She got the Big Boy platter but paid more money and substituted onion rings for the cole slaw. I had the salad bar that features, of course, iceberg lettuce.
“I guess you’re happy about the election,” Andrea said while viciously shaking the salt shaker over her fries.
“I wasn’t going to bring that up,” I replied.
“Oh sure you were,” she said. “You’ve complained about Bush for years. Now you think this other guy is going to turn things around.”
“You know who I’m talking about.” Andrea took a big bite out of her Big Boy. Tarter sauce squirted out from the other end of her sandwich.
“You ever hear from Tom anymore?” I asked, trying to change the subject. Andrea and I worked with him more than 30 years ago at a machine tool company in Evanston.
“He died,” Andrea said, wiping her mouth. “Died of lung cancer. You know, he was a heavy smoker. Like you.”
“Don’t start,” I said, chewing on some iceberg lettuce. “I don’t feel like hearing a lecture.”
“Yeah, something you don’t want to talk about but yet you bring up the election, mister, something I don’t want to talk about.”
“Andrea, you brought it up, not me.”
We ate in silence for a few minutes. Andrea put more salt on her fries and started in on the onion rings.
“So what are you doing for Thanksgiving?” I asked.
“Don’t know yet,” she said with her mouth full. “You still write for that paper?”
“If you mean CityBeat, yes,” I replied. “Ever read it?”
“God, no,” Andrea said. “It upsets me too much.”
“Well then, you probably shouldn’t read it,” I replied, trying to remember why the hell I agreed to meet her for lunch.
“All I can tell you, mister, is write your crazy opinions while you still can,” Andrea said.
“That’s all gonna change in a few months.”
“You know why.”
“Because of Obama?”
“Oh yeah, Obama’s a communist.”
I felt like laughing but didn’t. I continued to eat my iceberg lettuce and took sips of my diet Coke. Andrea made quick work of her Big Boy and put more salt on her fries and onion rings.
“I can’t believe my boy Chabot got put out,” she said, drinking her Mountain Dew. “Who’s this Driehaus guy?”
“Let’s get off politics,” I said. “We never agree on this stuff.”
“Fine by me,” she replied. “You’re funny. You’re the one who started it.”
Trying to ignore that false remark, I asked Andrea if she was still doing her telemarketing job at night.
“I have to,” she said. “I can’t keep up with my medical bills, and now it’s only going to get worse with this communist….”
“Could we just please stop this,” I said. “Obama isn’t a communist.”
“Well, he’s at least a socialist. You know that.”
“He’s not that either,” I replied. “Where in the world do you get your ideas?"
“FOX News,” she said. “Anything wrong with that?”
“Andrea, even if Obama was a socialist, this country already has some aspects of socialism,” I said. “Look at the government and this bank bailout. Look at social security.”
“No, you’re wrong,” Andrea said, wiping tarter sauce off her mouth. “You wait and see. This country is gonna go down the tubes with him raising taxes. It’s all gonna get worse.”
Pushing away my plate still half full of iceberg lettuce, I was becoming frustrated with my old friend.
“Andrea, you’re 69 years old,” I said. “You can’t make it on your retirement or social security. Medical bills are eating you up alive. You have to do this telemarketing work to keep your head above water. Do you really think you’re going to be worse off with Obama?”
“He’s going to raise my taxes,” she said.
“No, he’s not!” I replied much too loudly.
People at other tables were now staring at us. Andrea looked at me for a long while, chewing on an onion ring.
“See what this CityBeat paper has turned you into?” she asked.
“What? A communist?”
“You’re funny,” she said, probably not meaning it. No longer feeling hungry, I watched Andrea put a little more salt on her fries. She still had a few more onion rings to get, too. The waitress came around to ask if we needed anything else.
“Those onion rings were good,” Andrea told the waitress. “Can I get an order of them to go?”
The waitress said yes. As she walked away, I wondered if Andrea’s eating habits had anything to do with her expensive doctor bills.
“Think anything you want, mister,” Andrea said while finishing up her fries. “I just hope we can survive the next four years. If we do, in 2012, I’ll get my gal back.”
“Your gal back?”
“My gal Sarah,” she said smiling, showing a little piece of onion ring caught between her two front teeth. “Sarah Palin.”
Realizing I’ll never change my old friend Andrea, I handed her the salt shaker.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: email@example.com