‘Thanks—But No’: A Beltway Tale

By J.F. McKenna

The day in post-election Washington, mimicking a classic description from British novelist Somerset Maugham, “broke gray and dull.” Every indication was for more of the same until sunset. At least that’s what the longtime popular couple in town sensed, especially as they reviewed their holiday-dinner guest list.

“I just got a call from Harry and his wife, dear,” the lady of the house told the husband, her usually annoying self-confident tone ratcheted down to a simple whine. “They can’t come to Thanksgiving dinner, either. Some lame excuse about having to see the folks back home. What’s going on? That’s the seventeenth cancellation since yesterday. We’ve got a holiday table that’s two-thirds empty right now!”

“No good. No good,” replied her husband, a firm believer that rhetorical repetition more than compensated for actual content in almost all circumstances. “It’s one thing to have the tables run on you in an election. But it’s really bad optics to have NBC showing a Thanksgiving table this big and only half-filed. Appearances have consequences.”
Loyal as well as shrewd, the lady asked, “Does that mean?…”

“Yes,” he cut in. “We’re going to ask some regular people to dinner.”

After conferring with the ideologues and demographic geniuses that had guided the couple through so many other social engagements, the couple opted for a full-court press of invitations handled by phone. Given the impending holiday deadline, they extended the invitations personally. Just to speed acceptance.

“My wife and I would be honored to have you join us for Thanksgiving dinner,” the husband told the suburban widow. “You’ll love our chef’s sweet-potato recipe. Goes great with the entrée. May we count on you?”

“Just can’t come—sorry,” the widow said. “Got a houseful of family coming here. That includes my two boys and a niece. All three can’t find jobs. One actually hasn’t worked for two years. Just for the record, my sweet-potato recipe is the best in the country. Also for the record, my recipe is the entrée.”

Steve, a long-distance truck driver who never takes off his 101st Airborne cap, was as gracious as possible in declining a seat at the table. “It sounds quite nice, very festive,” Steve explained, “but I simply have to pass with thanks. I promised the Lewis family I would take their holiday shift at our Neighborhood Border Watch. They’ve got three little kids, and I’m a bachelor. You know how it is with these neighborhood watches—if they think you’re not keeping an eye on things all the time, those dangerous types just slip right across. What a mess.”

But the tone of enthusiasm shown by Professor Jerry quickly made up for Steve’s rejection. “Wow, dinner at your house! Who’d believe it!” Jerry cried over the phone. “Would it be possible to sit across from John and Mitch? John and I, as I’m sure you know, are fellow Buckeyes. We’ll have all sorts of things to talk about, from industrial policy to education reform.”

“Well…neither Mitch nor John will be in attendance,” quietly admitted the lord of the manor.

“Can’t come?” Jerry asked.

“Weren’t invited,” came the answer.

Jerry’s enthusiasm died. All that was left was the sound of the dial tone.
Jerry’s sign-off story was matched by Owen’s. The young retail manager, a former high school football all-star, was eager to tackle an old-fashioned Thanksgiving feast, saying that he “looked forward to a grand dinner, with a second helping of everything…big as the first.”

“Well actually, Owen,” said the hostess with the leastest, “we have decided to follow the recommendations of the Holiday Nutrition Task Force that I helped to establish last year. Belly-busting meals, even on Thanksgiving, are a tradition the nation can do without. I just know you’ll be thanking me when you wake up the next day and look at that bathroom scale!”

Hours later, the final invitation of the day was issued to Francesca, a pious, soft-spoken Midwesterner who had embraced her adopted nation 20 years earlier.
“I am honored to break bread with you on this most-important American holiday, a day when we give thanks to our creator for all the blessings he has bestowed on us,” she told the Beltway twosome. May I offer my services in repeating the very proclamation that George Washington offered to the country in 1789? I can repeat it from memory.” And she did, right then and there:

NOW THEREFORE, I do recommend and assign THURSDAY, the TWENTY-SIXTH DAY of NOVEMBER next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed;– for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish Constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted;– for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge;– and, in general, for all the great and various favours which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also, that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions;– to enable us all, whether in publick or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us); and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
When Francesca finished, the longtime popular couple in town politely thanked her for the fine recitation, but added that “we’ve already staffed out a dinner message that is more contemporary, more inclusive in keeping with the times.”

That’s when the longtime popular couple in town heard that familiar and annoying dial tone.

J.F. McKenna, a former resident of Cleveland’s West Park, has worked as a reporter, business editor and communication specialist. He is a former staff editor of such magazines as Industry Week and Northern Ohio Live. His online work also appears on the site Steinbeck Now. The Cleveland native and his wife, Carol, now live in Pittsburgh with their dogs, Duchess Holly and Lord Max. Reach him at jfmckwriter23@yahoo.com .


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