The Cost of Defying the President

The New Yorker 

A group of air-traffic controllers, their wives, and kids, we carry signs emblazoned with the logo of PATCO, the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, and chant a medley of protest slogans most of us are learning for the first time. "United," we cry, "we will never be defeated." We are the only two black people in the group, but this isn't why we stand out. "I take it you're not in this for the sport!" he shouts. And when he throws his hands up and cries, "What, and leave show business?" he brandishes his placard like a spear. "Figure it out," he tells me when he mistakes the look on my face for confusion. Of everyone here, I'm the one who has the least trouble deciphering his private meanings. As the world's leading scholar on Gregory Pardlo, Sr., I know these pronouncements he's polished, these homemade koans impenetrable to reason, that were once the punch lines of tired jokes. The jokes themselves are vestigial. He no longer needs them, confident his enemies will notice the deft lacerations of his wit in some later moment of quiet reflection. Uncharacteristically reckless now, he heaves them with neither accuracy nor discrimination at the passing traffic. Highway grit settles across my brow and our picket line warps in the heat. Although many cars honk in solidarity with the air-traffic-controller strike, odds are the honk will precede a driver's flipping us the bird. Nothing, though, causes me to question the righteousness of our mission. In this, at least, I hold my father infallible. Sun catches in the penumbra of his hair when he turns to face me, and I squint until I fit into his shadow.