Bogart, Gore, and National Desperation: How Do Y9u Simulate a Simulation?

Whooh! I’ve been working like three donkeys on Texas crank trying to decide which empty jar I want for President: Al Gore, or George W. Gore. Mostly I come up dry. It’s not easy even to know which is which.

I’m starting to narrow the choice, though. It’s either Humphrey Bogart or Carl Perkins, on a write-in. I guess I’ll go with Perkins. I’ve been a low-down, Southern, hotrod teenager, dating girls whose daddies had shotguns behind the door, and that’s what ol’ rockabilly Carl sings about.

Except he’s dead.

Anyway, we gotta do something about this president mess. I’m real tired of New Age presidents who look like bulk-pack bean curd that a mad scientist spilled something radioactive on, and it crawled out of the package and started shaking hands. Eight years of the National Embarrassment from Arkansas have strained my tolerance. I don’t want another pasty guy with the character of a damp Kleenex, except you can’t wipe up spills with him.

Which has led me to a brilliant idea. Since we don’t have presidents any more–they’re more like human place-holders–why not have a virtual president? Do him in software. We could have anyone we wanted.

Like Perkins. One good thing about those Fifties rockabilly guys was that there wasn’t a whole lot ambiguous about them. You knew who they were. They wore maybe leather jackets and biker boots and they had hair. It was before the days when delicate guys wore Brylcreem and looked harmless. (Remember, “A Little Dab’ll Do You“? I guess a man’s dot of goo is a man’s dot of goo.)

(If you tell anybody I sank to that, I’ll bomb your house.)

Anyway, a good country singer wore about eight pounds of AceHold Dura-Grip pomade that set like concrete, and dated women who looked like Dolly Parton. None of them would have married a walk-in refrigerator the way Willy Bill Clinton did. They were people you could heist a brew with, and not want to wash your hands afterwards.

That’s really what I’m getting at. We need a better class of reprobate to mismanage the country. I’ve been around the Yankee Capital a day or two now, and met a passel of politicians, and have yet to meet one I didn’t instinctively want to kick hell out of. You see them at receptions on the Hill. They glance kinda sneaky at your name tag so you won’t see them doing it, and then they say, “Fred! So good to see you.” You could wear a tag that said, “This End Up,” and they’d say, “This! So good. . .” Then while they talk to you they look over your shoulder for a more important name tag. It’s a Thousand Yard Stare. I used to think they had something wrong with their eyes.

Bogart wasn’t like that. You knew he was going to do what was right and anybody who didn’t like it could chew on a forty-five caliber slug. By contrast, you can just tell that Al Gore would drown his mother in Valvoline to get elected. Besides, he looks like two yards of fatback stuffed into a suit.

Bogey had a certain compulsive honesty about him, even when he was playing crooks. You can’t imagine the guy working the rubes at a PTA meeting: “Yes, ma’am, I am de voted with mah entire be-ing to whatever dumbass idea you just said. I as sure you that I live for nothing else.” (They talk in rhythm. It dulls the listener’s mind.)

They had more backbone in Tennessee roadhouses in 1952. I know because sometimes I watch really terrible movies after midnight. In those movies Jake Gumbo, the local bad boy who really had a heart of gold, would pull up to Mike’s Sublime Inn out on some winding road in his 48 flathead Ford with big dice on the mirror and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and a mound of pomade on his head with some hair in it.

You knew the bad guys by the pool table were going to start mistreating the female lead. She was sitting at a back table, all helpless innocence like you usually find in women in Tennessee roadhouses. The toughs would give Jake the hard eye. He’d give it back and light another cigarette. The bad guys would start to abuse the gal. Jake would pick up a pool cue with a kind of focused look. He knew what was right.

Can you imagine Al Gore doing that? He wouldn’t even try to save the heroine. He’d probably steal her lingerie.

Our whole government is just plain embarrassing. Jake Gumbo for President, I say. There’s a way out of this trap. We’ll do presidents in software.

I saw a show about a computer in Hollywood that was simulating Bogie. They had fed his voice and his face from all angles into a computer, and then they sort of projected him onto an actor. It was like having Bogart alive again. Same expression, same gravelly voice like he’d been chain-smoking Camels with Drano in them. The announcer said that one day actors wouldn’t act any more. They’d just rent their personalities. A studio would get Clint Eastwood on a floppy disk.

I figure we could do that with presidential candidates. Only we’d invent them from scratch. You could have software called GooberMaker or something, and each party would get a copy. When it loaded, the screen would show a featureless proto-president with no characteristics, which is what they seem to have done this time anyway. You’d have an on-screen editing page with sliders for Assertiveness, Masculinity, Caring, Sincerity, and so on. You could plug in the polling numbers hot from a modem.

For women who wanted a non-threatening candidate, the software would make the candidate chipmonkish and cute. You’d just know he thought about feelings a lot. If times were tough, and a blush of testosterone was thought suitable, five o’clock shadow might subliminally suggest adroitness with a tire iron.

There would be check boxes, see. Eyes: Steely, melting, glazed, crossed. Walk: Confident, Swagger, Strut, Swish. You could store settings for different audiences. If the campaign staff were going to play the software for a society of birdwatchers, maybe the candidate could grow feathers. Who knows? How about pre-set spin control: “I. . .did. . .not. . .have sex with that: (intern, ambassadress, ambassador, Socks.)”

It beats what we’ve got. So does the average fence post.

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