Through a Lockbox, Darkly

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"Welcome
to the Naval Observatory, Mr. President-elect." Al Gore strode
in Reaganesque steps over to George Bush as he came up the drive.
A postcard-perfect snow added seasonal charm to the scene. Gore
uncocked a snowball, which hit Bush in the arm. Bush looked at
the snowy mark in surprise and anger.

Gore
was laughing his false, forced laugh, one eye on the cameras. "We’ve
had a heckuva fight, you and I, but the presidency …(he stepped
over and brushed Bush’s coat sleeve off)…but the presidency is
more than a popularity contest–it’s a day-by-day fight for the
people, and for…."

Bush
was looking over the Observatory grounds, and nodding to himself.
Flashbulbs lit the falling snow.

Gore
was still going through his well-rehearsed greeting: "Sometimes
you have to be willing to spend your popularity in order to pick
the hard right over the easy wrong." Gore’s aides winced–
that phrase again.

Gore
grasped the hand of the Texas Governor. "There are big choices
ahead and our whole future is at stake. And I do have strong beliefs
about it, so I’m hoping we can, you and I, make snow angels, right
here, so we can summon the better angels of our nature, to begin
today to make America all it can be, true to its…."

Bush
ignored him, still gazing around at the property. Giving the Vice
President’s hand a quick pump, he turned to his Secret Service escort.

"Would
that be the main road over there?" Bush asked, pointing with
his hand towards Massachusetts Avenue as though towards some distant
arroyo.

The
Secret Service men seemed confused. "Er, yes, sir, it is…"

Bush
squinted his eyes at the road, as if it might be a rattler, about
to spook his horse. "Then let’s throw up some post and wire
over there–mark out the perimeter–doesn’t have to be barbwire,
either."

The
security men looked at each other blankly. Finally, one of them
said, sotto voce , "uh, sir, this isn’t the
White House…this is the Naval Observatory."

Bush
looked back towards the building, and spotted some hydrangeas, withered
in the cold. "Put up a pen over there, for the livestock.
Also, build a little door at the bottom for Spot."

The
Secret Service team leader shrugged his shoulders. This …behavior…
had been getting worse, the past few days, ever since it had dawned
on the Texas Governor that he really had won the election.
"Play along with him," the agent whispered into his headset.

The
Secret Service man standing closest to Bush spoke up. "Yes
sir, we’ll put up a stockade right over there. How big, sir?"
The agent had whisked an official Service notebook and pen out of
his pocket.

Bush
gave the man an irritated look. "Big enough to hold a prize
bull. But not a stockade." The man nodded, pretending to
write it down.

Al
Gore was still grinning his waxen grin: his skin gleamed orange
against the soft white of the snow. "I speak of gratitude,
achievement and high hopes for our country. Mr. President-elect,
and I do call you that, despite ongoing questions regarding
votes not being allowed into the warm sunlight of this great nation,
for almost eight years now, I’ve been the partner in a dance which
has moved us out of the valley of recession and into the longest
period of prosperity in our nation’s…."

Bush
was continuing his walkabout. "Over there, I want some mesquite
planted. And repaint the place so it looks like adobe. Better
yet, ask Laura about that." He pointed down Massachusetts
Avenue, to the Sri Lankan embassy.

"Any
way we can turn that into a rodeo?"

Gore
was droning on, his face moving in animatronic syncopation: one
moment he’d duck his chin down, smirk, and roll his eyes up at you;
the next he’d jauntily toss his head back and chuckle. Then the
forehead would crease, the smile vanishing, and he would arrange
his features into a look of great earnestness and sobriety, all
in the course of one sentence: "I have one thing to be thankful
for (tucks chin) now that I’ve conceded this questionable election:
(head back, chuckle) more time to spend with our four children:
Kristin, Sarah and Albert, our oldest daughter Karenna and her husband
Drew, and the youngest member of our family, who a little over a
year ago was born (earnest expression, deepens voice) on the Fourth
of July."

Bush
grimaced. "Can something be done about him?" he asked
an aide, jerking his thumb backwards at the Vice President. Suddenly,
seeing a truck parked behind the Observatory, he yelled out "Hey–get
that horse trailer unloaded!"

One
of the Secret Service agents leaned close: "Sir, that’s the
catering truck."

Bush
looked at him blankly. "Tell Laura I’m going for a horse ride,
would you?" He gave a curt nod.

"Sir,
we’re here to meet with the Vice President," the agent began,
but Gore interrupted this diminuendo by striding over and grabbing,
for the second time, Bush’s hand.

"Together,
let’s make great through our common voices our desire and our wish
to make sure that our prosperity enriches not just the few, but
all working families." His plasticine mien reformed
itself continually in a smooth, eldritch rhythm.

Bush
took his hand away. "Thank you." He nodded to his agents.
"Get this guy off my ranch."

Bush’s
Chief of Staff put his head near, and, smiling towards the Vice
President, whispered "Mr. President, we’re here to meet with
this man."

Bush
looked at Gore as if seeing him for the first time. "Oh.
Why didn’t you say so? Invite the man in. We got bar-b-que? Did
Laura make her potato salad?"

The
agents looked helplessly at one another. Gore stood there, grinning
like an idiot child. Sensing a break in the social continuum, he
began talking again, just as he had been trained to do at St. Alban’s.
Silence, he knew, invited uncomfortable thoughts. Always keep talking.
"I was an Army reporter in Vietnam. Now, when I was there
I didn’t do the most or run the gravest danger, (chin down, chuckle)
but I was proud (chin up, stern look, head cocked) to wear my country’s
uniform (turn head slightly to left), and proud, too…."

Bush
looked at him a moment, then turned to the Secret Service men.
"Why don’t you take this man inside and fix him a drink?"
He nodded his head curtly to indicate that this was a command, coming
from him, their President. The agents reacted, trying to
indicate by soft touches that the Vice President should follow them.
But Gore was still talking. "…but for generations to come.
We must fight together for affordable health care for all, step
by step, child by child…."

Bush
walked away, giving terse commands to plant cottonwoods and cactus
by the side of the building. Suddenly he stopped. "Where’s
Spot?"

"Uh,
sir, remember, the First Lady didn’t think it a good idea to bring
him along…."

"The
First Lady-ELECT," Bush corrected. "Well, go get him."

"He’s
in Texas, sir."

Bush
looked at the hapless man with that withering look he had learned
so well from his mother. "I don’t want to hear about your
problems, mister. Get my damn dog or I’ll find someone who can."
He kept his voice even, like dad had taught him to do.

"Yes
SIR!" The agent almost saluted. He began talking furiously
into his headset.

Gore
babbled on, each new clause accompanied by a different inclination
of his head: "…and let’s move toward the day when we, at
long last, end the stigma of mental illness and treat it like every
other illness everywhere in this great nation of ours…."

"I
said TAKE HIM INSIDE" barked the President-elect.

The
agents were in something of a bind. It WAS a direct order from
the President, but he wasn’t really president, not yet,
and they couldn’t exactly be seen jostling the Vice President back
into his own house on George Bush’s orders. How would THAT play
on the Brokaw show? They took to pleading: "Please, Mr. Gore,
could you go inside, just this once? We’ll let you play with your
Greenpeace boats…"

Gore
was still yammering, like some Debate Club Captain on Ritalin:
"…there is more computer power in a Palm Beach ballot than
in the spaceship that took Neil Armstrong to the moon, and we will
offer all our people lifelong learning skills for the higher-paying
jobs that lay in all of our futures…."

Gore
was a big man, and it was no light task to manhandle him in a way
that wouldn’t look too obvious to the reporters. But these were
trained agents, and they got him halfway towards the door before
he managed to break free:

"…at
last, a new prescription drug benefit under Medicare that will fit
ALL our family values. I’ll fight for it and… LET ME GO! They…
(a brief scuffle) …give …in… to the big drug companies."
(The Vice President throws a right jab at one of the agents) "Their
…(uppercut)…plan… forces seniors to beg the HMOs and …(left
hook)… insurance companies for prescription…."

Bush
watched the fracas for a moment, then turned to one of his Secret
Service men. "Give me your gun."

"Sir?!"
The agent was horrified.

"I
said GIVE ME YOUR GUN."

Luckily,
the other agents were beginning to wear Gore down. "…not
just the wealthy or the powerful… (agents struggle to hold his
arms) …especially those… who need… (the Vice President was
clearly becoming winded) …a voice… those who need a champion…
(the agents finally got him in an armlock) …those who need to
be lifted …up… so they are never left…behind" (Gore is
lifted and carried inside the house.) They could still hear his
shouts as he was taken into the foyer, adorned with bronze plaques
bearing the names of Naval Astronomers who had died, sextant in
hand, serving their nation. "…That’s why I’ll fight
to add 50,000 new community police who help prevent crime by establishing
REAL relationships with…." Finally the door slammed and
he was gone.

Bush
turned to his aides. "Who was that guy?"

"Nobody,
sir. A local. You needn’t worry about him anymore."

"Kinda
pesky, wasn’t he?" Bush gave a crooked grin, which telegraphed
the message "Agree with me, or I’ll call Dick Cheney and tell
him."

"Yes
sir, he was. Unfortunate, really."

Suddenly,
one of the Secret Service men pointed up into the sky. An Air Force
interceptor from Lackland AFB had been scrambled, and had just air-dropped
a special package. Bush looked up, to see a parachute wafting gently
downwards through the snowy twilight.

"Spot!"
A big, goofy grin split his mouth into a boyish rictus, and Bush
held his arms out to catch his doggie. Spot was cold, and frightened,
but glad to see his owner. He licked the president-elect’s face
eagerly.

Up
at the top of the observatory, a window was flung open. After muscling
the Vice President through the doorway, the agents had tossed him
into his padded lockbox. Gore, clever as always, had found a way
to shimmy open a window, and shouted down to the gathered crowd:
"So to the young people watching tonight, I say this is your
time to make new the life of our world and America’s journey westward
to the eternal beginning of the New Frontier, to the best America,
a new journey on which we advance not by the spinning of wheels,
but by the spinning of our minds, the reach of our smiles, the daring
grace of…."

But
not even his mad shouts could disturb the simple peace of this wintry
Washington scene. The president-elect built a snow fort, and pelted
the Secret Service men with snowballs, who dutifully stood their
ground. The more loudly Gore shouted, the more tightly George Bush
hugged Spot to his chest.

It
was fun, being President. Just like dad had told him it
would be.

December
22, 2000

Charles
Davenport is a physician trapped, behind the lines, in New York.

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