Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lord Jim

In honor of last night's final 2008 presidential debate, I went searching for an old piece that I wrote with my friend Jon Fasman. Jon is a terrific writer (and friend) whose new novel, The Unpossessed City, is out later this month.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Jon and I were interns together at Harper's Magazine. Inspired by the way moderator Jim Lehrer opened one of the debates that year, we wrote the piece below, which we called "Lord Jim." Although I remember us sending it back and forth to each other -- over the nine inches or so that separated us in the cramped office we shared with two other people -- rereading it, I'm fairly certain Jon did most of the work. He also told me that a recent "Saturday Night Live" sketch took off from a similar idea. Well, this was written almost exactly eight years ago. Enjoy:
“The questions and the subjects were chosen by me alone. I have told no one from the two campaigns or the commission or anyone else involved what they are.

There's a small audience in the hall tonight. They are not here to participate, only to listen ...”

-- Jim Lehrer, October 3, 2000
Good evening. I'm Jim Lehrer.

Welcome to the fourth presidential debate of the 2000 campaign.

We're coming to you from an undisclosed location tonight, chosen exclusively by me, in consultation with no one, and unknown to even the candidates. Four hours ago, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George Bush were kidnapped, blindfolded, hog-tied and dragged on stage. Might be Cleveland, might be Kazakhstan, might be my high school gym, where I founded, coached and starred on the shuffleboard team. I've got a few stories I could tell about those days.

In order to prepare tonight's questions, I have spent the last 18 months in the microfilm room of the Library of Congress, subsisting on dust and silverfish, carefully reviewing every American and foreign periodical published in the last 90 years.

The audience has agreed to remain silent throughout the evening, except in those moments immediately after I pose a particularly brilliant question, during which they will collectively whisper my first name like a horde of incantatory crickets.

Now for the specifics of our event's format, chosen, researched, tested, and approved by yours truly.

The debate will last ninety minutes, unless I decide otherwise. I may get bored five minutes in and shut the whole damn thing down. Or, I may think we need more time, in which case I have been granted permission by every television network, radio station, wire service, newspaper, communications conglomerate, short-wave radio operator, telephone company, satellite provider, and pair of kids with two cups and a string to extend the debate for up to six days.

In the event of such an extension, I alone will receive ample drink and food, which I have selected, cooked, and supervised the growth of, from seed to harvest. Beginning on the third day, I will be flanked by the Gore daughters, who will massage my temples and feed me the world's finest berries.

Should the venue become too warm, I will deploy the personal cooling system I have invented to surround my leathery body with vanilla-scented breezes, reducing my temperature by 2.3 degrees.

Candidates will have three minutes to answer each question. If they exceed this limit, I will administer a series of shocks through electrodes I surgically implanted in each man's body last night as he slept.

That's right, electrodes: I cut 'em myself, and I also melted the ingots to make the scalpels, which I sharpened myself. I used my own anesthesia, based on an old family recipe which Grandpappy Lehrer gave directly to me on his deathbed in 1967. And if those Archer Daniels Midland suits who believe they own me in all of my beady-eyed glory think they're going to get their corporate paws on that recipe, they've got another thing coming.

If a respondent wishes to use a vowel as part of his answer, he will deposit 50 cents in the Lehrer Jug, which sits atop my desk, and which I fired in a homemade kiln late last night.

Coins must be pitched directly into the jug from the lecterns. To avoid running out of change, candidates may write me a blank check before we begin in order to cover all vowel expenditures. Gentlemen, checks should be made out to "Jim Lehrer, Mayor of Lehropolis, Emperor of Lehronia."

I will refer to the Vice President as "Susan," and to the Governor as "Dorothy," except when discussing educational issues, when I will call both men "Cletus," and they will have to determine who I am addressing by the inflection in my voice.

All "If..." questions (as in "If the stock market were to crash, what would be your first act, after sending a box of heart-shaped chocolates and a high-priced escort to Alan Greenspan's office?") must be answered in the guise of a fictional character, and must include a positive reference to myself, so that an appropriate answer might sound something like this: "In the case of a stock market crash, I, Vernon Bailey, a humble pig farmer, would first declare Jim Lehrer a living saint." And so forth.

Now that I've laid the ground rules, let's get started. The first question is for Dorothy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a hoot! LOL!
It's Jim's snapping little eyes and calm, measured demeanor that make this caricature so funny.

8:42 AM  

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