I had consultations running right up to seven o’clock on Friday, so I stopped by the Round Robin Bar after work. There, at a table by himself, sat Hymen Steinstien, one of several principal staffers to Representative Jerrold Nadler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Despite the fact that Steinstien’s usual annual alcohol intake typically comprises three thimbles of strictly kosher Mogen David ceremonial wine during Passover, on that table stood two empty martini glasses. That in itself was extraordinary at the Round Robin, where the waitstaff are famous for quickly gathering empty drink glasses from tables, routinely within minutes of when they are finished. So all the signs were there – poor Steinstien was working so hard on getting snockered, they couldn’t clear his table fast enough to make him appear abstemious, as the unspoken rules of decorum at the Round Robin demand. It certainly fit his personality – Steinstien works hard at whatever he does, and from the expression on his face I could tell he was doing an excellent job at inebriation, too. His wife, Naomi, is an occasional associate of Cerise, so I knew his better half would be mad enough to kill him for coming home drunk, provided, of course, that he didn’t kill himself trying to drive there. Figuring it was my duty to preserve the life of a person married to someone Cerise describes as the best bridge partner she has ever had, I strode over, bearing my own glass of Macallan 18 on the rocks as a token of cordial intent.
“Mind if I join you?” I inquired.
“No, no,” he slurred, gesturing at the chair across the table from him. “Make yourself comfortable.”
“Hard day on the Hill?” I continued.
“Hard week,” he replied with a hiccup and a burp. “[Expletive] Mueller hearing!”
“Oh yes,” I acknowledged. “A great disappointment for the Democrats, I’m sure.”
“Disappointment?” he snorted. “More like a [expletive] disaster! What the [expletive] is the matter with that [expletive] [expletive] [expletive], anyway?”
“Oh come on,” I chided, “you and I both know Mueller’s never [expletive] a [expletive], much less [expletive] any [expletive]. He was a Marine, not a sailor.”
“What’s the [expletive] difference?” he demanded. They’re both in the Navy, aren’t they?
“Yes,” I conceded, “but there are a number of differences. Marines, for example, know who both of their parents are. And no Marine ever reported [expletive] [expletive] on board the ship and, when asked how he knew, told the captain, ‘Because I tasted [expletive] on the XO’s [expletive.]’ But I sympathize with your anger, naturally. I think your boss and Adam Schiff made a serious strategic mistake, dragging Mueller in to testify to their committees about his report. Remember: time and again, he admonished everyone in America to read it. That’s what the report is for, after all.”
“Read it?” he scoffed as he took another chug from his martini, “Read it? Are you saying, Mueller actually expected Americans to read something that’s not a comic book or a trashy novel? Is he nuts? Americans need to be shown what’s important – on television! And we did that! And [expletive] Mueller totally [expletive] it up!”
“Well,” I observed, “it’s not like he didn’t warn you. Over and over, he told everyone, in advance, that he didn’t have anything to say that isn’t in that report. And he reiterated exactly that point in his opening remarks to the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning. So I don’t see why any Democrat is the least bit surprised that, except when the veracity of his report or the integrity of his staff was questioned, Mueller portrayed an invariant countenance of the Archetypal Taciturn Yankee.”
“An invariant countenance of the archetypal what the [expletive]?” Steinstien blurted back.
“The Archetypal Taciturn Yankee,” I slowly repeated. “That venerable character from American lore whose entire lexicon of interlocution consists of ‘yup,’ ‘nope,’ ‘maybe,’ ‘don’t know,’ ‘can’t say,’ and ‘I reckon.’ All Mueller did, in the vast majority of his replies, was adopt words or phrases with the same essential meanings as those classic New England backwoods utterances. For example, instead of ‘yup,’ he said ‘yes,’ ‘right,’ ‘that’s correct,’ ‘that’s true,’ ‘that’s fair,’ ‘I believe so,’ ‘on occasion, ‘that’s accurate,’ ‘I don’t disagree,’ or ‘I would agree with that.”
“Yeah,” Steinstien spat, “come to think of it, he did.”
“Certainly,” I asserted, “And instead of ‘nope,’ he said ‘no,’ ‘I don’t necessarily credit that analysis,’ ‘I disagree with that,’ and ‘not true;’ and instead of ‘can’t say,’ Mueller told the committees, ‘I can’t go there,’ ‘I cannot get into that,’ ‘I am not going to answer that question,’ ‘I’m not going to discuss that,’ ‘I can’t respond,’ ‘I’m not going to comment,’ or ‘that is beyond my purview.’”
“Sounds just like what I heard,” Steinstien confirmed. “Right out of the [expletive] transcript.”
“Sure it is,” I vouched, “and instead of ‘maybe,’ he said ‘possibly,’ ‘that is possible,’ ‘that’s about all I will say on that aspect of it,’ ‘I can’t answer that question without knowing more about it,’ ‘that’s such a broad question, I have trouble answering it,’ or ‘I take your question.’ And instead of ‘don’t know,’ he said ‘I cannot remember,’ ‘I can’t speak to that,’ ‘I can’t answer that question in a vacuum,’ ‘that, I’m not familiar with,’ or ‘I’m not going to speculate.’
“Slippery [expletive],” Steinstien grumbled. “[Expletive] goyishe sheigetz Republican lawyer.”
“Indubitably,” I concurred. “And instead of ‘I reckon,’ he either said ‘quite probably, yes,’ ‘I understand that,’ ‘I think so,’ ‘I take your word,’ or simply referred to the report. Overall, it was a very effective approach. It completely dashed all Democratic hopes for an impeachment groundswell.”
“What makes you so sure about that?” Steinstien challenged as he took another slurp. “I suspect it probably changed a few minds… among the informed and literate voters, anyway, don’t you think?”
“Nope.” I replied.
“I mean,” he argued, “with all those direct revelations about Trump’s obviously criminal conduct, right there on television, the message must have gotten through to some portion of the population who are undecided about impeachment. It must have changed a lot of minds somewhere.”
“Yeah,” he persisted, “but we’re going to find out, aren’t we? As soon as Congress gets back from recess, where the members will talk to their constituents, then we’ll know!”
“The hearings have got to have some kind of effect!” he insisted, pounding on the tiny cocktail table. “Overt acts of obstruction! Obvious links between the Trump campaign and the Russians! It all has to add up to something!”
“The Mueller Report presents overwhelming evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors!” he shouted, loud enough to turn heads at nearby tables.
“And as soon as we get the complete and unredacted versions, including that missing grand jury testimony,” he proclaimed, wagging his finger at me ominously, “there’s going to be hell to pay, and plenty of it!”
“So it’s only a matter of time,” he declared, “before the American public sees the light and gets behind a massive popular movement to remove that lying, crooked, corrupt, incompetent, boorish neo-fascist [expletive] from office, right?”
“What?” Steinstien objected. “Are you siding with Nancy Pelosi and saying that the Democrats should wait until November 2020 to vote that stinking slimeball Donald Trump out?”
“God damn it, Collins!” he yelled. “With you [expletive] cut that [expletive] [expletive] out? You sound just like [expletive] Robert Mueller!”
“Sir,” our waiter interjected. “If you can’t keep your voice down, I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
“Oh,” Steinstien replied in a hushed tone. “Sorry. My friend here… he was… joshing me about something…”
“Yes, sir,” our waiter nodded gravely, looking around meaningfully at the other patrons, “the Mueller Report. We know. And I feel your pain, sir. We all do…”
“Some of them, anyway,” I observed. “I notice there are a number of Republicans here too, celebrating.”
“Yes,” the waiter affirmed. “And we don’t want any… altercations… in the Round Robin Bar of the historic Willard hotel, do we?”
“No, no, of course not,” Steinstien murmured sheepishly.
“I remind you, sir,” he elaborated, “that the Battle Hymn of the Republic was written in this hotel. Mark Twain drank at that very bar over there, as did Henry Clay, General Grant, Walt Whitman, and Woodrow Wilson. Abraham Lincoln was once a guest at this hotel, sir.”
“Yes, yes,” I understand,” Steinstien whispered.
“Could I get you another drink, sir?” the waiter asked. “Some… coffee… or some mineral water?”
“Oh, yeah,” Steinstien replied, blushing red as a bowl of beet shav. “Perrier with a slice of lime, please.”
“Certainly, sir,” the waiter replied, shooting Steinstien another meaningful glance as he walked away.
“[Expletive] Republican [expletive] in the Senate. [Expletive] Mitch McConnell,” he muttered under his breath as the waiter departed. [Expletive] [expletive] in the White House.”
“Tell you what,” I suggested. “Let me give you a ride home.”
“But my car…” he protested.
“Not a problem,” I assured him, as I took out my iPhone. “I’ll call a limousine service to send a car down with two drivers, one of whom will take your car home and park it in the driveway. For that, of course, I’ll need your keys.”
“Uh, yeah,” he sighed, digging into his pants pocket and handing them over, “I guess you will.”