I'm here in Washington on assignment, my editor having provided me with a ticket to what he swears is the best Thanksgiving party inside the Beltway.
I walk into the entrance lobby, and am immediately confronted by two doors -- one which obviously leads to the main hall, and one prominently marked "The Closet." I shrug off my winter coat, walk over to the closet door, and pull it open.
"Close the door!" yells Mark Foley from deep within. Pastor Ted Haggard steps from the shadows to the doorway and berates me: "Oh, look, it's the Vast Left Wing Media Conspiracy here to shine light into our closet! Don't you have anything better to do?" He slams the door shut in my face.
More than a little bewildered, I back away from the door. As I stand there wondering what to do with my coat, ex-male prostitute Mike Jones shoulders his way past me. He has two congressional pages with him as helpers, who set down a toolbox next to the closet door. They rummage within it, then start removing the hinges from the door, and attacking it with a large prybar. Mike turns and notices me (and my coat), and helpfully points to the main door.
"Coat check is inside, to your right."
"Thanks," I tell him, and enter the main hall. Momentarily dazzled by the festivities within, I turn to my right to find a window in the wall with a "Coat Check" sign. I stroll over, and to my surprise find Donald Rumsfeld inside, hanging on a hook halfway to the ceiling. He looks soaked, and water dribbles off him to form a puddle on the floor beneath.
"Check your coat?" he asks me. Because the sight is so shocking, he has to repeat himself. "Check your coat? What? You've never seen anyone hung out to dry before? Come on, give me your coat."
Dumbfounded, I hand it over. He tosses it to Ken Mehlman (also dangling from a hook), who attaches my coat to a cable and presses a button. The cable retracts, and my coat is whisked into a dark hole in the ceiling marked "Does NOT go to the NSA. Don't even ASK." A cold breeze blows from the hole, causing Rumsfeld and Mehlman to slowly twist in the wind.
"Hey, wait a minute," I protest, "Where's my coat going?"
Rumsfeld sneers at me. "I guess we'll just have to call that a 'known unknown.' You came here to check your coat, well, golly gee, that's just what we're going to do. Maybe your coat has weapons of mass destruction in the pockets. Maybe it will benefit from a stay at Guantanamo. We'll just have to see, won't we? Don't worry about your coat, we'll completely check it out."
I attempt a last stab at ever seeing my coat again, "Well at least give me my claim check."
Rumsfeld's face breaks into that Skeletor grin he does so well. "We know who you are, don't worry." With a shudder, I turn away from his cackling laughter.
I move forward into the enormous hall of festivities. I immediately look for the open bar, of course (this is a standing rule which must be strictly adhered to, or they'll kick you out of the Journalism Union). I spot it over the heads of a crowd, and elbow my way towards it.
It turns out the crowd blocking progress is just standing looking wistfully towards the bar, and not actually ordering drinks. I shoulder past "freedom fries" Bob Ney, and, as I pass Mel Gibson and Robin Williams, I overhear a snatch of conversation, "...yeah, I expect Michael Richards to join us any day now...."
I finally break through this gaggle and find myself at the bar next to a guy just as underdressed as I am. As I order a drink, he introduces himself as a wire service political reporter. He offers to show me around the room, and we both leave the bar area together, fresh drinks in hand.
"To fit everyone in the celebration, like-minded people were seated together," my new friend explains. "This table here in the shadows, for instance, is the Iraq Reconstruction Table." We stop to see what is going on.
Several Republican congressional committee chairmen are dressed as waiters. They constantly circle the table, dispensing mounds of cash onto the guests' plates. I see a man with a "Halliburton" label who is almost drowning in the pile of cash being shoveled in front of him. The KBR man next to him helps staunch the flow by moving some of this money onto his plate. I spot Parsons and Bechtel nametags on other guests. But my attention is drawn to the centerpiece on the table -- a massive, full-sized ice sculpture of a man with an accountant's eyeshade and a magnifying glass. "Who's that?" I ask my guide.
"That's Stuart Bowen, Jr.," he replies, and (noticing my blank expression), continues, "He's the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The Republicans froze him out by canceling his budget, since he was beginning to uncover some nasty truths."
At this point we have to back away from the table, since the cash is piling up everywhere, spilling onto the floor in heaps. Head waiter Hastert claps his hands, and a team of congressional Republicans appears, dressed in janitor's outfits with "Oversight" prominently written on the back. They start hurriedly sweeping billions of dollars under the carpet, while chanting: "Nothing to see here! Move along!" The patrons at the table thank them for their efforts by stuffing their pockets with bundles of cash, "for your next campaign." As we walk away from the table, I take a last look at the ice sculpture, which seems to be melting slightly, as drops of what I assume is water run down the icy cheeks from the statue's eyes.
Further back in the shadows, a trial seems to be taking place at the next table. It's hard to figure out what's going on, though, since apparently the only one who is allowed to speak is the judge. We stop and listen in for a moment.
"...the Defendant (whose name is a classified secret) is not permitted to talk with his lawyer (since he may talk about classified matters) and is not permitted to challenge his detention in civil court (since they aren't cleared for classified matters and may reveal secrets) or to even talk about his interrogation (since it involved classified secrets) or the methods used in such interrogations (since the methods themselves have been classified top secret) and cannot use any of these facts in his defense (and we're not even sure he's allowed any defense whatsoever) since this may alert our enemies to our (top secret) interrogation methods, which are not torture as we define it (which definition we cannot reveal, as it is classified), even if the only people on the planet who haven't heard these techniques already from the free press (which we're thinking of prosecuting for treason) must have just arrived from Mars..."
We wander away, as listening to the judge drone on is beginning to make my head ache. We quickly pass an enclosed niche where dozens of people are repeating the judge's words and muttering "damn straight" and "right on" at various intervals. I lift an inquisitive eyebrow as we hurry past, and my friend dismisses them, saying, "That's just the right-wing echo chamber, pay it no heed." Just before we're out of earshot, a chorus of "Ditto! Ditto! Ditto!" breaks out.
The next table is on the edge of the shadowed section. "Here's a funny one," my host points out, "You might call this the 'K Street Project Memorial Table.'" Sad-eyed Republican lobbyists appear to be desperately cleaning up an almost-bare table. There are still a few dollars and some coins lying around, but most everything has already been shoved into their briefcases. They notice us watching them and rush over with freshly-printed résumés feverishly clutched in their hands. They begin loudly grunting, "Got jobs? Got jobs?" at us. We hurry quickly away, but at least one of them gets close enough to shove something in my pocket.
Once we're clear of them, I pull it out. It's a dollar bill with a strange question-mark sort of shape (or perhaps a warped numeral 3) printed on it in ink. My friend grabs it with disgust, crumples it up and tosses it over his shoulder. "Earmarks," he explains briefly. "Half the money in this town has earmarks on it."
We finally come out of the shadows into brilliant white light. Powerful spotlights from all around are all focused on the next table. To my surprise, I see several prominent Democrats seated with an equal number of well-known Republicans. John Kerry and John McCain are chatting next to each other. Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton share a private joke. John Edwards, Sam Brownback, Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Newt Gingrich, Wes Clark, Bill Frist, and Al Gore are all sitting comfortably together. Even as we stand watching, dozens more rush to the table and grab seats (most of whom I don't recognize). The table seems to somehow expand to fit each one of them in.
"OK, this one's easy," I say, "This must be the 2008 presidential candidate table." My friend nods with a grin.
"Notice the media?" he asks.
I turn back, unsure of what he means, but then I spy (on the floor) all the big talking heads from the television media, crawling around underneath the table. They all appear to be fighting for scraps that fall from the table. Tim Russert seems to be hoarding these scraps, but selectively. Katie Couric looks confused, but she's gamely trying to keep up with the others. Particularly disgusting is Chris Matthews, who is busily licking Hillary Clinton's toes, murmuring "Please run, Hillary, please run... I've already spent the past year mentioning your campaign every chance I can get... I'm obsessed... please, please, please run..."
"Revolting," I comment.
My pal agrees, "Yeah, he needs help."
We turn away from the glare of the klieg lights, to the biggest table in the room. Hundreds of people sit at this table, but I don't recognize any of the ones closest to us. "Congress," my guide helpfully explains. The centerpiece of this table is another ice sculpture, this one of a duck wielding crutches, hobbling along on what is obviously a broken leg. As we watch, dozens of Democrats rush into the room and start yanking Republican seat-holders out of their chairs. "Time to go!" they gleefully chant over and over again.
Shelley Sekula-Gibbs causes a momentary spectacle, yelling, "No, you can't remove me, I just started! You're all fired! And all of your staff! They're fired too!" I see Tom DeLay, from his spot on the sidelines, cringe in embarrassment. Katherine Harris, also on the sidelines, is in the process of being forcibly restrained and wrapped in a straitjacket. She appears to be frothing at the mouth.
Suddenly, the room lights dim. Our attention is drawn to the stage, which occupies one side of the hall. Several bad warmup acts come out in swift succession; Rush Limbaugh doing his Michael J. Fox imitation, then George Allen (while casting wistful looks at the presidential candidate table) doing a standup comedy routine which seems to consist entirely of politically incorrect jokes. A scuffle breaks out from the wings, and O.J. Simpson briefly steps on the stage -- only to be abruptly yanked off again by Rupert Murdoch. Madonna and Barbra Streisand come out and do a brief duet rendition of their new song, "George W. Bush is the Anti-Christ" -- and then the stage falls mercifully silent.
As the anticipation grows, suddenly the Secret Service is everywhere. They take up positions on the stage and throughout the crowd. There are three on the stage in sight of us, one of whom is sporting a black eye and several bruises, and two of which are holding purses. I shoot a puzzled look at my friend, who whispers in my ear, "They've had a bad week. Those two were on First Twins duty when Barbara Bush's purse was snatched from a restaurant in Buenos Aires, and the other one got beat up while off duty down there."
Another man with a badly bruised face wearing a suit walks on stage, looks around, and checks the microphones. My friend whispers to me, "That's the White House Travel Office Director. He got mugged in Honolulu while Bush was returning from Asia. As I said, they've had a bad week."
A spotlight hits the stage and the band strikes up "Hail to the Chief." A waxwork dummy of President Bush is wheeled on stage, holding an equally fake Thanksgiving turkey. As the dummy gets to center stage, the crowd gasps. Bush's face is as bruised and torn-up as the other two men. My friend explains, "Bush couldn't be here, so he called Madame Tussauds to use their wax figure, but unfortunately, someone just vandalized it. You might say it got a thumping."
The crowd waits expectantly, but the Bush figure just stands at the microphone. Several clicks and buzzes are audible, then a thin trickle of smoke starts rising from the figure's head. The Bush figure's head slumps forward unexpectedly, and the tray with the fake turkey crashes to the floor. The turkey is beyond repair, and the carcass has formed a perfect outline of Iraq on the floor. A second gasp goes up from the crowd.
Richard Perle appears from the right wing of the stage, ranting: "That turkey was a perfectly good turkey and it would have successfully been fed to the American people if Bush hadn't dropped it so badly! The idea of the turkey was sound! It was just mishandled! It could have been a good turkey!"
Kenneth Adelman and Michael Rubin join in behind Perle, "He's right! Listen to him! The neo-cons had a great turkey of an idea, and the White House bungled our beautiful turkey!"
Karl Rove darts out of the gloom from the wings, twirling a lasso over his head. He ropes the three dissenters and yanks them back into the right wing.
Meanwhile, technicians have furiously been working on the Bush figure's head. They finally back away, and the figure's head speaks in a voice that sounds suspiciously like Dick Cheney. "I hereby declare we have achieved victory in Iraq! I declare Victory!"
After a stunned pause, everyone in the room starts yelling, "Victory! Victory! That means we have to get out now! Get out! Get out! We have to get out!"
The crowd has transformed into a dangerous mob, rushing pell mell towards the exits. I am in fear of getting trampled, when my friend turns to yell: "You have the power to stop all this! Click your heels together!"
I understand him perfectly, and click my heels together while murmuring "There's no place like home... there's no place like home..."
I awake on my couch, with the Lions game playing on the television.
Silly me, I had succumbed to the tryptophan and fallen asleep after my Thanksgiving dinner.
Yes, it had all been a horrible dream....
[Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!]