Editor’s note: The below is absolute fiction.
Three bemused women, all in evening attire, fill their trays and take a seat at a large table.
“...... Cut,” the director says after 30 seconds of filming the women sitting still and appearing utterly uncomfortable. “Perfect! Great stuff! Take 10!”
Two producers walk to the side of the dining room and consult their clipboards. The cameramen stuff dinner rolls in their mouths.
“Whoa. These are really good,” one says. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
The women are filming a scene for the reality dating show “Who Wants to Be a First Lady?” They, along with nine others, were hand-picked by former Gov. Mark Sanford’s staffers to compete for the presidential candidate’s love in the lead-up to the 2020 GOP Convention.
Sanford agreed to do the show only after noticing that baristas kept writing “James Buchanan” on his cup.
“Um ....,” a dark-haired woman named Nora says but then stops herself.
“So ...,” a dark-haired woman named Tatum clears her throat.
“OK, I’m just going to say it,” a dark-haired woman named Blake whispers loudly. “This is my first time at a Golden Corral.”
Tatum nods. “Yeah. Me too.”
Nora looks to make sure the producers can’t hear them. “I’m not going to lie, I thought this was catering for the crew. They said dress for a group date with the governor at one of his favorite restaurants.”
Blake leans in. “I think this is it.”
“No,” Nora gasps. She looks past the perimeter of the lights and cameras to the steaming trays of Bourbon Chicken and twice-baked potatoes. She seems to mouth the words “soft-serve ice cream” to herself. “But this jumpsuit is Tahari. These shoes are Valentino. I maxed out my Nordstrom card.”
“Definitely don’t tell him that,” Tatum says. “I heard one of the producers say he’s a frisky conservative.”
“Fiscal conservative. Not frisky. But speaking of that,” Blake says. “I really didn’t know who Mark Sanford was before my agent asked me to audition for the show—”
“Same,” Tatum says.
“Me neither,” Nora says, appearing distracted by her thoughts. “So ... there’s no wine here.”
“I Googled him,” Blake continues. “He’s that governor who went hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Do you remember?”
“I am NOT the outdoorsy type,” Tatum says. “I really hope we don’t have to do that.”
“No. He wasn’t actually hiking—,” Blake starts to explain, but gets cut off by a producer who approaches their table.
“OK, ladies. The governor is almost finished filming at the buffet. We’ll start back up in a second,” he says before handing a stack of dollar bills to Tatum. “This is the tip you’ll have to leave on the table after Gov. Sanford walks away.”
“Wait. Shouldn’t he leave the tip?” Tatum asks.
“Yes, of course. And he will leave one,” the producer says, holding up one finger and arching his eyebrows. He bends toward the table and whispers. “Trust me. You’re going to have to add that money to what he puts down.”
The women look at each other quizzically.
“OK, people. Quiet on the set ...”
Sanford walks up to the table.
“Hello,” he says, shaking the women’s hands. “Nora? Hi, nice to see you. I’m Mark. Tatum? Pleasure to see you. Mark. Blake? Good to see you. Thank you for joining me on this, uh, group date tonight. I hope you brought your appetites.”
He sits and begins to roll up the sleeves of his blue gingham shirt.
“Oh dear,” Blake says with a laugh, touching his right arm flirtatiously. “You have a rip in the elbow, Mark.”
Sanford smiles but doesn’t seem bothered.
“So,” he asks the trio, “am I crazy to be running against President Trump?”
They laugh but stop when they realize he’s searching their faces for the answer.
“I mean, this is America,” Tatum says, hesitantly. “It’s a free country. Even if you don’t win, you’ll, um—”
Sanford smiles. “Tatum?”
“I’d like to share some thoughts with you, Tatum, if I may ...,” he puts down his fork. “Do you know what’s coming our way?”
“Uh ....,” Tatum looks to Blake for help. Blake’s got nothing. “The ... the waitress?”
Sanford shakes his head. “A financial storm! There is a big storm coming this way. Our founding fathers did not intend for us to carry this much debt; debt that is owned by foreign governments. I have long made noise on this front, and this is why I decided to run for president. Growing up on the coast of South Carolina, I have learned you have got to be ready for a storm.”
He pauses to take a bite of steak.
“Oh,” Tatum says. The director silently encourages her to keep talking. “Right. So ... um, Mark. What do you do for fun?”
“I am a broken vessel who enjoys reflecting on my regrets,” he tells her, “... but my true love is balancing budgets.”
He points to a rib on his plate. “And cutting pork. If I might add further perspective to what I was saying just a minute ago. We need to begin a national conversation —”
Sanford looks irritated.
His assistant comes over with a producer. They speak to him quietly. “OK. OK,” he says. “I thought that’s what I was doing.”
“Quiet on the set! Go.”
“I’d like to get to know each of you,” Sanford says to the three women, looking slightly to his left where his assistant is standing off-camera. “You seem like fine women with strong values. When I considered the idea of searching for a first lady, I was apprehensive, naturally. But, if I may put this in Gettysburg terms —”
Sanford gets a hard stare from the director.
“Quiet on the set! Go!”
“I’d like to get to know each of you,” Sanford begins again. “I would say the qualities I am looking for in a long-term mate are smarts, energy and work ethic. Nora, how do you spend your money?”
Sanford gives the director a grim look. “Can I get a sentence out, please?”
“You are on a date, Governor. A date! Think romance. Think love. You are looking for love. For the White House.”
“What have I been doing for the past 10 minutes? I have been sharing my thoughts. A national debate is a terrible thing to waste —”
“— Quiet on the set! Go!”
Sanford takes a breath and musters a smile. “You all look extraordinary.”
The director relaxes.
“Blake, that’s a very nice color on you. You know, that reminds me, the prettiest days are the ones before the hurricane comes. Did you know that we are sitting on a powder keg of debt in Washington? It was Newton who said that for every reaction there is an opposite reaction. As I said, a big financial storm is coming our way, the likes of which we have never seen. It seems like it’s a sunny day, but a $22 trillion deficit is not a sunny day by anyone’s measure. Tatum, do you know what the largest spending category of our government is?”
“Interest! It’s interest! We spend more on interest than we do on children!”
The women pick at their chicken fingers.
“Markets don’t do politics,” he says. “I have a unique perspective on this, and it’s been a long-fought philosophical hill for me.”
He chuckles and pauses before sharing his next thought. Would they like to hear my ideas on Jeffersonian conservatism next or is the codification of sequesters more appropriate?
It’s then that he notices the director staring at him and holding a lighter to a hundred-dollar bill.
“Anyway, I recommend the dinner rolls,” Sanford says quickly. “My assistant has Zip-Loc bags. If you’d like to take anything home with you tonight, consult with her. It’s all-you-can-eat here. Dessert comes with the price of dinner. Please, help yourself.”