Fellow Americans


Eileen Gunn

"  . . . And now, the man you loved to hate, the man you loved too late, the man everyone loves to second-guess, America's own Tricky Dick!"

Applause, and the strains of "Let Me Call You Sweetheart." A tanned, well-groomed man in a blue blazer and grey slacks walks between the curtains.

He raises his hands above his head in the familiar double V-for-Victory salute to acknowledge the applause, then gestures for quiet.

"Thanks for the hand, folks." His voice is deep, quiet, and sincere. "You know, I needed that applause today." A catch in his throat. "Right before the show, I was on my way down here to the studio. . . . " He shakes his head slightly, as if contemplating the role that Chance plays in Life. "An elderly lady came up to me, and she introduced herself, and then she said, 'Oh, Dick, I'm so pleased to meet you, you know you were my all-time favorite presidential candidate . . . . " He lets the compliment hang there a second, as if savoring it. "  . . . after Jack Kennedy, of course."

The audience laughs, appreciating the host who can tell a joke at his own expense. When the laughter has diminished, but before it stops completely, he continues.

"Speaking of politics, why is everybody picking on Dan Quayle these days?" He looks from face to face in the audience, as if for an answer. "He hasn't done anything." An artful pause. "And, as I know from my own turn at the job, he probably won't get to do anything in the future, either." More laughter, stronger.

He holds up a hand to stop them. "Seriously, folks, just the other day I was sharing a story with Dan — a story about two brothers." His voice is soft, as if confessing a family secret. "One ran away to sea and the other grew up to be vice-president. . . ." He hunches his shoulders and looks down at the floor, shaking his head pensively. "Neither one of them was ever heard from again," he adds lugubriously. The audience howls with laughter and applauds enthusiastically.

The Governor of New York City looked out the small round window at the top of the ten-story Tower of Diminished Expectations and, through dirty glass, surveyed the 1990 New York World's Fair. He and Ethel had walked the 280 stairs to the top, and they were more than slightly out of breath.

Their hostess, a lovely young woman in a miniskirted uniform and a startlingly authentic retro-Sixties bubble haircut, pointed out the three festival areas they had just toured — the glass and steel pavilions of the Private Sector, the workaday plastic stucco of the Public Sector, and the tattered, colorful tents of the makeshift Alternative Fair.

The Private Sector, a promotional crankshaft for the wheels of industry, included the Minamata Pavilion, an entire building made from the byproducts of engineered bacteria raised on toxic waste; MacRainforest, a model cattle ranch from the Amazon; and Weyerhaeuser's Walking Woods, a moving strip of biotope that rolled past onlookers as robot animals sang about the delightful variety of life in a clear-cut woodland.

In contrast, the Public Sector presented a cluster of low-budget homilies on the virtues of self-sufficiency and making-do-with-less — preparing people to live in a world of survivable nukes, reduced government services, lowered wages and raised taxes. Its highlights were a low-level nuclear waste dump, which was built right on the site and would be entombed there after the Fair closed, and a mammoth exhibit on Local Empowerment, made entirely by gradeschool children out of papier-mâché.

The Alternative Fair was an amorphous bunch of whole-earthers and punk-what-have-yous that had cadged land next to the Fair for their tent city and claimed to feed three thousand homeless people a day on the waste from the Fair's restaurants. Though the organizers maintained an aura of anonymity, the Governor suspected that more than one of his younger kids was involved. More power to them, he thought.

Behind him, the troop of wheezing reporters who had followed them up the stairs pushed into the room. The torrent of questions started.

"Governor Kennedy, do you have any comment on the proceedings against you?"

"Sir, will you be testifying in your defense?"

"No comment on that right now, folks," he said with a reflexive smile, and started back down the steps at a hearty pace.

When he got to the bottom, he paused for just a second. "You know," he said, for the benefit of the reporters braking to a stop behind him, "this tower reminds me of George Bush's budgeting procedure. You go around and around and around, and you end up just south of where you started."

Most of them laughed and some of them jotted it down. Flashbulbs popped. Leaving the tower, considerably ahead of Ethel, the guide, and the pack of reporters, he tried not to scan the crowd. There was no use worrying about it. He walked through the mass of people, waving, nodding to individuals, lightly touching people's shoulders.

There was a commotion to his right, and a slight, dark-haired man moved forward abruptly and shot him, point-blank, in the side.

"Just as well you're not hooked up to the lie detector yet, Dick," says Ed McMahon, shaking his head and chuckling, "or I'd make you confess who you stole those jokes from."

"Well, enough of this then, Ed, let's get me hooked up and get this show on the road!" He gives a lurching shrug and waves his forearms around stiffly. The audience loves it.

"Who are our guests today, Ed?" he asks as two young ladies in skimpy nurse outfits lead him to the dais between the two panels of contestants.

"Well, Dick, our guests today on the Republican side are . . . Zsa Zsa Gabor  . . . and Arnold C. Hammurabi of Seattle, Washington. . . . And, on the Democratic side, Dick Van Dyke . . . and Ms. Suzanne Ackerly of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, back for her fifth week. Arnold, why don't you tell us a little about yourself?"

As Arnold talks, the nurses strap the lie detector to Tricky Dick.

Dick gives a brief, funny, and patently false weather report, allowing the participants to test their handsets. On the dais in front of each contestant, a colored panel shows how the contestant rates Tricky Dick's truthfulness. The panel changes through the spectrum from true blue for truth to choleric red for outright lies.

Home viewers can see an additional panel that shows how the lie-detector rates Tricky Dick's truthfulness. It doesn't think much of the weather report, that much is clear.

About the Author

Eileen Gunn is editor of the esteemed Infinite Matrix webzine. Her latest book is the collection Stable Strategies and Others, which just so happens to contain "Fellow Americans." Of this alternate history political romp, Gunn says:

I read some thirty-five books to write this story, including Richard Nixon's memoirs, several bios of Pat Nixon, and three autobiographies of Barry Goldwater. (He published one every decade or so. The final one, in which, elderly and depressed, he shoved the ghostwriters aside and said what he thought, is the best, and the saddest.)

I once asked my father, inexplicably a Republican in a nest of familial Democrats, whether he thought the story was unfair to Richard Nixon.

"I think you were equally unfair to everybody," he replied.

Fellow Americans © Eileen Gunn

About the Artist

Erin Merlino is an art student at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. She's working towards a BFA in Studio Art, with a specialization in drawing. A selection of her work can be viewed online here and she can be reached via email at ethereal_girl_98@yahoo.com.

Artwork © Erin Merlino