Twisted Smile

December 13, 2007
By Zoe Willingham, Chico, CA

It was November 7, 2000.

I wandered down the street, tugging down on my mommy’s hand; I gazed at passing cars, hearing the boom of the built-in stereos as they slid by, riding the Alameda traffic. I peered into the windows to catch glimpses of the faceless silhouettes framed in the car door, intent on their destination. As we crossed the street, I looked down at my feet and the cracks in the sidewalk that passed beneath them. We slowed and I looked up, my pixie-cut hair washing over my round face, and smiled. We were finally here -- the family’s favorite restaurant.

Upon entering, I was greeted by the dull chatter of twenty or so diners plus staff. Colorful piñatas hung above me like festive clouds. My mouth watered as waiters passed with plates laden with steaming beans, tortillas, enchiladas, burritos, and tamales.

“I’m hungry,” my brother complained in a whiny four-year-old voice. I was too, after a long day of being a kindergartener. I began to think about my order as we settled into our seats in front of a TV mounted on the wall. Having ordered our drinks, Mommy and Papa looked up at the screen of the TV, as if entranced by the map of the United States.

“How’re we doin‘?” Papa asked the TV, leaning back in his chair, beer resting on his huggable belly. I followed his gaze to the screen which displayed the U.S. in red and blue. I sighed, confused (what is so interesting about that map?), and stared out the window, watching people pass, bundled up against the gray evening.

Not much later, a waitress came to take our order; Mommy listed our delicious dishes (plus one order of tortillas), pausing to ask my brother and I which we wanted. After I demanded my cheese enchilada from Mommy, I began a staring contest with the muted television. My parents still sat, staring up at the screen. In my fascination with the strange program, I forgot my hunger. The map was now replaced by a man in a suit who sat behind a glossy black desk. A neat stack of papers sat purposely in front of him, though he never read them. Occasionally, the screen would flash clips of important people waving to… adoring fans? Still, it referred to the blue and red map often. This obviously wasn’t a regular news show if it revolved around this one image of the U.S. Still, they sat, entranced by the television.

“What are you watching?” I asked, fiddling with my hair.

“We are watching the Presidential Race,” said Papa, leaning forward to set his beer down on the table.

“A race?” The mysterious map must be tracking the competitors’ progress. “Who do you want to win?”

“Al Gore,” Mommy responded.


“Because the other is a bad man,” Papa said, gesturing to the screen.

I followed his gaze to the race where I saw the Bad Man stepping down from an airplane, waving to his fans, all in neat coats and ties, looking very important. The Bad Man smiled at the camera.

It is December 12, 2007.

The Bad Man won. And since then he has brought devastation to a whole country, violated our privacy laws, neglected the victims of Hurricane Katrina, denied 10% of the U.S. population the right to marry, locked immigrants out of the ‘Land of the Free’, and let America fall behind the rest of the world on its way to environmental sustainability.

I saw him, smiling at the camera, on 9-11, telling us to stay strong and that he will bring the same tragedy to the terrorists’ cities. I saw him shake hands with important people, smiling at the camera. I saw him saying that no child should be left behind, smiling at the camera. I saw him at devastated sites in his suit, tie, and cowboy boots, talking to people that he will never see again, living in halves of homes, smiling at the camera. I saw him deny scientifically-proved facts, smiling at the camera. I saw him signing bills with people in suits and ties, smiling at the camera.

But worst of all, I saw him -- the Bad Man -- on January 20, 2005, standing on a podium, exclaiming how he looks forward to the next four years of hell. Smiling -- no, smirking -- at the camera. Now all we can do is stare at the mess we let him make and say: One more year.

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