waited, uncomfortably, seated with suited men and one quandary in the form of a four-star general, for the briefing to start. I had left my laptop in the school lunchroom next door and had only my quill and parchment to rely on—and besides, what if somebody made off with it? There were state secrets hidden among the naked pictures of cavorting young nymphs…
Our President, Ronald Reagan, younger and more confident than ever I had before seen him, slid into the room with a subdued fanfare from an invisible orchestra. “I have” (quoth he) “good news with which to tintinabulate your ear. The Wicked Witch is dead.”
A gasp undulated about the room. “But how—how did you pull that one off?”
“It was nothing,” said Reagan modestly, “I just appointed forty new senators to replace those who were missing.”
“Who were missing,” I repeated stupidly, struggling with my quill. In my mind I saw somebody making off with my unprotected laptop. How would I ever explain it to the authorities, never mind my mother?
“Yes, missing,” said Our President, zeroing in on me. I tried unsuccessfully to blend into the background. “They disappeared late yesterday afternoon. I had to use my executive privileges to have them replaced.”
“Your executive privileges?” We were now strolling down a long hallway, conversing.
“Yes. ‘In the event that a senator disappears mysteriously the President is empowered to appoint one or more new senators to fit his shoes’—Article Seven, section five.”
“But forty senators—people will talk,” I exclaimed anxiously. Not at Gitmo, came an unspoken thought, for the president was no longer available to voice it, and I was walking home along a dirt path. Menacing low-flying aircraft buzzed like flies overhead while I balanced on a log crossing over a creek.
Our worst president? I thought back to the long line of presidents who had addressed us from that same podium. Who could forget old Hick’ry Jackson’s courageous defiance of the Supreme Court: “Thurgood Marshall has made his decision—but how many divisions does he have?” Or James K. Polk, who launched a war on a pretext so flimsy you could embroider it and call it a negligee. Or Teapot D. Harding, who handed out federal oil leases as party favors. Oh yes, it had been a rare and wonderful experience.
I was walking up the sidewalk to the front door of my house. Inside my mother was cooking dinner on the typewriter. “Mom,” I said, calling her by her name, “I’ve got to go back to school. I accidentally left my laptop in the cafeteria. And, uh, incidentally—democracy is dead.” [2 March 2006]