Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Channeling Jimmy

Channeling Jimmy

It's weird to be Jimmy Carter. Especially on Halloween. Especially on Halloween in Ketchum, Idaho, where they've moved Halloween back four days. When you walk down Main Street, people yell at you from the mouths of bars: "Hey, stupid. Halloween was four days ago. You missed it." The good news is that they invite you in for a beer and tell you that even though you missed Halloween, your costume is pretty good.

After that first beer you have another, and then, presidential pensions being what they are, you buy a round for the bar. This act gains you more respect than you've had in years, at least until you try to explain that you're not really in costume.

"What would the real Jimmy Carter be doing in Ketchum?" the bartender asks. "Habitat for Humanity?" Then he laughs, and everyone else laughs along with him.

You have another beer.

"That's right," you say. "In spite of the enormous resources that have gone into housing in the Wood River Valley, people who work for a living have trouble owning a home here."

More laughter. "That's what Shoshone is for," they say. "And Gooding. And nannies' quarters."

The bartender says, "If you're really Jimmy Carter under that Jimmy Carter mask, didn't being president teach you anything?" You have another beer, since the bartender finds you amusing and has bought you one.

Actually, being president taught you a bunch, enough to be irritated about that Jimmy Carter-under-the-mask remark. You've felt like you've been wearing a grin-mask ever since the 1980 election, telling people that charitable hearts and faith in Jesus would make the world a better place.

You're wishing you could explain that in 1979, when you gave your "malaise" speech, you were talking about America running out of cheap energy and having a foreign policy run by foreign oil. You're thinking you should have told Americans they were selling their souls for Wahabi Crude, and that Jesus had gotten ticked off about it, and had pretty much washed his hands where Americans were concerned. The thought calls for another beer.

You haven't had this much to drink since your daughter Amy's secret wedding to Mitt Romney.

You say, "Yeah, I learned stuff as president. I learned never to run against a grinning incipient Alzheimer's case who thinks it's morning in America.

"I learned 1980 was about 5:30 on a November evening in America. Right now it's getting close to midnight on December 31 in America, and it's raining the snow off the ski slopes, and everybody's hung over because they moved New Year's Eve back three days."

"Shut that guy off," somebody says. "He's had enough."

"I learned that the biggest natural resource we had in this country was time," you say. "In 1980 we had thirty years to get ready for $200 oil. We had thirty years to develop alternative energy and rebuild our railroads. We had thirty years to bring peace to Israel and Palestine."

People are figuring out that you're not going to buy them another round. They're frowning at you and twisting cocktail straws into little nooses.

"Something else," you say. "I learned anticipatory irony. I learned to smile when that smirking little draft-dodger put on his flight suit and declared Mission Accomplished. I learned to grin when he said the Iraq War was going to cost the Iraqis $88 billion and America nothing. I learned to laugh out loud when he says bombing Iran will bring peace and stability to the Middle East."

You're losing your audience. "He's drunk," someone says. "The next thing you know he'll be saying Osama bin Laden was purposely allowed to escape. Or that America's real government is Italian-style corporate fascism. Or that Rupert Murdoch is the Antichrist."

"That's enough, Mr. President," says the bartender. "You're spoiling the party. Ketchum is a happy town. Let's keep it that way." He grabs your elbow and pushes you toward the door.

"Global warming," you yell. "We might have been able to prevent global warming." People have turned away. They're watching a NASCAR race on the big-screen TV.

"Get the hell back to Georgia, Mr. President," says the bartender. "We don't want your kind here." He's being a little rough, and as you're pushed out the door and into the side of a Cayenne Turbo, you hear, from inside the bar, "Hey. Go easy on him. Ketchum needs its young people."

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