The Nixon Interview (Part 5)
Nixon savored the thought a few moments longer, and then let out a deep and truly evil chuckle. "Bruce," he asked, "what is the one thing above all others that American Lefties love to fantasize about?"
I thought it over. "Hillary Clinton in stiletto heels, fishnet stockings, a corset and a whip?"
"Close," he said, no doubt wishing he'd never asked. "The answer is, conspiracies. Vast, complex, right-wing conspiracies. Layers upon layers and wheels within wheels; nefarious unseen masterminds pulling the invisible strings of endless legions of fiercely loyal, selflessly silent, and stone-cold homicidal conservative henchmen." He tried his evil chuckle again, but ended with a shrug.
"I don't know where they get it from," he said. "New Age shamanism, maybe. They imagine a world filled with mysterious powers and invisible forces because they don't have a clue what's really going on. Or maybe it's simple psychological projection. The lefties are always hatching up plots but making a botch of them, so maybe they think we're just like they are, only competent. Of course, anyone who's ever actually tried to work with Republicans soon realizes he'd have more luck trying to organize a conspiracy of cats. It never takes them more than five minutes to get back to arguing over the precise number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin."
He paused, and I tried to slip a word in edgewise, but before I could get it out he erupted again.
"And don't even get me started on all their whacked-out paranoid delusions about right-wing Christian conspiracies! What's that verse from St. Matthew: 'Whenever two or more of you are gathered in My name, there's a schism?'"
He caught himself, relaxed, and let his frown flow back into a smile. "So that's the beauty of this one," he said at last. "It looks terribly clever, but only two people actually need to be in on it. Ergo, without further ado," he looked up at me, smiled again —
I was still reacting to that a second later when all the lights suddenly went out, the room plunged into blackness, and a cold and unearthly wind swirled through my office, scattering papers from my desk. About the same time as I registered that the door and windows were closed and even the LEDs on the battery-powered devices had gone out, I became aware of a dim, red, hellish glow rising up from the floor, and along with that, of a tall, gaunt, black-robed and hooded spectre who now stood in the middle of my office, holding a scythe.
"Hello," the spectre said brightly. "Tonight the part of the Ghost of Elections Yet To Be will be played by — "
"You dick!" I said, none too kindly.
Nixon lost the scythe and threw back his hood. "Hey," he said, "I'm a ghost. I don't get many opportunities like this."
I shook my head. "Do we really need to — "
"Yes! But before we get started, there's a disclaimer: I can't tell you that this is the future. That's against the rules. I can only tell you that this is a future." He took my hand; his grip felt most unremarkably normal and lifelike. "Ready?"
"Too bad!" He swirled his black cape over my head and —
I recognized the place immediately: the Capitol mall in Washington D.C. We were standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, looking at the reflecting pool and the biggest crowd I have ever seen. There were gray-haired matrons with bullhorns trying to lead chants but mostly screeching incoherently; young men in face-paint, bad hair, and tie-dyed shirts staggering around obviously stoned out of their gourds; and pretty young co-eds shoving and elbowing each other out of the way in order to get in front of the TV cameras with their signs that read "STOP THE WAR" and "PEACE NOW!" Somewhere off in the distance I could have sworn I heard Arlo Guthrie singing "Coming into Los Angeles," and somewhere nearby, somebody was smoking a primo spliff.
Nixon, still in his grim reaper outfit, stood next to me, drinking it all in. Clearly, we were invisible and immaterial.
"I thought you were taking me to the future," I said. "Not back to 1969."
"This is the future," Nixon said. "Friday, September 19th, 2008. The war in Iraq is still dragging on. The Iranians have nothing to gain by ending it, so they haven't, but Congress has done its best to tie the President's hands and undercut military funding, so the quagmire continues. Last week the House passed Charlie Rangel's bill reinstating the draft — I ended the draft in 1973, you know — "
"I know," I said. "And thank you. I was 1-H."
" — and this week, a hundred-thousand college students have maxed out their parents' Visa cards to come here and protest. There are rallies like this going on all over the country today. Tonight, some of them will turn into riots. In Ann Arbor, they'll set fire to a police station. In Berkeley, they'll storm and trash a Navy recruiting office. In Seattle, some demented anarchists will catch a disabled Iraq war vet on the street and beat him to death with his own crutches."
"In Madison, they'll completely destroy three McDonalds and a Starbucks. Go figure."
Nixon lifted his arm and pointed across the way. "And yes, that is Arlo Guthrie you hear singing on the stage in the distance. Joan Baez is waiting to go on next, and in two hours, it will give Jane Fonda great pleasure to introduce the headline act, Cat Stevens — excuse me, Yusuf Islam — here to perform his hit song, "I'm being followed by Homeland Security." Nixon grinned. "Would you like to stick around and hear it?"
"Very well." He swirled his black cape overhead, and —
We were standing in the Oval Office, or rather, a set made up to look like the Oval Office. President Bush sat behind the desk, sweltering under the television lights, his hands clenching and unclenching with fierce intensity, while a stage director counted down: "Three, two, one..."
The red light went on. "My fellow Americans," President Bush said. "I come to you tonight with a heavy heart. While I have always worked to uphold the high standards of the office to which you have elected me, the terrible events of the past six days, along with Congress's vote this morning to begin impeachment proceedings, have made it clear that — "
I turned to Nixon. "Resignation speech?"
"Wednesday, September 24, 2008."
"Cheney is still vice-president?"
I nodded. "So the Democrats have about ten minutes of elation coming, and then it's going to hit them: President Cheney."
"Wait. It gets better." Nixon raised his arm, swirled his black cape, and —
This time we didn't seem to move, but everyone else did. President Cheney now sat where President Bush had been sitting a moment before, he had the most smug smile in all Creation on his face, and a desktop calendar that I hadn't noticed before said the date was now Thursday, September 25.
"...to begin the process of healing," Cheney was saying, "and put this long national nightmare behind us, I hereby grant President George W. Bush a full pardon for all crimes, known and unknown, charged and uncharged, real or imaginary, that may or may not have been committed before, during, or after the time he served in the office of President of the United States of America..."
"I thought they were going to tighten up on pardons," I said.
"They talked about it," Nixon said. "But Clinton issued too many Presidential pardons, and in the end they decided they didn't want to deny themselves the possible future use of the pardon power. They never imagined this." He positively beamed in admiration at Cheney for a few moments, and then turned back to me.
"But wait. It gets better still." He raised his arm —
I didn't recognize the office, and I didn't recognize most of the people in the office, but Speaker Pelosi was unmistakable, as she was the purple-faced woman whose eyes were bugging out of her head as she screamed at the top of her lungs.
"JEB BUSH?! HE NOMINATED JEB BUSH TO BE HIS VICE-PRESIDENT?! HE NOMINATED JEB F@@#ING BUSH?!?!?!"
"Brilliant, isn't it?" Nixon said. "He's nominated the one man in America who absolutely and unquestionably will never be confirmed by the current Senate. They'll be playing pond hockey on the Phlegethon before Brother Jeb makes it through the confirmation hearings. And now, the master stroke." He raised his arm, swirled his black cape, and —
I instantly recognized the place, and for the first time, was frozen in fear. Cardiac ICU: been there, done that, never want to do it again. But the man on the gurney was obviously a person of some importance, given the large mob of panic-stricken doctors and nurses that surrounded him.
I turned to Nixon. "Cheney?" He nodded. "Fatal?"
He shook his head. "No, just stress. Or maybe he forgot to take his atenolol. He'll have chest pain and a wildly irregular heartbeat for a few days, and need a few weeks of bed rest, but after that, he'll be just fine."
"A few weeks?" I said. "What's today's date?"
"Sunday, September 28th, 2008."
"And Jeb Bush was never confirmed as VP, was he?"
Nixon shook his head. "Nope."
"Which means we're looking at — "
Nixon nodded. "President Pelosi."
Slowly, I broke into a broad grin. "With just five weeks to go before the election, and Hillary Clinton the official Democratic nominee."
Nixon nodded again. "That's right. Pelosi is in the office; Clinton wants it so bad she can taste it; and the country has entered utterly uncharted constitutional waters. The arena is now booked for The Cat Fight of the Millennium. Prepare your briefs, put your lawyers on danger money, and call the Supreme Court to battle stations." He raised his arm, swirled his black cape, and —
We were back in my office, with the normal lighting restored and Nixon back in his blue suit. In the living room, the mantelpiece clock was softly chiming midnight. Nixon checked his watch.
"Whoops. Time's up. Got to go." He faded out.
"Wait!" I shouted. "You can't leave me like this!"
"Sorry," his voice came back, echoing softly across distances unimaginable. "It's the rules."
"Who wins the election?"
But there was only silence.
And so I'm sitting here, at 1 AM, trying to put an ending on this piece. I have no idea how long it will be before I can talk to Nixon again, if indeed I ever can, and no clear knowledge of what happened on the first Tuesday of November, 2008, in that possible future he was showing me.
But I do have a clue.
It's in a sheet of paper that I picked up off the floor, as I was tidying up the mess in my office. At first I thought it was just another printout off my computer, and the blurred and fading letters suggested it was time to replace my toner cartridge. But then I noticed the date-stamp at the top of the page: June 15, 2009.
Could a bit of litter have blown in from somewhen, when Nixon opened the door to wherever it is he is now?
In any case I won't have this clue for long; the paper seems to be slowly sublimating out of existence right before my eyes and has thus far resisted my best efforts to scan or photograph it. Most of the page is already unreadable. But the content appears to be a Wikipedia article about the Supreme Court's decision in Pelosi v. Clinton, and from what I can make out, it appears that Justice Scalia, in the majority opinion, established a new principle in American law, based on a penumbra of emanations from The Tao of Jack Burton. The actual ruling itself is a marvel of conciseness and clarity; to wit: "What the hell and why not? Let 'em both run." As a result, for the first time in American history, not only the majority of the popular vote, but actually the top three vote-getters were all write-in candidates, and animated ones at that: Bart Simpson, Mickey Mouse, and Eric Cartman. To resolve this dilemma, the Electoral College met —
The remainder of the printout is unreadable.
But as I finish this piece up and prepare to tap the Publish button, I can't help but think: perhaps Scalia was on to something. Why not?
As for me, I'm voting for Stan Marsh.