Saturday
Feb042017

The Hate Office

By the time Shumaylah unlocked the front door and breezed into the reception area, I was already way south of annoyed at her. The Senate had voted Friday night by a whisper-thin margin to reauthorize the Discrimination Licensing and Regulation Act, and all of us who worked in DLR offices knew then and there that our next few weeks were going to be a nationwide coast-to-coast hot stinking landfill fire. Yet on the first day of the stink Shumaylah, our office receptionist, was 40 minutes late.

I arrived at my desk an hour and a half early and answered 37 phone calls, only nine of which were for me. The office answering system had failed again sometime over the weekend, and every call rang and rang and rang until someone—me—answered it or the caller gave up, which was not the character of the kind of people who called us. My desk was awash in pink scribbled messages for Glenn and Mark, not scheduled to arrive until 9:00, and our Regional Office Supervisor, Rhonda Watts, on vacation until after Memorial Day.

The front door opened. "Good morning, Maggie," Shumaylah called as she walked across the reception area to her desk. "Did you have a good weekend?" I scooted back my chair and looked out of my cubicle, intending to unleash on her but instead did a double take.

“Look at you!” I said. Shumaylah always dressed professionally but without much inspiration. Something had changed. Decked in a blue and white wrap dress, perched on designer pumps, her white hijab tucked up into the shape of a jaunty cap, a gold necklace rich with colored stones around her neck, she looked like an Arabian princess.

“Somebody had a good weekend,” I said.

She giggled. “I did have a good weekend,” she said. “Well, part of it anyway.” Her accent’s rolling Rs and long flat vowels became musical when she laughed.

I grinned. I liked Shumaylah and often felt sorry for her. She was young, smart and pretty, but being a Muslim woman in a town like ours was tough, made all the tougher by what I understood to be her strictly religious family. When she first came to work eight months before she was a freshly minted legal immigrant, eager to work and learn and be an American. Week by week we all watched her enthusiasm ebb and her spirit dull. Her work remained excellent and precise, but her attempts at a social life outside the confines of her previous world seemed steadily crushed. She did not date or go out on weekends with other than family. She did not join us for our biweekly happy hours. We heard hints of an overbearing father and over-protective brother.

She glanced at her desk phone and its display of received messages. "Ya lahwy!  Two hundred ninety-seven voice mails? Who are these people?”

I laughed. It was her first glimpse of the kind of flash flood that periodically struck our little office. She would get used to it, if she stayed long enough.

The phone rang and she picked up. “U.S. Office of Discrimination Licensing and Regulation, Lorin County office,” she said with perfect enunciation. “How may I direct your call?" 

I turned to the hundreds of emails in my Inbox. Among the first, time-stamped four minutes after the Friday announcement of the Senate vote, was from Johnston Edwards, a lawyer everyone in the office knew well—a gadfly chasing discrimination claims against businesses. With the law making discrimination lawsuits a thing of the past, he had smoothly turned to filing seal applications on behalf of businesses and defending those businesses when they were cited for violations. His email stated that 19 of his clients (duly listed) would be renewing their seals and within 15 days he would submit applications from 41 new clients.

My lips curled as I read.

Shumaylah rang my phone. “Maggie, a call for you on one."

“Thanks, Sham,” I said and punched the blinking LED.

"Margaret Ward," I said. “May I help you?"

A woman’s voice, hesitant: "Yes, hello. I understand the law has been renewed, and my husband and I want to apply for a seal?" Her sentence rose to a question at the end. I recognized discomfort.

“I can help you," I said, "but you can apply online, and it is faster—“ 

"My husband doesn't trust the Internet."

"I see. No problem. I'll be happy to help." I typed a few codes and a blank Application by Phone Form 60437 filled my screen. "Do you know which discrimination class you are applying under?"

"Yes. Just a moment." After a few seconds she read, "Category III, Right of Limited Commerce with Members of Religious Groups."

I checked the appropriate field on the form.

"Business name?" I asked.

She hesitated as though about to reveal herself as a carrier of multiple sexually transmitted diseases. "West Creek Farm Market and Garden Center," she said. I typed.

“Owner’s name?"

"Hagan J. Smith. My husband." And so it went for a few minutes, until I reached the classification questions.

"And for what religious group or groups are you applying to post a discrimination seal?"

She faltered, and I could feel her embarrassment. "Jews, Muslims and Hindus," she said.

I filled in the three boxes.

"Is there a specific reason for your application?" I asked. "This is an optional question. You are not required to offer a reason and your not doing so will not affect your appli—" 

"My husband’s an asshole."

I did not react. Her plight was common. The week before, a son who sounded decidedly gay and definitely pissed called on behalf of his father to apply for a seal against LGBT customers. A Mexican-American daughter under apparent duress applied for her Italian stepfather who owned a bakery and wanted to ban Latinos from his shop because he thought they had eyes for her. Back from there stretched a three-year chain of spouses, partners, brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews and business associates who felt obliged to apply on behalf of another, as well as more than 200 business owners, themselves wanting to inoculate their commercial interests from the burdensome diseases of diversity and equal rights.

I did not type that the caller's husband was an asshole.

“How many employees does the business have, both full and part-time?"

“Six."

“For businesses with fewer than 12 employees, the nonrefundable application fee is $250.00. Upon approval of your application, the seal fee per group is $1,500.00 per year. Since you have applied for a seal identifying three groups, that will be $3,500 and must be paid within 15 days or the application is forfeit."

She said nothing.

“If you have an email address, I can send you the application for your signature. Or I can mail two copies through the postal service—one for the business owner to sign and return and the other for his records. You can attach a check or fill in the credit card information—“ 

“Mail it," she said, disgusted. "I want to watch him open the envelope. I want to watch him sign the application with his own hand and pay the money that was supposed to go toward our daughter's wedding next month."

I heard anger, exasperation and a hint of murder.

She regained control and ended the call civilly. "Thank you," she said. "You have been very nice. I'm sorry you work for a government that allows this. This is the fucking United States of America." She hung up.

 

Mark and Glenn arrived on time, almost together. Mark commented to Sham that she looked very sharp, while Glenn oohed and ahhed appreciatively at her new display of fashion. Glenn handled complaints from citizens about businesses that discriminated without displaying a seal or discriminated against groups outside the authority of their posted seals. Mark worked the business side. Through his cube flowed emails, faxes and phone calls from local business and political people, ranging from the mayor and the county executive to local merchants and the president of the county chamber of commerce, plus activists from the county’s 11 registered anti-discrimination organizations, from the NAACP and the ACLU to the Anti-Defamation League and the Balkan States Citizens Council.

We often debated who had the hardest job.

A calendar reminder popped up on my screen: Wong 10:00 am. Thirty minutes from now. I gritted my teeth. As nice as the man was, with the mountain of work I had to do I could spare little time for an academic debate. I hunkered down to my emails, determined to get as much done in half an hour as I could. And I did.

At 9:57 Sham rang me to say that Dr. Wong had arrived. I rolled back my chair and looked out into the reception area, and there he was, as primly dressed and patient as always. With him was his middle school daughter, just as neatly attired. I struggled for a moment to remember her name. Kari.

Theo Wong was a Yale-educated constitutional scholar who taught political science and the politics of social media at the local campus of the state university. Defeating the Discrimination Regulation Act and overturning the Supreme Court’s Ashimiko v Kelly Hardware decision was his crusade. Beginning with two opines in our local newspaper, he had gone on to publish scores of scholarly papers and popular articles about his views, testify before a joint Congressional panel, be berated by the White House, and receive a fairly equal balance of praise and death threats.

There he sat with his daughter in our little office reception area. He had made his appointment to see me two weeks before what he knew would be the Senate’s reauthorization. He should have scheduled with our federal employee boss, Rhonda, but he never got any more satisfaction from her than from Washington, so over the previous year he had latched onto me, a contractor, as sympathetic and helpful. I did what I could for him, within the boundaries of the law and department policies, which often was not much.

I checked my appearance and walked out to meet them and lead them to our small conference room. He asked about my boyfriend, Kurt, and I told him he had left me two weeks before. He sympathized, then asked about my parents. He knew my father, who had just retired from his post of twenty-four years as physical plant supervisor at the college campus. I told him they were fine and asked about his family. He had a lot of news. His son had been accepted to Stanford medical school in the fall. His oldest daughter had just graduated with our high school’s highest academic award. His wife had been promoted to assistant superintendent of the local school system.

 I congratulated him and turned to Kari. “So, Kari, what big news do you have?” She lowered her eyes. I looked at Dr. Wong.

“She is why we are here,” he said.

“I thought you were here about the petitions,” I said. Initiating new local and national petitions was mentioned in his original email. I regrouped. “How can I help you?”

He smiled and nodded. “It is a sensitive matter,” he said. I smiled in return, waiting. This is the way things were done with him.

He sat erect and spoke with an even voice. “Mr. Jacob Goldblum has sealed Asians and Americans of Asian descent from his sporting goods stores,” he said. “We cannot buy for Kari the equipment she needs for summer soccer.”

Kari did not move, her eyes still lowered. Kari Wong was the new star of our middle school’s soccer team, a bright, happy, well-liked girl whose rookie play had brought statewide attention to the team. By her coach’s account (according to an article in the local newspaper), she was headed for a university scholarship. Her being barred from the town’s only sporting goods store, and the sporting goods store in the next nearest town, also owned by Joshua Goldblum, was a problem not only for the Wong family but for our entire community.

“We bought inexpensive equipment for her this year since it was her first season, from the Internet, and we didn’t know how well—you understand. But now she needs something better.”

“You can send a surrogate,” I offered. This was how many sealed populations avoided the problem. They sent acceptable surrogates into sealed stores to buy what they needed. 

“Her team mates have offered to do this,” Dr. Wong said, “but my daughter is an athlete. She wants to try the equipment, feel it, try it. And I,” he added, “refuse to feel shame or let her feel shame for who we are.”

I knew he had long feared this day. The cold letter of the law against which he had been advocating on behalf of all Americans had finally touched his family. His crusade was no longer about obtuse and debatable constitutional theory. It was about his daughter.

The lawyers, the piles of pink phone messages, the unending torrent of emails—they all came to this for me, to the sad and ashamed face of a young girl.

The nearest sporting goods store not owned by Joshua Goldblum was 52 miles from town. No question the Wongs would have to drive there. Jacob Goldblum would make no exception, even though his grandson was on Kari’s team. I remembered the day he walked into the office and hand-delivered to me his seal application with a check attached. His great uncle, he explained, a Marine lieutenant in the last century, died along the route of the Bataan Death March in 1942, while most of his family was being rounded up for the concentration camps in Europe. “To me,” he said, probably publicly for the first time in his life, “all Asians are Imperial Japanese soldiers and all Germans are Nazi storm troopers. Screw them all. I don’t want their blood money. Ever.”

“There is nothing I can do, Dr. Wong,” I said, genuinely sad. “I am sorry, Kari.”

His face tightened, and I saw anger in his clenched jaw and frustration in the tears in his eyes. “This is not freedom of speech,” he said with contempt, “not any freedom of speech that Mr. Jefferson or Mr. Hamilton would ever recognize. What the Supreme Court has done is atrocious.“ 

What the Supreme Court had decided in Ashimiko v Kelly Hardware was that a business that openly displays a prejudice against a social class, rather than simply discriminating in its practices, is exercising the owner’s or stockholders’ First Amendment rights. Being open about its bigotry allows a business to refuse nonessential services, based on what the justice who penned the decision called “right of select commerce.” Through a legal argument too obtuse for a college dropout like me to understand, the majority argued that just as the First Amendment does not specify the right of association, which is protected under the law only by tradition, it does not speak against any right of limited commerce.

The rapidly drafted law passed the following year. The results were instantaneous.

By licensing commercial discrimination, the government shifted the onus of bigotry to “market forces” while collecting $2.71 billion dollars in licensing fees over the first three years. Under the bill citizen discrimination complaints were handled through mediation; only violators charged by the U.S. Discrimination Office’s enforcement division went to court. Faster than anyone could say “Wait a minute—“ the courts were freed from the burden of class action and individual refused-service suits, saving federal and state courts an estimated $617 million and depriving thousands of discrimination lawyers of their livelihoods. The judicial system quickly adjusted. By one scholarly estimate, waiting times for court hearings fell by 16 percent and, like our town’s Johnston Edwards, most discrimination lawyers adapted to new niches.

With Friday's Senate reauthorization extending the Act for ten more years, pro-selective commerce advocates were already lobbying to extend discrimination allowances into the next frontier: hiring. Meanwhile a small town’s 14-year old soccer star could not shop for equipment. I had no answer for Theo or Kari Wong, no suggestions. He and his daughter stood, shook my hand with warm smiles, and left.

 

Sham warned us just after 11:00 that the crowd we expected had arrived outside our front window: about 30 protesters with hand-drawn posters and a 10-foot long printed banner that read #SinceWhenIsDiscriminationUSLaw? We knew that within an hour the county's pro-discrimination groups would have their own troops on site, and things could get ugly.

We decided on an early lunch.

We closed the office, a practice Rhonda started on Fridays and which, with her away on vacation and a storm brewing on the sidewalk outside, we unanimously invoked as the most prudent course for this special Monday. Sham was especially delighted.

When we stepped outside and locked the office door behind us, the protesters stopped their marching chant. There was no threat. We all knew most of them. They were familiar faces around town, our neighbors, the parents of my children’s friends. Two of my daughter’s teachers stood holding placards. One read, You can hate if you can pay the fee.

“Hi, Maggie,” said Denise Quinby, their organizer, from the back of the line, wearing a fresh “Seal Congress” t-shirt festooned with political buttons. She was a short, sunny woman with the concealed tenacity of a rabid wolverine. I first met her in the middle school PTSA and we had remained friends as she graduated from battling for our kids against ignorant school administrators to battling for issues affecting fairness in the county council and state legislature. She had a smile for everyone.                

“Hey, Mark, Glenn, Shumaylah,” she said. We smiled and said hellos all around. There was no need for discussion or argument. They knew we were doing our jobs and they were doing theirs. Their demonstration was for the cars and passersby on Robin Avenue, not for us.

“Be careful out here today,” Glenn warned them in the tone of a public service announcement. “Your friends on the opposite side are bound to show up, and we don’t want to come back from lunch and find blood on the sidewalk.”

Brad Mitchell, a towering ex-Navy SEAL with four tours under his belt, holding a sign that read This is what I fought for? grinned at him. “Not our blood, bro. I’ll tell you that.”

Everyone laughed. It was not quite the note Glenn was trying to hit.

 

Our office was three blocks from the main intersection of town, just off the railroad tracks and among the last surviving handful of industrial warehouses. The nearest eating establishment was the Midtown Diner, a family-run business since just after World War II, that served astonishingly generous and tasty breakfasts but only passable lunch fare. Their burgers tasted strange; their fries suffered chronic ED. A half-block farther on was Christie’s. Christie had been Mark’s mom’s best friend, until she died the year before of cancer. Now her two daughters ran the business, and neither of them, after twenty-plus years of working there, seemed to have learned to make their mom’s fantastic BLTs or rail yard beef stew or brew a decent pot of coffee. Since Christie died, everything on the menu but the pies (baked by a Romanian family in the next town) had turned mediocre. Even Mark stopped suggesting we eat there.

“How about Joe’s?” Sham said, polling us with a bright smile. Joe’s Elbow Room was our favorite happy hour spot—good cheap food, icy beer, generous poured drinks and a friendly crowd. Sham had never been there, at least with us. I began to suspect.

We all agreed. Joe’s it was.

Joe’s was an eight-block walk in the hot June sun, but being away from the office was such a joy that none of us cared. We were four office friends on a lark. Glenn, being his out-of-office slightly swishy self, again fawned over Sham’s fashion, while Mark and I, longtime locals, walked past the storefronts and row house stoops noting the few things that had changed since last week, last year, last decade. Hearing Glenn and Sham giggling behind us made me even more aware of the change in her. Something had happened. She was happy.

 

Joe’s Elbow Room was crowded. Not happy hour crowded but heavy for lunchtime. It was a bar that served food and was set up that way, with the bar in the center of the floor and booths and four-tops all around. The kitchen was in the back. The little natural light came from two large tinted windows that faced the street, hung with neon beer and liquor signs. The other walls were solid and dark. All the lighting, except for the bar, fell from lamps over the tables.

The crowd was mostly around the bar, where all the monitors except one—broadcasting a rerun of the previous night’s baseball disaster—showed CNN and Fox News analyses of the Senate reauthorization and its effect on American society. Outnumbering the familiar drunks and heavy drinkers stood knots of local business owners in private discussions.

Suzie, the hostess, grabbed four menus and lead us toward the back.

Joe was behind the bar, as always, tall, trim and good looking in a local farm boy way. We’d been in high school together, he a year behind me. He played football then switched to martial arts and in college placed second or third in a national martial arts competition, which kept trouble in the bar to a minimum. He spotted me as we passed and nodded in the middle of pouring three beers simultaneously, then quickly—too quickly—turned his face away. It was an odd reaction. Immediately, Sham broke from our group and squeezed into an opening at the bar. She leaned over the bar and got Joe’s attention. He stiffened. She was friendly, flirty. He kept his distance, glancing around, looking for a distraction.

I was beginning to understand.

She persisted for a few moments then straightened and stared at him. The two locked eyes. Joe frowned and turned to deliver beers to two customers on the other side of the bar. Sham turned and shot like a missile toward the door. I stepped in front of her to block her path. She glared at me with angry tears in her eyes.

“Come on,” I said. “Have lunch with your friends.” She started to step around me when the door behind me opened. Her eyes widened, and before I could turn to see who had come into the place, she grabbed my arm and pulled me after her.

Glenn and Mark stood in the aisle by the kitchen, waiting for our favorite server, Sandra, to clear a booth where two men I knew were leaving: Dave Adams and his business partner, Ewan Płocharczyk, owners of the feed and seed store and the Deere tractor dealership out on the west road.

“Hey, guys,” I said, looking at the empties Sandra was picking up from the table, “Isn’t anybody in this town working today?”

“Crops are in ground,” Ewan said. “Nobody buying seed. Business slow.”

“The farmers don’t want to buy from a Russian,” Dave said, poking Ewan in the gut. “Buyers don’t have to have seals.”

“I am Polish,” Ewan said in his thick accent and frowned.

Dave put his arm around his business partner. “Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian,“ he said. “People don’t know the difference and don’t care.” He reached and took my chin in his large hand. It shocked me. “Still doing the business of the bigots?” he asked. I smelled the beer on him and politely swiped his hand away.

“Following the law,” I said. “Can we have your booth now?”

Dave shrugged and walked away. Ewan put a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Americans,” he smiled, “too sensitive. Not enough vodka. All will be fine.” He followed his partner.

The four of us slid into the booth, Sham beside me, with her back toward the entrance. Sandra appeared with glasses of water and straws and promised to return in a minute.

Glenn and Mark launched into their usual comedy act, genuinely funny in any other situation, but Sham sat unmoved beside me, sucking my attention like an approaching tornado. When Mark and Glenn locked into a conversation, I turned to her. “Who did you see? Who came in here a minute ago?”

She shivered and shook her head. “Not important.” She pretended to read a menu.

“You and Joe,” I said.

She turned to me, completely deflated. She took a breath. “My parents left for Iraq Friday. My brother hung like a hawk over me all day Saturday, drinking his beer, threatening me if I did anything that would shame the family while our parents were away. Saturday night he left to go out with his friends. As soon as he did, I dressed and got a cab into town. I didn’t know any other place to go but here, where all of you come.”  Her lips quivered. “I wanted to be free. I wanted to have fun.”

I waited a few moments. “Joe,” I said.

“I sat at the bar. We talked. He is so nice. I had wine. We became attracted.”

I understood. For a few weeks many years before, I had been wildly attracted to Joe. He was, as she said, a nice guy. She could do much worse in our town.

“You went home with him.”

She nodded. “Now he acts like nothing happened,” she said, on the edge of tears. Glenn and Mark were suddenly vaguely aware.

“Sham, honey,” Glenn said, reaching across the table and taking her hand, “what’s wrong?”

“I need the girls’ room,” I said, and Sham slid off the bench to let me out. In the bathroom I stared at myself in the dirty mirror, thinking what to do. I looked pissed.

I left the restroom and took the long route, out of sight of our booth, to the bar. I planted myself in the servers’ area, where I knew Joe couldn’t avoid me. A moment later he turned and set two Jack-and-Cokes and two Yuenglings in front of me without glancing up.

“Hey, asshole,” I said.

He looked up, saw me, half-smiled. “Hey, Maggie.”

“Sham, huh?”

His face turned crimson. He began to raise his hands in protest or explanation and just dropped them. “She’s—really great,“ he said.

 “Oh, my God, Joe. Don’t even try. When did you turn into a fucking predator—“

Joe held up his hand. “Hold a minute,” he said. There was something painful in his eyes. I studied him for a lie, looked carefully. He was genuinely upset.

“I really like her,” he said.

“So you treat her like trash today?”

He glanced over his shoulder at the other side of the bar. “Did you see who followed you in here? Fifth stool from the corner,” he said. I counted. There sat a short, dark-eyed, dark-complexioned man of about 25. He was small but muscular, in a too tight black t-shirt, his beard trimmed in the kind of severe geometric style I was seeing in fashion magazines. Beside him sat another man in the same mold.

“That’s Sham’s brother and his friend,” Joe said. At that moment the brother looked up from his glass of whatever he was drinking and smiled at me with full recognition. It was creepy. His friend was watching a woman two stools away.

“The friend was in here Saturday night,” Joe said. “I didn’t know who he was and Sham didn’t recognize him. He must have seen her and me, maybe saw us leave together, and reported back.” He looked me straight in the face. “The brother came in yesterday and said that I defiled his sister and if I ever talked to her again he would strangle her to preserve the family’s dignity.”

I choked.

“And,” he added, “if I didn’t get a seal against Muslims, he would blow the place up with a bomb big enough to take out the whole block.”

A cold shock ran through me.

“So what did you do?” I said.

Joe went to the cash register and slid a sheet of paper from under the drawer. He handed it to me: a printed receipt for an online seal application. In the appropriate fields it read: Joe’s Elbow Room; Muslims.

“You need to tell her,” I said.

“Her fucking brother will blow the place up.”

I looked over at the brother. A murderer? A bomber? No way.

“No,” I said to Joe. “He won’t blow up shit. He’s a dickless bully. Call the police.”

Joe looked over at the brother and his companion. “What proof do I have? And if I point a finger at that asshole I’m pointing it at her whole family.” He turned back to me. “You know this town.”

“Yeah. I do. And you know how we handle threats around here.”

His facial expression froze in thought.

“From what I remember,” I said, “you’re a lousy lay, Joe Barone, but Sham sees something in you, and she really needs a friend right now. A defender. Deal with the brother. If you don’t she’s going to live under his thumb for the rest of her life.”

Joe straightened, smiled and tore up the seal application receipt. “I guess I’m out the application fee.”

“Yeah,” I said, “nonrefundable.”

He handed me the torn scraps of paper, leaned across the bar and kissed me on the forehead.

“Go get him, champ,” I said.

I returned to the booth, where Sandra was taking orders.

“Chef’s salad,” Glenn said. “No olives. Light raspberry vinaigrette on the side.”

“Steak and cheese with jalapenos, cole slaw and fries,” Mark said, his usual order.

 Sham was distracted. “I’m not really hungry—“ she said. I tapped her shoulder. She looked up, saw me and quickly scooted along the bench to let me in. “Where were you?” she asked.

“Good new or bad news first?” I said to her.

She paled a bit. “Whatever.”

“The good news is Joe, the big blockhead, is smitten with you.”

“What is ‘smitten’?”

“Crazy about,” Glenn beamed.

Sham looked at me intensely, saw my face and eyes, and dropped back in her seat, relieved.

“Ooooh!” Glenn beamed. “Love it!”

I dropped the scraps of paper onto the center of the table. Mark reached and began piecing them together. “What the—?”

“I’ll explain later,” I said.

“The bad news?” Sham asked.

“Your bully brother is about to meet our local Brazilian jiu-jitsu sixth-degree black belt,” I said. “Bad news for him.” I smiled at our server, standing patiently, order pad in hand. “Sandra, I want the biggest cheeseburger and hottest steak fries you have.”

Sandra jotted down the order. “And you?” she asked Sham.

Sham stared blankly for a long moment, sorting things in her head. A smile cracked through. “Same as Maggie,” she said. “Big cheeseburger and hot fries. And a chocolate milkshake.”  She laughed.

My cell phone beeped. I took it out of my purse. There was a text from Denise Quinby, still demonstrating in front of our office. I read it aloud:  Opposition showed up. Got a little heated. Police on the way. No blood yet but I’d take a long lunch.

“Here! Here!” Mark laughed, raising his water glass. “To a long lunch.” We clinked our glasses.

“We can’t celebrate with water!” Glenn moaned. He called after our server who was headed back toward the bar. “Sandra!” he said. “Chocolate milkshakes all around!”

It was turning out to be a better than usual day for those of us who did the business of the people.

 

*   *   *