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February 02 Issue

Let’s Get Reagan

Thomas Foster
Jimmy, Fox is a big serious network. Am I supposed to think they’d consider a show about kidnapping a living former President?

"But Jimmy, it is black and white," Doug said. "Look at them, the pieces, the board itself is black and white! We’re not inside the box here. We’re playing chess."
"And what I’m 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, Jimmy."

"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 girl’s skirt, something your mother said to you yesterday morning. It’s by getting up on and surfing that flow of chaos that puts tactical operations on the board and strategy in cool perspective."
"I’ll tell you what," Doug said. "You just keep pulling away from the board and I’ll 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 building’s 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. Jimmy’s 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 Jimmy’s 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 assistant."
"Are you serious? What happened?"
"Nothing. I pitched a little show to her."
"That’s fucking great! What’d you give them? What’d you pitch?"
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 ‘Let’s Get Reagan’."
"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."
"You’re kidding me."
"It’s 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, he’s so addled by senility he’s 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 he’s back in one of those old westerns and before you know it he’s horseback and riding into the sunset. Nancy and the Secret Service have to go and dig him out of the back forty. He’s always getting himself tangled in something crazy. In episode two, he ends up inside the gibbon habitat and the Santa Barbara Zoo.
"And there’s 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. I’m 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 we’re seeing when the former First Lady is kicking it, Shaolin style, against four armed left wing radicals."

"Seriously, what did you give them?" Doug asked.
"I’m telling you what I gave them," Jimmy said. "I’ve got the last scene all mapped out, too. Total Surrealism. The kids finally succeed and have Reagan whisked off to one of their parent’s basements in Seattle. They’re 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 Reagan’s final judgment as the camera drifts away."
"And we’ll be seeing it next fall, or as a mid-season replacement? I can’t 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 you’re going with this," Jimmy said, bringing his King’s pawn out two spaces.
"At least I’m going somewhere with it," Doug replied, moving his Bishop’s 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 they’d 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 it’s a joke! It never happens! It’s just the canvas that the comedy plays over. You don’t think it’s funny? You don’t think there’s a treasure chest of comedy there?"
"Sure, Jimmy," said Doug, looking around for the waiter. "It’s funny, all your stuff is funny and original. I’m just saying you treat everything so lightly.
Jimmy moved his Queen’s pawn out two spaces. "I meet a guy in a Tribeca restaurant. What’s to take seriously? Nothing matters so much, Doug, as nothing mattering at all."
"You’ve 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 don’t put value in what the mainstream views as successful. Hell, I’m 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 don’t. Believe in your own success, I mean."
"Winning here would be a good start."
"You’ve got so many damn ideas, Jimmy. Would it have killed you to give them one that stood a chance? It’s not selling out, you know. They’re 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, ‘We’re 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.
"Game’s just getting started," he said.
"No, it’s just getting finished," Jimmy said. "Check."
Doug looked back at the pieces on the board and said nothing.
"And next time," Jimmy said, "you’ve got to let me finish my story before going ‘dad’ on me. So, I pitch the show to her and she’s like, ‘It’s funny but you know we can’t do anything, really, with it.’ I knew it when I gave it to her. We keep talking, though, and I’m throwing my stuff at her. You know, vintage Jimmy. I’ve got her on the ropes, she’s 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. I’m 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. I’m flavor in the machine."
"Goddam, you never cease to amaze me. Good for you, Jimmy."
"Thanks, Doug, but it’s no big deal. It’s like I told you, when you pull back and take in the big perspective you get to see all the patterns. It’s 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 Jimmy’s 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 before them.

© Thomas Foster March 2002 - New York

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