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Average Joe

Average Joe

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Average Joe

Lunghezza:
480 pagine
7 ore
Editore:
Pubblicato:
Feb 7, 2016
ISBN:
9781311675033
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

When an average guy becomes the most powerful man in the world, is there still time for bowling?

Shutdowns! Gridlock! In the not-too-distant future, politics have become so corrupt that politicians are completely ineffective in addressing the needs of the country. Congress’s approval rating is at an all-time low. Drastic action is needed, and Senator Robert Quigley devises a plan to make the current state of affairs seem better by making things worse... and to become president in the process. Quigley sets his plan in motion: promoting a constitutional amendment that creates a lottery to select an average citizen as president, truly making the office one that is "of the (unqualified) people." He knows the amendment will fail, but the people will love him for making this bold suggestion.

Quigley is shocked to find the amendment rapidly ratified. The entire country holds its breath: who will become the first randomly selected president? As his luck would have it, the unwitting, unwilling, and not-at-all interested Joe Smith is chosen but refuses to be inaugurated. A beer-drinking Average Joe whose work, finances, and family life are falling apart following the failure of his cherished microbrewery, Joe's major skill is consistently achieving bowling scores in the 200s.

Quigley, who maneuvered himself to become vice president, explains to Joe that if he does a terrible job and gets himself impeached, he will receive enough severance pay to save his microbrewery, and, by the way, allow Quigley to become president. Joe relents and takes the oath of office, knowing that if there is one thing at which he can succeed, it’s failure. Yet Joe’s unorthodox, apolitical ways surprise everyone—especially Joe, his family, and the ruthless, scheming Quigley—as he turns the Washington establishment upside down.
As Joe, the ultimate outsider, continues to confuse, confound, and alarm Washington, one question remains: When an average guy becomes the most powerful man in the world, is there still time for bowling?

Editore:
Pubblicato:
Feb 7, 2016
ISBN:
9781311675033
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Greg Blair is a novelist and screenwriter who has written for television, cable, and film. He is particularly fond of having been a part of the quasi-legendary animation series, Biker Mice From Mars, which taught him that one could make a living writing and being funny at the same time. Average Joe is his first novel. Having left Hollywood for New Hampshire, he swears the "New Hampshire First" primary, where presidential candidates frantically crisscross the state like crazed pinballs, had no influence on his book at all. Well, maybe a little. He is currently working on his second novel.

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Average Joe - Greg Blair

Author

Acknowledgments

There was a lot of information I needed to write Average Joe. Many people were only too happy to point me towards those who had the information I needed. And then those contacts were wonderfully willing to answer the most inane of my questions and/or provide their expertise to help me flesh out the scenes and characters. Others, through conversations, provided insight to the characters and various aspects of the novel. All their contributions to the book were critical to its final outcome. I am indebted to them all. Thanks to Barbara Belcher-Timme, Claire Braverman, Krista Few, Steve Goldblatt, Karen Hennigan, Jim Kates, Stanley King, Jeana Ogren, Paul Ogren, Susan Rowsey, Jillian Smith, Jilisa Snyder, and Bradley White. In addition, I want to thank the Keene Public Library, and, in particular, the Milwaukee Public Library, for going above and beyond in providing me with the best information available.

Thanks to Elizabeth Lyon, editor extraordinaire, who provided invaluable critical insight on an early draft. Her comments were pivotal in shaping the book you’re about to read.

For reviewing various drafts and providing insightful comments, I want to thank Jesse Belcher-Timme, Jacob Blair, Kathi Borden, Deniz Cordell, Thomas Griffin, Barbara Ingram, Francie Neely, Susan Rowsey, Charles Tilghman, and David Zito.

Robin Maxwell was a terrific early and ongoing cheerleader. Everyone should have a friend like her. And thanks also to Michael Nethercott, for being a good friend and inspiration.

Special thanks to Steve Schwartz for his perceptive comments, which made Average Joe a much better book.

Thank you, Ron Boyd (at ronboyd.com), for the most excellent book cover. Great work and a pleasure to work with. And thanks to Seth Blair for supplying the bowling bag logo.

Last but by no means least, I want to fully and completely acknowledge the special place my family has in my heart. They did much more than patiently answer my questions and provide ongoing critical advice. To my wife, Kathi, for her constant support throughout the project. To my boys, Jacob and Seth, who are constant sources of inspiration. It’s a humbling experience to be husband and father to these incredible people.

Preface

Given the stunning number of historians and biographers who clamored ceaselessly from the end of Dad’s presidency in 2028 for the honor of writing my father’s authorized story, I feel quite humble that he chose me. However, when he first approached me, I flatly refused. I knew that if I were to write this book, I would end up struggling with old, encrusted emotions surrounding what can only be described as our lousy relationship. But Dad kept after me, and I eventually gave in. I’m glad I did. By writing Dad’s biography, I ended up writing through those unpleasant memories, and, as a result, we became much closer.

Having said that, while I have used sources outside our family to present as complete a story as possible, I do not pretend to be an impartial observer, nor did I even try. The father who entered the White House was different from the one who left it, and that is the story that is closest to my heart. Therefore, in addition to all the sordid details of the various campaigns against Dad in the early part of his presidency, I have also included the less flattering details of his life as they affected me, Mom, and himself—how we were challenged as a family, and how we overcame the seemingly overwhelming odds that were stacked against us.

Throughout the book, I refer to the first lottery president as Dad because I was unable to separate Joe, the president, from Joe, the dad. To a nation he is known as Joe, President of the United States, but to me he's my old man. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Serendipity chose Dad to be history’s lead character; for better or worse, this is his story. What follows, then, is an accounting of those heady years when the American political landscape was transformed by a common man, a man so average as to be called Average Joe.

T.J. Smith

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Chapter One

Two days before my dad’s life fell apart, I was having the best birthday party ever. We were still settling into our new split-level home in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee, having left the blue-collar town of West Allis just south of us. Until three weeks ago, I had lived all my life in a small, sturdy two-story bungalow in a neighborhood of similar houses two blocks away from Dad’s business. Now I had a bedroom with a built-in closet and a backyard big enough to play a birthday soccer game with my friends. I thought I was in heaven.

I swung my leg back, ready to give the soccer ball at my feet a good whack as my friends dashed around our backyard like pinballs. Whom do I kick it to? My best friend, Michael? Jason? Or Nick, whom I had just met? For these blessed short hours of my thirteenth birthday party, everyone’s attention was focused on me, and I loved it more than I should have.

I was about to kick the ball to Michael when he ran past Dad standing next to the barbeque where Grandpa furiously scoured the blackened grate with a wire brush. As Dad popped the tabs of two beer cans and handed one to Grandpa, I made my decision. The soccer ball landed neatly at Dad’s feet.

As I ran up to them, Grandpa, scowling as he scraped, said to Dad, You’re not listening to me. I’m telling you, it’s a bad time to start up new labels.

Dad tipped his beer to Grandpa who refused to look up. I could tell from the color of the can—fire engine red—that it was Bullhead Firewater Stout. On tap, it had a head so thick you could stick in a nail puller and it would stand straight as a statue. When your Dad runs your Grandpa’s microbrewery, you end up learning far more about the beer business than an average thirteen-year-old.

You hired me to do a job, Dad said.

Against my better judgment. You have a cash flow problem. Take care of that first.

You cashed out of Bullhead. You caused the problem.

I knew from experience that if I didn’t say something, this would go on forever. If I was going to do something, it would have to be quick.

Wanna play, Dad?

Grandpa’s icy eyes gazed down at me. We’re talking business right now, T.J.

Dad tousled my hair. In a minute.

Even on this day, Dad was always one minute away from paying attention to me.

A shadow fell over me. I felt a sharp slap on my back. Hey, birthday boy!

It was hard to believe that my uncle Mort came from the same family. Where Dad and Grandpa were bald and blue-eyed, wore the same LensCrafters glasses, and had bellies that hid their belts, Uncle Mort was beanpole thin, all angles and elbows with long black hair above eyes so brown they appeared black, like the eyes of his beloved space aliens. While Dad looked like he’d lived a year and a half for every one of his forty-five years, Uncle Mort, born eleven months later, looked a decade younger than Dad.

Uncle Mort poked Dad’s belly. Why don’t you go play with your son?

Morton, Grandpa said, Your brother and I are talking business.

Yeah, well, what about the business of being a father?

Morton, Grandpa growled. Enough.

You know I owe you one, Joe, Uncle Mort said.

Dad’s eyes widened in exasperation. Mort, would you please just stop. Jesus, enough already.

But Uncle Mort was like a bullet train in the middle of a long run. There was just no stopping him. If I can’t save you—

Morton! Grandpa barked. "We do not talk about that."

Then I can at least save your relationship with your son.

It doesn’t need saving, Dad said.

Yes, it does.

T.J.! T.J.! my friends yelled.

Giving up, I turned toward them and aimed a kick. Uncle Mort put a hand on my shoulder. Joe, don’t you dare go to work today.

Don’t you tell me what to do!

Then at least apologize to your son. Say you’re sorry you have to go, that you’d really like to stay.

Dad glared at his brother and extended an index finger from the hand that was wrapped around the neck of his beer. Mort. You. Are. Done.

I loved Uncle Mort for standing up for me, but Dad always went to work on my birthdays. I kicked the ball in a low arc dangerously close to Grandma Nowicki, my mom’s mother, as she set plates of traditional Polish food on the redwood picnic table at the back of the yard. She was, in her own way, as massive as the table that now held her home-cooked bounty. For any special occasion of any sort, Grandma always insisted on bringing her specialties—and just about everything she cooked was her specialty. Upon the table were plates of kielbasa, sauerkraut (every young boy’s favorite vegetable), and pierogi—boiled dumplings that were a rather sickly looking shade of gray. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Grandma never forgot to bring her special specialty: oscypek, cylinder-shaped rolls of smoked cheese, which any kid will tell is so far from acceptable it is not even on his run-away-fast food list.

Grandma Nowicki glanced over at Dad with a scowl on her face. She had never approved of Dad. He was neither Polish nor Catholic, and he was head of, in her thinking, a questionable enterprise. But while her attitude toward Dad didn’t change when I was born, Grandma’s involvement in our family did. Her new station as a grandmother overrode her misgivings of her daughter’s choice for a husband. She was the consummate doting grandmother, always hugging me, fussing over me, constantly feeding me desserts (I loved Polish cookie balls). She spoiled me filled me up with unconditional love. She was all a young boy could ask for in a grandparent.

On the other side of the table, carefully placing paper plates and plastic forks in precise lengths and angles from each other and the edge of the table was Grandma Smith, as thin as her counterpart was wide, as quiet as Grandma Nowicki was jolly. While Grandma Nowicki was a larger-than-life presence in my life, Grandma Smith’s contribution was spectral at best. She passed through my childhood as a whiff of memory here and there, seeming substantial only in pictures from special occasions, and then always in the background. Grandma Smith’s contribution to the table was store-bought cartons of coleslaw and potato salad.

The personalities of each set of grandparents were polar opposites of their partners. I guess that was inevitable. It was difficult to imagine Grandma Smith being as blunt and stubborn as her husband, or Grandma Nowicki being as quiet and unassuming as Grandpa Nowicki.

The soccer ball came to rest next to Grandpa Nowicki who, as always, stood well away from the tangle of boys and the bustling business at the picnic table. Sipping his beer, his eyes staring through the backyard fence to some point on the unseen horizon, he did not notice Jayden and Paul rushing over and fighting over possession of the soccer ball, legs madly kicking the ball and each other.

The sliding glass door that led to the patio opened a crack. A foot appeared and pushed the door open wide enough to let a birthday cake through the gap. Candles nestled into thick marshmallow icing, chocolate cake underneath, my ultimate favorite combination. The cake came out into the backyard, a thin hand balancing the plate underneath, followed by the rest of my mother, stepping sideways onto the patio, her right arm holding a big bottle of soda. She only had to open the glass door the width of the cake, for Mom was not much wider than the plate upon which the cake rested.

Mom deftly waltzed through the maze of pounding legs to the picnic table, put the soda bottle on the bench seat, and used her right hand to make a space among Grandma Nowicki’s feast large enough to set down the cake.

As my friends ran over and crowded around, singing happy birthday, Mom stole a glance behind me. I turned to see Dad and Grandpa sucking their beers as Uncle Mort waved his arms and stamped his feet. Then Dad broke away and sauntered toward the table. I whipped my head back to my cake.

Good eatin’, eh? Dad patted my head. I froze under his touch. Well, gotta go put food on the table.

I glanced up at Mom. Her blue eyes lasered Dad’s back as he stepped onto the brick porch, opened the sliding glass door, and disappeared inside. I thought Mom was beautiful when she was angry—as long as it wasn’t at me. With her straight jaw clenched and her sunken cheeks taut, she seemed so strong and alive. Her blonde hair seemed to glow.

She was beautiful most of the time now.

During the weekdays, from 12:50 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. was Dad’s favorite time of the day, a small daily pat-on-the-back for a job well done. Sitting in his father’s plush leather recliner, his feet resting on the ancient desk, Dad breathed in the earthy scent of hops as he listened to the symphony of bottles tinkling along the conveyor on the cavernous main floor below. The building had once been a textile factory; looms had filled the floor where now four—and soon eight—different beers were bottled. Grandpa had loved the brick walls and timbered ceilings so he had never remodeled. Dad honored Grandpa (or was it a way to gain his approval?) by keeping the nineteenth century look of the place the same when he took over day-to-day operations.

Every day he remembered what his father had once told him—You don’t have what it takes to be a brewer—and every day Dad congratulated himself for proving his father wrong. After Grandpa put the kibosh on Dad’s first career aspiration (with Dad ultimately agreeing with him—he had convinced himself it had been a stupid idea), Dad had redoubled his efforts to do something, anything, that Grandpa could approve of. Dad did this despite the fact that crusty old Grandpa had never really acknowledged his hard work at the brewery. Grandpa seemed to somehow subtly resent Dad’s presence in the brewery. In the beginning, Dad thought it was his father’s way of encouraging him, making sure he was up to the challenge.

Dad hardly saw his father growing up; he was always at the brewery putting food on the table, as he told Dad and Uncle Mort. When it became clear that Grandpa was never going to be at home, Dad decided he would go where his father was, and thus began Dad’s career as a brewer.

It had never been easy. Grandpa threw Dad down to the bottommost rung of the business ladder, cellar workman, and told him, Don’t screw up. His job was to shovel out the pungent, soggy grain that begins the fermentation process, from immense vats into fifty-five gallon drums, and truck them to a loading dock where farmers picked them up for feed. Every day his back muscles froze up tighter than barrel staves. He wasn’t worried about screwing up, but every day he told himself, Don’t give up. Every day he wondered if he would. He constantly asked himself why he was doing this. And always the same answer: I’ll show him I’m good enough.

When the cellar manager quit, Dad applied for the job without asking Grandpa. Madge in Human Resources thought Dad was crazy but gave him the job, knowing how hard it was to find skilled people who would work under Grandpa. Everyone in the Milwaukee beer business knew that he was hell to work for.

A few months later, the fermentation worker quit, and after that the assistant brewer, and Dad followed the quitters right up to where he now sat, in Grandpa’s office, head of the whole damn company. All along the way Dad had never gotten any praise from his father, not even a smile and a nod; he had long ago stopped expecting any. Still, he knew by virtue of his butt being planted on the seat under him that he had proven to himself—if not to his father—that he was good enough.

But was he? Dad felt a familiar hollowness grow inside him. He swung his feet off the desk and dragged himself to the small refrigerator in the corner of the office. He pulled out a beer—Bullhead Angler’s Amber Ale this time—twisted off the top, and took a long slug. The emptiness in his belly would soon disappear, he knew, but he’d still be left with the questions. What did it mean to get jobs nobody else wanted? Could he have done as well in a different brewery? He thought he was good enough—he couldn’t be sure since he only had his personal opinion on the matter—but just how good was that?

Today two beers didn’t fill up the hole inside him, so he grabbed a third bottle, the Bullhead Lite, his least favorite. Maybe it would take his mind off this ticklish sense he had that something wasn’t quite right inside the company. Most likely it was just him, nothing more, but still....

Maybe he knew all along what was wrong: Grandpa had a right to pull out his share of the company. After all, he still owned Bullhead Beer. Dad had protested to Grandpa. He had counted on that money as a cushion for the new labels he was about to roll out. Grandpa didn’t budge. Was it his way of getting Dad to stop the rollout? Well, if it was, Dad could be just as stubborn. He took a long swig, the alcohol oiling the avenues of his brain, then slammed down the bottle on his desk, denting the dark wood. Maybe he was becoming too successful. Maybe Grandpa was jealous. Dad nodded to himself. Of course! That had to be it. Dad was doing things with the company that Grandpa never had the balls to do. Dad smiled to himself as he finished off the bottle. The hole was gone. He was better than good enough. He was great.

With a minute left of his ten minutes, Dad heard a soft knocking on the office door. Dad scowled. Beth, his secretary, knew she was to keep a firewall around these ten minutes.

What?

Beth’s head peeked out from behind the door. I’m really sorry, Mr. Smith, but there are two men from the IRS here to see you.

Beth was seriously slipping. She should have directed them to the CFO. Send ‘em to Elliot.

Mr. Fanshaw has, uh, left. They want to see you.

Aw, hell, Beth.

In a voice just above a whisper, Beth said, They’re from the Criminal Investigation Department. They showed me their badges.

Dad stared at his secretary who finally looked away, which was difficult as she still had just her head poking out past the door. What the hell was going on? One thing for sure, he was going to have to have a long talk with Elliot.

Send ‘em in.

Beth opened the door, letting in two men one tall, one short, in discount suits, their coats unbuttoned so Dad could see holstered pistols at their sides. Seeing the two empty beer bottles on Dad’s, desk, a knowing look passed between then.

We’ve been trying to contact you for some time, the short man said.

This is my CFO’s arena, guys, not mine. He’s signs the payroll.

Your CFO doesn’t want to talk to us, the tall man said. That’s why we’re talking to you.

Bullshit, Dad said. Beth, why haven’t I heard about this?

Mr. Fanshaw said you knew about it.

Knew what?

He said that you told him to transfer all calls and mail from the IRS to him.

Call Fanshaw’s cell.

Beth, her eyes widening, dashed out of the office.

We’re shutting you down for repeated failures to remit federal payroll taxes, the tall suit said. He placed a document onto Dad’s desk. This is a notice of levy to seize all assets of Bullhead Beer, Incorporated. We’ve seized your bank accounts as of this morning. And this, placing a second document next to the first, is a subpoena to look at your receivables. We’ll start a workout plan immediately.

Dad’s chest suddenly felt like a block of ice. Dad worked his jaw, but no words came out.

Mr. Smith? said Beth, calling from the outer room. Mr. Fanshaw isn’t answering his cell phone, or his home phone.

We’ll start with your CFO’s office, the short suit said.

Beth, Dad croaked, show ‘em where it is. God, his voice sounded tired.

Dad helplessly watched Beth lead the suits into the hallway. He slumped into his chair. He should call someone. Who was his accountant? He’d known the guy for years. Ira. He should call Ira. But Dad couldn’t move his arms. Maybe if he could move his mouth, say something, maybe the rest of his body would follow.

What the hell, he finally said, and it wasn’t at all what he thought he was going to say.

Chapter Two

Dad watched his bowling ball tumble into the gutter and lumber past the nine pins still standing. His league teammates sat behind him, exchanging glances. The four friends had been bowling on Thursday nights for fifteen years. Only the birth of a child or a summer fishing trip had impinged upon their rock-solid tradition.

Ed shook his head. What’s that? Four open frames in a row?

You going for a record, Joe? George asked.

Tom, as always, smiled and said nothing.

Dad fell heavily onto the bench as George grabbed his ball from the ball return and stepped onto the approach.

Dad lived for bowling night at Mel’s Beer and Bowl. There was the good-natured ribbing, the ribald jokes, and the usual grousing about work. There was the testosterone-tainted joy of hearing the hollow bang of pins against pins while inhaling the musky smell of malt and hops. It also gave him an easy excuse to be away from home.

Dad stood up holding the empty pitcher, weaving slightly.

Wait for the beer frame. Ed said.

That’s five frames away. ‘Sides, I’m paying.

Ed got to his feet and faced Dad. Joe, he said evenly, sit down.

Surprised—Ed had never talked to him like that before—Dad did as he was told.

Ed sat down next to Dad. How long we been bowling together, Joe?

Dad smiled. Fifteen years.

Long time, Joe. Lots of good times.

You heard about McClarsky?

Oh, hell, Joe, George said, as he replaced Tom on the bench. Give it a rest.

You heard what he did? He turned his reelection campaign committee into a not-for-profit. He gets to keep all his money for himself! And fifteen other assholes in the House are doing the same thing, and all their cronies are shooting the submissions through the channels as easy as flushing a toilet. You heard about that, Tom?

Tom ignored Dad, stayed in his stance, bowling ball cradled under his chin, his eyes linked cosmically to the space between the first and third pins at the end of the alley.

Tom!

Quiet. Ed whispered. He’s concentrating.

TOM! cried Dad as his friend released the ball. The ball careened on a straight path into the right side of the pin triangle, knocking down three pins.

Tom sat down heavily. No, Joe, I didn’t hear about it.

As Ed grabbed his ball, Dad said, Yeah, it pisses me off, too. And what about that salary thing?

The what?

Congress is voting themselves another raise, the bastards.

Ed threw a strike, and sat down.

Dad threw the ball like a punch. The ball skittered down the lane and lopped off two pins.

Joe, your wrist is straight. Remember to twist your wrist, George said.

It’s a slow lane. I have to punch it farther down the lane. You know that.

Funny, Ed said to George, how every time the slow lane changes to the one Joe’s bowling on.

Dad set up for his spare. Who in the world ever gave politicians the right to raise their own salaries? Did anyone ever hear about merit increases?

Dad threw the ball like an angry gorilla. It spun crazily down the lane and clipped two pins. Dad didn’t even notice.

They’re all a bunch of spineless, backbiting, money-grabbing, power-hungry morons. They don’t give a rat’s ass about us little guys. They spend twenty-four-seven figuring ways to grab more power and scam more money. But it’s more than that.

It’s the state of the country, chimed Ed and George.

The state of the country’s a mess.

People don’t care about people.

People don’t care about people, Dad said. There’s no such thing as service in this country anymore. Go to a department store and try to get decent help. If the saleslady doesn’t ring up your receipt wrong, she won’t answer the easiest question about the merchandise. One time Ellie got all the way home before realizing the security pin was still on the blouse she’d bought. When she went back to get it off, they accused her of stealing!

Your good luck must be rubbing off on Ellie, Ed said.

And look what the Wal-Marts and Home Depots are doing to our towns. You remember Jack Deever?

Ed watched George sneak off to the approach, his ball ready We remember.

Had a hardware store just up the street from us. He knew about customer service. He lived in town. You go to Home Depot and the help, if you can find any, don’t know a flathead from a Phillips. Have you heard the joke about a guy walks into a Home Depot, finds the item he’s looking for, pays, and leaves?

Ed and Tom exchanged a puzzled look as George threw a strike.

How ‘bout those little stickers on all the fruit in the market? How often have you tried to get them off and ripped open the fruit instead? All the time. What good are they to the common man? No good at all, but they work for some big bureaucratic factory somewhere who doesn’t give a damn about you or me.

That’s a new one, Joe, Tom said helpfully as Ed stood up.

Dad emptied the last beer in the pitcher into his glass and slugged it down. He grimaced.

What’s wrong with the beer, Joe? Ed asked. You look like you drank somebody’s piss.

It’s alright. It’s just not....

It’s just not your Dad’s beer, is it? Hell, Joe, Pabst is a good beer, and you work for them now, Joe. They gave you a job, remember?

Fucking night cellar manager. I’m almost back where I started.

George stood over Dad, arms crossed. It could’ve been worse, Joe, a lot worse, and you know it. The Feds could’ve taken your cars, your home, and sold off everything inside it. You could’ve ended up with nothing. What happened to you was bad, Joe, but be thankful for what didn’t happen. You’re still able to provide for Ellie and T.J.

At least you have a job, Tom said. Lot of other people’re getting laid off these days.

That’s cuzz this country’s hip deep in a million things that bug us, trouble us, eat up our time, fill up our lives spent cleaning up other people’s messes and mistakes, and nobody’s doing anything about it. Not the politicians. And this whole mess started there. They’re responsible.

The IRS was just doing its job.

The IRS is part of the government, and the government sucks. What is this? Am I back in court or something?

So, Joe, George said, as Tom replaced Ed at the approach, why don’t you do something about it?

Do what?

George nudged Ed in the ribs. Run for office.

Oh, crap, George, crap. Just look at the scum who are running for president. This next election’s going to be the biggest joke ever. There’s not one fit candidate. Not one.

Tom threw a strike and sat down, beaming.

Joe, it’s time you got off the pot and put your money where your mouth is.

Dad leaned toward George. I would kill myself before swimming in shit with the scum of the Earth.

You got it wrong, George said. All you gotta do is put on a wetsuit and dive in. You’d be perfect. You could pass for one of them, no problem.

Look at Bill Sifter, offered Ed, with a wink toward George. He’s got many of your fine qualities, and he’s running for mayor.

Dad snorted. Bill Sifter is a pompous, grouchy know-it-all.

Ed and George stole a glance at each other and laughed out loud. Tom stared straight ahead, his jaw muscles working overtime to keep closed. George grabbed his ball and went to his mark.

Dad looked from one friend to another. What?

Ed’s smile vanished. He was suddenly dead serious. You gotta lighten up.

Dad picked up the pitcher.

Let’s coast a while, Ed said, but Dad had already left for the bar.

Slumped over the bar, Dad ignored the full pitcher next to him. Some white-haired guy was on the television. Dad knew he should know him, but the beer wasn’t letting him. The guy’s face was handsomely chiseled with age. He wore a gray dress coat with brass buttons that looked more like something that belonged in a Civil War movie. The man stood at a podium embossed with the Great Seal of the United States.

Hey! That’s Robert E. Lee! said the man sitting on a stool next to him.

Then Dad remembered. It’s Quigley. That southern senator who’s running for president.

How ‘bout ESPN, the man said.

Turn it up, Hugh, Dad said.

Hugh pointed the remote at the TV.

—About the sad state of affairs, the senator was saying, in this nation I so dearly love. My friends, I have failed in my sworn duty to serve the people who elected me. In a broader sense, Congress has also failed each and every American. We have failed you by not listening. You have spoken volumes to us, and we turned a deaf ear to your cries for real solutions to our nation’s problems. How did this happen? The answer is clear. We are wedded to Big Business interests.

Hey, someone grumbled behind Dad, how ‘bout some sports.

Keep it there, Hugh, Dad said. What was Quigley up to?

"They feed our ravenous appetites for ever-increasing amounts of money. Thus, we will do anything that they want, and what they want is for their profits to grow. They think they know how to run the country better than you, the American people, and that’s exactly what they do ... through us.

"Simply put, our political institutions are bankrupt. No politician—not one representative, senator, or governor—deserves to wear the hallowed mantle of the president of the United States. We have known this for a long time, and you, who choose not to exercise your right to vote in growing numbers, know it, too. It is time to ask, how can we do better?"

Hey, Hugh, switch the channel.

Shut up! Dad shouted.

Quigley smiled through the television at Dad. "We have lost sight of what made our country great. It was never the millionaires running for office who are, by definition, out of touch with the majority of Americans. It was the average person who forged this vital, this great nation into a world power whose commitment to fairness, to decency, to justice for all people forever changed the history of the world. Yet now, when we badly need new blood pumped into the aching heart of our once great country, no average man or woman can ever hope to become president. We need new leadership and it will never come from the ranks of the elected.

Therefore, tomorrow I will propose an amendment to the Constitution to create a national lottery comprising all registered voters in the United States for the purpose of randomly selecting, without prejudice or interference from any individual, corporation, or political body, a man or woman to become our nation’s next president.

Sports, now! Someone yelled behind Dad.

Okay, Joe? Hugh asked.

He’s almost done.

With this presidential lottery in effect, I believe that we can change the direction in which our nation is headed. I believe we can truly have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We can find a new path to lead us out of today’s dark present and into the light of a bright new future for all Americans. Thank you, and good night.

Hugh hit the remote to a smattering of applause.

Weaving his way through the crowd, carrying the pitcher with two hands to be sure of his grip, Dad dismissed the speech as the usual hogwash, another political ploy to grab attention and get votes. Quigley knew that the American public, no matter how much they hated the government, hated change even more. They’d never settle for some average slob over a polished sound-bite politician.

Dad sat on the bench and poured himself another beer before noticing that Tom was alone next to him, his bowling bag packed, his street shoes on.

You were gone a long time, Joe.

I was? I guess so. Where’s Ed and George?

Gone home. Tom cleared his throat. Joe, you need to know something.

Shoot, Dad said.

The guys’re talking about getting another bowler.

A fifth?

Another fourth. To replace you. Ed and George are tired of your bellyaching, and I have to admit I am, too. The league’s upping our handicap every other week. It’s getting embarrassing. And, honestly, Joe, it’s just no fun being around you. We know you’re going through a hard time. But at some point you gotta decide to move on. And the guys say you’re drinking too much to bowl a good game. You gotta do something about your drinking. I thought if you knew what was going on, maybe you could do something about it.

Dad drained his glass and burped. About what?

The sad look on Tom’s face puzzled Dad.

You okay? Dad asked.

After a rough moment of silence, Tom picked up his ball bag, patted Dad on the shoulder, and walked away.

Excerpt from My Life as I See It

by Robert E. Quigley

I sat behind my desk, hands folded in my lap, and allowed my colleagues to vent. It was the day after I gave my famous speech proposing the Average Amendment, and four of the most influential members of Congress were now expressing their views on the subject. I had arranged this meeting before giving my speech, but had not shared the contents of that speech with them. I knew all but one of them could not keep a secret, and it was imperative that I frame the political dialogue as much as possible. This was the purpose of today’s meeting. But in order to get to that critical place, it was important for me to appear sympathetic to their feelings on the subject, which were, understandably, a bit raw.

What you did, Bob, said Senate Majority Leader Oren Fulsom, was absolutely unconscionable.

I believe I can speak for my friends here, said Jessie Hammok, Speaker of the House of Representatives, when I say that what you did was not only a clear dereliction of duty, but a breach of trust that, frankly, I don’t know how you can ever restore.

Gentlemen, I said, I do understand your displeasure.

Actually, no, said Senate Minority Leader Bradford Wyman. No, you don’t. If you truly did understand what you’ve done, you’d perform some sort of ritual hara-kiri right here in this room.

Now, Brad, Hammok said, that’s going a bit too far.

Oh, I don’t know, Fulsom said, we could debate the issue.

Wyman stared daggers at me. You have cut out the heart of every member of Congress. You are a traitor to the Constitution. You.... Wyman’s eyes bulged as big as eggs against his red face; his mouth flapping unformed words.

If you don’t calm down,

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