The logo on his shirt should have been a dead giveaway. Bright mustard. Partially covered by a vest but now stretched over his paunch as he set his plate down: “Don’t Tread on Me” in black script under a coiled rattlesnake that sat atop what I think was a silhouette of New York’s Long Island. I should have known from the way he strode into the common kitchen maskless and scoffed at the silly rules we were supposed to abide by. I should have known, minutes after I sat down hesitantly with his group of four at his wife’s invitation, when he blamed the government for the ills of America for the umpteenth time. If I would come down with COVID days later, I’ll chalk it up to my untimely politeness winning out over the prudent judging of a book by its cover. My first breakfast outside of a 10-block radius from my apartment in Astoria, Queens after months of paranoid hunkering down was now being spent in awkward conversation with Trump’s Finest.
“You know why the blacks are still poor? The nanny state,” one of the four said. Middle-aged woman, cleanly dressed, nice jewelry. “Do you really believe all this talk of forced segregation? No! Ask any of them there and they’ll tell you they just don’t want to live where the others do,” she continued. The other woman began clutching, what I imagined, were pearls if we were at some staid Upper East Side apartment and not in a bed and breakfast on some island at the edge of Long Island that gave Get Out vibes. “Honestly I’m afraid of even putting out Trump signs on my lawn. I don’t know what people will do!”. Honestly I was the one afraid of telling them I was probably one of the bleeding hearts they probably hated so much. Rattlesnake asked me if I watched the Republican debates and was quite surprised when I said I saw a few (if only because one doesn’t have much to do during a lockdown). “You don’t seem like the others your age then. Brainwashed on fake news!” Nice Jewelry said without a trace of irony. “You know who’s the real racist?” asked Pearl Clutcher. “Oprah that’s who! She was just on TV the other day saying she hates white people. I mean, what could be more racist than that!”
“If Trump loses, this country’s going to hell,” said the second man who looked like he could have coached high school basketball. I stared down at the bowl of single serve cereal I was so much looking forward to, not sure how to extricate myself from the table before I gave myself away. “Where are you from?” one of them asked. Too late. Here it was. “Saudi Arabia,” I gulped. A brief pause as Rattlesnake bit on a piece of toast. “Really? Tatakallam 3rabi? My family’s from Lebanon!” Nice Jewelry exclaimed.
“Oh yes they came to the States some time ago.” Talk then drifted to travel and how her daughter travels but keeps only wanting to go to the same places. To how she wished her daughter would explore new places too. Pearl Clutcher laughed at something Coach said, shifting aside the crumpled face mask she actually had put on out of respect for me when she first entered the common room. Nice Jewelry scolded Rattlesnake about his eating habits and we spoke of how the yogurt and food these days had too much sugar. They told me of their area in New York and how nice it is in the summer. That they took trips as a friend group often. I told them of my time in the Midwest and what growing up in Saudi was like. We looked outside on a very sunny day and I finally got up to begin my walk around the island.
I thought about how I should have noticed sooner exactly who they were. I mean it was obvious. What with the shirt and the pearl clutching and the right-wing rhetoric. At least now that I’ve finished breakfast I’ve confirmed what I already knew. And I was right.
I got home later that night after a stroll lined with far too many thin blue line flags and a quiet dinner. I thought about making another makeshift Bloody Mary but decided against it after looking at the time. I could hear the TV blaring from the living room as I walked up the staircase by it. It was the poll results from Fox News.