Feel The Burnsie
Mark glanced at the caller ID on his cell phone and saw that the incoming phone call was from Claire Burns, his friend Eddie's kid sister back home. He supposed she wasn't exactly a kid anymore - having graduated from high school last year but he would always be older and now that he was in his third year at Green College the people and places of his home town of Essex Junction Vermont seemed to be long ago and far away in some ways.
Claire was a good kid. He had known her forever being best friends with her brother – Claire had even visited him in Greenville with Eddie a couple of times during the past few years. They also tended to bump into each other when Mark was home in the summer.
Mark answered the cell. "What's up, Burnsie?" He asked.
"How far is the Mass Mutual Center from Greenville?" She wanted to know.
"Thirty minutes," he answered. "Why?"
""Bernie Sanders has an event there tomorrow afternoon," she announced. "I'm coming down. You can take me."
"I was thinking of going to the football game," he protested.
"It's time to Feel the Bern, Marky Mark."
"I'm more inclined to be politically incorrect with Trump," he said.
"You're bustin' my balls, right?" Claire demanded with disgust. "You couldn't possibly be interested in anything that Apprentice has to say."
"Actually, I don't pay much attention to any of them," Mark admitted.
"I'll be there by eleven," she said.
"The guy lives in Burlington," Mark frowned into the phone. "You can see him there anytime."
"I'd rather see him down there," Claire countered. "Be ready."
"Is Eddie coming?" Mark wanted to know.
"Na, he's hanging out with Margaret as usual," she said, sounding bored. "I guess you're stuck with me solo."
"How 'bout the Olive Garden for lunch?"
"Sure," she said. "Sounds great. See you tomorrow."
The call ended and Mark wasn't sure if he was intrigued or annoyed. Who was Claire Burns to call him out of the blue and make such demands? Why did she think he'd be interested in some pointless political rally? Still, it was nice to be thought of - he knew Claire had a secret thing for him even if it was platonic and safe between them given the unspoken rule about dating best friends' sisters. Mark thought of Claire as a kid sister until he saw her sucking off the face of her boyfriend while waiting to pose for pictures after her high school graduation ceremony and Mark realized she indeed had grown up.
He was too busy with his studies at Green and his job as a waiter at the Greenville Grille to spend a lot of time socializing so having Claire stop in wouldn't be so bad, even if he had to work Saturday night. They already knew each other well enough so that they didn't have to worry about ice breakers and awkward getting to know you conversations.
Claire looked even more grown up than ever when she showed up at Mark's apartment the next day, having made the two and a half hour drive from Essex Junction. Her hair was long and silky. She was wearing a "Bernie' ball cap and a blue 'Feel the Bern' tee shirt over a red sweatshirt, along with jeans and suspenders. She was holding a homemade "Bern it down' sign.
"Hi Marky Mark!" She laughed, giving him a hug.
Claire felt soft in his arms. He liked the way she smelled. It was nice that she was there.
"Hi Burnsie," he said with a smile, surprised at how glad he was to see her.
"You ready to go?" She wanted to know.
"Just like that?" He asked with surprise.
"Gotta Feel The Bern and Bern It Down!" Claire laughed. "Let's go."
Mark grabbed his coat and wallet, keys and phone and he left the apartment with the excited Claire. She caught him up with hometown and family news during the ride down the interstate and they had a nice lunch at the Olive Garden while Mark updated her on his (college) life and what else was up with him (not much). Even he was bored listening to himself piddle on about jerk neighbors and demanding college professors and rude customers at the Grille but Claire kept a smile on her face the whole time.
"I'm probably a disappointment to you, huh Burnsie?" He sighed. "Gonna go off to become a big college deal and here I am crying in my spaghetti about how much my life sucks."
"Hey, look at me," she shrugged. "Taking a 'gap year' - whatever that means - still living at home, working at the Rite Aide. How do you think I feel?"
"I never worry about you," Mark replied. "You're going to be fine. You're smart, funny, pretty, personable. You care about people. You're sweet and adorable."
"I'm not at teddy bear, Marky-Mark!"
Mark laughed and he was reminded about how much he enjoyed being with her.
They found a parking garage not far from the Mass Mutual Center and they entered the hockey arena with thousands of other Sanders supporters. Mark had never been to a political rally before and he was amused by all the excitement and interest. Claire wanted to sit behind the podium (in the camera's view) so she could see herself on the giant screen over the floor of the rink and maybe later on news clips, You Tube, and CSPAN reruns.
"It might be the only time I'm ever on television," she reasoned.
It was a diverse group gathered for the event - young college students from UMASS and the other area colleges (including Green), older former hippies longing for a political revolution, middle aged working people wanting a fair shake, and nurses, teachers and other professionals who believed in Sanders' health care and education policies. Most of the college kids stood on the rink floor in front of the podium and stage to cheer on the candidate when he arrived. Volunteers prepped the crowd with encouragement and rallying cries. Music played over the loud speaker while they waited for Sanders' arrival.
Claire always found it easy to talk to other people and she had no problem chatting with those around her. Mark tended to be more reserved - he had to be fake polite, sincere, interested, and talkative in his role as waiter so he liked his own quiet personal time when he didn't have to be with people. He did enjoy observing people though and spent most of his time people watching.
A nurse, a college student and an environmentalist warmed up the crowd with their own stories and then Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders, Independent Senator from Vermont, made his entrance to a loud booming standing ovation. Claire went crazy from the start and she never really stopped yelling, cheering or shouting at the appropriate times - standing and holding her sign up swinging her hips while dancing. Mark had never seen her so fired up and excited before.
Mark wasn't particularly politically astute or even interested. He had never exercised his right to vote - even though he had been eligible in the last national election. He didn't think Sanders would be the candidate for him - he looked old and Mark had heard him called a socialist which couldn't be a good thing. But as he listened to Sanders talk about a political revolution, discussing income inequality health care reform, gun control, the crumbling middle class, corporate America, poverty, youth unemployment, prison reform, the minimum wage, the nation's infrastructure, equal pay, family leave, free education, election reform, global warming, and single payer health care, Mark couldn't help but think maybe the guy wasn't all that far out in left field or progressively out to lunch. Mark didn't know all that much about political realities but he thought Sanders made sense in much of what he was saying.
Of course Claire's enthusiasm probably played a part in Mark's newly discovered interest. She was horse from all the screaming she had done as they walked out of the Mass Mutual Center after Bernie had finished shaking hands and left the arena. There was something almost sexy about the way she had presented herself.
"You never cheered and yelled like that at Eddie and my football games," Mark protested.
"This is real life, Marky-Mark," Claire told him. "This is important stuff to get excited about."
"My high school football career wasn't important?" Mark pouted.
"Not anymore," she said.
It took them awhile to get back on the interstate with all the traffic (there was an estimated 6,000 people at the rally) but Claire was quite talkative, going on and on about Feeling the Bern and Mark finally asked her why she was all of a sudden so much into politics.
"Because I want a say in our future," she said. "It's not as if I woke up one day and said, 'Oh, politics.' I was on Student Council in high school. Mr. Lyons was a terrific Civics teacher who got me thinking about stuff. I want to exist in a world that makes sense. I'm convinced Climate Change is real. Lake Champlain never freezes over anymore. Something is very wrong. I can't stand people who deny there's a problem. My mother says Earth Day came about because of activism and I want to be part of the Climate Change debate."
Mark was impressed by her passion and fight. He wondered if his apathy made him a crummy American. Was he too wrapped up in his own stuff to care about more important things than himself?
They returned to Mark's apartment. It was a few miles off campus in Greenville, an economical fake place in an old Victorian house that been carved up into apartments, sterile and boring but clean and a nice place to stay given a dorm room was Mark's only other choice. The walls, doors, and woodwork were all painted white and the second hand used furniture made the place look dumpier than it really was - a living room, kitchenette with a large open window, two bedrooms (one larger than the other) and a bathroom.
"Is it okay if I stay the night?" Claire asked. "I don't want to get back in the car and drive all the way home now. I can sleep on the couch."
"There's an extra room," Mark let her know. "My roommate realized Green wasn't for him and hit the road. I haven't found a replacement yet."
"But I have to work at five."
"Oh, that's okay," Claire laughed. "I'll just hang out and watch TV."
When Mark left for wearing his black slacks and black shirt with a white tie, Claire was planted on the couch with a bag of chips and a can of soda watching CSPAN.