I was aloft, quite aloft. Couldn't remember where I was, but things felt okay. Then I recognized the walls of the Bembe Loft. That's where I was. Aloft over the Upper East Side - fifty something stories, thin air, minimal atmosphere, Ruben Gonzales playing piano by the balcony.
That’s when Barack walked in. No one recognized him, not even the wine-sipping politicos. He sat on a couch and proceeded to stare into space. Or at the television, I wasn't sure.
Shouldn't you be running the country? I asked. He said it's too dangerous to run anything right now.
So you’re just going to let God sort it out?
I don’t like it any more than you do, he said. But there are factors in play that you couldn’t possibly be aware of. For starters, the secret service is on strike. Why? Well all you’ll read in the papers is overcooked union propaganda, nothing to do with the real reason. Which is? The whole thing was set in motion by one agitator, who happens to be my top security guy. I was paying him too much, see. He started feeling unworthy of his salary, which led to guilt. He was making too many deals, and couldn't deal with his deals. And all the extra money he had to spend on shrinks didn’t even bankrupt him, because I’d given him excellent health insurance, so his malaise only worsened. The more money he threw at the problem, his wife told me after one great night of Oreo love, the sicker he got. Of course it’s ludicrous, but he must have spread his strange form of dis-ease throughout the agency. Just yesterday the union rep told me they want - no they need to be treated like commoners. At least, commoner-er. So they’re striking for lower wages? Yes, much lower. They can't live with luxury and leisure of the tier we’re used to, their brains will explode. But I wouldn't budge - I can't have minimum living standards for some and not others – that’s as long as we're talking about the middle class here. The middle class is now the upper middle class. So it's become a conflict.
I asked him, are you scared? He said no. If someone caps me, I'll be the biggest martyr since JC. And it'll be as big a gift to the left as 9/11 was to the right. Because all that audacious hope stuff? Everyone projected their ideologies onto that. Those promises I can't deliver on and wouldn't want to anyway. And they're not even promises, see? But if I was assassinated, hoh boy, there'd be no time for disillusionment. The illusion would live on strong, and those great things I was gonna do, for pretend America, hehe, they'd be fresh in the minds of the real America. They'd be MLK's dream. A dead Obama would spur action, you know? Real revolution. But that's the problem with assassins, they haven't thought things through. Like the guy who whacked Franz Ferdinand - he wasn't trying to start the first world war, he was just an archduke playahata. I hate those twerps. Insofar as I hate anyone, which I don't really. Anyway, anyone dumb enough to martyr me would be intellectually incapable of buttoning up his shirt, let alone assassinating the leader of the free world. But still, I’m not taking any chances. Chaos can run the show for a while. You’d think we’re enemies, but we’re not. Chaos often works to our benefit. I mean us elites, and America by proxy, albeit to a far lesser extent. We have immunity to chaos, it’s like smallpox to the conquistadors.
Hmmm, you're a cool customer, I said. You make your secret service look like Yosemite Sam. Is it true you raised a billion dollars in your campaign?
Yeah, that’s in the ballpark, Obama said.
But even so, like... what was it all for? Cause I mean, who wants to be in even pretend charge of this clusterfuck? And the last kleptocracy, they already looted the place, what's left to steal? It's like - did you see South Park last night?
Yeah I did, he said. Brainless as per usual.
No, it was half-decent satire for a change. They depicted both campaigns as crack teams of diamond thieves.
Obama smiled for a second but quickly reclaimed his poker face. There's method to my larceny, you know. I'm stealing from the lesser gods, those parasitic middle deities. They've been hoarding their treasures for too long, I'm gonna shake things up in this town. This town? I asked. Oh, well, not this one, but - well yeah, downstream this town will be shaken up, but ground zero is gonna be Washington, obviously. That's change you can believe in. I'm like a grand canyon-sized syringe, loaded poised over the popped out vein of America.
Well if that’s the case, I said, you better shoot us up before the national arm goes dead for lack of circulation.
Did I show you my stimulus package? Obama asked. Before I could stop him, he informed me that it was in his pants. But he succeeded in not smiling as he said this. I failed to not smile – I’d always wanted to snub an American president who thought he was a comedian, but in person I felt obliged to smile at attempted humour, even if I was aloft.
Across from Obama was a giant plasma television with footage of the president at a press conference. He didn't notice. The sound was low, but I could make out quotes from a cascade of statesmen and women giving O the thumbs up. He had the globe's endorsement. He was President of the World.
You're president of the world, I told him. So where do you go from there?
To the gym, he said. To practice my gravitas. That takes time. And in these dangerous times, I refuse to sit idly by. I can’t exactly run the country now, can I? But I can practice looking presidential. You have to look presidential when it’s assumed your hand is on the god button. And that assumption will be correct when the security strike has been broken. You can't look slapdash, it just won't do. For instance, it would do hideous things to the stock market, if my gravitas dropped appreciably below Harvard standards. Yale standards would be bare minimum. And to think that teetotalling Steaksauce-guzzling Arby’s-patronizing Yaleite Bush-the-lesser tried to get his greasy fingers on the God button!
You mean the nuke button? I asked.
No, there's no nuke button, that's just a comedic device, Obama said. But there is a god button, that's real.
Oh yeah, the God button, I said. I’d forgotten about that thing. But now I remember. I found mine in the synergy of LSD and ketamine.
Nonsense, Obama said. There's no God button there. Just hallucinations. The only place one finds a real god button is an ivy league school. With the probable exception of Yale.
Hey, I'm sure there's other places than where I found it, I said. I'm not denigrating the Harvard god button by any means, but why criticize mine? You found yours, now enjoy. Although I'll admit, just between you and me, it seems like your god button is wired to at least some of my cerebral cortex because it does sometimes intrude into my reality, insofar as I perceive digital representations of daily newspapers to be accurate reflections of events occurring thousands of miles away.
Obama laughed, but he was sitting in front of me with his space-face, silent and serious. It was a different Obama laughing. I spun around to look for the double but there was no one to be found, just the original Obama sitting on the couch, and still that laugher, coming from over my shoulder. The new Obama seemed more friendly, even though I couldn't see him. I asked him if he really found his God button at Harvard but he wouldn't tell me. C'mon, I said, why won't you tell?
He said, in all honesty, I don't know. That's the problem with pressing the button, things warp fast and it's tricky to retrace your steps. But that's change you can believe in. I kept the faith. Like Watson when he discovered DNA. He had the shape in mind. He dreamed about the double helix, and lo and behold, it was there under the microscope, insofar as you can infer the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid from up-scale contours. I saw the contours of the god button in my dreams - actually it was a dial. Sometimes you've got to believe your dreams. And when I got up the nerve to twist the dial a bit, I began to dream bigger. I realized I could just turn the dial a little to the right and within a few years, events would conspire to make me president.
And there he is. I looked back at the President of the World, staring through the television. Look at that Obama over there, new Obama said. He's not handling his God-transition very well. He may look calm, but he's over-calm. The tension is being stored away. Stored where? Probably under a mountain in Colorado, new Obama said. But he's living the American Dream.
The American Dream, I mused. I dream of snow. Banks of snow. Crystalline webs like financial systems, but it's all snow and nowhere to go. I never get anywhere in my dreams, just kind of drift and try to keep warm. I have Canadian Dreams. I'd be content to be President of Nelson, but I'd blow the whole municipal budget on phone sex.
New Obama asked, you're a slave to your addictions are you? Yeah, I said. I have faith in that.
Old Obama shot up from the couch, looking perplexed, Then broke into a childish giggle. New Obama's voice began to flange and merge with Old Obama. Oh, it's happening, they said. The dial's almost turned. I never thought I'd skip so much time. Why am I saying this? Hehehe, President of the World and I don't even know how to channel yet. Well, I'll learn. The flanging stopped and Obama, now unified with his retro-echo, slumped back on the couch. Caught his face on television. Hey, that's me, he said. Isn't it? God I'm annoying. Can someone shut this shit off?
Yo Barack, someone said. He was finally recognized. Ruben Gonzales challenges you to a piano duel. Whatever dude plays the best montuno wins... wins the state. Hey, I said, watch out Ruben. Obama plays a mean montuno - a better montuno than you. That's why he's president and you're not.