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By Ian Murphy & Paul Jones
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MANCHESTER, NH—the corner of Elm and Bridge (A long way from Anbar province). Giuliani supporters are entrenched to the northwest; Hillary backers occupy the southwest and east corners. In the northeast, tribal factions for Romney, Huckabee and Ron Paul battle for frozen real estate. Each army’s soldiers hold signs like highly skilled professionals. Traffic is crawling. It’s a general quagmire—all options are ugly.
“Vote cardboard Reagan!” Murphy stumped with the gusto of a veteran carnival barker, crossing against the light, carrying a life-sized Gipper cut-out and halting cars with his palm. “America’s ready for its first two-dimensional president!” He was in a manic state, in a granite state.
By some secular miracle, Murphy had acquired free accommodations for himself and Jones in Manchester—hub of the quadrennial media orgy—by posting a sexy plea on the New Hampshire Craigslist “Casual Encounters” section. The title read: “2 randy journalists seek laid back women - mm4ww - 28 (Manchester).” There was hope for America, yet.
“How much for Reagan?” a man bid, tucking a Romney sign underarm and smarmily reaching for his wallet.
“Sir, cardboard Reagan is not for sale,” Murphy rebuffed indignantly. “How dare you insinuate such a thing! Sir, I will have you know that I have met Mitt Romney, and he, Sir, is no cardboard Reagan.”
“Reagan! Reagan! Reagan! Reagan!” cheered the Giuliani corner on cue, catching sight of their inanimate hero.
“Oow, he’s ta-wall,” a woman lustfully remarked, waving a Rudy sign. Her friend agreed with a wanton lick of her brightly painted lips. Cardboard Reagan was polling well with women.
“That’s my candidate—the only candidate!” bellowed a bearded man in a honking blue pickup—a key endorsement. Romanian newsmen rushed to interview cardboard Reagan There was a definite buzz surrounding cardboard Reagan. People up here were glad to see a man of substance finally entering the Republican race.
“America is ready for its first corrugated president!” Murphy shouted, pumping cardboard Reagan in the air—ill-gotten trophy that he was. Paranoid as always, Jones was scanning the crowd for the swarthy enemies of cardboard Reagan—or its previous owners. He wore a long black overcoat and mirrored shades. He held a finger to his right ear and periodically spoke into his left sleeve, parodying a Secret Service agent.
“Move back, honey,” he calmly instructed a small girl who’d, apparently, gotten a bit too close to cardboard Reagan.
“Cardboard people can’t be president,” she protested—the vicious attack of a young Hillary supporter.
“Security is compromised,” Jones alerted his cuff. “Let’s get you out of here, Mister Cardboard President,” he directed, ushering Murphy and cardboard Reagan to the west end of Elm. “The eagle has landed,” Jones confirmed to his wrist once they stepped on to the sidewalk. “Roger that,” he said to himself. “I’m going to walk the perimeter, sir,” Jones told cardboard Reagan, vanishing behind a used Giuliani campaign Winnebago. The RV still bore the fat, bald head of the local politician who’d sold it, a large Rudy sticker only partially obscuring his repugnant visage.
“Vote cardboard Reagan!” Murphy screamed repeatedly. “America’s ready for its first cardboard president!” He wondered what had become of Jones, and why he was acting so peculiar. He feared his friend may have come down with the dreaded Primary Fever. Soon, he would begin to display serious symptoms. Murphy knew he was infected too. He stared sullenly at the slush.
“Hey, who do ya got there?” a condescending voice roused Murphy from his brooding. It was Fox News mannequin Bill Hemmer. Murphy looked around in desperation for his Secret Service detail.
“This is cardboard Reagan, of course,” replied Murphy. “He’s the only serious Republican in the race right now.”
This amused Hemmer. “What does cardboard Reagan mean to you and the people of New Hampshire?” he prodded, thrusting a microphone in Murphy’s face.
“Flat tax,” Murphy extemporized, turning cardboard Reagan sideways for the camera with a grin.
“That’s great,” Hemmer remarked. “Did you just make that up?”
“Yup,” Murphy bragged.
“OK, let’s do this again,” Hemmer barked at his cameraman. The camera panned up from cardboard Reagan’s feet. “What does cardboard Reagan mean to you and the people of New Hampshire—a flat tax?”
Stunned at Hemmer’s shameless thievery, Murphy prattled on about “the cardboard myth, the cardboard man, the cardboard legend,” adding, “cardboard Reagan makes Romney look like paper Reagan.” It dawned on him that Hemmer’s whole career likely consisted of plagiarizing any line he could from smarter people and claiming it for himself—that and obsessive cardio training, copious teeth whitening, and an unbridled desire to rim his corporate masters.
“Only if we’re lucky, buddy,” Murphy whooped, slamming the hatchback closed.
“Watch it!” Jones winced. “And try to keep your shoes on the mat,” he murmured, slipping quickly into the driver seat. This assignment marked Jones’s triumphant, albeit begrudging, return to journalism. He’d spent the better part of the last two years in Providence, keeping a day job and hating himself. Murphy closed the passenger door with exaggerated gentility and obediently placed his feet where instructed, careful not to offend the man he’d pestered into this trip.
“Because I’m not doing any kinky three-way shit,” Jones snapped, pulling away from the curb at Logan. “Why didn’t you just fly into Manchester?”
“I dunno,” Murphy said meekly. “I’ve never seen Boston before…”
“Boston is Lucifer’s toilet—it reeks of evil!” Jones guffawed. “Ha, ha, ha—I mean, what kind of woman invites two perfect strangers into her home? I hope she’s not insane.”
“She seems alright,” Murphy said coolly. “She said she wouldn’t fuck us, so you don’t have to worry about it, man. She just wants to help out—the free press and all that jazz.”
“What?” Jones crooned, perplexed. “Not even separately? What kind of woman invites two perfect strangers into her home and doesn’t put out? Fucking Puritans!”
“Sorry, dude,” Murphy spoke with a frown, reading the map. As Jones navigated the car around Bean Town’s infamous collapsed tunnel, the two lamented the state of their declining nation: Infrastructure was literally crumbling from coast to coast, there was a despicable war sold on lies, and citizens continued to be fucked by corporate and governmental malfeasance—but the news cycle was crammed with celebrity nonsense, incessant primary speculation and manufactured controversies.
“They all have Primary Fever,” Murphy joked of the press as they headed north.
“I hope we don’t catch it,” Jones chuckled, his mood improving. Maybe the decision to quit his steady-paying gig wasn’t a terrible mistake after all, he thought. Heading out of Boston, the duo were inspired with feelings of hope and change, and they hoped that wouldn’t change.
After getting lost in a skein of 3’s, 93’s and 293’s, they reached Elm Street, Manchester’s main drag. Snowdrifts necessitated parking almost mid-street. The town would remain in this state of niveous encrustation for their entire stay, the towering deposits darkening gradually over the proceeding days with dirt and tailpipe emissions. What little melting occurred resulted in ubiquitous, fordless rivers of sludge that sullied every step with an indelible filth. It was the ideal destination for America’s political elite.
“A vote for Hillary is a vote for death!” moralized a craven throng of pro-lifers, unfurling an enormous full-color banner of a dismembered fetus.
“Wooo!” Murphy jeered, sticking his head out the passenger window as Jones slowed for traffic. “Chopped up fetus for president!”
“No…” objected several befuddled zealots, as Jones hit the gas.
“Speaking of which, “ Murphy said, pulling his head back in the car, “I’m starving.”
“This looks okay,” assessed Jones, peering laboriously through the thick grime of a sandwich shop window.
If anything, the fog of accumulations had a beneficently prismatic effect. Inside, The Stuffed Sub was much grottier. Everything was gray—the signage, the customers, and especially the personnel. Stephen King’s prolificacy as a horror writer only seems impressive until you’ve visited enough New England burgs. The weather and Puritanism discolor everyone with Carpathian bloodlessness, making macabre imagery the region’s greatest natural resource.
Jones and Murphy reflexively grabbed copies of the free local papers and slid in line. Jones, thumbing through The Hippo—Manchester’s “alternative” paper—spied a standard, distortive illustration of Democratic candidate Dennis Kucinich the man’s oversized ears rendered elfishly in obvious contrast to the bland caricatures of the other presidential hopefuls. Perusing the primary preview article, he encountered this quote from UNH professor Andy Smith, explaining Iowa’s influence on the upcoming vote: “Losing an election is not a sign of electability.” Further down, Smith reiterated that voters “want an electable candidate.” The folks at The Hippo really bucked the status quo.
“I’m so sick of this anti-Kucinich bullshit,” Jones remarked to his partner. “It’s obvious Heightism!” Murphy looked down at his diminutive companion, questioning with his eyebrow.
“Heightism, man! It’s the single greatest—and least recognized—prejudice that’s plagued human…”
A priggish snort at their backs startled them. Turning, they observed a monstrous female form, like a bipedal musk ox. Her nostrils billowed, but she said nothing. Jones noted with a surreptitious glance at the badge on her seamless fleece covering that she was a member of “Nurses for Hillary.” Support for the charmed Hillary, he surmised, had the power to confer a false sense of superiority—perhaps even the delusion of outward beauty—on society’s most wretched elements. It would certainly explain her strong poll numbers.
Seated, Jones regarded his would-be lunch reluctantly. The sign had a promised a “vegetarian delight” full of “fresh vegetables.” Also, it was the only meatless item on the menu. But he was staring at a brittle pouch crammed haphazardly with a packet of frozen herbage—perhaps still in its packaging, or else slathered with an iridescent cheese mimicking plastic’s scent and consistency when heated. Like a man saddled with a hideous mistress, Jones was desperate to extend foreplay with this item indefinitely.
“Who do you like in the primary?” he asked the man behind the counter. This was a risk, of course. They’d only just arrived in town, and had no idea how the locals regarded open political discussion.
“Me? I like Obama,” he said, smiling thinly. The dense murk of his bifocals gave only the merest hint of eyes and exacerbated his overall flannelled cadaverousness. Still, it was an encouraging answer. He appended nonspecifically, as so many of his ilk do, that he mistrusted Hillary. “She just doesn’t seem genuine,” is how he put it. He seemed enthused by this spontaneous question and elaborated freely. “I just think the country needs hope,” he continued, “And I’m really worried about our young people.” He sounded politically astute, or at least as if he’d been polishing his sound bites, perhaps angling for a “common man” blurb in the Times.
“And Giuliani. I like him on the Republican side—the way he handled 9/11.”
Jones furrowed his brow. Obama…and Giuliani? “What’s your most important issue?” he asked, hoping to reconcile this seeming ideological schizophrenia.
“Integrity,” the man replied. Murphy reflexively stopped his ears.
“Huh,” Jones accepted limply.
“Yeah, integrity is most important. I’m an independent,” he added.
Independent. The classic New Hampshire catchall. It’s either the first or the last thing people tell you here, when you’re assessing their political predilections. Perhaps it’s pure self-defense from the national onslaught. But the notion of the “Live Free or Die” state as some nonconformist paradise, if it was ever true, must have suffered from a devastating perversion of the local stock in the generations since General John Stark jotted his famous note.
Independence is an irrecoverably debased concept around here, the salient pathology of this self-identifying cloister. One soon discovers it is intended by today’s inhabitants to excuse every untenable coupling of candidates and ideas, to titivate every slapdash “analysis” of our most pressing national issues, and, perhaps most usefully, to obscure prejudgments in an ink-cloud of glibness. There’s a perfectly ignoble reason splitting one’s conscience between Obama and Giuliani strikes the ear so harshly: It’s idiocy. Especially when the criterion is integrity. You can be impressed by Giuliani’s ruthless post-9/11 transformation as the world’s largest vulture, battening voraciously on the corpses of American victims, but it hardly qualifies him as a model of probity. New Hampshire wasn’t a hotbed of individualism; an overdose of freedom had simply corrupted the populace in one sprawling incestuous political bacchanal. It was long overdue for a sobering military junta.
For now, though, it remained only for Jones to finish his sandwich. He looked down at the cooling, congealing mass and swallowed hard. Murphy, naturally braver, had already eaten half of his meatball sub and was reserving the rest. Jones would need to learn new skills, adapt quickly, to survive this assignment. The first skill was to eat without pleasure—without tasting. He sank his teeth gingerly into the pocket. He would need to learn faster.“Don’t let it get to you,” Murphy advised his cringing mate. “All these people really want is to be on the winning team. They’d callous their fingertips voting for Tom Brady if they could.”
The temperature hovering at zero Fahrenheit, they briefly toured the town with their Manchester liaison and host. The highlight was New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s campaign office, which was housed in a small plaza between a Weight Watchers and a Mexican restaurant. Their first day on the ground had troubled them—the general populace emitting rote talking points like a collection of ambulatory TiVos. They went back to BEAST New Hampshire headquarters to cut out the middleman and interview the television directly.
“Uncynical!” balked Jones, angrily fingering through the pages of his dictionary. “It’s not in here!” He already knew it wasn’t a word. Jones slammed the book closed; he was clearly upset. David Gregory is Jones’ natural archenemy: He’s tall, successful and a well-plowed media whore; Jones is none of those things, though he hopes to someday become them.
She’d been catechizing Jones and his colleague, Murphy, for the last thirty minutes, scanning their grimly inscrutable faces for something confessional. “Who are you with?” she’d started, quickly answering herself, “You’re Giuliani’s people, aren’t you?” Frowning at their silence, she wondered aloud if they were Democrats. “It’s okay, I’m a Democrat,” she offered. Then she lowered her head and leaned in close, as if examining something very minute.
She’d spotted their buttons. Murphy’s proclaimed bluntly, across the candidate’s image, that he was “Horny for Huckabee.”
“Ohhh, you’re the gays!” she exclaimed breathily, her eyes rolling wildly with misapprehension.
Jones reddened, palming the homemade Huckabee campaign badge on his lapel self-consciously. Like any sexless American male, he’d endured the queer libel numberless times. This was a different, discomfiting attack of unreason: His emblem depicted the major stages of human evolution over the slogan “Homos for Huckabee.”
Now she was twisting in her chair, childlike, clutching the seatback with her hands and eyeing the two journos with mounting fascination. They’d been in New Hampshire less than twenty-four hours. Jones grimaced and wondered: How had things gone so wrong, so fast?
He left despair unvoiced, however, and instead studied his inquisitor with reciprocal awe. She was middle-aged and, perhaps fittingly, wore a leather jerkin with chiffon sleeves—a sort of medieval slattern. Fantasy, not politics, was all too obviously her dearest pastime. He imagined her now: a lonely renaissance fair groupie drowning herself at the mead stand, fondling teenage varlets under their tunics. And he boggled at the lack of security assembled for the appearance of a candidate for President of the United States.
CNN’s Dana Bash was circling the gym at New England College, informally surveying the expectant crowd. Her deadened, aquatic eyes and compressed head made her look like one of Innsmouth’s fish people. Jones sank involuntarily in his seat. Bash stooped to question the Wench, then crossed the aisle to repeat her shtick. She scrupulously eschewed the grubby twosome, deftly avoiding Jones’s horrified stare. Whether this was her reporter’s instinct—or merely her fish-feminine intuition—neither luckless BEASTer could say with certainty. It wasn’t the last professional discourtesy they’d be paid in New Hampshire.
At the far end of the row, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell was bending over to ask another spectator something. Jones debonairly averted his gaze, simultaneously alerting Murphy with an elbow, to ensure a detailed recounting of her gingered cleavage. All he heard were Murphy’s approving grunts, and he opted not to turn his head that way either. On stage, a local band, Mama Kicks, began warming up the crowd with some perfunctory grooves.
“You should have made more buttons to sell,” the Wench opined. “You would’ve cleaned up. This is the gay capital of New Hampshire.” She was referring to the tiny town of Henniker, home of the college. This was all Jones could stand of her officious theorizing.
“Look, that’s not what my pin means,” he retorted tetchily. “I’m referring to evolution—you know: Homo habilis, Homo erectus…”
“No, you’re not,” she said, closing her eyes and wagging her unkempt sandy hair with solemn, almost maternal certitude. Secretly, silently, he envied her potty conviction. The governor’s arrival rescued him from the perils of further introspection.
Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee ascended the stage, a look of mild shock permanently smearing his face, with his most famous booster—martial artist, Bruce Lee pupil and action movie hero Chuck Norris, in tow. The crowd, which had scarcely registered a pulse for Mama Kicks, convulsed with cheers. Huckabee promised to “rock the town,” and promptly assumed bass guitar duties. He thrummed meditatively through three or four oldies with the band, without apparent enthusiasm and still wearing his sport jacket. He didn’t freewheel and he didn’t fuck up—altogether, a very politic performance.
The stage cleared for Norris, who competed for the air with adolescents shouting largely insincere praise from the bleachers to his left, as well as with a few much older hecklers behind Murphy and Jones. A true asshole, Norris absorbed it all with one outsized, undiscerning grin.
For a man who rejects the tenets of human evolution, he paced the stage with uncommon erectness, exuding absolute authority. His shoulders never slackened. His face, with its close-trimmed beard, looked like it had been acid peeled to simulate the effects of extensive sandblasting. He was rather like a human collectible, who slumbers on his feet atop a custom-made pedestal, encased in clamshell packaging.
“What do you make of his bulge?” Jones asked, turning to Murphy.
“What? What are you talking about?” replied Murphy, bewildered.
“His crotch, I mean. It doesn’t look that big.”
“Well, I recall his wife during an appearance on Stern, reassuring the audience he was massively hung.”
“Just let it go,” ordered Murphy, jabbing his head at the Wench, who thankfully seemed to have missed the exchange.
Jones dropped the matter, but he couldn’t shake his disappointment. He’d anticipated a real spectacle, an organ of prehistoric proportions befitting a denier of man’s genetic heritage. Something with its own Social Security number and handgun. He peered over at Murphy’s other button, bearing Norris’s Uzi-toting likeness under the action movie laconism, “Who are you calling primate?” and sulked. Chuck was fallibly, phallically human, after all.
Norris boasted briefly about the column he writes for WorldNetDaily. “WorldNetDaily…They believe in dragons,” Murphy murmured with disgust. “I’m not kidding.” Then Norris revealed that three months ago, he’d never even heard of Mike Huckabee. Presumably, this fact was intended to both augment Norris’s reputation as a man of quick and firm resolve, and underscore Huckabee’s considerable fitness for America’s top job. But it simply made Jones wonder what the fuck Chuck Norris was doing avidly promoting Mike Huckabee for President.
Chuck concluded his introductory remarks, finishing with a ridiculous anecdote about a nameless Arabian prince hoarding American merchandise on a stateside tax-free shopping spree—a sloppy pastiche of demagoguery. Jones noticed Gena Norris for the first time. Seated behind her husband on the stage, Gena was nodding her platinum head dutifully along with every syllable her husband spoke, even jolting her cranium turbulently as he emphasized a point with his outstretched arm. She was a like an underfed seal bobbing beneath a dangled mackerel. For an instant, Jones saw her disembodied head bouncing along, like a dot, in sync over a sequence of closed captioning.
As Governor Huckabee rose to accept the microphone, Jones’s eyes remained fixed on Mrs. Norris. The governor adopted the same speaking pose, using his free hand to gesture. Gena immediately lapsed into her fellatory trance. She must have a pitbull’s neck tendons, Jones thought. He was distinctly aware of a nascent, unwelcome stirring in his pants and he twisted in his seat with the considerable effort of concealment.
Huckabee’s preaching obviated his exertions. The “populist” candidate was declaiming against the unfairness of the capital gains tax. Taxes on stock earnings were “unfair?” Had the press heard this shit before? Sure, Huckabee was a gifted orator, but such sentiments were tough to couch in appeals to the commoner. Perhaps already keenly aware of this, Huckabee compensated by humbly revealing that his family in Arkansas was scarcely a generation removed from “dirt poor” and “outdoor toilets.” Still, it would have resonated more if he’d played a washtub bass instead of an electric. Jones scanned the room, gazing behind him at the cyclopean array of black cameras; Nietzsche was right, as usual: The abyss does stare back.
Energized by the applause, Huckabee plowed ahead, pitching extensive tax reform in the guise of a “Fair Tax”—in other words, a flat consumption tax, favored by Americans for Fair Taxation, a group founded by Texas millionaires. Not exactly a constituency noted for their egalitarian leanings.
Jones and Murphy looked at one another. They’d been rooked. Mike Huckabee was a “populist” in the same way P.T. Barnum was a “populist.” They’d come here hoping to prod the faithful and revel in the candidate’s benighted creationist superstitions. Jones, thwarted, unclasped the Huckabee button from his lapel.
“Ow!” he yelped, jabbing himself with the pin in the thumb. The bigger joke had been on them, but they weren’t laughing.
Murphy and Jones herded into the William B. Cashin Community Center in Manchester, accepting the obligatory Romney stickers for their coats. This dazed assembly line of mostly supporters made the perfect tribute to the former CEO: orderly and anonymous. In this small space, seats filled quickly and the two moved toward empty chairs in the back.
“What up, Cillizza?” Murphy hectored a WaPo reporter as they struggled to pass each other in the cramped hall. “Does all this ever make you nauseous?”
“No—I LOVE IT!” Chris Cillizza spoke with frantic, sarcastically wide eyes. It looked like he hadn’t slept in days. Jones overheard a blonde with an unwieldy head identify herself as a CNN reporter. A wall of cameras lined the back of the room atop a riser. Behind it was a darkened Bingo board.
Speakers pumped in Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” the second time they’d endured the track in a matter of hours. Jones feared further exposure might give him a cavity.
“What makes ‘the smell of wine and cheap perfume’ such indispensable political imagery?” he demanded irritably.
The official title for tonight’s event was “Ask Mitt Anything.” Jones and Murphy scoffed at what seemed a transparent campaign stunt, but they’d jotted down some potential queries for the former governor. They agreed that if given the chance, one should ask him to reconcile his absurd Mormon belief system with his desire to control the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. Even less subtly, Murphy yearned to know if Romney had ever buggered a hobo for sport. Of course, they’d given no consideration to their appearance—which by nighttime could most charitably be called “gritty”—or its consequences for their access.
Aesthetics, of course, were paramount. Romney, more than any candidate, has benefited from the press’s uncritical repetition of the idea he’s handsome, telegenic—presidential, to employ the non sequitur. The truth is, in a race that features the first viable black and female candidates for highest office, Romney is only a certain kind of attractive. His gathered supporters at the Cashin building were almost uniformly Teutonic in stature and aloofness. It was Triumph des Willens with shitty tippers in pastels.
Whether or not Romney looks like a president, he sounds like a fucking moron. He’s so stiffly inept as a public speaker—as a human really—he makes John Kerry seem like Richard Pryor. Listen to him long enough and you expect him to break down in a smoldering heap, intoning, “Fatal error! Fatal error! Unhandled access violation!”
Murphy and Jones stared at one another in trepidation, as Romney spilled gems such as “I’ve seen how change can change an industry,” and “We’re working with the Sunni to help us get rid of Iraq.” And, most revealing, his demand that “the Muslim world reject the violence directed against the civilized world.” They looked around at the army of press assembled, but no one seemed particularly interested in writing any of it down. Certainly none of those quotes appeared in any press accounts of the event. The only stirring at all came from a reporter with expansive crow’s-feet and pert nipples, seated on the riser, who kept jabbing her cameraman reprovingly with her pen.
As for the crowd, nothing could dampen their eagerness for Romney’s steroidal Reagonomics. As Mitt reached the crescendo of his economic “reform” package, promising with measured intensity to cut federal spending, a woman cried out orgasmically, “Yes…yes…yes!” The room erupted with her. Everyone was having what she was having.
As the event concluded, the true believers crowded Mitt, jostled for shaky digital photos and a chance to fawn. Temptingly, Romney was continuing to field questions from the public; Jones ran the velvet-roped gauntlet, lying in ambush at the door. As the former governor exited, Jones blurted provocatively “Mr. Romney, is politics poisoning money?” But the candidate was rattled by a squat, ghoulish AIDS activist who’d been hounding him on the NH trail. He missed the taunt, shook Jones’s hand absently and fled.
Afterwards, Murphy and Jones cornered Robert Guest, a limey capitalist lickspittle covering the Republican contest for The Economist. Murphy had been eavesdropping on Guest’s interview with a smooth-brained female seated behind them.
“I’m undecided,” she told the Brit. “I’m here to do research.” The notion that she believed she could “research” a candidate by absorbing platitudes saddened Murphy. “Romney is an attractive man,” she went on, “I’ll admit it.” Christ.
Guest expressed overt jealousy of his senior colleague, for choosing to cover the “more exciting Democratic race.” He then noted the BEAST correspondents’ homemade Romney paraphernalia, with pictures of Mitt saying “Kill the poor” and pleading that “Robots are people, too.” Guest would later mention these accessories in an article from the campaign trail, prefacing his observation that Romney was failing “to connect with those less blessed.” Heartwarming stuff. He was actually polite and accommodating, if slavishly complimentary about America—and smitten with Mike Huckabee—before degenerating into that quaintly British style of self-interrogation.
“It does, doesn’t it?” he said noncommittally, slightly uneasily, of Murphy’s assertion that his “Ask me about my favorite Mormon” pin “gets people talking about the candidate.”
“You’re just normal people?” Guest asked, obviously suspicious.
“Uh… yeah,” Murphy responded, looking at the ceiling. In that particular environment, the question was meaningless.
Anselm: Patron Saint of Bullshit.
“Can I help you Gentlemen find something?” asked a female guard, shattering the quiet. Murphy and Jones had outflanked campus security to the west; they were now in restricted territory. They’d been walking for half an hour and made one dashed attempt to enter the debate spin room. After being barred at the metal detectors and straining to overhear a conversation between Tom Tancredo and Bay Buchanan, the two were back outside, wandering aimlessly. The cold and double-X chromosome Buchanan had made Murphy’s testicles retreat into his abdomen—cut-n-runners!
“Um… we’re OK,” Jones lied, trying to avoid the woman’s curiosity.
“Just to let you know, the Democrat building is right there,” she said unprompted, pointing. “And the Republican one is right over there,” she said with an unsuspecting smile. The woman had just given the men the whereabouts of all of the campaigns’ staff offices. Their devious hearts rejoiced.
“Surge!” Murphy commanded, his balls redeploying with vigor.
Slipping through an unlocked door and squeaking their wet shoes up two flights of stairs, the now trespassing reporters made their way down a brightly lit hallway. Each wooden classroom door had a name on it: Huckabee, Romney, Giuliani, etc. Inside, mid and high-level Republican campaign staffers were watching a live debate feed, dipping vegetables and eating cheese cubes. Periodically, applause would ring from a room as they rooted on their goons.
Each impromptu campaign office was crammed, save for McCain’s, which was totally empty. They entered. Murphy took a load off, his eyes immediately drawn to the crucifix hanging over the front chalkboard. Jones picked up the landline and started dialing phone sex numbers, but was unable to connect, much to his consternation. He settled for calling a few long distance family and friends on Saint Anselm’s dime, hoping they’d bill McCain.
“Hey, what’s going on, man?” he whispered into the receiver. “We’re in McCain’s debate headquarters…” He hushed when a man in an expensive suit entered, sitting next to Murphy.
“Hello, Father,” he greeted Murphy, who had completely forgotten he was wearing a priest’s collar and robe under his now unbuttoned overcoat. He’d even combed his hair for the role.
“Gahd bless ya’, my son,” Murphy shot back in an unconvincing Irish accent. The man looked awkwardly ahead and the three watched a few minutes of the Republican debate in pregnant silence.
“Father,” Jones said, hanging up the phone, “if we don’t leave now, we’ll miss the exorcism!”
Murphy looked at his bare wrist, stood up and said, “Quite right, m’lad!” Turning toward the lone McCain staffer, Murphy crossed himself. The man said nothing. Murphy and Jones bolted out the door.
Back on the chill and winding campus roads, Murphy asked Jones where the guard said the Democratic candidate building was. “Directly in front of us, I think,” he replied.
“Goddamn it!” spat Murphy, as a woman scurried by, giving the priest an astonished glare. “Isn’t that the same guard at the door?” asked Murphy.
“She already gave us directions,” reasoned Jones. “She shouldn’t give us any trouble.”
“Can I help you gentlemen find something?” she repeated, not recognizing them from fifteen minutes ago.
“Um, yeah, we’re looking for the Democratic campaign staff offices,” Jones told her.
“Right this way,” she said, opening the door. She escorted the priest and his helper to the third floor.
“Who are you voting for?” Jones asked.
“Oh, I can’t tell you that,” she explained seriously. “I’m not allowed to talk about any of that. I can’t even tell you my name. That’s the policy. If I do… I could get fired.” She left the two to poke around. The doors read: Clinton, Obama, Richardson, etc. For some reason, Ron Paul’s staff room was located in the building. Again, every room was crammed, save one: No one was there to cheer on John Edwards. The two cruised the hors d’oeuvres for some much needed sustenance. As they sat down to chow, the female guard popped her head into the room. “So… are you really a priest?” she asked Murphy.
“Of course, m’child.”
“No, not really.”
They simultaneously contradicted each other, mouths full of free food. She looked back and forth at the two. Their thin cover was blown. “He fancies himself a performance artist,” Jones continued unhelpfully. Murphy silently cursed him.
“Are you guys with the press?” she wondered as the two filled their faces with the bread, cheese and stuffed grape leaves that were reserved for Edwards’s staff.
“Yeah, sort of,” Murphy admitted. At the news, she disappeared back into the hallway. She returned shortly and continued the chat where they’d left off, smiling benevolently.
After a few minutes, she was joined in the doorway by a tall uniformed male guard. “Hi, Mary,” he greeted her. “Are these the guys?”
“Yeah, that’s them, Jerry,” she answered.
“OK, guys,” he spoke, stroking the container of pepper spray on his belt. “You’re not supposed to be in here. There’s no press allowed in here.” The two men jumped to their feet and were promptly escorted outside.
“What a perfect Christian!” howled Jones. “She was all sunshine and smiles on the surface; on the inside she was cruelly anticipating our ouster—and loving it!”
“Two-faced bitch,” Murphy grumbled under his breath, as Jones grabbed him by the sleeve and told him to hold up. “What?” Murphy asked.
“Shhh!” demanded Jones. “Just listen…”
“HAAAA!” A burlesque laugh rode waves of cold air toward them. “HAAAA!”
Before Murphy could recall where he’d heard that familiar and awful noise, Jones whispered, “Matthews.” Chris Matthews and two other men were walking straight toward them.
“Excuse me, sir,” Matthews shouted at them, for he has no other volume setting. “Can you tell me where the Davidson building is?”
“Sorry,” Murphy lied. Both he and Jones were mesmerized by the glinting spittle dripping from the edges of Matthews’s wide slit. “Was that Newt Gingrich with him?” asked Murphy as the men turned the corner.
“I don’t know,” Jones said, watching Murphy frantically pack a snowball. Following Matthews around the bend, Murphy prayed the loosely packed missile would find its mark. Matthews’s head was an ample target.
“Welcome back to Snowball!” hissed Murphy, hurling the projectile. A consummate non-athlete, Murphy sent the snowball high above Matthews’ large Irish melon. The three men turned around. “Oh shit!” Murphy cried as he hiked up his priest’s robe. He and Jones kicked heels like cowards.
“HAAAA!” the shrill cackle nipped their heels.
They ran clear to the parking lot, where about five hundred people were holding signs and chanting various slogans, penned in like cattle. And from the sampling Murphy and Jones spoke with, they weren’t much brighter.
“Excuse me, excuse me,” the two men joked with people exiting the portable toilets in the back of the lot. “Who did you vote for?” They were received with uncomprehending stares. Several people reported with a blush that they, in fact, had not voted, but rather made poop.
Chants for Kucinich, Ron Paul, Clinton, Obama and Giuliani intermingled and jousted for supremacy like motifs in a Charles Manson opera. The Kucinich supporters had tape over their mouths in protest; he’d been locked out of the debate by ABC. “Meh Memmih Memahe!” the chorus garbled. All factions mugged for the lone ABC camera, striving to out-chant the others.
A lone idiot with heavy-lidded eyes and a goatee moseyed his way up to the two pressmen. He was shouldering a Ron Paul sign with his left hand.
“Are y’all reporters?” he drawled.
“Something like that,” Jones answered as honestly as he could. He was wearying rapidly of the public’s presumption that anyone with a notebook cared what they had to say. Murphy, as if sensing an imminent blubbering, wandered over to the corralled mass of Kucinich supporters.
“Something like that?” returned the Texan. He was badly afflicted with echolalia, but Jones would soon discover that wasn’t his most grating debility.
He said his name was Matt, and that he hailed from San Antonio. He was visibly dejected. He bemoaned without solicitation that his candidate, Paul, had been locked out by Fox News for the following night’s debate.
“It’s not fair, you know,” Matt said wanly.
“Yeah, well ABC did the same thing to Kucinich and Gravel tonight,” Jones said. Matt seemed unaware of the Democrats’ similar fates. Jones gestured at the throng of people protesting on Kucinich’s behalf.
“People are upset,” Matt observed dully. “They care about what’s going on.”
“Emotions are overrated,” Jones deadpanned.
“I’m from Texas,” Matt countered indignantly, missing the joke. “Emotions are a little more important to us down there.” So, regrettably, was stupefying piety.
Jones groaned and said nothing. Murphy sauntered back from his reconnoitering. Matt, clearly accustomed to awkward silence, was undaunted.
“Y’all are kinda…” he broke off, leaned back and bent his knees, as if he were sitting in a saddle.
Jones squinted with incomprehension. He counted the armed police officers in the immediate vicinity, made a gun shape with his pocketed right hand and mulled the benefits of suicide-by-cop.
Murphy and Jones stared in abject terror at the sheet of paper taped to the doors of the Radisson ballroom.
“I feel queasy,” complained Murphy.
“I feel nothing,” Jones said, detached, like a man perusing the obituary of a loved one. The sheet read: “National Review Online.”
Before they could answer their feet, the doors swung wide to a scene reminiscent of Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate,” only it was scheduled to go on for hours. About two hundred aspiring leeches were suckered to folding chairs, feeding off the Democratic half of the debate that Murphy and Jones had just left at St. Anselm’s College. They frothed and booed in unison as John Edwards talked about a patients’ bill of rights and a recently deceased teenage girl named Natalie. All of their seething attention was fixed to the screen, for Hillary Clinton’s response:
“You know, Senator Edwards did work and get the patient bill of rights through the Senate—it never got through the House. One of the reasons that Natalie may well have died is because there isn't a patients’ bill of rights…”
The entire crowd burst into uproarious laughter. Behind one of the large television screens, on a raised platform, Byron York, Ramesh Ponnuru and Jonah Goldberg took a quick break from live blogging to rejoice at the tragedy. Ponnurru cocked back his head and chuckled with relish toward the heavens, bouncing in his chair like a tiny, demented, golden-brown cherub. Party of Death, indeed.
Murphy and Jones shared a fearful glance. “This is a like a goddamn Nuremberg rally,” Murphy whispered.
“But not as funny,” Jones added, as they spotted a Hasidic Jew poring over his Torah. It was the Sabbath, and this guy was risking eternal damnation to hang out with the National Review crew.
“Takes all kinds,” joked Murphy.
“Yeah, except fags, feminists, blacks and the poor,” Jones shot back. “How long do we have to stay here?”
“Not long,” Murphy spoke calmly. “I just want to do one little thing, then we’re outta’ here.”
“Oh, Christ,” Jones said, observing the wild gleam in Murphy’s eyes. “What’s up?”
“We need to steal that Reagan,” Murphy said through an imp’s grin, casually motioning to a majestic life-sized cardboard Ronald Reagan propped up in the back corner, mutely supervising the gathered supply-side sycophants.
“Naturally,” quipped Jones. There was one hindrance: a man leaning against the back wall, alert and possibly poised to thwart the kidnapping.
“I’ll go distract that guy…”
“And I’ll bust out the side door,” Murphy agreed. “OK, let’s do this!”
Jones strode over to the man. Murphy promptly saluted cardboard Reagan, goose-stepped in its direction and executed a clean about face, surveying the crowd. With one hand behind him fidgeting for the door handle and the other placed nonchalantly on cardboard Reagan’s shoulder, he watched Jones with anticipation. Adrenaline rushed. The man turned toward Jones in conversation and Murphy spun smoothly through the door, Gipper in tow, into an empty carpeted hallway.
To the right was unknown territory; to the left, the lobby and a single blue-haired guard. Murphy tucked Reagan under his right arm like a pigskin and barreled straight at him. He juked and stiff-armed imagined linebackers, cutting toward the door with clubfooted grace—shades of OJ Simpson. The geriatric defenseman stood no chance. Breaking through the doors, Murphy was at the forty—the thirty—the twenty—the ten—touchdown! After a brief celebratory dance, he hunkered behind a dumpster, spying the side entrance of the Radisson, awaiting Jones’s exit.
Jones stood leadenly just inside the door of the Radisson conference room, watching Murphy stride inexorably toward the Reagan cutout. He felt frozen. He had a premonition of Murphy’s capture and the instant extralegal proceedings the NR people would convene to decide his fate. He foresaw Murphy caged, the floor retracting to reveal a fiery, bottomless pit, and Ramesh Ponnuru clad as the wicked Mola Ram. He shuddered. At least Ponnuru’s manboobs were covered.
He propelled himself forward and cautiously approached a young, bespectacled figure in a suit and tie standing against the back wall. The man had the best vantage to observe Murphy, who was comically skulking just to his left. As Jones made for his introduction, he kept one eye fixed on his determined colleague.
The rest of the room was in rapt horror, watching the Democratic candidates debate on multiple screens. Jones estimated the condition of soullessness and, as the candidates onscreen squabbled about vital national issues like universal healthcare, he whispered coldly, “This is so depressing.”
“Yeah, it is,” the young man replied, turning his head toward Jones.
“Say, do you know Lowry?” Jones queried, trying to affect some cachet by referring to the odious National Review editor.
“Do I?” he repeated. “No, but my boss does—the President of Thomas More College.”
“Oh, well, I’m only asking,” Jones began, watching Murphy slip out the side entrance with his two-dimensional masterpiece, “Because my friend and I met him in an airport men’s room. He seemed like a cool guy, and even invited us up to his hotel room…” Jones paused momentously before asking, “He’s not gay is he?”
“Lowry? No,” he chuckled assuredly, dismissing the suggestion. “I know he has a girlfriend.” Then, as if recognizing independently the flimsiness of such an explanation, he continued without prompting: “I mean, I can’t say definitively.”
“Well, it’s not a big deal,” said Jones. “I just wanted to make sure it was just a friendly thing—his invitation, I mean.” He thought he could sense some doubt festering in his new acquaintance’s head. “It was nice talking to you,” Jones said warmly, offering his hand.
“Yes, it was nice meeting you,” the man returned, seemingly happy to be rescued from his troubling reverie. “What did you say your name was?”
“Uh…” Jones had been gulled into damned overconfidence! “Jay…” he fibbed, groping vaguely for the easiest name he could conjure. He didn’t bother straining for what would undoubtedly have been a preposterous surname.
“Jay,” the man echoed dubiously. “I’m Chris…” Jones’s ears were filling with the disorienting rush of white noise. He was officially panicking. He returned to his earlier vision, only now he was locked in the cage and Murphy was screaming soundlessly from outside the hotel, “Jones, cover your heart!” as Ponnuru passed a sinister hand over his epicene chest.
Jones gave Chris Whatever’s hand a single pump and bolted for the door. Outside, he doubled over, inhaling deeply. He cursed Murphy’s impetuously omitting a meeting place. He decided it made the best sense to head to the car and hoped Murphy had thought the same. He sprinted down the sidewalk toward the other end of the city. Notoriously rudderless, Jones—the fool—had completely forgotten they’d parked just around the corner. He’d spend the next hour wandering Manchester’s snowy side streets.
After twenty minutes catching his breath and smoking cigarettes, Murphy was a thief eager to be on the lam. However, he was locked out of the pair’s hybrid getaway vehicle, his wheelman inexplicably detained. He left Reagan behind a dumpster, creeping nervous laps around the hotel perimeter, dodging behind snow banks and lampposts every time he saw a security guard look in his general direction. He pictured the worst-case scenario, and dialed BEAST publisher Paul Fallon.
“Hey man, oh shit, oh shit!” Murphy hyperventilated into his cell, pacing the bank parking lot across the street from the hotel.
“What the hell is going on?” he slurred. It was cocktail hour at Fallon’s house.
“I think they have Jones!” Murphy spoke hysterically. “They’re probably working him over right now!—before the pigs arrive.”
“What did you guys do?”
Murphy sputtered broken details: “National Review… Ramesh Ponnuru… cardboard Reagan… Jones is MIA, man, MIA!”
“Goddamn it, don’t take any shit from these bastards,” advised the well-soused publisher. “Go right up to these fuckers and tell ‘em you’ve got your corporate lawyer on speed-dial!”
“We do?” Murphy wondered. “Who is he?”
“Me, you asshole!”
“Um… OK; I’ll call you back if we need you to post bail.”
There was little doubt: Murphy and Jones were seriously ill; a petulant virus gripped their bodies. In a hubristic attempt to thwart the nasty bug, they’d polished off a bottle of NyQuil and a handful of Benadryl tablets—Robitussin on standby. They dragged themselves around downtown Manchester, pale, clammy and haloed in an aura of intoxication, mental depravity and sickness—just like the rest of the media, only much poorer. All hope was lost; things had changed.
Near the hockey arena, Murphy had the distinct feeling that he was no longer walking, but floating above the snowy sidewalks. As if following a pre-drawn path, Murphy hovered to a diner called The Merrimack. Jones pushed on, northward, following close behind Alan Colmes—he was even uglier in person; bumpy, as if stung by a horde of angry bees.
“I’m out here because two of my friends died in this bullshit war!” screamed a young man outside The Merrimack. The man was livid; condemning all the top-tier candidates and spitting. Former senator Mike Gravel stood next to him in abstract silence, faintly smiling, much like in his bizarre campaign video. Murphy and Gravel locked eyes for what felt to the heavily medicated reporter like a slice of eternity. Murphy watched his kind eyes and knowing wrinkles. They were surrounded in azure mist and a pulsating electric glow. “Fantasy Land…” Murphy mouthed in wonder.
“Hillary and Obama are lying to you—they’ll never stop the war!” continued the angry rabble rouser. Murphy and an outfit called Kate-TV were the only visible media present. Most of the press were a couple blocks uptown with Jones, waiting eagerly to fellate John McCain’s mummified noodle—the Comeback Corpse.
Jones looked around in frustration at signs that read “Mac is Back” and “Bomb Iran!” Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” was echoing through City Hall plaza. Jones spoke briefly to a promising local candidate going by the name Vermin Supreme. The inverted combat boot on his head screamed Commander-in-Chief.
“Nice pants, dork,” Jones offered his unasked opinion to Tucker Carlson, who was prowling the grounds, clad in bright orange slacks.
“Aren’t they awesome, honestly?” Tucker replied. “Do you know why I’m wearing them? In case I get wounded in the course of duty today, they won’t have to take me off the field, you won’t be able to tell.”
“You bleed orange?” Jones queried.
“Come on, they’re red,” Tucker tried to convince him, squinting and cocking his head sideways like a confused German shepherd.
“No, they’re not,” Jones countered.
“Yes, they are,” whined Carlson.
“No, not really,” Jones said, examining the distinctly orange trousers.
“Sort of,” begged Tucker.
“No,” Jones retorted.
“Well, I think they are,” Carlson waxed lamely.
“Well, like with most things, you’d be wrong, Tucker,” Jones told him flatly.
“OK, I got to go,” beamed Carlson, the idiot man-child.
Still gripped in Mike Gravel’s Alaskan voodoo, Murphy was roused by an agitated cry approaching from the north: “Uncynical! I’ll give you uncynical!” It was Jones. He was hot on the trail of David Gregory, aka “Little Stretch,” aka Dr. Zaius.
“It was earth!” Jones screamed like a tiny Charlton Heston, wheeling past him. Reluctantly, Murphy abandoned Fantasy Land and gave chase.
The two men pled alternately, losing ground on the lanky NBC reporter, who’d quickened his pace at the taunts. His gait was that of a Sasquatch. Gregory wasn’t responding to his Bush-bestowed moniker Little Stretch. Disobedient swine! Luckily, Gregory was detained by an acquaintance and Murphy and Jones did an end-around to the front door of the Radisson. The trap was set. Gregory broke from his companion and walked toward the hotel. “Mr. Gregory,” Jones greeted him. Gregory bent over to envelop Jones’s hand. This bothered Jones greatly. The size disparity between them was marked.
“Do you have Satan’s phone number?” quizzed Jones, looking skyward at the towering tool.
“You’re a funny guy,” Gregory spoke without smiling.
The glass doors swung behind Little Stretch. Murphy and Jones felt corrupted, diseased, and not the least bit uncycnical.
“How was the McCain rally?” wondered a thoroughly groggy Murphy.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” mumbled Jones. “Let’s get out of here before I open my wrists.”
“Just one second,” Murphy dared, scribbling large text in his notebook. He stepped over a snow-capped shrub and pressed the open pages against the glass of the hotel lobby. Plagiarizing fabulist and Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle was beyond the pane, being spackled with makeup for an impending “Hardball” appearance. Murphy tapped on the glass and thought of warnings one might read in a gorilla habitat. Barnicle turned and squinted at the text: “Do you want to steal my jokes?” His eyes followed along slowly. He smirked, balled a meaty fist and stuck his thumb upward, as if he fully comprehended what a hack he was. “It’s like he knows…” began Murphy. “I will call him Bright Eyes.”
“Dirty bombs don’t work, you fucking sheep!” Murphy belligerently educated the electorate. It was 2am. Jones and Murphy was proper drunk. Earlier they’d willed their diseased husks to attend a Kucinich function in the old mill district, sneezing on many of his disproportionately attractive female supporters—the hottest thangs in New Hampshire! Frank talk about the war, torture and the forgotten constitutional impeachment process were a sobering contrast to the weeklong dogshit beauty pageant they’d endured. Viggo Mortensen was there, for some reason. He and the Congressman, standing side by side, evoked a perilous trek to Mordor. Afterward, Murphy and Jones went straight to the drink.
“Shhh!” ordered Jones, as people exiting the club turned to look at the madman howling in the street. The two looked like death warmed over—unevenly, in a gas station microwave. They were both hot and frozen. Murphy wore a black ski mask in a futile attempt to fight the shivers.
“Oh, what are they gonna do? Call Homeland Security?” Murphy taunted their backs, his laughter turning to a horrendous coughing fit.
“Dude, shut up!” Jones’s tired eyes darted nervously. He wiped snot on his sleeve. The Robitussin was long gone. Tiny, empty bottles of tequila crowded Murphy’s overcoat pocket. And a tacky nightclub had coaxed from them nearly two hundred dollars. That’s a lot of money, for a blue-collar guy from Buffalo.
“Russert you fucking pussy!” Murphy slurred loudly at the thought, pointing an accusing finger. “Get your fat ass out here! Russert! Oh… I see how it is. You have to broadcast from an ‘armory’ because you’re a little girl!” Murphy quoted “armory” with his fingers, then made sissy hands and cooed like a husky woman. He’d seen a parked battalion of military vehicles during the week. He also recalled running by a sign at the Radisson that read: “Armory.” His mental map of Manchester slightly askew, he chalked it up to the Hotel-Military Complex. At any rate, Murphy—the drunken stooge—was nowhere near either locale. In fact, he was yelling at a large mailbox. “Russert! You coward!”
“Shut the fuck up! Come on,” hissed Jones, staggering down the desolate side street, favoring his liver. “Oh God,” he moaned regretfully. It wasn’t physical pain, as Murphy assumed. It was the redhead from the club. The one with Titanic tits. The bridesmaid with open adulation for Mitt Romney. He’d loathed her instantly. It was true love. “What I wouldn’t give to interview those candidates,” he lamented painfully.
“Who?” Murphy squealed. “The goddamn Democrats? Fuck ‘em!”
“No, you idiot,” scolded Jones. “The redhead.”
“Oh, who?—Kucinich’s wife? She’s hot.”
“No, no, no!” Jones refrained.
“Oh… you mean Kelly O’Donnell? You should have looked, man; it was like a freckled Valley of the Gods!”
“No, the fucking zaftig bridesmaid, man!”
“Just drop it!” spat Jones. “I need some pancakes.”
“Why do you want to interview any of these humps anyway? What? You want access? You wish you were holed up in an armory like Tim Fucking Russert!” Murphy continued, unprompted. “Blue collar guy from Buffalo! I will kick your fat pumpkin head up and down Downing Street!”
“Downing Street?” Jones wondered lazily. “The place they make those memos? In England?”
“No, man, it’s in South Buffalo. It intersects Abbott Road, right by the plaza and the park there.” Jones looked at him blankly. “Russert knows where it is. Ha! ‘I know who my sources are!’ Russert!”
The two stumbled to a place called The Red Arrow diner. Al Gore and Johnny Cakes had once eaten there. All the drunk, out-of-state campaign staffers were there, trying to sober up. Jones was inside chatting up some bird from New Zealand. Murphy was outside talking to two guys from Brooklyn, Giuliani and Hillary canvassers, respectively.
“A black man can’t get ahead in America!” said the Giuliani supporter at a mention of Obama. “I’m looking out for mine!”
Feeling the sting of further rejection, Jones burst outside to the sight of the three men. Murphy was hacking up sinister amounts of phlegm.
“Jesus Christ!” Jones bellowed uninhibitedly. “Two black guys in Manchester? On the same sidewalk?” he scoffed. “There’s got to be some kind of law against this. Somebody call the police!” He uncharacteristically pulled the lit cigarette from Murphy’s hand and drew from it deeply. “Bwa ha ha ha!” smoke escaped from his mouth in a rolling cough. After a few racially tense seconds, the Brooklynites burst into knowing laughter, the Giuliani supporter giving Jones a big hug.
“It’s OK—I’m a Republican,” the man laughed. It was funny, and incredibly depressing. The rest of the night was a blur.
The predawn hours of January 8th found Jones tossing violently on his foldout. His thinning hair was now just a few soppy clumps. Sweat gushed over his brow, stinging his eyes, and his bedclothes were bedraggled with the unrelenting heat of fever. At the peak of his madness, he was plagued by a vision. It was of cardboard Reagan.
Jones was in Manchester, but he could descry the corrugated executive perched on the precipice from which New Hampshire’s Old Man of the Mountain had once presided. He was still in his brown suit, still propped on his folded base, but he had managed to splay his legs and raise his arms, palms angled skyward. Over his suit, he wore the ceremonial garb of a Mesoamerican god-king, his limbs adorned with beads and gold jewelry that shimmered in the flaring sun. He was crowned with a headdress of jade quetzal feathers and glared into the distance with a look that was menacing in its vacancy. Rontezuma’s Revenge.
Ronnie stood with unnerving silence and Jones, despite his fear, ventured an opening: “H-H-Hello, M-M-Mr. P-P-President,” he stammered.
Reagan’s lips cracked open slowly, squarely, revealing a stygian void, like the portal of another dimension. From this accursed paper maw, a voice called out that was supernaturally deeper but unmistakably the ex-president’s, “Wwwweeeeellllll!”
It was Reagan’s grandfatherly byword, only now it had become an unearthly, booming drone that shook the White Mountains and the earth in all visible directions. Jones instinctively covered his hands with his ears, collapsing to his knees.
“Wwwwweeeeeelllllllll!” the president droned on. The voice was growing louder.
“Senator!” yelled Jones, still clasping his hands over his ears, at an approaching John McCain. “Senator, cover your ears!” McCain flapped his arms vainly, struggling desperately to lift them high enough. The top of his head blew off, leaving only the horizon of his confident smile.
Jones turned away from McCain’s corpse just in time to catch Mitt Romney striding heedlessly toward the President, who was droning still louder. Jones felt no particular affinity for Romney and didn’t bother warning him about the danger cardboard Reagan posed. As the candidate drew nearer, layers of his business attire were stripped away by the force of Reagan’s voice. Suddenly, Romney’s flesh started to peel back around his eyes and mouth, but he kept walking. In a few seconds, Romney’s entire dermis was gone, exposing a gleaming skeletal Terminator unit. Jones realized then that the unit was heading toward him, but it was too late to run. The unit reached out and lifted him up by his tiny neck.
“Please, Mr. Romney!” he managed to squeak. “Robots are people, too!” The Romney rattled its head, signaling its dissent wordlessly. His metallic hand closed around Jones’s neck.
The reporter bolted upright in bed. He was soaked and shivering. He stuck out his tongue and removed a feather from the tip. He’d been chewing the comforter.
Meanwhile, a similarly afflicted and perspiring Murphy was peddling his gimp leg at dangerous speeds down a lonely, icy road and losing a battle with a violent, spastic cough, which echoed through the frigid Manchester darkness like the bark of Cerberus.
Masochism his constant guide, Murphy was following a tip that Republican candidates were descending as locusts upon a local polling station. Following the glaring camera lights into the parking lot of the Brookside Congregational Church, Murphy paused in the midst of the madness, doubled over and vomited a foul, steaming mixture of orange juice and mucus onto the snow-dusted blacktop. During the proceeding dry heaves, he could see through teary eyes CNN anchorfish Dana Bash peering over in disgust.
“So, where’s Giuliani, then?” Murphy sprung up after several tortured minutes, asking a nearby cameraman.
“Jesus Christ! You OK, man?” he replied.
“I think so,” gagged Murphy, imagining how wonderful it would be to personally infect Giuliani. “Where is he?” he asked with hope in his bloodshot eyes.
“He went over to say hi to Huckabee, then left.” Hope crushed and restored at once, Murphy limped to the front of the pack coalescing around ol’ Huck and his subservient wife.
“Governor, Governor?” wheezed the pale and glistening reporter. “If elected, will you make rapture preparedness part of Homeland Security?”
“I don’t know what that means,” played the creationist candidate, turning his focus on a man telling a vague story about his mother and the power of God. The press was enthralled.
Dejected, shivering and suffering another coughing fit, Murphy slunk away from the bright lights and hobbled back into the night.
It was time to get out of Manchester. Forever.
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