This now-famous picture jogged a memory, which eventually led me to make an unsubstantiated and uncharitable judgment of the woman in the forefront, Kellyanne Conway. This photo has unleashed the judge in all of us. Just check Twitter, which is awash in criticism of Kellyanne’s despoiling of our national couch.
My initial reaction to this photo was, “Why doesn’t she have a hair stylist?” I didn’t really notice that she had made herself uncomfortably comfortable in the Oval Office.
Once the photo hit the fan, though, the mainstream media, as well as the general public on Twitter and Facebook, were up in arms over her lack of respect for the president … and his sofa. This was surprising to me considering that we live in a very relaxed society where pretty much anything goes, and respect for a person or his or her office is usually offered posthumously, if at all. In fact, President Trump is the recipient of far more public disrespect than respect but, for some reason, his couch is considered off-limits.
Anyway, I began to see this photo on Facebook along with my friends’ and their friends’ comments. One that struck me was: “Trump is banging her.” That hadn’t occurred to me until that moment, but I immediately decided it was true. “She was marking her territory by kneeling on that couch,” I thought. “Regular employees would never take such liberties.”
I soon regretted my conclusion, but here is my justification for reaching it: Years ago, I was hired to edit a book that would be published by the company that hired me. The author, Joe, was probably brilliant, but his tiresome personality overshadowed his talents. He was the poster boy for narcissism. He had no time for anyone’s opinion but his own. If you disagreed with him, or even had the temerity to talk when he wanted to speak, he would shout your name over and over until you stopped talking. Then he’d speak for an eternity on whatever the subject was. Without going into too much detail, for fear of a lawsuit, I will say that he was difficult to work for. Fortunately, I was able to avoid seeing him too much. Generally, he hand-wrote his book all night long, and the next day I would pick up the pages, take them home, type them up, and then edit the pages.
I did have to come into the office occasionally, though, on the days that Joe conducted interviews with people in his profession. On an interview day, I would take an old-fashioned cassette recorder into the room and tape the interview. After the interview, I would transcribe the tape into a Question-and-Answer format and give the pages to Joe to approve, or improve upon. The interviews followed the same pattern: Joe would ask a question, the interviewee would answer, and then Joe would often decide that he had a better answer to his question. He would then answer his own question and tell me to say that the interviewee said it. If the interviewee objected, Joe would say, “That’s what you meant.” Every person who was interviewed left the room shaking his or her head.
On the day of the last interview, Joe and I were sitting in the conference room waiting for the woman he was interviewing to arrive. It was morning so he was having his usual breakfast of a Yoo-hoo and a family-sized bag of M&Ms. He also had a few large bags of chips on his desk. The woman to be interviewed arrived. Her name was Jennifer and she was tall and slim, with wavy blonde hair and green eyes. She was dressed in a conservative gray jacket and skirt, and black pumps.
The author introduced himself and she introduced herself to him and to me. Jennifer put her briefcase down on the floor beside her chair and the interview began. Joe began asking her questions and supplying her answers. She initially tried to correct Joe, but he shouted her name until she became quiet. Joe told me what her responses were to his questions. Finally, Jennifer’s patience snapped and she said, “That’s NOT what I said or what I meant.” Joe said that if she didn’t like how he was doing the interview, she could forget about being in his book. This seemed like bullying to me, but she agreed to let him answer for her with long, convoluted, hard-to-comprehend responses. This went on for awhile. I guess she got bored because she kicked off her shoes and put her feet on the office chair next to her. Bored or not, this struck me as odd. What was even odder was that she then reached across the table and stuck her hand into his bag of M&Ms. He told her to keep her hands off his candy but she just laughed and pulled out a large handful and ate them. Then she grabbed one of his bags of chips and opened them.
At this point, I felt like I had missed something. How had this buttoned-up professional woman who didn’t know Joe quickly become comfortable enough with him to kick off her shoes and help herself to his food? There was definitely a puzzle piece missing.
Joe decided to ignore Jennifer’s antics and went back to interviewing her and supplying her answers. This continued until Joe asked and began to answer a question that Jennifer must have really wanted to respond to in her own words, because she interrupted him mid-response. “I would never say that,” she said. “My answer to that question would be —”
“This is the right answer,” Joe interrupted, “and it’s what’s going in the book … if I decide to let you be in the book.”
Jennifer looked like she was going to explode with frustration. “I’m going to the bathroom,” Jennifer said. She put her shoes on and left the office. Joe then proceeded to go insane.
“How dare she leave the room? That is so insulting! I’m cutting her out of the book right now. By leaving the room she is not showing me the respect I deserve. I’ve had it with her!” he ranted and raved.
This was a freelance job for me, and while I was being well-paid, I had my limits. “You are a bully,” I said to him. “She has every right to leave to use the bathroom.” I told him.
Joe was startled. “I am not a bully! By leaving, she is being disrespectful to me!” he screamed.
“You left to use the bathroom earlier,” I said. “Why can’t she do the same thing?”
Joe sputtered. “Don’t take up for her! I’m the one paying you, and if you don’t like it here, then leave!”
“Fine,” I said, resignedly. Working with him had been exhausting, like working in an emotional minefield. I got up and went to my desk and started organizing my notes and cassette tapes for him. I showed him where everything was and I left.
As I was in the staircase, going downstairs to the exit, the door above me opened and a frantic Jennifer ran out. “Where are you going?” she asked.
“I quit because of the horrible way he treated you, me, and everyone else he works with.” I said.
“No, you can’t quit!” she said, panicked.
“I already did,” I said.
She looked stricken. “I can’t have him mad at me because you quit,” she said. “Please come back. Please,” she begged.
I was confused. What was going on? Why did she care so much if he was mad at her? She must really want to be in this book, I thought.
“I can’t go back. I already quit,” I said.
She reached out, grabbed my arm and started pulling me up the stairs. “Yes, you can. It’ll be fine. I’ll smooth it over.”
My mind reeled. Did I even want to go back, other than for the pay? And could I even go back, since I had told Joe off and then left?
By the time I had had these thoughts, I was back upstairs in the office. Jennifer urged me into the conference room. Despite her assurance to smooth things over, she stood outside the room. It was just me and Joe. He looked up from the papers he was reading. “Jennifer asked me not to quit,” I said.
“Okay,” he said. “Let’s get back to work. Jennifer, who was listening outside the door, came back in.
“I think you owe us a pizza,” she said to Joe.
“Fine,” he said. “You order it.”
“Give me your credit card,” she said. He handed it over.
Later, looking back on this incident, I realized that they were having an affair. When she kicked off her shoes and dove into his candy bag (double entendre intended), she was marking her territory, i.e., letting me know that she was more than a stranger being interviewed. I don’t know why she wanted me to know. I was no threat; I shy away from insane people, and I take my marriage vows more seriously than she took hers. In fact, they were both married and, hence, their initial pretense of never having met. They weren’t very good at subterfuge, however, since everyone in the office suspected that they were more than acquaintances. Their dysfunctional relationship became even more apparent over the next few weeks, as Joe kicked her out of the book, put her back in, and then kicked her out again. The final version of the book had her in it, but by that time, I was finished with that job, and glad to be. I only discovered her presence in the book when I was sent a copy.
This all brings me back to the picture that launched a million tweets. When I considered the photo against my previous experience, I decided that Kellyanne was, by tucking her feet into the couch’s cushions, also marking her territory and disclosing, with body language, that she was very comfortable with President Trump.
The next day, however, when she was criticized in the press for putting her feet on the royal couch, she said that she was only trying to get a good angle for the photograph of so many people. Then I saw the other photographs and it made sense. She probably sat on that couch all day long and didn’t think twice about sitting on it in front of all of the president’s guests. And, since she was trying to fit them all into a frame on her camera, she had to find the best vantage point, even if it involved kneeling on the couch. She might have even been told to go over to the couch to take the picture. It does seem like the best place to take the picture from.
Once I saw the picture below, and all of the smiling people near her who appreciated her efforts and didn’t seem taken aback by her behavior, I was kind of abashed at my agreement with the Facebook commenter who sent my mind on a trip to the gutter.
I learned two valuable lessons, though: 1) A picture might be worth a thousand words, but those words aren’t always well-intentioned, or even based on facts; and 2) Get all of the facts before passing judgment, or at least all of the pictures.