So I won the election for President of the United States.
I know; I was surprised, too. Especially since my campaign just consisted of me and Downstairs Neighbor Dave calling random people during dinnertime. Many folks screamed horrible, rage-fueled obscenities at us when we asked for their vote, but others liked my plan for nationalizing breweries to dispense free beer to the public.
I had planned to order some bumper stickers, but Dave spent our limited funds on a box of red, white, and blue skimmer hats. So instead of promoting a message, we simply helped people shield their eyes from the sun.
Between that and the free beer, I think that’s what won me the election.
So on my first day in the Oval Office, I was spinning around in my swivel chair when an aide appeared in the doorway. She stood there for a moment, then coughed politely into her fist.
“Mr. President?” she asked.
I leapt to my feet and straightened my clip-on bowtie. “Yes?”
She held up a clipboard. “It’s time for your 10 a.m. meeting, sir.”
“Right. I was just preparing my notes.” I shuffled some newspapers that were lying on the desk.
“That’s the comics section, sir,” the aide said.
“Right,” I said. “I was just flipping past them to get to the international news. I wanted to brush up on world affairs.”
“World affairs is an important topic when you’re president of the United States.”
I pointed to the phone. “By the way, do I have to press 9 on this thing to dial out?”
The aide motioned to the doorway. “Mr. President? Your meeting.”
“Ah, yes. Coming.” I grabbed my rubber vomit from a drawer — as well as a piece of paper with scotch tape on the end — then left the room with the aide. Together, we started walking down the corridor, tromping through the hallowed halls of the West Wing.
“What’s this meeting about?” I asked. “Am I to learn the nuclear launch codes and commit them to memory?”
“It’s your first day, sir,” the aide said. “Don’t you think you’re being a bit ambitious?”
“Being ambitious is how I got here,” I said. “I have a whole box of skimmer hats in my office to attest to that fact.”
She led me to a set of double doors, then opened them and led me inside. Together, we walked into a dark conference room filled with cigar smoke. A long table stood at the far end, and bulky figures sat silhouetted against a green control-panel map.
“Ah, Mr President.” An adviser stood up and shook my hand. “Come in, come in.”
“Are those the launch codes?” I asked, pointing to the screen.
The adviser waved dismissively to the aide. “You may excuse us.”
“Yes, sir.” The aide turned and started to walk out the door.
“Just a moment.” The adviser reached and peeled a piece of paper off the aide’s back. In red marker, it read “Kick me.”
The adviser stared at the sign in his hand, then looked at me. “Sir?”
“I couldn’t help it,” I said. “I found some paper in the drawer, and … well, I’ve been waiting for someone to stick that to. I didn’t want to do it to a general, because they’re liable to kick my butt.”
The adviser narrowed his eyes, then turned to the aide. “You are excused.”
“Yes, sir.” The aide wrinkled her nose at me, then left the room, closing the door behind her.
“I want her fired,” I said. “And can you ask the Federal Reserve to, like, foreclose on her house, or something?”
“Have a seat, sir,” the adviser said, shoving me onto a cold, uncomfortable metal folding chair.
I swallowed. “I guess you didn’t like the ‘kick me’ sign. I was thinking of waiting until my second term to show my humorous side, but first-day jitters, you know?” I shrugged. “I thought it was funny, myself.”
“Do you see those men sitting at the front of the room?” the adviser asked.
“Not really,” I said. “It’s pitch dark in here, and the room’s filled with smoke. Speaking of which, I thought all federal buildings were non-smoking?”
“I’d like to introduce you to these men,” the adviser said, his voice taking on a deep, ominous tone. “These are the 10 men who control the universe.”
“The universe?” I frowned. “I thought I was the leader of the free world?”
“You are a puppet, and they are the puppet masters. These are the men who pull the strings.”
“Well, that’s more of a marionette than a puppet, if you want to get technical.”
“Silence! These men control not only the country, but also the world. The banking system is theirs. The military-industrial complex is theirs. Every political institution, from Congress to the courts, is under their command.”
“I’m confused,” I said. “I thought I was going to learn the nuclear launch codes?”
The adviser stood directly in front of my chair, towering over me and casting an impressive shadow.
“Do you understand what I’m saying?” he snarled. “These are the men who truly rule the planet. You will answer to them. Their wishes are your command. Whatever agenda they choose to set, you will support. Whatever policies they chose to implement, you will endorse. When there’s a war to be waged, you will trumpet the message and persuade the people. These men are all-powerful and all-knowing, and their authority is never to be questioned.”
“You sure that’s not 10 women up there?” I asked. “I mean, when you say ‘an all-powerful person whose authority can never be questioned,’ it makes me think of the First Lady.”
“Silence!” The adviser slapped me across the face so hard, it left my bowtie spinning.
One of the men at the front of the room coughed. “Mr. President, this meeting is simply to inform you of the way things are. We are in charge; not you. You are but a mere figurehead who must carry out our wishes. The populace will think of you as their leader, when in truth it is us who control the world, without question.”
“Don’t you mean ‘it is we who control the world’?” I asked. “I think you picked the wrong pronoun.”
The adviser slapped me hard across the face again. “Silence!”
“Hey!” I said, holding my cheek. “What was that for?”
“They said without question, and you just questioned them!”
“Oh.” I bit my lip. “Sorry. First-day jitters.”
Another figure spoke up: “We want to make clear that the president has no authority. Congress has no authority. Even Wall Street — the scariest of the three, clearly — has no authority. Only we have authority.”
“So let me get this straight,” I said. “Am I ever going to get the nuclear launch codes?”
The adviser shook his head. “Never.”
“Can I at least issue my own executive orders? I wanted to issue an executive order invalidating all previous executive orders. And then to reinstate them, I could issue an executive order to invalidate the order that invalidated all the previous orders.”
The adviser shook his head again. “You may not issue your own executive orders.”
“Well, gee,” I said. “Can I at least tour Area 51 and see what’s inside? I’ve been dying to know.”
“You may not tour Area 51. It’s off-limits.”
“Well, this sucks!” I said. “What can I do?”
“Well,” the adviser said, shrugging, “you can make pompous speeches that convey no actual message, and you can attend galas and functions and black-tie events to raise money for other politicians. And if you play your cards right, we’ll even let you play a few rounds of golf.”
“But I hate golf,” I said.
“No you don’t,” one of the figures said. “You like golf because we say you like golf. Got it?”
“Oh.” I looked at the row of silhouettes at table. “Can I just say something in response? Please?”
“You may,” one of the figures I said.
“All right, then. Bleh!” I tore the rubber vomit from my breast pocket and lobbed onto the floor.
The room remained silent, with cigar smoke swirling toward the ceiling.
“Oh, c’mon,” I said. “That was pretty funny.”
The adviser took my arm. “Come on, Mr. President. It’s time for your press conference.”
“But can I just get my rubber vomit?” I asked, straining to get out of his grasp.
“No,” said all 10 men at the table at the same time.
And who was I to question their authority?