Saturday, December 5, 2054

Chapter Twenty-Three

I slept poorly that night. My mind was still reeling. I knew the idea of running me for president was absurd. In addition to all of the reasons I'd brought up in my meeting with Rotholz and Bolling, I could think of a million more. What did I know about politics? I'd be eaten alive. I could spout off with all the other yahoos between innings about why we should or shouldn't be involved in one or another country's affairs. It's easy to spout when no-one has to pay attention to anything you say. I know someone has to make tough decisions about domestic spending, but me? Give me a break.

This was a bad, bad idea.

While my voice of reason soothing sounds, my insane "little voice" also kept yammering at me. They want you to be President, asshole. Go for it! Do you have any idea what a cool job that is? And when you're finished, every company in the freakin' world offers you a job. You get to sit on some board, or be a consultant or something like that. Work two days a month for a gazillion dollars. And you're on the guest list for all the best parties.

I was trying not to listen to my insane voice, but it was enormously seductive and I started convincing myself that the whole thing wasn't that unreasonable. Presidents don't have to know everything. That's what cabinets and advisors are for. There're hundreds of people around to fill you in on stuff you don't know.

And I was starting to buy into my own celebrity. I had done a pretty good job of responding to tough-ish questions. I had been poised, articulate and damned amusing, if I do say so myself.

And I was sincere in the opinions I'd stated. Didn't Jefferson envision a system where ordinary citizens took their turn at governing and then returned to private life?

Maybe I wasn't asking myself the right questions. I was thinking about being President as it was defined in 2004. Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing to have a President in the Jeffersonian construct. I finally fell asleep having fooled myself into feeling better. Maybe this wasn't so insane after all.

I awoke up in the morning knowing I'd been wrong. This wasn't an absurd idea. It was the incoherent ravings of a fucking lunatic. Off the charts insanity.

Knowing I was going to turn them down came as a tremendous relief. I'd had a perfectly happy, if ordinary life before all this began and sooner or later, I'd get it back.

There's an old Yiddish story about the Wise Men of Chelm. They're discussing traveling to the sun and all the problems involved in achieving such a feat, (We can't fly; It's too far, etc), when one of them brings up a problem he's sure will put an end to the discussion. "Surely we'll all burn up if we reach the sun! One of the other wise men waves the problem aside like a troublesome gnat. "That's no problem at all", he says, "we'll go at night when its not so hot."

This described my feelings about my current situation. Bolling and Rotholz and their faceless junta were solving ridiculous problems with ridiculous solutions and blindly ignoring the fact that making me President was a very bad idea.

I took a long hot shower and then dressed in my usual work uniform; khakis, Polo shirt and Timberlands. As the coffee was brewing, I heated up some Danish I'd bought the night before. I cut some fruit and was just setting out a pitcher of juice when the doorbell rang.

I opened the door and thanked Wainright for coming. True to her word, Addie had driven him and, once again, offered to stay. I thanked her and watched her walk back to the car. As she was driving away, Rachel pulled into the driveway.

When she got to the door, I introduced her to Wainright. When we were all sitting around the table, I began, "I asked you both to come here to help me work my way through a difficult decision. As it turns out, though, I've realized there is only one possible decision. I'm sorry I wasted your time and I hope breakfast is enough to make up for it".

Wolfing a danish, Rachel said, "So what's the big decision anyway"?

"It sounds silly now that I've come to my senses", I said. "I'm actually embarrassed to tell you." After a moment's hesitation, I continued. "Yesterday, Adelaide Rotholz and Senator Reese Bolling called me in to meet with them. They told me they want to run me for President".

Rachel burst out laughing. Uncontrollable, manic gales of laughter. Almost immediately, I joined her. It was the first time I'd said it out loud aside from the meeting with Rotholz and Bolling and outside of that context, it was the first time I could hear what a laughable idea it was. When our laughing jag finally petered out, I glanced over at Darrell.

He wasn't laughing.

When he saw that I had myself under control, he said, "So what was your decision"?

"What was my decision? I'm going to tell them no, of course".

"Why, 'of course'", he asked.

"Because it's fucking nuts. That's why 'of course'. I mean who in their right mind thinks I'm qualified to be President? Get real, Darrell".

"Apparently Addie Rotholz and Reese Bolling think you're qualified".

I asked him, "Did Addie prep you on the way here"?

"I like you Paul", he answered, "that's the truth. And you should believe me when I tell you the first I heard of it was a minute ago from your lips. I think maybe you ought to rethink this".

"Then you're nuts, too", Rachel contributed. "He's just Paul. He can't be President".

Darrell ignored her. "They gave you reasons why they want to do this, right? And they probably told you why they think it'll work, right"?

I nodded.

"And the things they said; they sounded pretty good to you at the time, right?"

"Yeah", quietly.

He looked at me levelly. "Here's one other thing you should believe. I'll want to hear what they said before I chime in on this decision, but the fact alone that Addie Rotholz and Reese Bolling think it's a good idea is reason enough to consider it seriously. They really are two of the sharpest people in Washington. Addie may be just an unemployed wonkette at the moment, but it'd be a huge mistake to underestimate her".

I just looked at him. Rachel didn't say a word.

"How long do you have before they expect a decision"?

"I've got 'til Sunday", I said.

"Tell you what, Paul", he said, "I'll make you a deal. Don't rush the decision one way or the other. Think about it. I trust Addie and I'll get her to fill me in on her thinking. Then I'll want to sit down with you again and tell you what I think. Does that sound reasonable?"

"Sure", I said.

"One other thing", he continued. "Like I said, I trust Addie. I think the odds are that if she thinks this is a good idea, she'll be able to convince me it's a good idea. So, it's likely I'm going to come back here to try to convince you that it's a good idea. And when we get to that point and you agree to run, I'm going to resign my post at the White House and come to work for your campaign, if you'll have me...'cause I wouldn't miss that show for all the peanuts at the circus!"

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We talked through another couple of hours after that. Rachel was highly suspicious because the "group of rich folks" was maintaining anonymity. She's kind of a conspiracy theorist, so I try to listen to her, but skeptically.

Darrell went off and had his conversations with Addie and, as predicted, came back to me suggesting I go for it. This only served to augment my delusions of grandeur, so finally, I called Addie and said, "What the Hell, let's give it a shot".

I called Tess and told her I wouldn't be in the office for the next couple of weeks and that she should deal with the daily crap on her own and get in touch with me for only the big stuff. Privately, I told her that she should consider herself the CEO for the next two weeks and pay herself my salary for that period. Who am I kidding? She'd been working for me for six years, and knew practically everything I did about running the business. If she actually made any changes they were sure to be improvements.

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