In ‘16, I had a creative writing class but I couldn’t think of anything creative to write about. My every thought was consumed by Trump and his fascinating (not praise-worthy, but objectively intriguing) campaign. I was spending all my spare time watching those dank memes on the internet, and usually laughing at Jeb Bush’s expense in the process. When I wasn’t doing that, I was frantically researching our political history, election by election, to try to contextualize this insane phenomenon. It was a really productive year for my writing–nearly all my debate and speech analyses (which will be published here eventually) were finished in just a few months.
Unfortunately I couldn’t focus on anything else. And so that’s why the short story I had to write for my class ended up being dominated by the same themes–even had a shameless McGovern plug to boot. I wanted to inspire my peers to research our history too, especially McGovern. And yet, somehow, my teacher didn’t hate it. If my class did, they were pretty good at hiding it–I remember a couple people in class said they thought it was hilarious.
I actually forgot about this story for a long time, and then the other day I was clearing out old files on my computer and found it again. While there’s more than a few aspects of the plot and characterization I’d change now if I were to re-write it, I think it’s kinda funny. I wanted to share it here, as a bridge between my usual tongue in cheek eclecticism and the more thoughtful political essays to come.
“You know, I never really appreciated this until I was an adult, but this scene is the most pivotal one in the whole movie. It’s not Luke’s story, it’s Han’s. Empire Strikes Back is all about flawed people trying to make their way in a shitty system that doesn’t care about them or anything but its own power. Luke’s cool and all, but nobody can relate to being this chosen one shit, having magical powers and stuff like that. I think we can ALL relate to having mistakes catch up with us—Boba Fett never would’ve separated Han from everyone if he hadn’t had a bounty on his head already, and Han never would’ve taken them somewhere shady like Cloud City if he hadn’t known Lando from the underworld. We all have these little things we care about in our lives: people we love, achievements we’ve won—like Cloud City for Lando—and this scene here man, the Carbon Freeze, thats just showing how easily it can all be taken away. Civil forfeiture, police brutality, wiretaps, solitary confinement and waterboarding. We’d like to think we’re in control, we can outrun the past, stand for larger causes…but at the end of the day, whenever they want, the government can stamp a bootheel on your face, forever. We’re nothing but chess pieces they play with. No…jenga blocks for them to stack us up just so it’s more fun to knock us down again if we get too tall. That’s all anyone is, just a jenga block falling down or praying to be so low on the totem pole that we’re not worth the effort in the first place.”
Goddamn, was it annoying when he got like this. Just watch the damn movie. Look! Cool rainbow swords that sing when you swing em around. Just enjoy the spectacle. But Dylan always got like this when he was high. You never knew how to react, so you just got lectured to. And if you didn’t say anything, he’d get mad like you were ignoring him. Yet, say the wrong thing and he’d debate you for hours. Sometimes doing the latter could be funny, so that’s what Henry decided to opt for this time:
“If Han Solo was a jenga block…I mean when he was frozen…you could put two of em on top of each other and they’d be lying on top of each other, hands held and mouths open. It’d look like they were getting it on. I wish I could do that with myself.”
Leave it to Jimmy or Johnny or whatever his name was to ruin a poignant thought. Oh, Henry, that’s right. Dylan couldn’t even remember why he hang out with him. Right now he couldn’t think of much except this movie and all that it made him feel. Sometimes, you save your friend from freezing to death on an ice planet and other times, your friend gets there too late and you’re shipped away to space gangsters in a slab of carbonite. Some friends just come up short of what you want them to be, and that’s that. Lando betrays you, Leia gives you shit for years, C3PO’s a cockblock… everyone in this world is going to hurt you at some point. That’s the only thing certain in life.
Dylan decided not to dignify Henry’s comment with a response. He submerged his head below the water. The Moon Room had been drained of its sand after he got a dog, Mango, who started shitting in it. Now the sand was at the bottom of the pool, with a big ass TV mounted on the side of the house just above it. This was where Dylan came to be alone these days—the ability to enjoy so many different physical sensations at once was intoxicating. You could get in and out of the pool, and once inside you could bury yourself in the sand, or kick some up into the water and feel the particles swirl around your body. Dylan wasn’t sure how, but he knew this was going to enhance his creativity. He was submerged, grabbing handfuls of sand to rub in his hair only to immediately shake his head and feel it all come swirling out. Almost like the objectification of ideas themselves. This ought to be something they do at spas or whatever, he thought. When Dylan emerged, above the waterline, Henry was waiting.
“You’re missing the lightsaber fight, man,” Henry said to his host.
When Dylan continued to ignore him, Henry decided to switch tactics, even if this was really not the way he’d prefer to watch Empire. Dylan could be a bit pompous and long-winded, but he was a big deal in the local hipster community. All the big creative types started hanging at his place since his series about Cassandra the Many Faced Mutant Girl went viral online and led to a book deal. Word was out that a new weirdo was on the scene. One with a kooky house, acid connections, almost no rules in his parties, and a unique perspective, if he felt comfortable enough to share it with you. Henry hadn’t been to one of the famous group trips yet, but he managed to sneak into a party and had been working on getting on Dylan’s good side ever since. It meant putting up with his shit sometimes, but it was worth it. Best to humor him.
“Hey Dylan, um…what do you think of that Darth Vader reveal, huh? I mean, we’ll never really experience it in its full impact because its so well known now. But imagine seeing this in 1980 and how shocking it was. Amiright?”
Dylan stared at him a long time, sizing him up, trying to decide what to say or if it was worth saying anything. It was tough, having all these random people trying to talk to him these days. In the old days, he was too shy to approach almost anyone. And when he did, his train of thought was so off from theirs it usually ended badly. Now it was a bunch of people trying to say things they thought he’d like to hear, or pretending to be on the same level when he went off on a tangent. It used to be that his brain was going off in a million directions at once, desperate for someone to anchor him. Now it was a bunch of white noise weighing him down all the time when he just wanted to think. But knowing what it was like to be lonely, he was careful never to burn a bridge. He’d test people and drive them away when they couldn’t handle his idiosyncrasies, but he’d never outright call someone a phony, poser or hanger-on no matter how much he suspected it. For now he’d play along and see how far he could push this guy. Best to humor him.
“Yeah. It’s just an expression of the idea that every foundation has the potential to turn bad, no matter how noble it was. Again, look at our own government. The problem is, there’s no blatant universal reveal like that moment in real life. The real world is more subtle, more gradual, and there’s so many people who will disagree no matter what you say. It’s not like a story where the writer or director gets to frame it exactly as they want for maximum impact. In Star Wars, we start out in media res. Immediately we see there’s a problem, we accept the empire as evil, and after the reveal with Vader we see when the corruption happened and how pivotal Luke’s choices are going forward, since even his noble father was converted. In real life, who’s to say when the corruption took place? There was no one great turning point, there were many. You could name the creation of the FED, the Business Plot, the reaction to 9/11…whatever. And when someone starts a corporation, or works for a known shady entity like Wal-Mart, or becomes a politician and votes how the party bosses say, or becomes a journalist and reports on the Kardashians instead of the Panama Papers…they don’t think of it as joining the dark side. And they, individually, are probably great people. But they’re helping to perpetuate the machine. You can throw the PATRIOT Act, the Snowden leaks, the TPP at people…nothing resonates as universally as Vader revealing himself. There’s no shared moment where we all say ‘Oh shit!’ together.”
“Yeah, man. Sometimes we all just need to say ‘Oh shit.’ Or else we all just need to literally shit. I mean, it feels good and it expels the nasty waste. Society just really needs to take a collective dump and just flush all the waste down the toilet.” replied Henry.
Henry could see that that was the wrong thing to say, but he couldn’t help it. Sometimes messing with Dylan was just too much fun. For his part, Dylan didn’t get mad, at least not at people. He got mad at larger than life entities, authority figures and abstract ideas he disagreed with. When it came to people though, he usually just disengaged. In a way, this was almost worse than a blowup. This was like a declaration that you weren’t worth talking to, that you were wasting his time. Henry could see that his host had disengaged now—something in his eyes had changed where you could tell he was no longer listening. Normally Henry would be happy to shut up and let the movie play for awhile, but by this point the hyper-drive on the Millennium Falcon had just been fixed and our heroes had escaped. There was no movie left to watch. For a long time thereafter Dylan stood there in the water looking at the now blank screen. Henry wasn’t sure what to do, so he pretended to be as intrigued by the void at his host.
After what seemed like a long time, Dylan brought his legs up and sat crossed legged in mid-water, and his body flipped around so that his head dunked below the the water line and to the bottom of the pool. Henry could see Dylan was furiously digging in the sand, stirring up as much of it as possible into a frenzied storm before he grabbed his legs into a fetal position and immersed himself in the chaos for as long as he could hold his breath. Finally, he uncurled himself and lay on his back with his head above the water, looking up at the stars. Dylan seemed to have an annoyed expression on his face, as if he was pissed he couldn’t maintain that perfect moment of solitary confinement longer. He was forced to acknowledge himself again. His body’s needs, his responsibilities, the annoying outside stimuli surrounding him, which in this case meant Henry.
It was bordering on 3 AM and Henry had enough experience to know that after a certain point, it was expected you just leave Dylan alone. Plus, he was getting kinda sick of the situation, pretending to give a shit about politics when he thought they were gonna watch a fun childhood favorite. Taking his cue, he left the pool and starting walking home along the beach. The more Henry thought about it, he realized it was important to acknowledge some of what Dylan talked about, even if it was depressing and inconvenient. The great irony of our time is almost certainly that everyone watches House of Cards with a mixture of admiration and enjoyment of a sadistic megalomaniac, while knowing there’s a lot of truth to the whole scenario. Rather than getting upset, storming the Capitol, demanding change, we choose to get enjoyment out of the ridiculousness of our reality. There’s something to be said for turning grittiness into art, sure, but if no one gets angry then nothing changes.
Along the way, he saw a bunch of high school kids skinny dipping in the ocean with all the life guard stands from the neighboring beaches stacked on top of each other as a prank. Henry remembered his own senior week shenanigans. These kids today had some interesting trends going on in the world as they came of voting age. An inspiring black man being president, a woman, a self-styled socialist or more accurately, Social Democrat, doing better than anyone expected in the primaries…and Donald Trump redefining the rules of getting elected, for better and worse. But then again, Ross Perot was supposedly doing that back in the earliest Presidential election Henry could remember, and what had really changed since then? What happened to the Reform party, or the three different Progressive Parties before that, from 1912, 1924 and 1948? Why was American history so full of great intellectual progressives like William Jennings Bryan, Adlai Stevenson, James Cox and Huey Long who never seemed to get elected? How long could this go on—forever?
* * *
After a certain point, stagnant water just doesn’t have the same allure as the ocean itself. There was something about the rising and falling tides, the push and pull of the waves, that was comforting even if the water was cold. Everything is a cycle. The Moon, the seasons, even the political parties realign every 40 odd years. When he got upset about all the anti-LGBT bills getting passed in the South and Midwest, or the fact that every President since Reagan was to some degree a neoconservative, Dylan at least took comfort in the fact that the Age of Aquarius was coming to wash away the mistakes of the past. (At least if you believed in astrology.) What intrigued Dylan was the thought that this age ought to have a messiah of sorts, as the Arian Age had Moses, and the Piscean one had Jesus. So who would lead us into the future? Of course, some scholars postulate that the Aquarian Age has already started, so perhaps our savior went unheeded or under-appreciated in their time, and was awaiting a rediscovery.
Dylan got out of the pool and made his way to the ocean so he could cover himself in wet sand and let the water wash it off, again and again for hours, until the sun came up. Making his way there, however, Dylan saw a sad looking old man dressed in a full suit stomping his feet in the sand. As he drew nearer Dylan could see he was crushing some sea turtle babies under his heel. The man had gray hair, his red tie was loosened to where the knot hung down by his chest. Some of the buttons on his shirt were undone and his jacket had a stain on the front. He reeked of alcohol and sweat. His glasses were broken and held lopsided on his nose.
“Slow and steady wins the race! Yeah, slow and steady ain’t saving ya now, is it? Huh?!” the old man rambled to himself again and again between stomps. “You’re a stupid animal, stupid. And I hate you!”
“Whoa man, let’s dial it down a notch. The beach is a place for peace and play…not this kind of violence. Why are you picking on the turtles, man?” yelled Dylan.
Upon being confronted, the old man gave our protagonist a horrified look and then burst into tears. Slinking down on his knees into the sand, he started weeping. “What was I thinking? Why, why? Why did I ever do it?”
“I don’t know, man. You tell me. Whatcha got against the turtles, friend?”
“No,” he sniffled “Not the turtles. Why did I ever run for President?”
“Hey it’s all good, man. I mean, think of it this way: every presidential candidate is getting their ideas out there. Even if you only get 1% in the polls, you’re still spreading a message. It’s part of history. And that’s what a democracy is all about.” said Dylan
The man recoiled at the mention of “1%” but was otherwise unmoved.
“Hey…I mean, as long as you’re not George Bush, right?” Dylan offered with a smirk.
“George Bush? No. I…am his BROTHER!” as he said these words, the man threw up his head out of his cradled arms and looked Dylan dead in the eyes. It was really dramatic, trust me.
“Oh SHIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!!” Dylan thought, but on the outside he played it off all cool. “Oh, you don’t say.”
“I say, sir. I say again I am the accursed third Bush. The one that failed. The one who lost to Donald fucking Trump. He, who spent 100 times the money of his opponents, humiliated himself a dozen times on national TV, was stabbed in the back by my own protege, and all to lose miserably with even the backing of the entire Republican establishment behind me. Yes, I am Jeb Bush.”
“Well, this is a million to one coincidence. I mean, I don’t even think sea turtles lay their eggs in this part of the country, at this time of year, or why you’re in California when you’re supposed to live in like Texas or Florida or wherever. But then you’ve convinced me—why would anyone pretend to be Jeb Bush when he has so much baggage?” asked Dylan.
Dylan had intended it to be a joke, but Jeb began a renewed bout of sobbing in response. Dylan could tell he needed a softer touch.
“Hey c’mon Jeb. So you lost. It’s a terrible job. Shit pay for the responsibilities it entails, half the country hates you by default, and you age 25, 30 years in just a few years time. You’re probably better off.”
“Really? My wife is divorcing me. Children prod me with sticks as I walk down the street. My guacamole recipe was stolen by circus midgets. My brother and father have conversations every Thanksgiving and Christmas that I can never be a part of. My mom won’t even look me in the eyes anymore. And every time I wake up, he comes to my mind, immediately. Reminding me what a failure I am on a pure, visceral, unavoidable level.”
“Who’s He?” asked Dylan.
“Oh shit, that’s intense.” said Dylan.
“She left me because I couldn’t perform anymore. Ever since that second debate where he wouldn’t apologize…where he called me a tough guy and everyone laughed… I just could never be a man again to her after that. He took my manhood away.”
“This is really weird, even for me…” Dylan started to say, but then his thoughts trailed off as he realized it wasn’t so weird. Politics was a brutal game even in our “civilized” democracy. And then he had an idea.
“Hey Jeb, what was the first election you were old enough to participate in?”
“1972,” he answered.
“I take it you voted for Nixon?” asked Dylan.
“Who didn’t?” answered Jeb.
“A small but passionate minority. You know who they did vote for? George McGovern.”
“So what? He got blown out, 49 states to 1. He was a laughingstock. People still use him as an example of why liberalism fails.” replied Jeb.
“And to some, like me, he was a tragic hero marching headlong into a doomed election to make an unapologetic stand for his beliefs. He was the last true, unabashed liberal to ever run for the presidency. The last one to continue the legacy of the Kennedy brothers, LBJ…and FDR before them. People love and admire McGovern in spite of that humiliating loss. And c’mon, he couldn’t help it that he was going up against a popular incumbent without the support of most of his own party. Or that Eagleton turned out to be a total piece of shit, hiding his damaging medical record and spreading the ‘acid, abortion and amnesty’ slander.”
“Well, yeah, I guess it wasn’t all his fault…”
“Of course not. Just like it wasn’t your fault you got blown out so bad. I mean, you couldn’t help who your brother was and his unpopularity. Or that a whirlwind like Trump would come along and break all the rules, say all kinds of things that would sink any other candidate and still win. That’s just life, man. Who knew a railsplitter would split the Union and build it back better again, y’know?”
“Oh, I know, my friend. I know.”
Dylan was relieved to see ol’ Jeb was smiling for the first time since they met.
“And, even though you may have lost terribly in the primaries, I know you too have inspired someone. Your special brand of…uhh…generic, reactionary, evangelical…family valued…principles…that’s gonna inspire a whole new generation of people to carry on your legacy and honor your name—Jeb, exclamation point!” he finished.
“Yeah.” Jeb exclaimed. “Yeah!” he rose to his feet, “YEAH!!!”
The sun was just beginning to rise now, and the senior weeker-streakers were making their way past our two impassioned heroes, still nude. It was five dudes and eight chicks. Perhaps it was that lucky, distinctly American number spurring on a burst of national pride. Maybe it was the booze talking. Or perhaps that beautiful display of the human form in all its youthful glory renewing Jeb’s manly confidence. But he called out to them.
“Hey there young people! Tell me, do you believe in the generic reactionary, evangelical family values of John Ellis Bush!?!”
“Fuck no!” one of the young men answered back. They all laughed as they continued to walk by. One of the young ladies asked her companions who the hell John Ellis Bush was and no one could stop laughing long enough to answer, if they even knew themselves. There was something stinging about the laughter of women in particular, especially so when you’re hoping to be a leader of men.
Dylan facepalmed, but then he heard a familiar voice call out from the horizon. He looked up and saw Henry walking towards him.
“I don’t even care what you’re doing here, I want you to tell this here Jeb Bush what you think of him,” Dylan said.
Now, of course, Henry’s experience with Jeb Bush was limited to laughing at his expense watching those hilarious You Can’t Stump the Trump videos on YouTube. But one look at Dylan’s face, and Jeb’s disheveled appearance, and he knew what he had to say.
“Of all the Republicans on stage, he was the least crazy. If I say anything more I’d be lying. But I can say that at least. In a field of crazy he was…mildly tolerable,” said Henry.
Jeb was on enough of a roll even from that moderate praise that he couldn’t help himself. He gave Henry a hug and cried a little more on his shoulder. Eventually Jeb blurted out: “I always thought my destiny would be to finish what my family started. Like the Scipios of Ancient Rome, Africanus and Aemilianus. To go back to Iraq and finish it. The Third Iraq war, like how Carthage took a third war to finish off completely.”
“Man…forget destiny. Destiny is overrated. The Kennedy’s had a destiny, and it was to get fucking killed like the Gracchus brothers, also of Ancient Rome. You man, you got your whole life ahead of you. You can be anything you want to be,” Dylan offered.
“…You could be a clown. You’re pretty good at making people laugh, y’know?” Henry interjected with a shrug.
“I’ll…” Jeb looked at his hands as if he were seeing them for the first time. He looked at the fading, barely visible stars. You could imagine there were fifty of them, if you want to. Perhaps a rockets red glare. Or maybe he was just looking at the morning star, Lucifer, and thinking about how aggressively it asserts itself above all its competitors before being rendered irrelevant by the rising sun. But something stirred inside that man; he found a new strength and purpose inside himself he had never known before. “…I’ll do it!” he said finally “I’ll do it!”
“Great, it’s all settled then,” claimed Dylan “there’s a certain poetry to it, really. You can spread the smiles, and I’ll spread the S.M.I2.L.E.”
“And I’ll provide the weed,” said Henry.
“I guess,” replied Dylan “what were you even doing here anyway? Where did you go?”
“I was walking home and then decided to enjoy the sights, if you know what I’m saying.”
“Well, how about we come back home and enjoy the sounds if you know what I’m saying?”
Jeb, happy to be included, offered his elbows for them to link arms and walk together. It’s unknown if they innocently missed his cue or blatantly ignored it, but the official account is clear that no arms were linked that day, I’m afraid. Jeb then put his hands in his coat pockets and ran after them.
“I never did get your names,” said Jeb.
“Dylan Os-ma-gop-o-lis. I changed my name so it would give me a better numerological reading.”
“And I’m Henry Krinkle. That’s K-R-I-N-K-L-E. 154 Hopper Avenue.”
“Well, it was nice to meet you both. Thank you. Thank you for giving me life again.”
“What shall we listen to at your place, Dylan?” Henry asked.
“You’ll really love it, Jeb. In fact, that’s the band’s name,” answered Dylan.
“The band’s name is Jeb?” Jeb asked.
Dylan didn’t have the heart to clarify what he meant, and no one else could think of anything to say, so they walked on in silence. After this fateful night, all three men disappear from the historical record. It is not known whether they survived the nuclear wars of the Trump presidency, and while decades later, there were folktales told of a pink-haired clown named Hugbert Hicklewig entertaining the laborers of Trump’s wall, the true identity of this figure remains uncertain.