By C. Gregory Thompson
“You look just like my aunt,” the woman said to us, looking at my friend, Sara. “But, of course, she’s dead now.”
We were perched on the aqua blue cushions of an outdoor couch on what we jokingly referred to as the “lanai” at Rancho Las Palmas, a resort in Palm Desert, California. The lanai and this particular couch had become our regular spot for the past three-and-a-half years. From its caddy-corner vantage point, we could see everyone coming and going. We’d returned to our alma mater’s “residency” to visit our professors, fellow alumni and current students of the UCR/Palm Desert Low-Residency MFA Creative Writing program.
This exchange took place the first week of December. The desert winter weather was lovely and mild. I’d noticed the woman roaming around the lanai, stopping to chat with people who walked through the area or were seated at other couches and chairs. Mid-sixties to early-seventies, smartly dressed in a designer-ish pantsuit and gold jewelry, hair highlighted to a bronze color, about five foot six, she carried an oversized red tote bag. She placed the bag on the edge of the stone fire pit we sat by like it was part of her armor. Sara and I looked at her waiting to see what she’d say next.
“You see, I’m Robert Kardashian’s sister.”
Sara, always game for a little crazy, said, “So, you think I look Armenian?”
“There’s no such thing as an Armenian. They’re all Jews who haven’t accepted Jesus,” the woman replied without missing a beat.
After this comment, my own crazy-antennas were at full salute, gyrating back and forth. A bit like slowing down to look at a car accident—you want to, but you don’t want to, fearful of what you might see, but still curious—we watched her to see how far the insanity might go.
“Kris is a horrible person,” she said. “She ruined the family as soon as she married into it. And she poisoned my brother. They called it esophageal cancer, but it was a poisoning.”
Sara and I threw sidelong glances at each other, asking, is she for real? Real or not, she definitely had our attention. In the whacked-out world of the Kardashians, maybe Kris did poison Robert. Isn’t anything possible—especially now?
“Then, when she married that freak, she destroyed the family.”
Her verbs gradually took on more power. First “ruined,” then “destroyed.” The “freak” implied Caitlyn, we assumed. I wondered, did she become a freak to this woman after the Bruce to Caitlyn transition, or is that the moniker she always used for her? I’d venture to guess she disapproved, and “freak” was a more recent descriptor. Listening to her, and, admittedly, not being a fan of Kris, Caitlyn or the whole Kardashian mess, it was fun to hear her trash the family. I didn’t have to look at Sara to know that she was enjoying the teardown, even if false, as much as I was.
“Thank God Kourtney has a brain and Khloe has a heart, because Kim has a hole in her soul.”
Eloquently said, I thought.
And, before we had time to fully absorb these mots justes, she picked up her red bag and left us with these parting words: “It’s all okay as long as we accept God.”
After she was gone, I looked at Sara and said, “I highly doubt she’s his sister or a Kardashian.”
Sara ran inside to ask the concierge and returned with an answer.
“The concierge said, and I quote, ‘She isn’t a Kardashian, but it’s fun to be fabulous.’”
They obviously knew her. She’s probably a regular.
“Did you notice her bag?” Sara asked.
I knew it was bright red and large, big enough to carry a lot of stuff, but beyond that nothing stuck out.
“Trump. Trump International Hotel Las Vegas.”
That was the wording Sara had seen on the side of the bag, in gold lettering. It didn’t necessarily mean that she was a Trump supporter. Maybe she’d picked up the bag before he became our President-elect, but it did sow a little doubt and raised the whole experience up a level.
Sara told me she assumed the woman was a Trump supporter, and that tainted the whole experience for her. She was cool with the woman being crazy and impersonating a Kardashian, but as a Trump supporter, too, that gave her the serious willies. Too much crazy is, simply, too much crazy.
The woman might very well have been team “Make America Great Again!” Somehow it made sense. She could easily be the type not to see through the veneer, to be drawn into the glitz, the flash, the money, and the fake everything—overlooking common decency, human rights, and national security. After all, she had an obsession with the Kardashians. For myself, if I’d ever purchased or had been given anything, especially now, with the Trump name on it, I would have burned it, and I certainly would not be carrying it around in public. She clearly had no issue being seen with it.
While we did giggle and gossip about her and wonder who she really was, the whole experience was actually sad. Later, I spotted her being seated for lunch on the outdoor dining terrace. She’d changed clothes and still looked quite put-together, but she ate by herself. She’d spent the last several hours alone, wandering the resort, trying to impress strangers. Sad, too, that, for whatever reason, she’d decided to co-opt the Kardashian name. To feel more important, out of boredom and loneliness, or was it sheer madness? Trying to understand, it all became too tied up in what is happening right now in our country.
Reality TV, in part, gave us the so-called President. It moved the dial further in the direction of crazy and provided a platform for Trump and his cronies from which to emerge. This woman was part of that; she was affected by what she saw happening with the Kardashians enough to make herself one of them. To top it off, the big red bag with Trump’s name emblazoned across it. A double-whammy of reality world unreality—first a fake family and now a fake presidency, both of which she embraced. The problem for the rest of us? Their fake reality has become our frightening authentic reality.
This was a small moment, a blip in time. But somehow it was huge, too. Because, to me, to us, to Sara and me, it said so much. This woman did not want to be who she was. She wanted to be someone else. Her life was not enough. She wanted bigger and better, a name of the moment—Kardashian. To be that fabulous, or what she perceived to be fabulous.
Pretending that reality is not real ultimately won’t work. Pretending that Trump is not the horrible human being that he is, or believing that his lifestyle has any basis in reality, will doom us all. And, for the lady on the lanai, pretending to be someone she is not will only lead to loneliness and misery, and, even, to that dreaded hole in her soul.
She might just be there already.
Gregory Thompson, a Pushcart Prize nominee, lives in Los Angeles, California, where he writes fiction, nonfiction, plays and memoir. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Story Magazine, Five to One, Cowboy Jamboree, Full Grown People, The Offbeat, Printers Row Journal, Reunion: The Dallas Review. He was named a finalist in the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival’s 2015 Fiction Contest. His short play Cherry won two playwriting awards. He earned an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts at the University of California, Riverside/Palm Desert. Follow him on Twitter @cgregthompson.