of the Democratic managers referred to a video during President Clinton’s 1998 impeachment where that same lawyer stated, “it doesn’t have to be a crime if you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty.” Since the comment about the video tape completely discredits Trump’s lawyer’s statement, his lawyer has no choice but to retract his earlier position.
The phone rings. It’s Claire.
“The service is slow here. We shouldn’t have picked this place. We’ll never get to the movie in time.”
“She may be right,” I say to Bill. “Tell her to meet us at Silver’s.”
“Claire, leave your car where you parked. Walk out to the sidewalk. We’ll pick you up and eat at Silver’s.”
As we approach the underground garage, a different House manager claims the trial memo submitted by one of the Trump attorneys was “heavy on rhetoric and procedural grievance” but did not feature a “‘legitimate defense’ of the president.”
I’m desperate to know how the Republicans get out of this one but rather than upset my husband and deal with Claire’s hurt feelings, I get out of the car. Claire is waiting across the street where a man playing a saxophone, connected to an electric speaker, is booming, “The Look of Love.” The streets are fairly quiet. Claire carries a purple down coat and wool scarf in case the weather changes even though it’s a lovely January day; we decide to dine outside.
At Silver’s restaurant, the server distributes the menus. Five minutes later she returns to take our choices.
“I can’t breathe,” Claire says.
“What do you mean, you can’t breathe?” I ask.
“Out here. I can’t breathe.”
“Why not? You’re outside. There’s plenty of air.”
“It’s the mold. I can’t breathe with the mold.”
“What mold? Where’s mold? We’re in the open air.”
“There’s mold in the air. I can tell. I can’t breathe. I have to go inside.”
The server moves us to an inside table.
“Where’s my purse? Claire asks.
“My Le Sac. I must have left it in the other restaurant while I was waiting for you. I went to the bathroom and when you said you were here I ran out of there. Or it’s in your car.”
I phone my husband. Once. Twice. He’s obviously still in the garage.
Claire is leaning obliquely on the hostess as if she’s a lifeline. She’s calling the other restaurant for us.
“I have the restaurant,” the hostess says holding out the phone. “They found your purse.”
“See, I told you,” Claire announces.
I take the phone from the hostess. “Tell Jimmy to hold it till nine.” I hear Jimmy say “it’s fine.”
“Great. Everything’s okay, ” I tell Claire. “We’ll pick it up after the movie.”
Claire yells into the phone: “My keys are in my bag. There’s a bottle of red wine. I forgot to take it out. Everything I need is there. Keep an eye on it.”
My husband arrives from the garage. I quickly explain the situation to him while Claire continues giving orders to Jimmy at the other restaurant. “Don’t let her move. Give me the car keys. I’ll get her purse.”
He takes the free-pay ticket out of his pocket. “It’s on P2,” he shouts after me.
I drive the car two blocks to Positano’s, double park and run inside. Jimmy opens the door to a private closet and hands me the purse. I race back in the car with the purse; I make sure I have mine. I park in a different municipal lot, gather Claire’s Le Sac with everything in it and double time it back to Silver’s restaurant.
“Here’s your purse.” I slam it on the table in front of Claire. She seems to notice I’ve had it with her. She lowers her head as she digs inside her purse. “Your keys are in there. Everything’s safe,” I tell her. My husband is silent.
The order comes quickly. No one says a word. Claire starts on her salad.
“This salad is too big. Want some? Here. Take some.”
My husband and I are eating chicken pot pie. We don’t want salad. Claire throws a few fork-fulls of greens on top of our crusts. She proceeds to detail the entire plot of a book she thinks we should read. It’s a mystery. I don’t read mysteries. We listen and eat. When we’re ready to leave, we wait until Claire is out of the bathroom so she won’t have to go when we get to the movie.
The movie is a block and a half away. We take our seats. She doesn’t get up even once throughout the film. After the movie, the three of us walk back to the garage. We drive her to her car and exchange goodnights. She thanks me for getting her purse and gets out of our car. I whisper to my husband, “Never again.” Claire leans her head into my open window and kisses me on my cheek.
“I love you,” she says.
Thirteen days later, the senators declare Trump not guilty on the charge of abuse of power in a 52 to 48 vote. It is the first time in American history that one senator, Mitt Romney, votes to convict a president of his own party. On the second charge, the obstruction of Congress, the Senate votes 53 to 47, to find Trump, once again, not guilty. He skates, scot free.
My democratic friends and family muse about moving to Canada.
Header image design by Clarrie Feinstein and Orly Zebak.
Naomi Weiss is an award-winning non-fiction writer and essayist is co-author of the 1990s Business Week bestseller What The IRS Doesn’t Want You to Know (Villard, a Division of Random House), seven editions, reviewed in Forbes, Kiplingers, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Barrons, Wall Street Journal, featured in Money Magazine. Hedda’s Story, on domestic violence, was a People Magazine cover story, for which she appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and A & E’s American Justice. Published works include subjects ranging from banking to technology, real estate to feminism, and alternative medicine to psychology. She attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop Summer, 2010. Her recent work has appeared in Splice Today, I Come From the World, Montgomery County Magazine, Furious Gravity in the Grace & Gravity Series, an anthology by D.C. Women Writers, honorable mention in Glimmer Train,
and in The Bookwoman published by the Women’s National Book Association. She is a member of The Writer’s Center, Bethesda, M.D., the Book and Author Group at the National Press Club, Washington, D.C., and the Journalism Institute.
She is currently working on a novel that explores the sexuality and talent passed from Hungarian immigrant parents to three generations of women.