Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Aloha Memories 2013 - A Presidential Fantasy"

Not his.  Mine.

All it takes is for the president (and his family) to be vacationing on the same Hawaiian island as we are and I immediately fantasize running into him and having a chat.

This is hardly a new wrinkle in my imaginational M.O.  Our log cabin in Michiana is maybe three miles from the birthplace of John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and every visit, I imagine bumping into him strolling along the shores of Lake Michigan, identifying him not only by his recognizable physiognomy, but by his black robes and shiny black shoes that I imagine him wearing everywhere, including the beach. 

I can see myself as clear as day, crossing paths with Chief Justice Roberts, him shooting me his patented smiling squint and an understated nod, and me spitting out, while passing, “Merely an umpire, my ass! 

(You may recall that, during his confirmation hearing, Roberts claimed that a Supreme Court Justice is “merely an umpire”, meaning that he simply goes by the {Constitutional} rulebook, maintaining no ideological prejudice whatsoever.  Hence, my admittedly less than elegant retort.)        

This is the embarrassing paragraph, but I am required to include it in the name of total honestly and narrative comprehensiveness.  Somehow, in an ideosyncratic mixture of innocence and arrogance, I sincerely believe that these high-ranking national official would get an enormous kick out of meeting me, owing to my natural twinkle, my deliberative observations, and my irresistible ingenuousness. 

These guys probably primarily meet idiots, or people who want something.  Me, to quote a line I love from the movie American Beauty,

“I’m just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose.”

Hence, my refreshingness and my charm. 

Okay, so there’s this incredible Hawaiian restaurant called Alan Wong’s, at which both we and the president have dined, although never at the same time.  Such is the raw material that is enough to set the wheels a’turnin’ in my oh-so-imaginative Thinking Machine. 

How not entirely improbable would it be, I immediately ponder, to be escorted to our table at Alan Wong’s, when we pass a considerably better table occupied by the Leader of the Free World and the First Lady, the girls happily engaged elsewhere, as their parents enjoy a well-earned and much-needed night on the town?

I immediately stop in my tracks, Dr. M grabbing my arm to pull me away, because she knows what’s coming, plus she does not want me to be gunned down by the Secret Service.  I, however, insist on my moment.

I know my time is short.  I have to score big and I have to score fast.  Okay, not necessarily “big”, but I need to, minimally and effectively, “break the ice.”  Eschewing a calculating strategy – easy, because I do not have a calculating bone in my body – I reflexively go with my instincts, my mouth delivering the first thing that comes to my mind. 

I look directly the Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces, and I say:

“I liked it when you sang.”

(Note:  In 2012, at a fundraiser at the Apollo Theater, the president falsettoed a line from Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”)

If that hits the target, I then quickly follow up with:

“You know, Abraham Lincoln never sang anything.”

And if I feel I am on a roll, I would bring it home with,

“I believe that, without question, the first line in the history books will be”

‘Barack Obama was our country’s first singing president.’”  

And if I break down his defenses – and in my fantasy, not surprisingly, I do – I would then be rewarded with the three words I am most longing to hear:

“Have a seat.”

At which point, I’d go humble, reminding him that he has very little “alone time” with Michelle and it would be wrong for me to intercede.  But if he persisted, inviting me, with Michelle’s agreement, to join him for just a couple of minutes, I would then reference the fact that I know – because I have a relative who did it – that a personal “sit-down” with the president costs thirty-eight thousand dollars, and I can simply not afford the privilege, adding,

“I can barely afford what I’ve said up till now, which must already be, like, eleven hundred dollars.”

But if the president insists…I mean, who except Congress says “No” to the President of the United States?… I agree to sit down, but with a non-negotiable caveat:

“You cannot give me the ‘Seriously Listening” look’.”

I had seen that look and, sensing a soupcon of insincerity, I did not care for it.  My relative had a picture on his cellphone, showing his one-on-one with the president, during which, while being illuminated on the subject of everything he’d been doing wrong and what he should immediately do differently, the president is listening intently in an identifiable “I am really taking this in, and I am planning on implementing every one of your suggestions as soon as I get back to the White House” posture.

The “Seriously Listening” look?

The president’s eyes are narrowed in thought.  He is respectfully leaning in, so as not to miss a syllable of the wise and original advice he’s receiving, his chin resting on his thumb, his middle finger curled over his sealed and silent lips, and his “Pointer Finger” jutting straight up beside his ear, the universal signal for “I am really hearing every single word you’re telling me.”  (“Though if you hadn’t contributed thirty-eight thousand dollars, I would gratefully be somewhere else.”)

That was the “Seriously Listening” look I demanded not to see.

And he said okay.  So off I went.

After congratulating the president for doing a formidable job during atrocious economic and congressionally hyper-polarizing times, I would remind him that Jackie Robinson, the first black ballplayer in what was formerly all-white baseball, was elevated to the Major Leagues only after he promised that he would never fight back.  Under an analogous arrangement, the first black president would not have passed any legislation whatsoever. 

I reminded the president that his record, though perhaps not as successful as he’d have wanted it to be, was considerably better than that.

I was hoping that my performance would earn me an invitation to a subsequent “shoot-around”, located on a basketball court on the Marine Base near the president’s “Hawaiian White House”, where, when both of us were sweaty and loosened up, I would – very gently – offer a single criticism, in the form of a recognizable basketball comparison:

Strategically, the president had arrived at his job with the intention of playing “zone” – which, in the legislative context, meant seeking out “common ground” with the opposition.  However, when that didn’t work, he had not – as any savvy and resilient coaches would have – adjusted, and switched, determinedly, if reluctantly, to “Man-To-Man.”  (Translation for non-basketball enthusiasts:  There appeared to be no "Plan B.")

But that was for later, when we were trading buckets and “gettin’ down.”   At the dinner, I was determined remain upbeat – or at least as upbeat as a congenitally not upbeat person can be – and leave the beleaguered but resilient president with a analogizing anecdote:

At the end of the filming of the Best of the West pilot – I informed the president that, if he were interested, he could check out my resume on IMBD – I asked a departing young audience member, “What do you think?”, meaning what did he think of the show he had just seen.  The young man’s response – that has always stayed with me – was:

“Well, it’s better than I can do.”

A nudging encouragement. 

And then we were done.  We would shake hands and I would get up, joining my wife at our table, curious to find out if I was still married.

Fantasies can be better than life.  For some of us, in fact, life has a difficult time competing.

Life:  I never met the president.

Fantasy:  I did, and it was blast!

Which one would you rather read about?

Me too.

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