Photo by Sean Pavone

Let’s pick a president

Bright bulbs flash in syncopation, while the game show’s theme music plays gently in the background. It’s non offensive and easily hummed along with. Two of the contestants are swaying a little, smiles plastered on their faces, impossible to remove, even with a crowbar. The third, the incumbent, stood stock straight, his drooping eyes pleading with the invisible crowd, who hooted and cheered somewhere beyond the studio’s blinding lights.

The host, a tall man with a mane of late-Elvis hair and an impervious smile, walked in to a roaring reception. “Well, it looks like we’re ready to play,” he said with a grin. The music picked up. He made a few kung fu moves to some laughter. “Hello, hello,” the audience quieted down. “I’m Chet Chesley, and I’m your host for” he paused, readying the crowd, who joined in to shout each word, “Let’s” “Pick” “a” “President.’” Cued or otherwise, the audience applauded, a few whistles rang out. Chet took hold of his podium. No notes required. “That’s right, once every week, we have an opportunity to select the leader of the free world on this very show. But of course, we have to make sure they pass the muster of the American people,” Chet did a few more kung fu kicks to laughter.

“Now, I’ll ask questions to our three contestants, who will buzz in. The fastest buzzer will provide an answer, and if that answer is the same as what comes in through our polls, then the contestant gets a point. If not, the contestant loses a point.

“You can play along at home, just download our app and make your voice heard!”

The crowd picked up again. Chet lifted a stack of cue cards off the podium, “Now, let’s meet our contestants.” He wandered over with the bravado of a drunk best man about to give a toast he may regret. “Our first contestant is a two-term senator from Missouri. He’s got a firebrand style and says he loves three things,” without missing a beat, the senator leaned into his mic and listed them, “God, guns and the U.S. Constitution.”

“Your wife didn’t make the list?”

Laughter and a murmur tore through the crowd. The senator only smiled. “When I win the nomination of the U.S. Presidency, she said she’d understand.”

A smattering of applause and general “he passed” effect rippled through the audience. “Please welcome, Senator Randy Manahan!” The crowd cheered as Chet moved down to the next contestant.

“Now, our second challenger is the current governor of California, where he’s run a budget surplus for four years straight and managed to balance the books, while restoring services,” the audience had an audible “wow” moment. “But most importantly, his favorite hobby is:” Chet raised his eyebrows to the governor, who took it as his cue to speak up. He leaned in, “Girls figure skating.”

A ripple of laughter rushed across the studio. “Well that seems like an odd pastime for a sitting governor,” Chet replied, winking.

The statesman, affable and undeterred, continued speaking, “I have two young daughters, and whenever I can pull myself away from the capitol or the campaign trail, we head to their figure skating meets or practices.”

The crowd cooed, “Awwwww,” and the governor blushed in a practiced way. “Let’s give a warm welcome to Governor George Newcomb!”

As the audience cheered, Chet slid down to the final contestant. “Hey, Phil.” The broad shouldered man in front of him smiled, “Pleasure to see you, Chet.”

“Ya know, this is what, your 300th week on this game show?”

“314th,” the president replied.

“Amazing. Absolutely astounding.” Chet said, joining in with the audience’s applause. “It’s getting hard to find new things to say about you and the family.” The crowd laughed. Chet considered another Kung Fu move, but decided to hold off. “But, I think we’ve found something. After six years in office, we’ve found new information on the president of the United States ladies and gentlemen.

“Do you want to know what it is?”

The president leaned forward, half-bored, half curious, “Sure.”

“I bet you do,” Chet’s smile came on like a wolf. “Frank,” he called out to some unknown man behind a curtain somewhere. “Roll the tape.”

A clip appeared above the president’s head. It had bad lighting and the edges shook from an unsteady cameraman. In front, a teenager, no more than 15, with lanky limbs and a gregarious smile appeared. “Tell us your name,” said a voice from behind the camera.

“Amanda,” she replied.

“Great, now, Amanda,” the president clenched his fist in a little ball. He knew where this was going. “Who is your father?”

“My father? He’s a real asshole.”

The voice of God, in this video, disjoined from body and giggly beyond belief, replied, “No, no, WHO is your father?”

She looked the camera dead on. The redness of her eyes became immediately apparent. “The President of the United States of America,” she laughed. She then saluted nothing.

The clip ended. “Anything to say, Mr. President?”

The president kept his composure, “Just that she looks like she needs another bag of munchies.” The audience laughed and hooted. The host made a couple of high kicks.

“He’s still got it, ladies and gentlemen! And that’s your final contestant, the president of the United States of America, our returning champ, Phil Albrecht!” The loudest cheers yet. “Alright, let’s get started with today’s game,” Chet said, walking back to his podium. His suit exaggerated the broadness of his shoulders and thinness of his waist, but both were difficult to notice, considering it was rhinestoned and hot pink.

That theme music was back on. The president could withstand this game show, week after week, because he believed in the work. It was easier when he was new, but now, what are they doing? How are they trying to defame him? Each week it’s something different. And, who, really, cares about this kind of bullshit malarky?

“First question,” Chet said. All the contestants grabbed their buzzers. “Should we bomb Argentina?”

The president was gnawing his lower lip, unable to help himself, his thoughts swirling… And it wasn’t that the questions were inane and speculative and really baseless in fact, nor that the population didn’t have a clue about the nuances and intricacies of 95 percent of them.

“Looks like we have a quick draw on the buzzer, Senator Manahan.”

“Yes, Chet.”

Chet laughed. “What is your answer?”

“Yes, we should bomb Argentina,” the senator replied.

“Let’s see if the polls agree,” Chet turned to the gigantic screen behind him. Two bars appeared, the top showed 60 percent saying no, the bottom had 40 percent saying yes. “Looks like you’re in the wrong on this one. 15 seconds to make your case to the American people. Go!”

“Well, I believe that we must project our strength around the world. And this includes bombing out nations that hold debts and refuse to pay. Make no mistake, Argentina is a delinquent — “ BUZZ.

Chet came in “Any change in opinion?” The question registered 55 percent saying no, 45 percent saying yes. “Nice work, senator, but you still lose a point.” Laughter rippled across the audience.

“Alright, next question, should we censor music that is unpatriotic?” A pause. “Mr. President.”

“No, Chet. Absolutely not. We’re a country founded on free speech and the rights for everyone to express themselves.”

“Including your estranged daughter?” Chet asked with a wink.

Half of the president’s smile fell. Now contempt broke through, “I already said that wasn’t my daughter, Chet.”

Chet’s permasmile didn’t reflect in his eyes. It was all teeth. No mirth. “Of course, and we have another surprise a bit later,” he held the cue cards in a bent arm, the other extended toward the screen behind him. “And it looks like you are correct, Mr. President. You win a point.”

Buzzers and lights flashed around Chet, who began to punch and kick in renewed fury. He chopped and jumped and elbowed until he breathed heavily and the noise and lights subsided. “You all know what that means, it’s time for a lightning round!”

The crowd cheered.

“Alright, whoever gets this next question right will receive the chance to answer as many additional yes-or-no questions as they can inside of a minute — no stumping. As we all know, winning a lightning round can make the game. So, this question is incredible important. And, it is: Should we have a president who had a child out of wedlock and then lied about it?”

The president, shocked and confused, turned toward the bright lights, forgetting his buzzer and scanning the crowd, searching for a sympathetic face, but seeing only white light, blinding, hot and unforgiving.

“Governor, it looks like you’re up.”

“No, Chet,” the governor said. His winning smile. His slight lean toward the mic. His salt-and-pepper hair. “We should have a president who is a moral leader as well as a political leader.”

“Very well stated, Mr. Governor. And, it looks like the crowd is with you. You get a point, and a chance at the almighty lightning round.”

The president, dismayed, watched on as the governor racked up point after point. In the end, he set a new record for lightning rounds — 15 — a figure so high, the president couldn’t possibly make up the difference. The noise around him faded. The smiling Chet and the bright lights broke away. In mere moments, when the game show was over, he would no longer be president.

As if waking him, Chet called over to the president, near the end of the program, “Do you remember when I mentioned a surprise, Mr. President?”

He cleared his throat, “this seems to be a night full of those.”

The audience laughed. “I’m glad you’re so sanguine,” Chet said.

“Five dollar word for a man in a hot pink suit,” the president sniped. The audience ohhhhhed.

“Well, Mr. President, consider this your parting gift. Can we have Amanda Stygian please join us?”

There she was, his daughter. He knew it instantly, She looked exactly like him, long and lean, with an accidental stately air. Those eyes were her mother’s, open and bewildered and slightly terrified, but the rest belonged to him. “Now, Amanda, do you have a question for our panelists?”

“Just one of them,” Amanda said.

The audience leaned in. Silence. The world watched. Popcorn made; sodas poured; seats on edge; this was great television.

“Well, considering that the Governor has such a commanding lead, I think we can allow that,” Chet said, checking over with the contestants in a doe-eyed questioning glance.

“Go ahead, Chet,” the senator said. The governor stayed quiet.

“Well, in that case, Amanda?” Chet said, turning to the teenager. Braces, split ends, a bit of acne. Hands held awkwardly in front. Shoes pointed slightly toward one another. All the confidence of a crumpled napkin.

“Why did you leave me, dad?” She asked, a sob in her throat.

The president leaned on the podium. He blinked. He coughed into the mic. “I’m sorry.”

Chet read the moment. A true showman, his voice became soft and cooing, “Sorry for what?” he purred.

The president sighed. “I’m not going to do this on national television,” he stepped away from the podium.

“The people have a right to know!” Chet declared. Boos filtered through the studio.

“Let them be happy with their next game show president. It’s easy to be a martyr when you’re already dead,” he put his arm around Amanda. “The public elects the government they deserve. Consider that. And congratulations, George.”

Chet shrugged, and a slight pause followed. “Well,” Chet said, turning back to the room. “I think we have an official resignation from the president of the United States, which means, our new president, former governor of California, George Newcomb!”

The audience thundered. Stomping feet. Hoots. Hollers. Each face elated. Some in tears. Some finishing their popcorn. Others wondered what was on next. What a night. What an episode. What a moment. They’d be talking about this one tomorrow.

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