The President In His Labyrinth
We call up the cooks in the morning, tell them what to cook, simple as that. Donelson brought cards. I brought Mousetrap. I admit, I was aware of the President’s taste in that regard. Appropriate responses result from constant supervision. He says: “Only a matter of time now.” Inscrutable vignettes of that sort. The curtains are kept drawn. We explain, in the unlikely event that some “Oswald” had his sights on the Blue Room window, he, the President, would be a goner, aerated to the tune of a .50 caliber bullet. Is that what you want, we ask him. Wild world out there. Hard to get by on a smile. Except now you’ve stopped smiling altogether. Don’t mention the crowds outside with their signs and megaphones, it would deflate him to a heretofore unseen low.
We were under scrutiny on account of our wars: Were they just? Were they prudent? Were they over? Our answers were invariably a mix of Yes and No. Always a personal pride of the President, his position in regard to pussyfootin’: the Yes, Yes; the No, No. Though sometimes a Yes becomes a No with the passage of time. He has his reasons for not discussing the wars. They’re not his wars, he reasons. The world does not respond to Reductionism, why should he? On that note: he is tired of seeing his face on those three-color prints with the single word of inspiration. Couldn’t the Public instead come to know and appreciate his complexities?
His father, this morning in a telephone call:
“. . . our policies came out of old-fashioned sweat and conviction… the Administration was a ‘tight ship,’ no women allowed in the Blue Room… I was a beacon of light for you to follow, now this disgrace… must I come fix this myself… livid, absolutely livid!”
We have begun to fear the “Oswald” scenario might be precisely the outlet he seeks. It throws a big fat wrench in the works, his role being key in the smooth-sailing of the Administration, the country even. We say: “The Administration is an enormous clock. The President, a cog, bigger than the other cogs. You might call that one cog the chief component — ”
He asks: “Does the office of President retain its relevance?”
The President tells us he misses his bicycle, the morning rides to the sub shop where he was first employed he tells us, he aches, he explains, for the simplicity. How to respond? Donelson speaks up, says things move in circles, cyclical movement, you’ll soon be back to your cycling, after reelection that is, back to the sub shop, gone the spleen and repellant, things go in cycles, and faster with the technology, we used to see it every forty years, now every twenty or so, maybe, we probably haven’t gotten around the cycle yet —
We noticed these cycles forming after a series of breathtaking failures: the sex scandal, the second sex scandal, the wife leaving, then the wars, all the scrutiny that went along with those, the accusations of incompetence, of incomprehensibility, of greenness, of pigheadedness, of being out-of-touch-with-the-common-man, then the financial troubles, the deficit, the national deficit, then the personal deficit, his divorce was costing him, his children were costing him, his liquor was costing him, he was gaining weight, losing weight, losing hair, wandering off into vacant rooms, the Green Room, the Red Room, the Bed Room, then the day we caught him on the roof… he tried to smile, said he needed the air. We said nothing, hinted at nothing. ‘Twas the “last straw,” he knew. He resigned himself to the further intrusion, didn’t question the confiscation of his ties and belts and medication. Didn’t question Donelson’s sleeping in the queen with him, brawny Donelson, holding him tightly around the waist. We had no recourse. We could only raise our eyebrows to tell each other, yes, we both know what this signifies, what the sign is, the meaning of the sign, this clear and present danger, yes, we are all embarrassed for him, his selfishness, his abandonment of office, his ineffectuality as a public servant, but it won’t help one bit to start bitching, we’re all in this together, don’t forget that.
Boundaries were sharply defined in prior times. The truth not approximated, but attained. The President displayed the proper comportment. He was known, by way of diction, to reassign value to the American People, effected with phrases delivered in public, such as everyone is an ant, a little trick used to denote smallness, insignificance, or if he wished rather to demonstrate the opposite he might use the Common Man: Backbone of America, something like that maybe. I began to feel these had grave connotations concerning my own private sphere. He instructed us in the use of Cliché: “In the wrong hands, Cliché is a formidable weapon. In the right hands it is a disappointment.” He explained to us his Method (which would surely cinch him a second term, would he only shake off this “funk”). His hands were tracing lines in the air. “Opponent effects Data… Fletcher-Munson… Sample and Hold… play it always to your advantage close to the chest the quartile the percentile… following Data termed ‘Thesis’ the extension of Further Premises ensuring strong presence of second order harmonics, preservation of Sequence essential to intelligibility (-6 dB for every doubling of distance)… Antithetical proven by way of Further Premises, Data rejected, then the Metaphysical Turn — ”
“And then the River,” Donelson offered.
“No, first Aporia. Then the River.”
Love won out, of course. We learned to act unashamed, to be unruffled by anyone’s questions, not to be ruffled by the media in particular. The President still has his responsibilities, the foreign dignitaries, press conferences, the famous State of the Union. Our job is to make these duties a little more bearable. A balancing act, really. We wrote this song for him:
Sometimes I wonder ‘bout the State of th’Union
It’s a mighty confusion
It’s a mighty thing to think about
Sometimes I wonder ‘bout the State of th’Union
It’s a mighty thing to think about
This gets him through the writer’s block. The writers have writer’s block and this little song we wrote gets him through. We’re at his side for the Mounting of the Pulpit, except Donelson who holds him tightly around the waist from behind. The President then begins to weep, during which it is our acknowledged responsibility to weep louder. PR comes and goes, the cabinets refuse to close.
Field trip Wednesday. The President had some kind of Fruity Martini. Donelson kept reaching over his Ron Collins to reapply the mustache. I wet his arm on purpose with my Caipirinha. I whispered in the President’s ear: “I will be your confidant.” Another round was called for. People were pointing: “There’s the President.” The mustache was long lost, stuck on the underside of a shoe. The President drank his Adonis. Donelson gulped his Duck Fart. I nursed the King of Beers. The President snuffed his Sherris-Sack. Donelson swallowed his Pißwasser Pils. I quaffed the Grog Ration. The President aerated his Sangiovese. The President garnished his Dry Vermouth with a Pickled Onion. The President stirred his Vesper with a Celery Stick. The President poured his Jägerbomb over the BC powder and shaped his hand into a gun.
— Drap yer wepin. Leave the waitress on the mattress.
People were pointing: “The President is crying.” Then: “He’s gone into the women’s restroom.” It was required that I enter, foot up against the door, entreating, will you come home now, you’ve had quite the night, high time we got going, big day tomorrow, oh look at the time will you, high time we got going, answered with a tremendous collapse, my sleeve wet and hot with the wet discharge from his sobs and the hot hot breath of his spasms, Donelson forcing up against the door shouting what’s taking you so long, meanwhile I softly stroke the brow grown larger by way of presidential burden.
What is justice, he gasps.
We are no closer to answering that question than before.
Outside, the others gather.
What did he tell you, they ask.
— Nothing. We hugged.
How did it feel, they ask.
— Like pumice.
Donelson must be jealous. Must be jealous. Must be.
How to live in a place with all its parking lots paved and everything already thought of? Does the office of President retain its relevance? I am uncertain some nights. There is the question of what I can “bring to the table.” The feeling that maybe someone else can do the same job, only better, fresher, along with the much needed idiosyncrasies. We are concerned with positive artistic contributions. But how can one confidently assess? If people perhaps felt less strongly about things, if their “gut” was acknowledged as a driving force to their opinions — not eradicated, but acknowledged, strengthened even — I might feel less uneasy being unable to form an image by which to act. We must act regardless. Some impending horror has its grip on the collective psyche. The President as prototype, front guard, canary. There was this tidbit from Newsweek: “The man is a hieroglyph.” We found that to be true. We’ve been vigilant. If he escapes, we always bring him back. When he weeps, we dry his cheeks. We’ve been holed up in the Blue Room thirty-nine days now. Donelson brought cards. I brought Mousetrap. I admit, I was aware of the President’s taste in that regard.
The game is ready when he wants it. He’ll want it set up on the bedspread, he’ll call dibs on the blue mouse for its significance, he’ll want Yusuf on the intercom, he’ll request his genuflection. You might think we let him win. Maybe cause the trap to misfire when his piece is on the cheese wheel. Maybe hide the cheese up our sleeves, to be revealed at the proper time. But certain emotions must find their outlet of expression. I’m not saying we’re proud of it. Cross-legged, he will loose an interminable belch of a sigh. “Look at you, enamored with your dread,” I will want to say, but probably will not say it.
Time for bed, Donelson intimates. Which puts me on a cot in the hallway while Donelson holds the President by the waist in the deep deep of the queen bed. Had a long day, says Donelson. Probably won’t feel like getting up in the morning, says Donelson.
(Dream where I jump in front of the President. I “take a bullet” for the President. Had the dream plenty before but this time falling toward the floor hole in the chest I feel the blood draining out not goodwill nor gratitude flooding in and he sinks to his knees and wails but who are you where was Donelson I wanted Donelson!)
Not thinking about the President in particular, more the concept embodied: the president who can’t handle by the lowest of standards, the one to cultivate, to water-wing, in whom we might instill the self-confidence of a nation in regress — it’s not something I should share, probably. For the general well-being of the nation. I flinched at the last moment, just when it might have made a difference. We are concerned with positive artistic contributions. But the dream, the new American dream, with the beautiful woman on the dock, and you, approaching her from behind, all manner of cloud and color in attendance, no description left unparsed, metaphysical turn close at hand, and her answer, you already knowing her answer — well, that erases some of these concerns. Still: my ear against the keyhole.
— You two let me win, didn’t you? Bits of cheese up your sleeves…
— Don’t be ridiculous.
— Does the office of President retain its relevance?
— Of course. Go to sleep.
— They no longer allow us to bring horses into battle, not anymore.
— They never allowed you to bring in the horses.
— And the gold records…
— I’ve seen them.
— You’re not listening, are you? You don’t grasp my thrust?
— Yes. Not in the slightest. Yes.
— Office begets Importance?
— Importance begets Fragility?
— I don’t know about that.
— Fragility begets Irrelevance?
— You’re putting words in my mouth.
— There’s the question of what I can “bring to the table.”
— I told you to forget that question.
— You don’t consider me… inadequate?
— I hope you don’t expect me to answer that.
— I don’t guess I could expect you to answer that.
—You know what they say. Suffer unto truth.
—Do they still say it?
— You know what they say. Kill your darlings.
No, he says. You don’t kill them. You care for them.
This anecdote from early in his career: A waiter (of no political consequence) served breakfast to the President at an Aspen diner. Years later, the President returned and greeted him by name. That left an impression.