Monday, July 4, 2016

Woman of the People

By Lisabet Sarai

I swear that when we set up our latest topic calendar, I didn’t notice we had assigned the topic “Politics” to the 4th of July—in a U.S. election year! I’m not sure whether this is fortuitous or ominous. Of course, we have three Canadians and an Australian among the ranks of the Grip contributors. They’re not facing the sort of choices we Americans are looking at right now. I hope they realize how lucky they are.

In any case, I don’t plan to dwell on political situation in the U.S. That might well get acrimoniousor at least depressing. I had the notion of writing some femdom flash fiction, about a private pact between two competing candidates, one female and one male. It would be so easy for that to slide into parody, though (or even slander).

Then I realized I actually have a novel about politicsand very dirty politics at that. My erotic thriller Exposure centers on an election marred by bribery, kidnapping, and a murder.

Andy Henderson, henchman for self-made millionaire, political heavyweight and mayoral candidate Tony Pinelli, hires exotic dancer Stella Xanathakeos to provide a private performance for his boss. While she’s with Tony, Henderson bursts in and shoots him. Tony fires back, leaving Stella with two corpses and mystery on her hands.

Tony’s widow befriends (and seduces) Stella. Francesca somehow seems to know about Stella’s involvement in the double murder. When she tells the dancer she’s running for mayor in her husband’s stead and asks Stella to be her press secretary, Stella agrees, though she has serious reservations about both Francesca and the job. She figures that working with the widow will help her unearth the truth about Andy, Tony, and whoever else was involved in the slaying.

So here’s a political scene from Exposure, the press conference in which Francesca kicks off her bid for the mayor’s seat and introduces Stella to the media.


Together, we walk the short distance over to the site of the press conference. This is part of Francesca’s strategy; she wants to seem like a woman of the people, and arriving in her Mercedes wouldn’t fit that image. It has become a cloudy, blustery day. The wind cuts through my jacket, making me shiver. It teases a few curls from my neat twist, probably making me look poorly-groomed and unprofessional, but there’s not much I can do about it.

There’s a knot of people milling on the City Hall steps, with lights and other equipment. I notice vans with the logos of WQED and WPXI. The news people all have their backs to us, as if they expected us to come from the opposite direction. Francesca’s voice rings out, clear and commanding. “Over here, ladies and gentlemen.” We march up the steps, through the confused crowd.

Francesca waits quietly while the media people rearrange themselves and adjust their equipment. Then, when they’ve settled down, she waits a moment longer, scanning the crowd, looking elegant and serious.

I have to admire her showmanship. By the time she begins to speak, she has the attention of everyone, even the technicians squatting in the doors of the mobile studio vans.

Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for taking the time to join us on this raw and stormy afternoon. I won’t keep you long.

As you all know, my husband Anthony Pinelli wanted to serve this city as its mayor. Pittsburgh was his birthplace. It nurtured him, educated him, made him wealthy and successful. It gave him opportunities and benefits that he could not have found anywhere else. Tony Pinelli wanted to give some of this back to the city he loved. That was his most cherished dream.

Tony’s tragic death has shocked us all.” Francesca allows a quaver into her voice. I’m impressed. She really knows how to work the crowd. She pauses and swallows hard, as if resisting tears. Her voice is calm and forceful when she continues. “As his wife and partner, I am determined not to allow his dream to die with him. That is why, today, I am announcing my own candidacy for the position of mayor. I am determined that, even though Tony has left us, the next person to preside over the administration of this fine city will be Mayor Pinelli.”

The crowd erupts in enthusiastic applause. I find that I’m clapping myself. The hubbub continues for quite a while. Francesca holds up her hand, asking for quiet.

During the remaining weeks of the campaign, I will be sharing with you my vision—Tony’s vision—for this city. Assisting me with this task will be my press secretary, Ms. Stella Xanathakeos. Like Tony and me, Stella was born here. She knows the problems and the aspirations of the ordinary people of Pittsburgh. She will help me to explain why a vote for me is a vote for a bright, secure and prosperous future—for all of us.”

Francesca turns to me. “Stella, would you like to say a few words?” Expectantly, the cameras and microphones swing in my direction.

I’m not entirely unprepared. It was reasonable that Francesca would want me to speak. Still, I have a moment of panic. I’m a performer, but words are not my usual instrument.

I pause for a moment, take a deep breath and survey my audience. They are mostly male, though I recognize the blonde bob and creamy complexion of Teresa Kelly, the Channel 5 news anchor. I remind myself that in this situation, my sexuality is a liability. Just in time, I remember not to lick my lips. I clasp my hands in front of me to keep them out of trouble.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to be standing here today, next to this brave woman. When you lose someone you love, your first impulse is to just give up. You want to crawl into a hole and die yourself. I know this, from my own experience.” I pause, looking out over the attentive faces. I hope that they’re not just paying attention to my tits.

Francesca Pinelli isn’t giving up, though. That’s not the sort of person she is. She was her husband’s closest aide. She understands his goals and his plans for Pittsburgh. And she’s determined to turn those plans into reality, regardless of her personal pain.

As for me, I’m just an ordinary person. My mother died when I was six. My father was an immigrant who worked hard all his life to support me. He had to fight against discrimination, and sleazy bosses, and government by the rich for the rich. I’ve worked hard, too. It’s an uphill battle for most of us in this city. I believe that Francesca Pinelli wants to make that battle easier. What’s more important, I believe that she can.”

I am startled when people begin to applaud. Francesca face wears a broad smile as she steps forward and reclaims the attention of the crowd.

A few questions, Ms. Pinelli!” shouts someone from the crowd. “Don’t go yet!” echoes another voice. “Give us a chance!”

The crowd presses toward us, waving microphones in our faces and effectively trapping us on the stairs. Somebody opens an oversized umbrella and holds it over our heads.

Very well, we can take a few questions. No more than five minutes, though, or we’ll all be drenched.” A few more umbrellas open. The media people push closer to hear us against the wind.

Ms. Pinelli.” The question comes from Terry Kelly. “Pittsburgh has a reputation as a rough city. We’ve got the unions, the old industry barons, the mob. Do you really think it can be run by a woman?”

Francesca stands erect, looking taller than usual. “Don’t you think, Ms. Kelly, that it is time a woman had the chance to show what she can do?” There is scattered applause. “You probably know that Tony was a tough guy. He wouldn’t have chosen me as his partner if I couldn’t be just as tough, when the need arose.”

A skinny reporter in dark-rimmed glasses steps forward with his tape recorder. “Graham White, your opponent, has headed the City Council for more than five years. You have no political experience. Why should the voters choose a novice like you, over a seasoned politician like Mr. White?”

Francesca laughs. “No political experience? I was married to Tony Pinelli for more than ten years, including his two terms on the council. Believe me, I know about politics!” The audience chuckles. “On the other hand, I don’t think this city needs a politician, as much as we need a leader.”

Ms. Xanathakeos!” I’m startled to hear my name. It’s coming from a chubby, balding guy who’s grinning unpleasantly. “I’m sure that we all appreciated your homily to the working class. But isn’t it true that for the past six years your primary employment has been as an exotic dancer?”

Gasps and snickers come from the audience. The questioner looks pleased with himself. So there it is. I glance over at Francesca. She looks perfectly calm and untroubled. I straighten my back, so that my tits thrust out a bit, and look the bald guy in the eye. I know what you like, I think to myself. You like to dress up in your wife’s lingerie when she’s working the late shift. That’s what I see, though it might be my own imagination. Still, as I stare at him, he begins to squirm and finally has to look away.

Quite true, Mister...?”

Rostropovitch,” he answers reluctantly.

You’ve done your research, Mr. Rostropovitch. I am indeed an exotic dancer, as you put it. A perfectly honest line of work, and believe me, not an easy one. Do you have some problem with that?”

Well, it hardly seems appropriate for a mayoral candidate to be associating with hookers...”

Now I am really annoyed. “A stripper is not a hooker, Mr. Rostropovitch. In any case, I am what I said I am, a woman born and bred in this city, who knows the problems working people here, particularly women, face. I’m also a voter. I am definitely qualified to give Ms. Pinelli advice and insight into these issues.”

I give him a long cold stare that I hope makes him feel naked. “In Francesca Pinelli’s Pittsburgh, everyone will be entitled to fair treatment and respect—even reporters!”

The crowd breaks into raucous laughter and applause. I sense that Mr. Rostropovitch is not well-liked by his colleagues.

The wind rises suddenly and pulls my hair loose from my carefully-constructed twist. Curly strands whip round my face, obscuring my vision, but I can’t miss the reporter’s hostile glare. Great, another enemy.

Serious rain hammers against our umbrella. Meanwhile Rostropovitch’s umbrella turns inside out. Most of the press scurries for vans, cars, or doorway overhangs, but he just stands there, giving me an evil stare, while rivulets of water run down his face from his receding hairline.

Come on, let’s get out of the rain.” Francesca has one hand on my sleeve, pulling me into the City Hall atrium. With her other hand, she’s dialing her cell phone.

I called us a cab, asking them to pick us up at the side entrance. They told me it would be ten minutes. I’ll pick up my car later.” She leans toward me, close enough that I can smell her perfume. For a moment, I think that she’s going to kiss me. “You were fantastic. I was truly impressed. I think that perhaps you were born for politics.”

Now that the show is over, I find that my legs are shaking. The chill, damp weather isn’t helping my ankle, either. I untangle myself from Francesca’s grasp and try for a light tone.

Hey, it’s all show business, isn’t it?”

Of course I realize that you know how to work a crowd. I’m talking about something else. The passion in your speech, and the honesty. That’s what really had them hooked, Stella. They don’t encounter honesty very often.”

I wonder how she measures up on that quality. She seemed so sincere about her desire to serve as mayor, but I can’t get over the notion that she is just playing a part. That she really wants something else. I decide that I should give her the benefit of the doubt. For now.

Gee. I sure wish Stella were running for President. She’d get my vote.

(For more about Stella, check out my post from a few months ago.)


  1. Your stories always encompass so much, Lisabet. It's a pleasant learning experience to get where you take us. As you guys know, I've been going on lately about that elusive quality, 'scope'. Your stuff really brings it.

    1. Thanks, Daddy!

      This was a pretty early novel... before I learned that it's the kiss of death from a marketing perspective to include both F/F and F/M in the same book. Not to mention the lack of a HEA...!

      However, my post feels trivial to me, compared to Cameron's.

  2. This looks more exciting than another story about class politics in Pittsburgh, the musical Flashdance. You're written so much good stuff, Lisabet. I must add this to be TBR list.

    1. Well, to be honest, I *liked* Flashdance, which came out while I was doing my PhD in that city.

      But thanks!

  3. I read a review about a book, so I went to get it out of the library. It's called, "Delusions of Gender," by Cordelia Fine. Even though it was published in 2010, it's particularly timely now that a major party in the US is running a female candidate. She examines how we assume that gender is innate, even to the point that neuro-psychologists publish treatises that proclaim that biology is destiny. But is it really? I'm only a third of the way through it and it's fascinating. The very things that make for a successful man, are denigrated if they appear in a ambition. But if women act like they're expected to, then no one takes them seriously. They are dismissed as unimportant. It will be interesting to see if America has grown up yet, or if we are indeed still ruled by the lowest common denominator. I try to be hopeful...for the sake of my children.

    BTW, I loved your writing that Stella "reads" the bald guy as a closet cross-dresser. Hypocrisy is so rampant in those who pretend to be superior to everyone else...until their dirty little secrets are revealed. Usually the things they rage against the loudest, are the things they do when no one is watching.

    1. Thanks, Fiona! Actually, Annabeth wrote about Delusions of Gender in her post last Thursday. It sounds like a fascinating book.

      And I do believe we make our own power, to some extent. My parents never suggested that there was anything I couldn't do because I was female. I grew up wanting to be an astronaut (until I realized my extreme myopia nixed that plan), then a scientist. And although I've probably been subjected to discrimination as a woman, to be honest...I've never noticed.

    2. Duh! I knew I'd read about it somewhere, and your site here is one of the only 2 I visit every day. The other is SNSDivas, which I'm on for the 16th of every month.

      I worked in a sales company for 8 years. When I got promoted to management, that's when I was treated the worst. There were lots of women at the lower levels, so they were treated okay. But I was the only woman in a department of 16 men...promoted because the owner and boss was embarrassed that our principals (clients) were sending women executives who wondered why they were always surrounded by white men at our company. For the first few weekly meetings, the men all expected me to take notes in the boardroom. When I asked what they used to do, they said, "Take turns." I pointed out that's what we were going to continue to do. I once had a VP (who was a nose-picker) tell me that I didn't get the "proper respect" from the customer service "gals" because I used the same bathroom. I told him if he'd watch the door for me, I'd try to use a urinal, if he thought that would help. He told me I misunderstood. No, I understood when I was being told I didn't belong there.

      I complained a lot about being over-burdened, and unable to do all they expected of me. It was hinted that as a woman, I just couldn't handle the work. But when I gave 3 weeks' notice, they promoted 2 men, split my desk in two, and had me train them both to cover only half of my clients. Looking back, I wish I'd have filed a discrimination suit, but I was pregnant and anxious to get the hell out of there and away from those misogynists.

    3. I also asked the men in the boardroom once, which they felt more uncomfortable with. A woman, even though we shared our white skin color, or a black man, with whom they'd have dicks in common. They couldn't tell sexist jokes around me, and that made them all uncomfortable. And I'd get on their cases about racist jokes also. But there were no black people in the company at all, back in the 80's. They told me that I asked stupid questions, but never answered my question.
      Since Barack Obama got to be president before a woman, I guess we all know that answer now, huh?

  4. A fascinating excerpt, Lisabet, and the promise of very dirty politics makes it even more so.

    1. Thanks, Sacchi!

      It's interesting that both Francesca and Stella are facing the same sort of gender-based attacks that are being leveled at Hillary.

  5. Hi lisabet

    it's funny to realize how politics have changed this year. Francesca wondering if the public won't accept a candidate without experience. It turns out now that's what they want. Who could have predicted any of this?