THE DEVIL’S WORKSHOP
By John Bruni
It all started rather innocently. Rob and I sat on the couch, drinking Jim Beam and watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for the millionth time. We knew the movie back and forth, but that didn’t lessen our enjoyment. Still, we were bored as we usually were in those days.
Rob was the one who came up with the idea. I’d just downed my seventh shot and was settling back, enjoying my buzz. He said, “You know what we should do?”
About a thousand witty comments came to mind, but my mouth was less intelligent than my mind. Things just got lost in the translation. I fumbled some line about male hookers. I stuttered. It made no sense.
“No,” Rob said. “We should run for president.”
I laughed. “Yeah. Great idea.”
“I’m serious.” And he really did sound serious.
“How the hell are we going to pull that off?”
“Are we or are we not above the age of thirty-five?”
“Are we not citizens of America, having lived here for at least fourteen years and being born here?”
“Then we’re eligible.”
“We don’t have the kind of money it takes to campaign.”
“I got that figured out already. You sign up for the Democratic ticket, and I’ll go Republican. They’ll give us the money.”
“Wait, we’ll be running against each other?”
“Yeah! It’ll be fun! Think of all the debates we could have!”
“That would be pretty funny.”
“We could act like we’re getting really pissed off at each other, and we could stage a fist fight.”
“We’ll need to stock up on blood capsules.”
“That’s the spirit!”
“What happens if one of us actually wins?” I asked.
“Then the winner will make the loser his vice-president. Imagine the media backlash! That alone is worth the price of the ticket. And let us not forget the games we could play with the American people once we have the power to back them up.”
“Yeah. Remember the time Reagan joked about how we were going to bomb the Russians when he thought the mic was off?”
“Except we’d know the mic’s on. Imagine the havoc.”
I laughed as he took a shot of Beam. “Yeah, we could run for president. Or we could just go get a burger somewhere.”
“I’m serious. Look, the DNC’s in town in a month. We’ll get you nominated. I’ll make sure of it. Then you can return the favor for me at the RNC.”
“What if I want to be the Republican candidate?”
“No way. I got dibs on that.”
“Come on. It’s not as much fun, pretending to be a Democrat.”
“Sure it will be. Think of the fun we could have when it comes to the mudslinging part. We could set up some pictures of you soliciting prostitutes. You can get pictures of me with a goat. Then I’ll get pictures of you with a harem of dogs, and you can get one of me jerking off with a hamster.”
“Then, when you present pictures of me with a hollowed out pineapple and conjoined sextuplets, I’ll actually throw mud at you.”
“You’re a natural at this.” He grinned. “Of course in the face of such irrefutable evidence as undoctored photographs we must deny everything to the last drop.”
“Do you have any love children?” Rob asked.
“As in, children you had as the result of a secret affair?”
“I know what a love child is. And no, you know I don’t.”
“Then we’ll make some up. We’ll also need wives.”
“How are we going to get them?” I asked.
“Well, I’ll just get a girlfriend. We’ll have to buy a woman for you.”
“We can hardly afford a prostitute’s hourly rates,” I said, passing on his feeble attempt at humor. “Buying a wife could be a mite impractical.”
“Well, if we go to the ghetto we could get you a crack whore for a nickel.”
“Yeah, but she’ll always be asking for crack.”
“True.” He sighed. “Are mail order brides still a thing?”
“Sounds a bit like slavery. Probably not.”
“We’ll look into it, anyway.”
We lapsed into silence long enough to finish off the Beam. As Rob took down the last shot, he laughed. “I can’t wait for the convention. We’re going to kick so much ass.”
“Wait a minute. You’re not really serious about this, are you?”
“How many times do I have to say it? Yes, I’m serious.”
“Then we’d better figure out our policies.”
“Easy. We’ll run as extremists. Since I’m going to be Republican, I’ll pound the Bible and yap about prayer in school. I’ll protect big business interests and gun lobbyists. I’ll try to enact a law that will deport black people back to Africa.”
“You’re not really going to say that.”
“Yes, I am. I’m trying to be Republican, remember?”
“We’re playing a joke on America, get it? It’s just a joke. I’m not really going to make being black in America illegal.”
“A lot of rednecks are going to take you seriously.”
“That’s the point.”
“Okay, then how am I going to run?”
“Simple. You go against everything I say, except you also rail for women’s rights while sexually harassing them at the same time.”
“But don’t worry. In the end we’ll be the same because we’ll be solicited by big business. We’ll be representing their interests.”
I laughed. “Sounds accurate.”
“Don’t forget to talk about the children a lot. That’s very important.”
We watched the rest of the movie in silence. When the video was rewinding Rob said, “I’m hungry. Let’s get a taco.”
Ever appreciative of a Reservoir Dogs reference, I laughed, and we went to Taco Bell for food. And Mom, if you’re reading this, we hired a cab. Honest.
They wouldn’t let us in at the DNC. Regardless, there were way too many cops, and the place was filled beyond limit. Dejected, we shuffled off to a nearby park where we sat on a bench. Rob lit up a cigarette.
“So much for that idea,” I said.
“Yeah. Too bad. We could’ve had a lot of fun. I guess we’ll have to go independent.”
“You still want to run for president?”
“Hell yeah. Of course we’ll now have to run together, and our campaign will be serious, but once we get to the White House the real fun’ll—”
“How are we going to run without money?” I asked.
“Campaign donations from the simple folk, John. Our slogan: ‘Let’s Return America to a Simpler Time.’ It’ll be very grassroots with a lot of morals. People love that kind of nonsense.”
He ignored me. “We’ll need gimmicks. Do you know where we can buy a midget? Like the one in O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
“Buy a midget?”
“Are you kidding? Everyone loves midgets. There’s, like, a midget renaissance going on.”
“Buy a midget?”
“Or maybe we should go the Bulworth route. We’ll get the wigger vote.”
“Oh, come on.”
“I understand monkeys are quite the fashion, so we’ll need a few of those, too.”
“Wipe that confused yet awed sheen from your face, chum. We’re politicians now.”
So we ran for president. Actually, Rob ran for president. I ran as his vice-president. There’s not much to say here, nothing humorous. We poured on the simpler time stuff pretty heavily, and people bought it hook, line, and sinker. I felt like a strange new breed of televangelist for taking their donations, but it went to a good cause: to satisfy our idle hands.
When we started to get national notice, the big businesses started making hefty donations. Naturally we cashed them but denied doing so in public. It was because of this money that we were able to pop full into the limelight, where we proved to be stronger than the Republicans and Democrats thought we were. Neither of their candidates wanted to take Rob’s offer of a debate (he desperately wanted to face off against the incumbent president). The majority of electoral votes went to us. The “simpler time” card really worked.
It all started falling apart with Rob’s inaugural speech. After giving his thanks to the nation, he said, “First and foremost, I’m going to see what I can do about eliminating the separation between church and state.”
Many started shouting angrily, but there were also a few cheers.
“From here on out,” he continued, “those who don’t believe in the one true Christian God will be executed without trial.”
More yelling came from the crowd, and I heard someone shout something about the Bill of Rights.
“Thanks for reminding me,” Rob said. “The Bill of Rights, considering how it was written more than two centuries ago, is now archaic and outdated. So we’ll be getting rid of that, too.”
If not for the police, already dressed in riot gear, I’m sure the audience would have charged the stage.
“We will also begin shipping black people back to Africa, as per the wishes of real Americans. Any black people wishing to stay may do so, but only as slaves.”
At that point the violence got to be too much, so the Secret Service hustled Rob off stage. While Rob was completely joking about all of that stuff, it’s worth noting that quite a few people cheered him on when he started talking about African Americans being shipped away. I guess we’re not all that far from the nineteenth century.
The next morning Rob resigned from office. This is a transcript of his farewell speech:
“Good morning, my fellow Americans. It is with tremendous grief that I must announce my resignation and ask for your forgiveness. Yesterday I played a most horrendous joke on the people of this great nation, and many took it seriously. I admit it was tasteless and wrong, and I apologize.
“This afternoon Vice-President John Bruni will be sworn in as your new leader. John has been kind enough to offer the office of the vice-presidency to me. I have graciously accepted it.
“Once again, I am perennially sorry for my flippant actions. Goodbye, and God bless America.”
I’m sure a lot of people would have been happy if not for my inaugural speech. After thanking everybody and pardoning Rob publicly, I presented my audience with my new idea.
“In the past half-year I’ve traveled all over this great country of ours. The most popular remark I heard was that, and I quote, ‘What this country needs is a good war,’ end-quote. To satisfy these people—and it is my job to make the people of America happy—I have decided to start a war. My aides have written out the names of every country in the world, and we’ve put them all in this top hat.” I showed them the hat. “Whichever name I pull out, we’ll bomb it.”
A murmur went through the crowd, and most people looked absolutely horrified as I reached into the hat. I plucked out a piece of paper and unfolded it. “And our new national arch enemy is . . . Alabama? Okay, who’s the joker?”
Some chuckles came from the audience, but most were still taking this seriously.
I threw the paper away and tried again. “This time, no fooling.” I unfolded the next piece of paper. “I think you’ll all like this one. Looks like we’re going back to Vietnam!”
The crowd went wild, not with joy, but with anger. I could tell Rob was trying desperately not to laugh when I did this.
“I knew you’d be up for it. Those bastards’ll never see us coming. It’s time to finish the job and set history straight. Bombing starts in twenty-four hours. Thank you, and God bless America.”
The resulting riot was quelled three hours later by the cops. The worries of the other nations, however, would go on for much longer. All night the White House phones rang off the hooks with calls from kings, presidents, and other heads of state from all over the world. China threatened to side with Vietnam, as did a number of other countries.
I tendered my resignation the next morning. This is the transcript:
“My fellow Americans, I am dreadfully sorry for the events of last night. To those who don’t believe I was joking, I present to you the fact that I, as president of the United States, could not force what I was talking about last night. That’s Congress’s job. The system of checks and balances prevents such injustices.
“It was a horrible joke, and I apologize profusely.
“Vice-President Robert Tannahill will be sworn in again at noon as your leader. He has been kind enough to ask me to stay on as his vice-president. I have accepted his offer.
“Again, I apologize. Thank you, and God bless America.”
I think by the time Rob was finished with his second inaugural address, people were starting to realize we were joking.
“I’d first like to apologize for John’s tasteless joke,” he said. “Now to new business. Instead of shipping black people back to Africa, we’ll be shipping all the white people back to Europe.”
There were some laughs, but the majority—now realizing what a joke we were—were not angry but disgusted.
“Oh come on,” Rob said. “I thought you’d be with me on this one. I can’t win with you fuckers, can I?”
Need I present a transcription of his resignation speech?
Very few people showed up for my second inaugural speech. That was too bad, considering how serious the speech was. I didn’t say one controversial thing. We’d decided to revert to our “return to a simpler America” deal.
Then I went on a world tour at the taxpayers’ expense. Honestly I was disappointed. The architecture is great in other countries, but you can’t find a decent cheeseburger outside the States.
By the time I’d returned our next scandal was well underway. Newspapers all over the country published pictures of me at an orgy, goat and all. The headlines proclaimed me a sex maniac with strange fetishes. Is this man a good role model for our children?
Naturally I resigned, bringing Rob back into the presidency. He played this inauguration straight, but not many people were there to notice.
The nation was sick and tired of us. They said we were making a mockery of America and sullying the good office of the US president. As if we were the first to be guilty of that.
They started shouting for impeachment. At this point we had to wonder, “What would Dick Nixon do?”
So we both resigned. I guess that wasn’t too bad. The joke was starting to get old, anyway.
Instead of writing our own farewell speech, we used Nixon’s. For a bit of fun we added at the end, “This is our last press conference. You won’t have us to kick around anymore.”
And that is the tale of the strangest presidency in the history of America.
A year later Rob and I sat on the couch, drinking Jim Beam, and watching Bloodsucking Freaks. Our shenanigans had long since been forgotten, and we no longer qualified as celebrities (despite the fact that Comedy Central bought the movie rights and aired the wretched product starring Adam Sandler as Rob and David Spade as me; no one watched it). We found ourselves bored once again with nothing better to do than drink and watch cult classics.
Suddenly Rob said, “You know what we should do?”
“Run for US president again?”
“No. We should start a religion.”
“What, you think I’m kidding?”