Friday, October 22, 2004


At the White House

Well, this is what I wanted, of course: the mantids out of power. And thanks to Mullah Billdoug's connection with Michael Moore, I've been offered this intern position in the White House, as Literary Critic to the President. No salary, of course, but they've given me an oversized fish tank to live in up here in the upstairs reception room, right next to Lincoln's study. They even threw in a castle, a windmill, some potted plants, and enough round stones to cover the bottom. The only drawback, of course, is that I have to sleep in rubber pajamas.

But, um, how should I put this: for a liberal Abraham Lincoln is a bit, well--imperious. Bossy. He doesn't exactly consult with advisors. He tells us what to do. From what I've read he was never like that during his first term. I guess all those years at the bottom of a lake took their toll. They would on anybody, probably.

He's had the Lincoln bedroom retrofitted to hold water, converted it into a large murky tank from which no algae is ever removed, no water is ever filtered. The old lath-and-plaster wall separating the bedroom from the hall has been replaced with a floor-to-ceiling plexiglass observation wall, with an intercom system so Abe (as he's asked me to call him) and Bessie don't have to come out through the water lock to deal with minor emergencies.

My task this morning is to analyze the literary references in the song the bugs on the Million Mantid March have been singing. Lincoln's fishy spies have it on tape, and the secretaries down in the typing pool (really only a wading pool) have transcribed it for me. My questions:

The Surgeon-General, Dr. Skipjack LaWrasse, sticks his head in. "Chief wants to see you," he says.

"Sure thing," I say, and head on down to the Oval Office.

"Doug," the great man says, looking a little dry around the gills. "Come on in."

"Mr. President," I say.

"Call me Abe," he says, but not in a particularly friendly tone.

"Right, uh, Abe," I say.

"So fill me in on the song," he says.

"Uh, sir, I mean Abe, I just got it thirty minutes ago--"

"No excuses, Doug. This is a war we're fighting. The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

"Yes sir, uh, I mean Abe. Well," I begin, clearing my throat. "I think I've tracked down the coach reference."

"Good boy. I knew I could count on you."

"The Houston police just faxed this over. Looks like some cockroach deity, or should I say blattodeity, is making a bid for the big time. Going up against Yahweh. Gutsy move on our enemies' part. I think that's the coach--or rather, I'm guessing, Coach. With a capital C. This whole first stanza is about entomotic hegemony: sucking nectar out of flowers, laying and hatching eggs, consulting with the blattodeity."

"Houston, eh? That city has been a hotbed of mantid activity for decades. I'll insert my best soldier fish into the city right away. With any luck we'll be able to trace the oothecae back to the blattodeity herself, nip the infestation in the bud. What I'm really worried about, though, is that second stanza."

"Of course, sir, I mean Abe. I think I might need some help with that one. There just isn't enough to go on, in a literary sense, in "With the thoughts I'd be thinkin'." No imagery there, no figurative constructs."

"What kind of help are you looking for?"

"I'm thinking a psychic. Someone who can hear those thoughts being thunk."

"What about the good Mullah himself?" Lincoln says. "Isn't he a psychic?"

"He's in the South Pacific," I say. "Corny as Kansas in August. I just got a postcard from him."

"We'll have him picked up," Lincoln says. "If his country needs him, his vacation can wait."

"Yes sir," I say.

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