These are coworkers and neighbors who work and live in Irene, Iowa.  Population 1,000.  They work at a Button factory.  They will do anything for their community and neighbors.  They do not always see eye to eye.  But they are friends—even in this divisive political time.  See how they go about things. 

Enjoy Part 1 of The Button Factory.



The five sat at a table in the break room at The Button Factory.  Four of them were waiting for Theresa to speak.  Theresa slid her finger down a yellow legal pad and sighed.  The other four looked at one another.  A few checked their watches.  Theresa did not notice them.  She wrote something on the pad with a pencil.

“Oh, For Pete’s Sake, Theresa,” John said.  “We only have twelve minutes left of our break.  At the rate you’re going, the debate will have come and gone.  Surely it can’t take this much prep.”  The rest of the group mumbled in agreement. 

John was one of the carvers at The Button Factory.  He carved from scratch any button that was a specialty item.  There were no expensive machines or fancy computers in the cravers’ area of the shop.  John and his coworkers took pride in their artistic skills.  He was one of the workers that helped The Button Factory land well-paying accounts.  He was thirty-five, lean and a runner.  He was married with a three-year-old daughter.  And he was supposed to call his wife on one of his breaks to see how she felt.  She had a head cold or allergies all weekend.

“Look,” Theresa said and tossed the legal pad on the table.  “If one of you feels like you can do a better job at planning this Debate Party be my guest.”  She looked at them.  A few rolled their eyes.  “I’ll gladly relinquish this pressure role of being the planner to one of you.”  She scanned their faces.  “What?  No takers?  Then let me think this through.”

The rest of them looked in different directions.  Not letting Theresa catch them. 

Theresa was forty-two and married.  A mother of three.  She was around five-eleven and solidly built.  Her hair was red.  At times it looked unwieldy.  But no one dared to tell her.  She was a shop foreman.  Men and women respected her.  She was quick to stand up for the weak.  She was modern-day Rosie the Riveter.       

“Come on, Theresa, we’re talking about a debate between two old white guys who want to tell everyone what to do,” Danny said.  “They’re in their seventies.  What happened to having a young president?  These old men.”    

“Are you kidding me?” Joy asked.  She was thirty-six and divorced.  She was petite and attractive with tattoos up both arms.  Her attitude was strong and in your face.  She rarely minced words.  What she said was what she meant.  And she rarely apologized for it.

Danny looked confused.

“Look at you,” Joy said. 

Danny was forty-eight and a ballroom dancer when he was not working on the lathe.  He had a small frame.  He was married.  No children.  His wife was bossy and gruff.  The women at the factory said she was much too pretty for him.  They teased him that she was a mail-order bride.  His coworkers believed he was gay.  And that he was only married because he did not want to reveal his true self.

“Why?” Danny asked.  “What’s wrong with me?  What are you saying?  What are you talking about?  Asking me am I kidding.  What does that mean?”  Joy smirked at him.  “You want to say something?”

“You know I do,” Joy said.

“Say it,” Danny said.

The others started mumbling and saying, “Don’t.”  “We don’t need to go there.”  “We’re planning a Presidential Debate Party.”  “Let’s not bicker.”

“You, of all people, should want Joe Biden to win,” Joy said to Danny.  “You, Mr. Ballroom dancer.”

John rubbed his hand over his face.  He knew what was coming.  Carl, fifty-eight, who was responsible for cleaning the buttons, closed his eyes.  When he was not at the factory, he spent most of his days hunting.  It was where he wished he was now.  The argument was about to start.         

“And?” Danny asked.  “And what?”

“Republicans don’t like gays,” Joy said.  Danny gasped.  “Don’t play that with us.  We know who you are.  You should be pulling for the Democrats.  They’re an accepting party.”

“I’m not gay for your information,” Danny said.  “I’m married.  I wish you people would stop thinking that.  You’re small-minded.  I’m married.”

“In title only,” Carl mumbled through clenched teeth and grinned. 

John raised his eyebrows and looked down. 

Danny shot Carl a stare.  “Just because I don’t shoot innocent animals and hang out with white supremacists doesn’t mean I’m gay.” 

Carl told him he was lucky he did not come over that table and break him like a pretzel.  “Where do you get off calling me a racist?” Carl asked.  “I never called you gay.  Joy said that.”  Danny told him he heard what he said.  “What if you are gay?  Who cares?  I’d still take you hunting if you wanted to go.  You told me you wanted to go.  But then you backed out.  You may not be gay.  But you’re wimpy.  And just because I said that it doesn’t make me a racist or a homophobe.  Ask John.  He’s gone hunting with me.  Am I a racist?”

“That’s rich,” Danny said.  “You’re going to use the ‘I have black friends defense.’  We’ve all heard that before.  Normally from people who are trying to hide who they are.”

“Guys,” John said.  “Stop this.  If Danny says he’s not gay, he’s not gay.  If Carl says he’s not a racist, he’s not a racist.  So what that he has that big handlebar mustache.  And he is six feet tall and built like a building.  Scares the hell out of little kids.  Scared Leena to death.”  Leena was John’s daughter.   “And so what that he wears those black leathers when he rides his gigantic Harley Davison Motorcycle.  And his boots remind you of what they wore in Germany in 1942.  And just because he has that confederate flag that he wears on his sleeve, it doesn’t make him a racist.  And he’s gone out with that black woman I introduced him to.  Do you still have that flag?”

Carl squinted at John.  “Go to hell, John,” Carl said.  John laughed.  So did the others.  “That was never a confederate flag.  You know damn well…”

“I’m just messing with you,” John said.  Carl pointed his finger at him.

“All of you just made me write up the guidelines,” Theresa said.  “If we’re going to watch the debate together, I repeat what I said last week.  We’re going to be respectful of one another.  We all know who we’re voting for.  I think everyone here knows who each of us is voting for.  So be respectful.”

“I hope everyone knows I’m voting for Trump,” John said.  Everyone at the table looked at him.  “What?  Joe Biden isn’t in business.”

“Trump’s a horrible businessman,” Carl said.  “And Biden is for the unions.  He’s for the workers.  Like us.  And my brothers are in the union.  And my father was in the union.”

“And you’re black,” Danny said to John.  “You can’t vote for Trump.” 

“Says the gay man,” John said.  Danny said he thought John was better than that.  “I thought you were better than that.”    

“I’m voting for Trump too,” Danny said.

“Are you nuts,” Joy said.  Danny squinted at her.  “I’ll work on you when we leave this break area.  And I’m not even going to repeat why you shouldn’t vote for Trump.  You know why.  You wear tight pants.”

Danny scowled at her.  “For the last time, I’m married,” he said.

“Thank you for not repeating it, Joy,” Theresa said.  “Look at the paper and take it to your teams.  The food items under your team are what you’re responsible for.  We’ll meet tomorrow night at Ivan’s.”  Ivan’s was an entertainment warehouse.  “We’ll have about fifty people.  There won’t be much drinking.  This will be educational.  Not a drink fest.  If we argue, we won’t do this again.  Tell your people to be civilized just like we are at work.  Remember, we all live in the same community and neighborhoods.  Don’t make each other mad.”

“Yes, Joy,” Danny said.  Joy shook her fist at him.

“In parting, I just want to say, Go Joe Biden.”  Theresa shook her fist in the air. 

“Go Trump,” Danny said.  Danny put both hands up and pushed them to the sky. 

“Really, Danny,” Joy said and shook her head.  “Stop hiding behind the Donkey.  Will you?”

I hope you enjoyed this story. 

I’ll see you next time with another part.

Take care,

Stephen Wallace

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