Lets Get Reagan
Fox is a big serious network. Am I supposed to think theyd consider
a show about kidnapping a living former President?
Jimmy, it is black and white," Doug said. "Look at them,
the pieces, the board itself is black and white! Were not
inside the box here. Were playing chess."
"And what Im saying," Jimmy replied, "is that
there are far too many variables involved to say that the game is
JUST the available moves and strategies without accounting for the
surrounding mood of the game."
"The whole idea is to NOT account for any surrounding mood,
"Whatever," Jimmy said. "In my world, as you pull
yourself away from the board, take an ethereal perspective and realize
there is an attendant chaos dictating its flow, you understand that
each move is influenced by
the weather, how you feel about
the cut of that one girls skirt, something your mother said
to you yesterday morning. Its by getting up on and surfing
that flow of chaos that puts tactical operations on the board and
strategy in cool perspective."
"Ill tell you what," Doug said. "You just keep
pulling away from the board and Ill keep winning the games,
how about that?"
Doug and Jimmy were sitting outside a café on MacDougal Street.
It was mid-October in an Indian summer afternoon, the air was warm, a
comfortable breeze moved down the lane. The sun was turning to the west
of the café, casting a shadow over the whole sidewalk and part
of the street and spinning a latticework spider web through the opposite
buildings fire escapes. They were sitting on tiny, white, iron patio
chairs and between them, on a small glass and metal table laid a portable
chess set and two cappuccinos.
Douglas was tall and thin, thirty-four years old. He wore small wire-rim
glasses and was dressed in faded jeans and a loose cotton shirt with the
sleeves rolled half way up his arm. Jimmys dreadlocks fell around
his head unfettered; he was wearing red Lycra shorts and a bright green
Italian football jersey. His arms and face were especially freckled.
It was Jimmys turn and he made what he thought was a very clever
check. Doug, in turn, removed the check and baited Jimmy into a series
of exchanges that left him up a Rook and a Queen. Jimmy swore and began
to clear the table.
"I saw Peter up at Columbia the other day," Doug said. "He
said something about you and Fox Television. Is something happening?"
"Oh that, yeah. I ran into a producer at a restaurant, we started
talking and the next thing you know he sets up a meeting with his executive
"Are you serious? What happened?"
"Nothing. I pitched a little show to her."
"Thats fucking great! Whatd you give them? Whatd
The waiter, a languid, shuffling type came by the table and the men ordered
two more cappuccinos.
"Well, I see it as a kind of a short-term series," Jimmy said.
"Limited run, like Twin Peaks was supposed to be. Pack in the drama,
really take chances, be bold with the humor, you know? I call it Lets
"See, the premise finds a small group of left wing radicals, young
kids, black block, bumbling but with their hearts in the right place.
Frustrated by the continued hegemony of the corporate state they set out
to kidnap Reagan from his central Californian ranch and hold him for environmental
ransom on a live Internet feed."
"Youre kidding me."
"Its really a comedy. See, these guys are so inept, but so
driven, that every episode they get just SO close but can never pull it
off. Wile E. Coyote. Do you see it? And Reagan. Man, Reagan, hes
so addled by senility hes a goddam treasure chest of comedy. One
of the hooks of the show is how Reagan escapes his attackers despite himself.
At the end of the pilot one of the radicals, this Shaggy-Doo type, knocks
an old Winchester off the mantelpiece in the ranch house and it goes off.
The report of the bullet zinging off the rafters sends Reagan into a somnifacient
state where he believes hes back in one of those old westerns and
before you know it hes horseback and riding into the sunset. Nancy
and the Secret Service have to go and dig him out of the back forty. Hes
always getting himself tangled in something crazy. In episode two, he
ends up inside the gibbon habitat and the Santa Barbara Zoo.
"And theres this group from Washington D.C.; liberal lawyers
out to stop the kids to protect the image of the left. Just like that
colonel and his army unit from The A-Team, always just a step
behind. Im modeling their leader after Ralph Nader. Oh! And I had
this incredible image for some time in mid-season! The critics will lose
their shit! Picture Nancy Reagan meditating in her Astrology Chamber,
cross-legged, maybe levitating a little. She gleans from the patterns
of the universe the approach of the would-be kidnappers and springs into
action! Seminal television, Doug, is what were seeing when the former
First Lady is kicking it, Shaolin style, against four armed left wing
"Seriously, what did you give them?" Doug asked.
"Im telling you what I gave them," Jimmy said. "Ive
got the last scene all mapped out, too. Total Surrealism. The kids finally
succeed and have Reagan whisked off to one of their parents basements
in Seattle. Theyre setting up the web cam and Reagan dies while
napping on the couch in front of the television. We follow him to Hell
where he meets up with John Wilkes Booth and, in this total Beckett style,
the two of them discuss craft and policy waiting for Reagans final
judgment as the camera drifts away."
"And well be seeing it next fall, or as a mid-season replacement?
I cant believe you Jimmy."
"Oh go easy," Jimmy said. The pieces were reset and he was regarding
his first move.
"Did you not care whether or not they liked what you had to say?"
"Of course I did. Listen, Doug, I know where youre going with
this," Jimmy said, bringing his Kings pawn out two spaces.
"At least Im going somewhere with it," Doug replied, moving
his Bishops pawn out one space. "An opportunity like that,
Jimmy, you should have taken it a little more seriously."
"Are you even stopping to think about whether the premise has merit?
I think it has merit."
"Jimmy, Fox is a big serious network. Am I supposed to think theyd
consider a show about kidnapping a living former President? Am I supposed
to find merit in that?"
"Fox is a big, serious network. The point, Doug, is that its
a joke! It never happens! Its just the canvas that the comedy plays
over. You dont think its funny? You dont think theres
a treasure chest of comedy there?"
"Sure, Jimmy," said Doug, looking around for the waiter. "Its
funny, all your stuff is funny and original. Im just saying you
treat everything so lightly.
Jimmy moved his Queens pawn out two spaces. "I meet a guy in
a Tribeca restaurant. Whats to take seriously? Nothing matters so
much, Doug, as nothing mattering at all."
"Youve said that before."
"I meant it before."
For a while they were quiet, the game in front of them, moving pieces
across the board. The breeze was building speed and getting cool and the
sun began to go down. A growing commotion spilled out from the bars as
playoff baseball began.
"You know me, Jimmy, I dont put value in what the mainstream
views as successful. Hell, Im thirty-four years old and still living
with my mother and going to college. But I believe in my own success,
I believe in the success of my friends, and I worry that maybe you dont.
Believe in your own success, I mean."
"Winning here would be a good start."
"Youve got so many damn ideas, Jimmy. Would it have killed
you to give them one that stood a chance? Its not selling out, you
know. Theyre your ideas."
"It could not be helped, Dougie. I was asked to pitch for television.
I knocked on the door of my soul and said, Were looking for
a television show. I waited. I listened. This is what came to me."
The waiter brought the cappuccinos. There was a roar from the bar next
door and Doug turned his head.
"Games just getting started," he said.
"No, its just getting finished," Jimmy said. "Check."
Doug looked back at the pieces on the board and said nothing.
"And next time," Jimmy said, "youve got to let me
finish my story before going dad on me. So, I pitch the show
to her and shes like, Its funny but you know we cant
do anything, really, with it. I knew it when I gave it to her. We
keep talking, though, and Im throwing my stuff at her. You know,
vintage Jimmy. Ive got her on the ropes, shes dying, no way
out, so she gives me a job."
"What? Are you serious?"
"Lay off the serious will ya? Yeah, she gave me
a job. Im a consultant. I go in a couple of times a week and feed
them little nuggets or take a look at something they give me and give
it a little tweak here and there. Im flavor in the machine."
"Goddam, you never cease to amaze me. Good for you, Jimmy."
"Thanks, Doug, but its no big deal. Its like I told you,
when you pull back and take in the big perspective you get to see all
the patterns. Its just cool living. Now what do you say we wrap
this game up and go watch a little baseball?"
Jimmy waved the waiter over for the bill. Doug removed the check with
his Queen and simultaneously attacked Jimmys Queen and King, putting
him in check.
Groaning, Jimmy pulled at his red, scraggly beard. The Yankees came out
early with a two-run homer. The wind carried fresh leaves down the lane,
where they rolled and came still over wet clumps of the leaves that rolled
© Thomas Foster March 2002 - New York
More Fiction in Dreamscapes
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