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Today, just for the hell of it, I decided to revisit a conversation from Chapter One of the novel I’m writing. When Howard’s parents, Mimi and Archibald, meet in Russia, it is the early 1970’s. Mimi asks the factual, scientific Archibald what it is like to be an American:

“You are an American, yes?” she insisted quietly, leaning in. “You have the look about you, you know. What it is like to be one? My papa says you are all rich and stupid, but I refuse to believe him.”

Archibald attempted an answer, reminding himself that the girl wasn’t trying to insult him. “Well, I mostly take it for granted. Not everyone is rich, but the majority lives comfortably based on global standards, I suppose. Degrees of intelligence vary just like anywhere else in the world. And it’s a republic, meaning we vote on things. Of course, a few handfuls worth of officials representing the voices of millions makes one hundred percent agreement with the legislature a statistical impossibility. That’s why people use things like equal rights rallies, anti-war protests, and the like to demand change when they find things become or remain unacceptable.”

“Do you not have a secret police, to suppress the dissidents?” Mimi lowered her voice to a whisper.

He toyed with his napkin on the table for a few seconds before providing a careful answer. “Well, no, it’s not supposed to work that way. We have freedom of speech. No offense Mimi, but I’m not sure we should even be having this conversation.”

“You are right, Archibald. Nonetheless, I thank you for answering my questions with such honesty. No one else around here does, and your republic sounds just marvelous to me. I would very much like to protest there some day.” A dreamy look crossed her face as another dose of powdered sugar dissolved on the tip of her tongue. “Now, we must go back to your nickname. Are you sure you don’t have one? Something your parents called you when you were a baby?”