Friday, March 23, 2007

Instruction: Become president

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Motive: You want to become the president of the United States. It should be obvious why: you eventually get your face on a novelty placemat.

Plan: Basically, you're not great with, like, plans or whatever, so you need a series of simple, easily remembered steps to help you ascend to the highest seat of political and military power in the known universe.

Step 1. All righty. You're going to need some cash, because getting your message of hope and solidarity out to people isn't cheap. Are you a millionaire? If so, proceed to Step 2. If not, proceed to Step 16.

Step 2. Congratulations, you're a millionaire! Hold it. Are you a multimillionaire? If so, proceed to Step 3. If not, proceed to Step 16.

Step 3. Congratulations, you're a multimillionaire! Wait. Are all your friends and business acquaintances multimillionaires as well, and do you feel right at home asking them for vast sums of cash on which to build your political empire? If so, proceed to Step 4. If not, proceed to Step 16.

Step 4. So, OK, I think we've gotten most of the money part out of the way for now. We'll come back to some more of it later, but for now let's move on. First, we have to figure out your electability quotient. How many quote-unquote minority groups are you a member of? If it's two or more, proceed to Step 16. Otherwise, proceed to Step 5.

Step 5. Now we've established that (a) you and everyone you know are rich and (b) stupid people won't have a problem figuring out what you are when they look at you on television. Now you need to cultivate an image people can associate with you.

Pick one of these:

1. Washington Outsider
2. Washington Insider
3. Fresh Face
4. One-Issue Asshole

Do none of these images suit you? That's OK. Most people don't fit into constrictive personality cubbyholes. Proceed to Step 16.

Also, did you pick No. 3 or 4? Proceed to Step 16.

Otherwise, proceed to Step 6.

Step 6. Make sure you end up on the ballots nationwide! There's a lot of tedious paperwork involved here, filling out forms and so on. If you've come this far, you should already be a member of a political party, and should've convinced the people in charge of that party that you're OK to exercise dominion over the most powerful nation ever known to humankind. But still--paperwork.

So, therefore, hire interns to do this shit for you. They must gather signatures needed to accompany your presidential-filing documents. Helpful tip: Hire young people, but get signatures from old people. Elderly people will pretty much sign anything as long as you sit there while they bitch about how everything's different than it used to be.

If you're not a member of or active in one of the two main political parties, proceed to Step 16.

Step 7. How are your teeth? Be honest with yourself. You know what? Just get them fixed anyway.

If you have no teeth, proceed to Step 16.

Step 8. Outline your stance on the issues of the day. By "issues," I mean "abortion," and by "stance" I mean "focus-group-vetted opinion expressible in three or fewer letters."

Step 9. Now that you've got your platform, you're on your way to getting on the ballots, and your teeth aren't grody, it's time to hit the trail! Learn to enjoy the following things:

• 19-hour bus rides
• pancakes
• the feeling of hundreds of thousands of unhygenic sketchy people constantly wanting to touch you
• grossly inappropriate personal scrutiny
• infants
• death threats
• eating breakfast in a business suit
• talking for three to four hours at a time about the same two things to people who already like you
• no sex
• pretending to do jobs "regular people" do for up to five minutes, like digging into piles of dirt or offloading trucks and such
• hiring some people who have never won or held elective office and paying them to tell you what to say that will help you win and hold elective office

Step 10. Repeat steps 6-9 for two years.

Step 11. Whew! Don't worry--you're almost president! Right around now, somebody will bring up the topic of televised debates. This is to continue the pleasant fiction that you and the other candidates think the best way to strengthen your opinion is to test its durability with vigorous and public argumentation. When actually you don't. You paid a lot of cash for that opinion.

So steer your televised remarks to two and only two topics: education and Good Quality Affordable Health Care For All Americans. Also, start most sentences with this phrase: "I think the American people." Nobody can be touch you that way. Opposing you would be like being pro-cancer.

Step 12. You should've wiped the floor with your opponents in the primary election by now, and so must alter your strategy for the general election. Repeat steps 8-11, except louder.

Step 13. This is, unfortunately, when the scandal comes up. The scandal always comes up. You did something stupid once, didn't you? You had a beer that time in college. You said a swear word at a ballgame. One day years ago, you used your draft card to mix the cocaine you snorted off the naked asscheeks of an underage hermaphrodite. Some guy remembers vividly you getting emotional during a Jane Austen movie, which means you're for the terrorists.

Relax. Whatever it is, it's nothing. Say the other guy hates America, and it'll mostly blow over.

Step 14. It's the last days of your campaign. You've spent $90 million trying to get a job that pays $450,000 a year for four years. Your family found out about the beer and the hermaphrodite and the Jane Austen, so they despise you but stick around because you're paying them to, and besides it's good for their resumes. You've lost 35 pounds. Your hair is falling out. You are suffering from severe depression from the 24-hour news channels studying your every blink and bowel movement for signs that you're a flip-flopper, but you can't see a therapist because they'd find out, and people who see therapists are seen as weak and for the terrorists. You don't even like Washington--it's a crummy city, too hot in the summer. You realize that once you become president you're going to inherit major, insoluble problems that will outlive you and your grandchildren, and you're going to be expected to "do something" about it within the first 100 days or be branded a failure for the rest of your life. God, what a fucking nightmare. Not to mention, you can't even get presents--you have to give them back at the end of your term, it turns out. And you have to hire a whole staff. That's hundreds of people. You'll be in charge of nuclear codes, for God's sake. National tragedies are suddenly going to be your responsibility. And your fault. People will try to murder you every day, just because they disagree with your position on taxes. You hate your running mate--he's only around to fool some key demographic into liking you. No more criticizing people in power. Your head hurts most of the day. You wish you could have a drink, except that would be political suicide. You are plagued by the nagging feeling that you have done something horribly wrong to achieve an end that would itself be horrible.

Cross your fingers!

Step 15. Sit down in your home in a relaxed atmosphere, with most of your relatives surrounding you in a tight enough formation to all be visible on TV, and watch the election results.

Elections, I should mention, seem very complicated, but most of the calculation has already been figured out years beforehand. States that typically go one way will go that way. States that typically go the other way will go that way. States that are tossups will vary, depending on circumstances that are far, far beyond your control, like cultural cycles and, literally, the price of coffee in China. Suffice it to say, though, that you will watch your electoral vote count stagnate, you will watch state after state called for the other guy, you will cringe while your advisers draft your concession speech at 8:31 p.m. Eastern time--because I forgot to mention way, way earlier (like around Step 4) that you should've pretended to be somebody it's fun to hang out and watch football with. That's pretty much all that matters, now that I think about it. Shit. Sorry about that.

Step 16. You cannot become president of the United States.


Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Police Captain Actually Leads A Very Rich And Fulfilling Life Outside Of The SVU Office, Too, Thanks

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Oct. 2
9th Ave. and 23rd
New York City
7:43 a.m.

He stops by the newsstand near the HQ and pick up the Post and a cup of the cheap coffee the Bangladeshi man brews on a hotplate, as he does every morning. Total: $1.75. That’s the only coffee he has all day. So he’s not constantly breaking huge bills and futzing with the paper, the cup, and his wallet, Capt. Cragen likes to count exact change days ahead of time and arrange it in little easy-to-grab batches that he leaves on the sideboard for the week, near the green ceramic bowl where he keeps his keys. Every year, though, on the last work day before Christmas, Capt. Cragen slips a 10-dollar bill across the greasy counter and tells the Bangladeshi man, whose name is Syed, “Happy holidays.” He knows the Post is shit, but he supposes it’s important to read their crime reporting. Also, he always skims the gossip page, mostly appalled, secretly curious.

Oct. 2
SVU headquarters
New York City
9:10 a.m.

Benson and Stabler barge in. He is blogging at the time. He maintains an online journal detailing his ongoing sobriety, his struggles and personal triumphs, however small, and sometimes posts links to funny and inspirational things. He’s met friendly people nationwide who are also unpacking the same dependency and abandonment issues. When Benson and Stabler lean over the desk, he calls up an Excel spreadsheet as cover, hoping this one will be just a plain old vanilla rape. Test the victim, yank the pervert out of his spider hole, easy conviction. “Victim won’t submit to a rape kit,” Benson says. Capt. Cragen rubs his head. “Why not?” “She says it’s a violation of her 'constitutional right to privacy,'” Benson says. Stabler snorts. “The constitution say anything about bad guys getting away with rape?” he says. Munch, ears like a bat, pretends to walk across the office to borrow a handful of paper clips, but really it’s just to insert some lefty political jab he knows will piss Stabler off. Every time the constitution comes up, this. Capt. Cragen gazes at his blotter. He hasn’t posted a list of funny affirmations in a while—might be good for this week’s blog, some short, jokey aphorisms. Stabler points to the case file with a huge hamhock fist. “Something’s dirty. I don’t think we’re dealing with just a rape here.” Capt. Cragen sighs. No, not this week or any other. “Find her friends and talk to them,” Capt. Cragen says, turning back to the computer. They all leave. Christ. Did they absolutely need him for that? Aren’t they cops?

Oct. 9
Washington Square
New York City
12:38 p.m.

He takes his lunch and a Yoo Hoo to the park. It’s a panini with eggplant, calamatas, prosciutto, feta, and fresh basil leaves from a plant thriving in his window box. Capt. Cragen has been taking cooking classes Thursdays from 7 to 9 at NYU continuing ed, and it turns out he’s fantastic at it—so much so that the teacher, Helen, is letting him skip the intermediate class and go right to the advanced. He sits on the grass, tie unclipped, browsing a Williams-Sonoma catalog with a Sharpie. He circles a stainless panini press. The good one. And how difficult it would be to make fresh pasta—the flour volcano with the eggs inside and everything? His cell phone rings. He sucks on a tooth and answers it with a grunt. Stabler asks him if he’s heard of Munchausen’s syndrome, and then he goes into this whole thing. There’s an ultra-feminist organization involved now with the ACLU, and the alleged rapist it turns out is gay—really gay. As in, he’s made incriminating videos. “Check if anybody knew that,” Capt. Cragen says. After a while, he swigs some Yoo Hoo. He could infuse the pasta with oregano. Give bundles out as gifts for the holidays.

Oct. 20
5th Ave. and 39th
New York City
2:58 p.m.

He hasn’t had sex since his wife died in the plane crash. But just because he’s on a diet doesn’t mean he can’t read the menu. ADA Novak has a nice little body and also a sort of cute mouth. He could be her father, though. And he’s a professional. Not sure if she has anybody, but she seems lonely. That is to say, it’s hard to broach the subject in a natural way. He sees her taking a call outside the courthouse while he’s out for a mid-afternoon stroll, which he does to keep fit, and also because Tutuola and Munch fray his nerves when they’re topping each other with the Snappy Comebacks. She’s smiling. He approaches to say hello and offer a cup of coffee, to break his one-cup-daily routine, strictly in a friendly and professional sense, but by the time he crosses over to her side of the street she’s all business again, hustling some lawyer, presumably, and this ratty-looking kid into a cab and away from a group of seven spiky-haired women yelling insults. Forget it—he’s not getting in the middle of that. Doesn't need the aggravation.

Nov. 2
SVU Headquarters
New York City
4:09 p.m.

Between paperwork, he inserts fun tasks to break up the monotony. A little budgeting, then a Sudoku. He glances at an internal investigation about an improperly discharged weapon, then he flips through a brochure for his vacation in Spain. First vay-kay in three years. The beach resorts are just as nice as the French ones, but cheaper and less crowded. He’ll sit and catch up on reading and flirt indiscriminately with local ladies for a whole week, maybe pick up some Spanish cooking tips. Benson comes in. The gay lover’s willing to testify, but he’s on the edge. “I don’t know how long I can keep him on his meds,” she says, staring him down with a sigh. He stares back, wondering what she would look like on a beach. Novak walks in and says the feminist leader won’t plea, which is going according to plan, if only they can keep Sanchez out of the picture. There’s a plan? What? Who the hell is Sanchez? The ACLU guy? The gay-porn mogul? The schizophrenic homeless woman with AIDS? Didn't this all start with a girl raped in there somewhere? What happened to that? Wait. Is she Sanchez? He listens to them talk, waiting for contextual clues. That reminds him: he needs to stop by Borders on the way home and buy those Berlitz Spanish tapes.

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