For reasons I cannot explain, I’ve found what can best be described as an obsession with press secretary Sean Spicer. I am convinced there must be a flame, however small, burning deep within Spicer’s cold and bloodless interior, which flame is the key to unlocking his humanity. We must find this flame. The logical first step is tracing Spicer’s emotional history to his upbringing in Barrington, Rhode Island. The humanity we’re searching for, I suggest, exists in the relationship between Spicer and his childhood best friend, who, to my mind, must be a penguin. If you want to believe the following account is fictional, go ahead; I, on the other hand, will hold out hope that in a cove somewhere in Barrington, Rhode Island Sean Michael Spicer holds weekly counsel with a displaced penguin from the last Ice Age, with whom he shares the intricacies of his inner life.
Seven miles east of Providence, in the small town of Barrington, Rhode Island, in a cove on the western peninsula, is a penguin waiting for his sole surviving and best friend, Sean Michael Spicer.
Spicer discovered the penguin in 1984 while attempting to track a sailboat from Phebe’s Neck. The penguin told Spicer it had survived the last Ice Age–meaning, it had, somehow, beyond its comprehension, not died, and remained alive for the 12,000 years, only to be discovered by a diminutive thirteen year old boy in 1984, with whom he shared a commonality of ambition and crippling self-doubt.
Today, Wednesday 5 April 2017, the penguin waits for Spicer in a cove to resume their weekly meetings.
Spicer is late. He takes the train from D.C. to Providence, visits his mother, and then drives down in a rental car to Barrington around 6PM.
“I’m sorry,” he says to the penguin. He’s wearing a navy suit with a red checkered tie. There’s a stain on the top half of the tie from a glob of mayo that slipped off his chin during a particularly heated exchange with his mother at lunch.
“It’s fine,” the penguin says. “I’ve survived this long.” (A joke he always uses because Spicer is always late. But the joke has never landed, except for the first time he used it, in 1993, after Spicer was in a particularly sensitive emotional place, having been dissected by his college’s satirical paper. The paper gave him the honorific Sean Sphincter, and, to say the least, the name stuck.)
“Here,” Spicer says. He reaches into a brown paper bag he’s holding and pulls out a wad of sourdough bread and throws it at the penguin’s feet. “Should still be warm,” he adds, eating some himself. The penguin first smells the bread and then pecks at it.
“Rough day,” Spicer says.
“Is that a question or statement?”
“It hasn’t been rough for me,” the penguin says. “Look at all the flowers come in bloom. And the trees have leaves again. I don’t believe in spring. As far as I’m concerned summer has arrived.”
“Ma won’t lay off this thing with Rebecca,” Spicer says.
“She saw a picture of Rebecca with that assclown Dornic, and now she’s got all the ammunition she needs,” Spicer says, throwing the penguin another wad of bread. “And the worst part is I can’t ignore it, you know. She’s putting ideas in my head.”
“Matt Dornic, total assclown sleezeball. Used to be a broadcast journalist, and now he’s VP of some bullshit over at CNN. Global comm or online marketing or something, which is the title they throw on self-important interns or the drastically undereducated.”
“What does he do?”
“I don’t know,” Spicer says. “He never gives straight answers. You ask him how he’s doing and he says ‘how’s anything doing?’ I asked him what he does at least thirteen times, and each time, rather impressively, I must admit, he says something to the effect of ‘I build images in people’s minds…or I take them down,’ or ‘I create interest out of apathy.’ Fuckin’ wackjob.”
“What’s this picture,” the penguin says, “that’s got your Ma going?”
“It was at an event at the end of last year. A birthday party.” Spicer produces the picture from his coat pocket, unfolds it, takes one final look at it before holding it out for the penguin to inspect. “Looks harmless at first. Only when you look twice at it does it start to appear strange.”
“He is holding her close,” the penguin says.
“Yeah, but look at her. Look at her smile.” Spicer produces another picture from his coat pocket–he and Rebecca and six or seven other people smiling for a group shot. “Look at her smile there, next to me, without Dornic in the picture. Now look at the picture of her and Dornic.”
“Mm,” the penguin says. “I see what you mean. It is a peculiar smile.”
“It’s not just me, right? Or Ma? The smile’s different, it is.”
“It feels different.”
Spicer sighs. He begins nibbling on his tongue, a nervous tic left over from childhood. “Does that feel like love to you?” he says.
“Love is a huge and ugly word,” the penguin says. “To me it looks…well, it looks like they’re friendly.”
“Attracted to one another.”
Spicer analyzes both pictures, squinting against the setting sun. Or just squinting.
“Why doesn’t she look that happy with me?” he says. “I mean, look, the differences are subtle, almost unnoticeable, I get that. But I notice them. And if I notice them, doesn’t that mean they exist and are pronounced and real and must be dealt with? How do my feelings factor in?”
“He’s an assclown,” the penguin says. “You said he is, and he is. I can tell just by looking at him. He looks like the type of guy who got initiated into a frat by drinking his own piss. You don’t have anything to worry about.”
“I’m not worried,” Spicer says. “Do I look worried to you?”
“Worried is the wrong word.”
“Concerned is a better word.”
“Do I confront him?” Spicer says. “I know where he lives.”
“Her,” the penguin says.
“Why don’t you confront her?” the penguin says. “She’s the one you want to be with. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life with him, right? He could get thrown into a woodchipper or something today and you wouldn’t care, you wouldn’t blink. But if Rebecca wasn’t in your life…what I’m saying is you care about Rebecca.”
“I love her,” Spicer says. “I love her to death.”
“Love her to life,” the penguin says. “Love her back into your life.”
“Confront her,” Spicer says.
“Confront is the wrong word.”
“Approach her,” Spicer says.
“Approach is a better word,” the penguin says.
Spicer divides the rest of the bread between him and the penguin, and they eat in silence, watching with inner astonishment as sun sets over water.
“There’s no word for what I want,” Spicer says.
“And what do you want?”
“I want to tell her that my worst days are the days when I feel she doesn’t love me back,” Spicer says.
His phone rings. “Shit.” He checks his phone, knowing already who it is, and then takes in the dying sun one last time, takes in the wide flat land, variegated tree tops, and the pinnacle of churches sticking out from the trees like white toothpicks with crosses glued to the top of them.
“You have to go?” the penguin says.
“We didn’t get to talk about–”
“I know,” Spicer says. “Next time. I promise.”
Spicer rises from a crouch emitting a punctuated sigh, as if someone just slapped him in the stomach. His hip and left knee crack. He adjusts his tie and buttons his suit jacket. Taking one final, thoughtful look at the photographs, he says, “Do I look like a lesbian in this picture?”
“There’s a cohort online that says I look like a lesbian. I’m starting to agree.”
The penguin studies the photograph. After half a minute, he says, “You look like Sean Michael Spicer, one of the most powerful men in the world, and someone everyone aspires to be or be with.”
Spicer’s phone rings again. “I have to take this,” he says.
“Next week?” the penguin says.
“Same place, same time.”
They shake, wing to hand. Spicer takes a deep breath and answers the phone:
“This is Spicer.”