“What’s up, Wendell?” I asked, sliding into the booth. “You look like a cat that just swallowed a two-pound canary.”
He flipped the Hur Herald around and jabbed a finger at the front page. “Take a look at that,” he said gleefully. “Another Republican politician caught with his hand in the till. So many of these guys have been indicted now the court’ll look like Wal-Mart the day after Thanksgiving!”
“And that makes you happy?” I said.
“Damn straight,” he said. “I’ve had it up to here with those hypocrites.” He snorted. “These were the guys who were gonna restore honor and dignity to politics. The family values guys, the guys who prayed every time you put a mike in front of their mouth. They turned evangelical churches into party headquarters. If you listened to them, God punched a straight Republican ticket. And now it turns out they’re no better than a den of thieves.”
I glanced over the story. “Wow,” I said. “Duke Cunningham. Eight-term Congressman from San Diego. Pled guilty to taking $2.4 million dollars in bribes from three defense contractors! He didn’t play around with chicken feed, did he?”
“Look at the perks,” said Wendell. “A mansion, a suburban Washington condominium, a yacht, and a Rolls Royce. The man liked the high life.”
Madge was standing there, waiting to take my order. “I’ll have the health-food special,” I said. “Two over easy, three slices of bacon, a couple of waffles, and a cup of coffee, cream and sugar.”
“You’re feeling good about the wrong thing,” muttered Madge, as she jotted down the order on her pad.
“What’s that?” said Wendell.
“Read the rest of the story,” she said. She pointed with her pencil to the middle of the page. The truth is I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my office. I know I will forfeit my reputation, my worldly possessions –and, most importantly, the trust of my friends and family. I can't undo what I have done, but I can atone. I'm almost 65 years old and I enter the twilight of my life. I intend to use the remaining time that God grants me to make amends, and I will.
“It’s just part of the plea agreement,” scoffed Wendell. “He had to show contrition.”
“Oh, for God’s sake. Don’t be such a damned cynic, Wendell,” she snapped. “Yes, the guy betrayed everybody who ever voted for him. And yes, that’s your money and mine he was pissing away. There’s no excuse for that. He deserves his punishment. But he looked at himself, in front of all of us, and said he was ashamed of what he saw. And then he promised to do something about it: ‘I can’t undo what I have done, but I can atone.’”
“So what’s your point?” he asked.
“You’re always griping about Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush. How they never admit they’ve made a mistake. How everybody acts as if Bush is such a he-man because he never looks back, never admits he was wrong, and never says he’s sorry.”
“So now you’ve got a guy who was a Navy fighter pilot, had medals saying he was a hero, turned into a crook and a liar—and has finally become a real man. You ought to appreciate one when you see one.”
“Madge,” I said, “could you make that flapjacks instead of waffles? And add some biscuits and gravy on the side?”
© Tony Russell, 2005