Since hanging up, Victor Derocher thought of Doris Benedict intermittently through most of the morning at work. It had been...five years now, this summer, since they became intimate. Sleeping together, that is. But they'd known each other some years before that shortly after he was first approached by a senior-grade high up there in the office of the ADIT-CIO (Assistant Director for IT, Chief Information Officer) through the recommendation of a personal acquaintance. This was when he worked for the Decennial Statistical Division of the Decennial Census Directorate. It was for a fairly small-scale but classified project. A statistics and data processing task involving some coordination work with a fellow named Ying Li, an IT specialist he worked with often and knew well personally. The customer they were to work for and submit the finished product to was a White House staff named Doris Benedict.
The work lasted a few weeks. She came to the Bureau once a week and only for a couple of hours. But it was enough for them to get to know each other while they did the work, with Ying Li, and sometimes without Ying Li, just the two of them in a secure, soundproof room up on the top floor of the building; while they had lunch together at the cafeteria or an Indian buffet restaurant on nearby Branch Avenue that became her favorite after the first time he took her there.
He was approached to do similar work several more times by the same high-grader of the office for which, afterwards, he was recommended to receive a Superior Performance Award [certificate] that came with a nice check. The work was for the same office that employed Doris Benedict, allowing them more opportunity to become closely acquainted until they reached the level of intimacy they were in now.
The first time they met, it was all work. Or at least he thought so. For his part, he honestly tried to avoid showing any tendency to give her a second, third take every time he saw her. Especially after he learned that she was recently divorced, as he was. Since then, he began checking her out discreetly at first and later more openly. He didn't care if she caught him literally eyeballing her. By that time, she didn't mind either nor did she discourage him.
He figured she must be of either southern Italian or Latin American descent. Argentine or Brazilian. Natural light tan, light red hair, Latin features of inquiring dark eyes and eyelashes, finely sculpted nose over thinly curved lips that made for an ever present half-smile. And with her standard eastern American English, he took her for a second generation American or earlier.
But soon he realized he figured wrong when he heard her speak fluent Spanish a few times and then, later, when she told him her ancestry: mother--half French, half Catalan; father--a mestizo of a mix of Mayan Indian and an undetermined European origin. She was baptized in the Catholic church under the name Teodora Benedicto which her parents, she said, when they moved to the U.S. from Chihuahua. Mexico, changed to Doris Benedict.
"I was three years old," she told him during a dinner date in Virginia shortly after they had become intimate. He asked why they decided to do that. He said he would have liked to know her first by her original name. Teodora.
The subject so interested them both that it led into a discussion of a number of others in their personal lives, particularly those relating to their ancestries and how they helped shape the lives they now lived in America.
"A few years after we moved here from Chihuahua," she told him while explaining why her parents decided to Anglicize her name. "I had just started school then, my father, after what he had seen of the American society then, at work, school, public places, everywhere, he decided it would be to our advantage, especially me just beginning life here in the U.S., to adapt the Anglo identity. He couldn't bear to think of seeing me go through the same thing other non-Anglo children experience at the hands of the Anglos. You probably never heard of anybody talking about this sort of thing before. I'm talking about thirty, thirty-four years ago, some years after the big race riots when people were migrating from all over to be with their own kind in their part of the country. We moved from New York to New Mexico."
"Yes, I have heard of that sort of thing," he said. "Many people had done that throughout history. The Poles, the Jews, the Italians, the Greeks. Even the Chinese and other Asian nationals."
"I know. Different people had done it for different reasons. The most common, of course, is to be accepted, to blend in to the mainstream society. The Anglo-American society."
"But many people had stopped doing that," Victor Derocher said, "for many years now. Values changed, other cultures became more assertive and stood up against the dominant Anglo influence in this country. The WASP, if you will, culture and traditions began to lose its grip on society years before this century. It became just as fashionable to give a child an ethnic-based name as an Anglo name. The African-Americans, for instance, had been adapting native African tribal names. And they're proud of it."
"What about you?" she asked rather abruptly, realizing all of a sudden he hadn't said much about his family background. "What corner of the planet is your origin. I took you for an Anglo-American since I first saw you. But...Derocher sounds like a French name."
That got a quick laugh out of him.
"I'm...let's see--" He paused to look halfway up the ceiling while he made a fast recall of his genealogy. "--a fourth generation American."
He then proceeded to tell her as much as he knew of his family tree. The name de Rocher derived from the French which means of the rock. His great great grandfather, born in Quebec, Canada in the 1970s, both parents French-Canadians; family moved to Detroit, Michigan when Great-great was a toddler, looking for a better life.
He concluded, saying:'From that toddler, and four generations later, came--moi forty years ago."
"So, you're what," she said, feeling amused. "Would you consider yourself one of those hyphenated Americans? A French-Canadian-American? That's double hyphenated."
"Not exactly," he replied, laughing a little. "Somewhere along there, other genes got in the mix. Like my mother--she's half Irish, half Filipino. My father is a combination of French-Canadian, Polish and Swedish blood. My grandparents on both sides--"
"You can stop there now," she interrupted quickly.
"It's a moot point, I know."
"Let's just say you're an American," she said.
"And so are you."
"My kid is But me, and especially my parents, the idea of it wouldn't quite sink in to any of us."
"I can understand that about your parents," he said."But you--you grew up here, blended in, got anglicized--"
"And passed for an Anglo," she added in. "But even then, I don't get that total sense of being an American. Especially after I hear my parents talk about their experience with some of the Anglos they'd run into most of their lives here. In the neighborhood, at work, in church. Not just the WASPs but the Catholics as well. I can't count how many times I heard them talk about 'going back home' even after they'd lived here almost as long as they had in Mexico."
Hearing that from her, Victor Derocher didn't at all feel disappointed but, instead, sympathetic towards her. For he understood what she told him, especially about her parents. From that toddler who came from Quebec some one hundred thirty years ago came stories carried down to Victor's generation, heard many times over by people whose families suffered through it, about the conflict between the French and the English in Canada, with the English or Anglo-Canadians dealing their superior attitude and intolerance towards the other, the same kind of shit the Anglo-Americans had been dishing out to every minority here in America going back to the 1950s when those racist, redneck WASPs down South were lynching the blacks, burning their churches, denying them every human right and kindness as if they, those redneck WASPs, wallowing in ignorance and racial hatred, had been brain-dead or sleep-walking since the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. And they were doing similar things to the Jews and the Catholics even if they were of the same skin color.
Doris didn't tell him exactly what the trip to Hermosillo was all about. She did tell him Paco and Pablo, along with the governors from the Southwest region, were going for an unofficial visit to the governor of the state of Sonora and that of several other Mexican states.
That was enough for him to figure out a few possibilities on what's about to take place this weekend in Mexico. And after rehashing the similar paths both their families went through coming to America--one from the north of French origin a long, long time ago, the other from the south of Latino origin at a more recent time, he found he couldn't care less what those men in power in this country were up to. Even as he might be right about one of those possibilities he felt--after what he'd seen happening to the country the past two decades now since the Spanglish (and the first Latino) administration came to power--could reasonably be happening for real, and soon, beginning this coming weekend.
Come to think of it, maybe it's time people get used to the changing of the guards in this North American continent. The country's fucked up. It has fallen behind the Chinese in just about every way--in global economics, in foreign relations, space exploration, in technology. Not only with the Chinese but the Russians, the Japanese, the Koreans, India, the Europeans. He, of all people, should know from seeing those comparative statistics between countries the government had been withholding from the people. And those Census numbers he had been paid to doctor up prior to their release and official publication.
And in domestic affairs, the whole damn country is divided. Totally segregated, like it's now made up of four separate countries, four separate people. That's probably what those politicians from both countries are going to work out this weekend--grant more self-ruling power to each region, give them more autonomy.
But, what the fuck does he care. What the fuck does anybody care now. This--this is the result of all the inequity perpetrated by the fucking Anglo regimes in this country going back a hundred fifty years ago since that racist war in Vietnam and even long before that.
The Thursday morning hours passed quickly. At a few minutes past noon, Victor Derocher carried a lunch tray to a table at the cafeteria for lunch, the thought of Doris Benedict still lingering strong on his mind. It was now close to four hours since she took off. She must have made Phoenix an hour ago, he thought, and must now be on her way to Hermosillo.
Moments after he sat down and began eating, he looked up and saw his boss, Jean Flanagan, sitting three tables away with Richard Casey. He quickly turned to a copy of the Washington Daily Express he brought with him on the table and appeared to concentrate on it at an angle just enough to keep them on his peripheral vision. He wasn't sure if either saw him, not that it mattered if they did. It's lunchtime. He had to eat like everybody else.
It had been a couple of weeks since he espied anything regarding Project Concord. That day he saw Cathy Lane coming out of Brian Dixon's (Brian Dick, he liked to think of his name), office and caught up with her at the lobby. So far, he had had nothing to report to the Hill.
A couple of minutes later, two men stood on each side of him at the table. One was a tall skinny Asian, mid-forties, five-foot-ten, a hundred fifty, steel-rimmed glasses, dark hair covering his forehead and ears, the other unmistakably Slavic--square jaws, high cheekbones, short flaxen hair parted on one side and combed neatly halfway back, a bit taller and heavier than the Asian, early fifties.
"Move the fucking newspaper and make room for my victuals, Victor," said Stefan Utkin, balancing the tray in one hand while pulling a chair out from the table.
"Hey, guys," he said looking up briefly at each one.
"Hey to you, too, Derochey," said Ying Li who liked to pronounce Victor's last name the way he thought it should sound in French. Sometimes he simply called him Frenchy. He took the only other seat at the table, across Victor who moved the Daily Express to his right to make room for Stefan's lunch tray.
"Quit frenchifying my name, Ying-Ying," Victor retorted, glancing past Ying Li in the direct line of sight of Richard Casey and Jean Flanagan behind Ying three tables away. It was just in time for him to catch sight of Jean Flanagan eyeing them for a split second.
"One Ying is enough for my name, Victor," corrected Ying Li, starting to work on a gravy-soaked pork chop on his plate.
Ignoring what Ying said, he turned to Stefan Utkin, again only glancing up quickly before turning back to his food: "And go easy with the f-word, Utnik. Maybe better say it in Russian."
"It's Utkin, Derochey. Not Utnik. Get it straight, please. It's annoying," said Stefan.
Stefan noticed something peculiar about how Victor didn't appear eager to talk to either of them, eating with his head close to his plate then turning to the paper while chewing with his head low over it.
"What's with you today?" he asked. "Pissed at something? Or somebody?"
"Look three tables behind Ying-Ying here, but don't look," Victor half whispered. "Just a quick eyeball. Not you, Ying. Stay put and keep eating."
Stefan did as he was told, moving his eyes and turning his head only a couple of millimeters in the direction of Jean Flanagan and Richard Casey.
"I see them," he mumbled to Victor.
"Not good," said Victor. "You sitting here with me."
"Who are you guys talking about?" asked Ying Li.
"His boss, Flanagan," replied Stefan. "And that guy Richard Casey of ACS."
"Oh, yeah," said Ying Li. "What's happening with that thing?"
"I haven't seen anything for months now," said Stefan. "They're all clean."
"Something or someone must have tipped them off," said Victor. "I got a feeling they're on to me. And have been. She and Brian Dick and the rest of them. That's why I don't think it's a good idea for us to be seen sitting here together."
"You want us to leave you alone?" asked Ying Li.
"Too late now. Let's talk about something else and act like they're not there."
"Alright, what?" asked Ying Li, enjoying his lunch.
Stefan looked at Victor who alternated between eating and reading the paper.
"Okay, Victor," he said, bringing a forkful of beef stew to his mouth and pointing with his fork. "What the hell you find worth reading in that junk newspaper?"
"News. That's all. News."
"Yuh, but whose news? Who in that publication decides what's news and what's not? Who chooses what you should read and what you should not?"
Victor turned an irritated look at Stefan. He said: "I do. I decide what to read and what not to read."
"No, no. They do. Because once you have the paper in your hands, they got you. Even if you only glance at the headlines, they still get the message to you. But chances are you get curious and start reading a few lines anyway. Then they really got you. The only power you have is the decision whether or not to pick up the paper, either from the trash after somebody else read it or from the newsstand by paying for it. Or worse yet--by subscribing to it."
Victor stopped eating momentarily to gaze at Stefan Utkin in disbelief. "Why do you think this paper is junk? Do you read it?"
"Then how could you say it's junk?"
"I used to read it. Until I wised up. That paper is politically biased. It's a partisan newspaper practically dictated by the government just like the rest of the news media in this country."
"That's a pretty bold thing to say," Victor declared. "I wouldn't say that too loud especially around here. In a federal government building."
"Why? What are they going to do to me? Shoot me?"
"Maybe," said Victor jokingly.
"Then I might as well go back to Russia. The Russia of a hundred years ago, or even the Communist Russia before that." Stefan turned to Ying Li after that and added: "And you too, Ying-Ying. If they're going to shoot us for something like that--expressing our opinion, our belief, in public, wouldn't you rather die for it in your homeland?"
"Nobody's going to shoot me," Ying Li said. "Because I don't give a shit. About politics, the media, the bureaucracy; how the country is run and who's running it. All I care about is making a decent living for me and my family. If I can't do it here, I'll do it someplace else. Anywhere in the world."
Victor was quiet for a moment while he chewed on his beef stew long enough to recognize the fact that he was sitting with a couple of foreign-borns which might explain how far they differed from him, a fourth generation American, with their views about what's going on in the country, let alone the sense of being rooted in it. Ying Li, much like Doris Benedict, was five years old when he came over with his parents from Shanghai, forty years ago. He adapted easily to the culture and that's why he spoke English, American English, much better than Stefan Utkin who at twenty-four, by himself, immigrated to the U.S. twenty-eight years ago from Smolensk.
Turning to Ying Li now, Victor said: "What about you, Ying-Ying--"
"Goddamnit,Victor," Ying Li cut him off, pissed but with a tinge of humor in his tone and gagging a little with the pork chop."One Ying!"
"Alright, alright. Ying. I heard what you said about not giving a shit. But from somebody who don't give a shit, tell me anyway what you think is going on in the country. You think this Russian here makes any sense saying what he said?"
"I don't know, Frenchy," Ying Li replied, getting even with Victor's Ying-Ying taunt. "When I was a kid till I was in my early teens, I had a different idea of what America was like compared to what I see of it now. It was like the way it projected itself throughout the world, including China: one big country, united, strong and progressive, a world economic power. But soon, we saw through all the glitz and extravagance and all the excesses in the way of life here. People were taking in more than they were putting out in terms of work and productivity. I knew a family in our neighborhood who lived on handouts all year long, every year as far as I can remember. Government social services, food stamps, aid to dependent children, that kind of thing. There were many of them, and the government actually encouraged them in that way of life because it made it easy for them to get into it. Become a welfare case. But you never know it, hear or read about it in the papers or the media, unless you see it for yourself as I did. Like this Russian here said--who decides what's news and what's not? So then what else is going on in this country that nobody's telling us?"
"There," Stefan nudged at Victor with a 'hear that?' look on his face while pointing his nose out at Ying Li. "So--you see, they only tell you what they want to tell you in that newspaper. They only tell one side of the story--their side. What they don't want you to know or even think about they don't cover in the news. They simply don't tell you, and you can't accuse them of lying because not telling is not lying. How could one lie by just being silent about something?"
"I hear what you're saying, Stefan, and I understand," Victor said and, turning back to Ying Li: "Well, then, again for somebody who don't give a shit, as you said, about who runs the country, tell me anyway who you think is in control and what they're doing."
Ying Li's mouth was full and he chewed hard and fast before he could talk. So it was Stefan who got there first.
"You see, Victor," he said in a voice talking to a younger man inexperienced in the ways of the world. Victor was actually seven years his junior. "Something like that, with the way things have been going, as we see now since twenty years ago at least, you don't need to ask that kind of question. You don't need to have somebody tell you the answer, and certainly not that stupid newspaper in front of you, or the media altogether. You just see it happening, learn to recognize it and make your own judgment. To answer that question, I'll tell you first who's not running this country. Not any more. It's Uncle Sam, or Mr. Johnson, or Mr. Smith, or Mr. Gilroy. It's now Tio Paco, or Tio Pablo, or Senor Gonzales, or Senor Valencia, or Senor Torres".
Victor felt a bit annoyed at Stefan butting in but he felt gratified at what Stefan said for he was expecting that Ying Li might come up with that same answer, although not in such a forward and derogatory way. But coming from Stefan, still he was surprised that this Russian immigrant who he always thought was passive about Washington politics would have not only formed that idea in him but found the way to express it as he just did. One would be hard-pressed to hear that from anyone be it of any grain of truth or not, especially in the capital area, for various reasons: not PC, un-American, prejudicial, and--dangerous.
"You sound pretty sure of yourself talking like that," Victor said, regarding Stefan with a distant look, "for a Russkie. And I didn't know you speak Spanish."
"Hey, I may look dumb sometimes but I'm no dumb-ass like many people I see in this country," replied Stefan, fork ready with a piece of stew aimed at his mouth. "Anybody who don't see what I see is happening in this country, the person is either brain-damaged or just don't care. Like Ying-Ying here who said he don't give a shit. And yes, I speak some Spanish. I plan to take lessons. And you two better do the same. It won't be long now before it becomes the official language of America. No more English!"
"I'm not quite sure it's gotten that far yet," Ying Li said now with his mouth clear. "What you suggested who's running or not running the country, Stefan. I see what you're saying, though, and unless--unless the political climate in this country took a different turn, if it stayed the course, we're all gonna have to learn to speak Spanish. Some parts of the country no longer use English."
"What are you talking about?" Stefan exclaimed. "It's been that way for many years now in many parts of the country. It's just that nobody pays attention to it. Not the media, not the government, not the academia. People are kept ignorant of it and made to think it's nothing to be concerned about. And there's no problem with that because nothing in the Constitution or any law of the land requires a person to speak or write in any particular language in this country."
"Hey, I'll say it again," Ying Li wasn't through yet with what he wanted to throw in to this discussion."I don't give a shit, really. I see myself as just an observer. But if you want to know how I feel about this ongoing transition in the political arena, if you will, of this country, I'd say--let's see how it goes. There's bound to be some good things that come with it, and some bad, just like with the old guards. Off the top of my head, though, I'll say there are some good reasons I don't feel bad about seeing them take a hike. The Anglos. The WASPs. One of them is that Act passed by Congress two hundred thirty some years ago they called the Chinese Exclusion Act."
"Yes, we all know what that was all about, Ying," Victor interjected.
"Well, you might note that those who wrote that into law were Anglo lawmakers. Motherfucking WASPs! Assholes! All of them. That's why I think it might be better if the Latinos take over the whole fucking country for a change." Ying turned to Stefan Utkin with a smirk on his face. "Or maybe the Russkies, huh?"
Someone else in Victor's place might have turned livid at hearing that especially coming from an immigrant. But listening to what he'd heard so far from the two of them had triggered his own views going back to that day he and Doris Benedict talked about their ancestries. He realized then that he shared the feeling Doris expressed in her own way about the subject. And now after hearing what Ying Li said, he felt the same way.
Then as if to reinforce that feeling in him, Ying Li, after washing a mouthful of pork chop down with soda, continued to say: "Yeah, those motherfuckers, the British. They were the ones who planted the seeds of racism in this land and the rest of the world. In Africa, India, Asia. They're the main source of that kind o' shit with their prejudices, arrogance, that superior attitude. Fuck 'em!"
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