I knew going in that many would view my candidacy as quixotic. The Republicans had never nominated for president a pro-choice, gun control-favouring Jew, much less a pro-choice, gun control-favouring Jewish socialist, but I had time on my hands, the ability to design attractive “memes” for display on the social media, and what I felt to be an irresistible slogan — Together, we can, with a comma. I was aware that God had personally urged such of my opponents as Marco Rubio and Scott Walker to seek the highest office in the land, but dared to imagine that my attracting 20 Facebook admirers within hours of announcing my candidacy bespoke divine sanction.
I announced my positions on a variety of issues. I proposed to decriminalise all drugs, and to dismantle the American war machine, and to allow gays to wed. I proposed to outlaw weapons of mass destruction (that is, semiautomatic weapons of the sort used in America’s bimonthly mass shootings). My following swelled to 28, but that apparently wasn’t enough for me to be invited to participate in any of the televised debates. It took two months for my 29th Facebook follower to leap aboard the bandwagon, and I ceased to be able to pretend that my candidacy hadn’t been in vain. I sighed deeply, repatriated to the UK for the third time, and resumed conspiring to become the country’s oldest rock star.
It was while continuing not quite to master the marvellous beat Toto’s drummer had played on “Roseanna” that I received the transatlantic phone call that would change my life, though modern telephony is such that someone calling from across the Atlantic sounds no farther away than in the next room. In an accent that betrayed a boyhood in one of the less genteel outer boroughs of New York City, my caller said he was contacting me on behalf of a leading presidential candidate who wished to speak to me in person about an opportunity that I might find exciting.
I asked why the candidate, whose identity my caller thought I could probably guess, but which he was not at liberty to reveal, was interested in me, of all people. He said it was because I wasn’t only a socialist, and likely to appeal to disgruntled Bernie Sanders enthusiasts, but also a member of the LGBT community, That second part baffled me, as I am as straight as straight can be, without a homosexual bone in my body, or a gay impulse; if shipwrecked for months with Anne Widdecombe and the 1972 David Cassidy, I would make a beeline for the former. Then it occurred to me that my caller might be referring to my brief membership, during my unhappy 2008 10-month sojourn in the American heartland, in Madison, Wisconsin’s Let’s Go Dwarf-Tossing! (LGDT) club.
I will not pretend not to have become retroactively ashamed of that association, but times were different then. Neither Game of Thrones nor Ricky Gervais’s appalling Life’s Too Short was yet in production, and it had been years since Austin Powers. There wasn’t a lot of work about for wee folks, and many were quite happy to allow drunken University of Wisconsin football players and the occasional middleaged ex-ex-pat such as I to see how far we could throw them. By virtue of their coming in all colours, no actual racism was involved, so political correctness didn’t rear its meticulously groomed head. In fairness, nobody threw them very far, and rollicking Midwestern fun was had by all, not least the little people.
In a spirit of transparency, I confessed all of this, but my caller just chuckled, “Minor details! The voters don’t care about them, and God knows the candidate doesn’t.” The next thing I knew I was on my way to New York, albeit in Coach, rather than the promised Business Class, which was just as well because Business Class passengers commonly wear enough designer aftershave to make me sneeze, and speak in jargon, using words unknown by anyone in the real world — synergy, for instance, and prioritise. Coach, on the other hand, was full of Central Americans hoping to sneak into the USA through JFK. When I confessed my befuddlement to one of the two between whom I was seated, she explained that it was actually more economical to fly from Tegulcigulpa to Gatwick, and then to JFK, than to pay a succession of Mexican lowlifes to smuggle one across his country, and then the American border. It fascinated me to realise that, contrary to the presumptive Republican nominee’s observation, Mexico apparently wasn’t sending all its undesirables to rape American beauty pageant contestants after selling them drugs, but keeping them to smuggle Hondurans and Guatemalans and what-have-you.
I was met at the airport by a Honduran-looking chauffeur holding an inkjet-printed-looking sign stating my surname. He was disinclined to small talk, preferring to grunt affirmatively several times while the crazed-sounding radio chat show host to whom he was listening raged foamingly about Michelle Obama’s secret campaign to confiscate everyone’s assault rifles. When I asked if he himself had such a weapon, he glowered at me in his rearview mirror and demanded to know if I were in the FBI. It occurred to me to say, “No, the LGBT,” but I thought he might hack me to pieces with a machete hidden under his seat.
Our destination was a Manhattan skycraper bearing the name of the most controversial presidential candidate since the Yippies nominated a pig in 1968. If I’d thought the patting down to which I’d had to submit hours before at Heathrow had been gruelling and demeaning, I soon found that it had, comparatively, been a traipse on the beach. Half a square-jawed dozen rugby player types with shaven heads, sunglasses, and expensive-looking suits growled at me out of the corners of their mouths as they demanded access to every area of my person in which I might have concealed an assault rifle or machete of my own.
Given how surly and aggressive his street-level security detail had been, I was gobsmacked by the warmth of my reception when the elevator doors finally opened on the 142nd floor. A pair of beautiful young women with lads’-mag physiques and conditioner-advert manes beamed at me delightedly with their preternaturally straight white teeth, hooked my arms — one per side — and escorted me into what I surmised was the presumptive nominee’s study, where, in a non-monogrammed dressing gown, cravat, and reading glasses, he was so engrossed in a book as not to notice for a long moment that he had company.
When at last he did notice, he was flatteringly contrite, virtually leaping to his feet, offering me his tiny, but much-moisturised-feeling, hand, and saying, “So dreadfully sorry, dear fellow.” So much for the popular conception of him as staunchly unrepentant! He explained that he was halfway through re-reading all of Melville, and had been mesmerised by Mardi, the first novel the author hadn’t based on personal experience. “Like his more famous works,” he explained, “it’s a sea narrative on one level and a philosophical allegory on another. Re-reading it, I honestly can’t fathom how it was so tepidly reviewed on publication in 1849.
I think he saw that I was surprised. He chuckled, “I know,” he chuckled, “I know. The press has portrayed me as one no more likely to savour 19th century American fiction than to date Carly Fiorina. But I do adore Melville, and Flaubert, Dostoyevsky, and, among 20th century Americans, even William Faulkner. Among the leading writers of the country in which I understand you’ve chosen to reside, for reasons I shan’t compel you to confide, I also enjoy Martin Amis and Ian McEwan. I invited you here, though, not to discuss literature, but to implore you to consider helping me make America great again.”
I wasn’t sure how to address him. Given his alleged vaingloriousness, I suspected he might want Your Excellency or, at the very least, sir. Or maybe he couldn’t wait for Mr. President, though, literalist as I tend to be, O would have felt more faithful to my own core principles with Mr. Presumptive Nominee. I was delighted when he asked me to call him Dee. “Like Dee Dee Ramone,” he explained, winking engagingly, but with one fewer Dee.” His blue eyes twinkled with mischief. The remarkable power of his charm was growing more evident by the second.
Before I, in a spirit of reciprocity, could invite him to call me Johnny, as my parents and gals have, one of the lads’-mag beauties rejoined us and advised him, “Sir, Rupert Murdoch is on Line 1, Mike Tyson on Line 2, Vladimir Putin on Line 3, and Gov. Palin on Line 4.” He smirked at me abashedly, held up a finger to indicate he’d be only a minute, and told his assistant to advise everyone but Putin that he was in a meeting. He made no attempt to keep me from hearing his half of the conversation, which seemed to be almost entirely about golf and the relative “hotness” of a couple of women (presumably!) of their mutual acquaintance.
While they were chatting, a tall skinny woman in a lurid Hawaiian muu muu and fuzzy bedroom slippers, with her hair in curlers, came in with a platter of chocolate chip cookies, a pitcher of milk, and two glasses. As she offered me her hand, I was stunned to realise that she was the presumptive nominee’s wife. Indicating the cookies, she whispered, “Help yourself. I just made them,” and then indicated gesturally to her husband that she was about to retire. I found their making kissyfaces at each other strangely endearing.
He finished his phone call and poured us both a glass of milk. “Sorry about that,” he said. “Vee — he insisted he be Vee if I were going to be Dee — is having problems with a few of his girlfriends.
“Women,” he sighed, shaking his head and smiling collegially, eyes once more a-twinkle. “You can’t live with ‘em…”
“And you can’t live without ‘em,” I groaned, dutifully. He extended his fist for me to tap my own against in affirmation. Just a couple of bros, Dee and I.
Each of us enjoyed a cookie. I’d honestly never tasted a more delicious one. He asked what I thought of his various policies. I confessed that I didn’t believe he had any, but just shot his mouth off at random, and then kept repeating whatever inflammatory nonsense seemed to elicit the greatest reaction, as witness the whole wall-along-the-Mexican-border thing. He giggled — the future most powerful man on earth! — and marvelled, “Was that incredible, the way people took to that? I mean, that’s a solution to the immigration problem a 4-year-old would come up with. ‘We’ll build a great big wall!’” Now it was my turn to giggle, and time for another fist-tap. I felt that at any moment he was going to ask me to be his running mate, or at least offer me a high-paying position in his campaign.
He asked if I had reservations about him. I admitted I didn’t like his xenophobia, or his proposed ban on Muslims, or his avowed affection for waterboarding, or his never troubling himself to know what he was talking about, or his deceitfulness, or his coiffure, or his avowed affection for waterboarding and imprisoning people who don’t inform on their neighbours.
“Of course,” he said, winking avuncularly. “All the usual stuff. Don’t you have anything new?”
I had. I told him I thought it had been fantastically corny of him and his second wife to name their daughter Tiffany, and of him and third wife Melanoma, or whatever her name is, to name their son Barron, given that Barron’s is a leading American business magazine. He looked so chastened that I felt a frightful cad. “What would you have preferred we name them?” he finally managed. I admitted I’d have advised him to give Tiffany a unique melange of Qs and Ks and apostrophes — L’Quisha, say — as it would have endeared him to the Afro-American community. As for Barron, something Biblical — Matt, for instance, or Luke, would have appeased evangelicals.”
He looked at me in awe, shaking his lovely blonde head slightly. “If only we’d gotten you on board sooner.”
And then he goes and picks this horrid Spence person.