Alicia Brewer sat in an on-campus fast food restaurant eating a veggie burger and drinking coffee. She was a well-known college activist: President and founder of the Chalmerstown College Social Justice Uplifters Society, a group dedicated to correcting society's evils and showing people the errors of their ways.
"Miss Brewer," a tall, well-dressed young man said, approaching her table, "Might I have a word with you?"
"Of course," the pale, denim-clad blonde replied.
"My name is Mark Henry. I'm with the college's Evangelical club." He sat down, across the table from Alicia. "I've been reading your brochures and think we might pool our energies into vital issues."
"I see issues we disagree on," she said. "Women's reproductive rights, for one."
He smiled. "We can overlook those," he said. "There are more important issues at hand. We can agree with you on opposing the racism many here -- students, teachers, and administration harbor, but the amoral atmosphere that permeates this school is our principal concern."
"Hormones," Alicia said with a sigh. "I hope you don't expect me to be a virgin."
"Well," Mark Henry said, disappointment in his voice, "another thing we can overlook for now. I do notice your group hasn't been waving any rainbow flags."
"I tried joining the campus LGBTQ chapter," she admitted shaking her head. "But their membership requirements are, shall we say, not to my tastes."
A confused look came over Mark Henry's face. "Please explain."
"I'm an attractive woman," Alicia said with pride. "All of their ... er ...membership..." She grimaced. "I couldn't see me ... er ... gross!"
"And if they were better maintained?" the question taking on a lewd tone.
"I'd rather not think about it."
He nodded his head, apparently still thinking about it.
"Besides, I don't understand how no more than ten percent of the total population of the country can have nearly half of school's enrollment."
"The statistics are confusing," he admitted. "So what is your biggest fish to fry?"
"Ugh," she coughed. "What a disgusting term. I much prefer tofu."
He winced, "Sorry, an unfortunate experience with the bean curd."
"Preferable to what meat is about."
"Er ... your most pressing issue, then?"
"Lester's Deli," she replied. "Besides selling dead animal, last week they falsely accused a black ... er ... person of color of stealing a jar of mustard."
"I read about that. Curtis Jordan, wasn't it?"
"We are boycotting the store and the Dean's office for refusing to speak out on this outrage."
Three Black students, one holding a basketball, approached. Alicia walked over to the curb and crossed the street. The three Black students looked at her, one with a scowl on his face and the other two pointing and laughing.
"Problematic," Henry said, crossing with her. "The Lester family are regular church-goers."
"If you can overlook my being vegan, I'll overlook your being Christian."
He smiled and nodded his head.
A few days later, Mark Henry saw the protesters standing around the Admission Office, listening to the Dean finally supporting the protests, urging students and faculty to boycott the deli.
He recognized another of the protesters and motioned for both her and Alicia to join him. "Have you two met?" he asked. They both shook their heads. "Well, Alicia, this is Quinn Aniston."
"No," the chubby blonde said in a seemingly Pavlovian reaction. "No relation to that slutty actress. I swear one line on the dumb show of hers and everyone asks me if I'm going commando. How disgusting."
"That was ages ago," Alissa said with a soft chuckle.
"Before I was even born," Quinn stated. "But the damage was done."
"Quinn is another group leader in my group."
"So why are you protesting?" Alissa asked, noticing despite her weight and stated modesty, Quinn seemed to enjoy wearing low-cut dresses.
"Gathering information," Quinn replied. "I'm sure the protests are part of a bigger movement. One to destroy the university."
"Didn't Columbia survive the 1968 riots? I remember a teacher who was a student back then."
"So the elite media would have you believe. But can we be sure any college survived the '60s? Other than places for radical indoctrination?"
"But what about Curtis Jordan?"
"Probably BLM. A snake in the grass, just waiting to cause trouble. We're seeing Portland and Seattle burnt to the ground. An election stolen by a doddering old fool. The country going to hell."
Mark nodded in agreement. "A saintly man and loving husband robbed of his rightful office."
"By a conniving pedophile, no less." Quinn added.
Alicia excused herself as it was time for class. She felt unsure of her new allies, but realized there is strength in numbers -- particularly those with the loudest mouths.
After another week of protests, she saw a sign on the deli's window "Going Out of Business," it read. She ran to her off-campus apartment and went online. "WE WON!!!" she posted.
But by time she got back on campus, there was a crowd. Curtis Jordan was standing there where a microphone and PA system was being set up. She waited for him to take the microphone.
"Y'all," he said, tears running down his cheek, "let me say how sorry I am. The Lesters are fine people. I don't know why I did it, but I saw that jar of hot German mustard sitting there and I took it. I never meant to put the deli out of business. If they decide to press charges, I'll pay the fine. All I can say is I'm so, so sorry."
Dazed, Alicia walked over to Mark and Quinn.
"Obviously the store is paying him off," Quinn said.
"They're going out of business," Alicia insisted.
"Oh, don't be such a sheeple," Quinn huffed. "This just shows how badly the system is broken."
"Do research! Don't trust the lame-stream media."
"Where do you find this information?"
Quinn's face went red. "Who are you to question me! A war is going on and you have to take a side -- the animals or the righteous."
"Amen!" Mark added, paying more attention to Quinn's cleavage than her statements.
But instead of going out of business, the deli sued the University. A $5,000,000 settlement allowed them not only to stay open but to build a dining area with booths and tables.
"I don't believe it," Quinn said at the next Uplifters' meeting. "The school should have held their ground, and what's his name, Jordan should have sued for more money."
"Isn't that contradictory?" Alicia asked. "Your positions seem to be all over the place."
"My positions do not reflect who I really am," Quinn replied, irritation in her voice.
"You never seem to let people know who you really are," Alicia countered.
"My private life," Quinn said, grabbing the edge of the table as if about to stand, "is just that. There is so much to do. This fake pandemic,"
"There are a lot of deaths."
"Babies!" she cried, seeming to break down. "Babies eaten by Hollywood elites. Those are your dead. The rest is just fake news."
"Do you agree?" Alicia asked Mark.
"It's complicated," was all he could answer.
Alicia walked past Lester's Deli the next day and was surprised to see Curtis Jordan inside, working to install a booth. "Didn't think I'd ever see you in here," she remarked.
"The Lesters are good people," he said, standing up and changing the battery pack on the yellow, electric screwdriver he was using. "I paid for the mustard, we chatted, and they dropped charges and they offered me a job here."
"But they're so conservative."
"The problem isn't one's politics," he said, tightening a flathead bit into place.
"What is then?"
"It's when you start putting people into tiny boxes to fit your biases. You dehumanize them and lose some of your own humanity."
Alicia shrugged her shoulders, suddenly lost in her own thoughts. She thought about Mark Henry, superficially devout but lecherous, she could imagine him a future pastor forced to resign after a sex scandal. Quinn who only knew what she hated with no idea of what she liked, attending rallies with a swastika tattoo on her upper arm.
And then she had to look at herself and her own humanity. How quickly she was triggered by trivial matters. How her recent life latched onto whatever outrage her peers were feeling. How much of all she had become was just a pose.
"So," she asked, reemerging from the depths of her mind and looking over at Curtis, "how's the corned beef here?"