Tuesday, June 22, 2010
A titan of industry issues a reprimand
Chris Matthews was having a crazy dream. In his slumbering mind, he pictured himself at the bottom of a dark pool, trying desperately to make his way to the surface. But a man dressed in a baggy double-breasted suit and a wide-brimmed fedora was holding him by the legs, hindering his upward progress. Oddly, the man looked rather like Broderick Crawford in his prime, heavy-set, with a bulldog face.
Matthews felt that he was drowning. He fought to reach the surface of the water, and his efforts were finally paying off. A pale light was emerging in the inky gloom, which he felt sure was emanating from the clear, lung-restoring air above.
Suddenly, he found himself blinking, and was surprised to discover that he was perfectly dry. He realized, with a sigh of relief, that he had been dreaming; yet he doubted that he was fully awake, because his entire field of vision was filled with what appeared to be navy blue fabric. Had he awakened in a coat closet? He shifted his head slightly, looking in the direction of the ceiling, and saw a large, round white object. The moon, perhaps? But how odd that a coat closet should have a window through which he could see the sky. He blinked a few more times, and his vision cleared. No, it wasn’t the moon. The topographical features which combined to create the illusion of the “man in the moon” endowed that image with a jolly face. There was nothing jolly about the face that stared at him now, as the white sphere resolved itself into an indisputably human physiognomy. Matthews shuddered violently. The face bore a strange expression. Not one of anger or hostility. That would have been disconcerting enough. But the look he saw froze his blood, for it was an expression of cold and towering indifference, as if he, Chris Matthews, had been nothing but a crack in the sidewalk, or a discarded bubble-gum wrapper.
The order was barked in a soft, but gravelly voice, and resulted in the appearance of another large man, whom Matthews might, in other circumstances, have taken to be a retired British statesman, but whose plain, albeit well-tailored, black suit and black tie marked him as a member of the servant class. He approached in silence, bearing a brandy snifter on a silver salver.
Matthews attempted to sit up; however, his head seemed to have assumed the mass of an anvil, and he wasn’t at all sure that the effort of raising it off the couch might not cause it to snap off. He pushed his hands under his back and gingerly worked his arms like hydraulic jacks, slowly lifting his trunk into a vertical position, and with a final lurch, sat up, his head feeling as if it were precariously balanced on his neck, like one of those strange geological formations in the American southwest, in which a boulder teeters on the needle-like top of a tall stone pillar.
Matthews gratefully accepted the brandy, and knocked back a healthy dose. He saw before him an enormously fat man in a three-piece blue suit. Another man abruptly wandered over from a dark corner of the room and leaned against the wall. This new addition to the party was wearing a baggy suit and a fedora, and his jowls – sporting a five o’clock shadow that looked as if it routinely arrived an hour and a half early – were quivering as he vigorously chewed a piece of gum. Strange, Matthews thought. That fellow bears an awfully strong resemblance to…Broderick Crawford!
“That’s him!” Matthews shouted. “It’s all coming back to me now! I was having dinner in a restaurant and that guy came up to my table and said, ‘The boss wants to see you’, and I said ‘What boss?’ and he said ‘The big boss’. I figured he was some kind of kook, so I turned to hail the waiter and ask for my check and when I returned to my dinner, I saw that man jerk his hand back, after apparently having reached over my mocha lite vanilla and hazel-nut latte. He drugged my drink, that’s what he did!”
The fat man spoke. “Mr. Matthews, you disregarded a direct order to report to your employer. Johnny simply took steps to ensure that you complied with my command.”
“Your command? But you’re not my boss.”
“Not your immediate supervisor, no. But, by virtue of the fact that I own a controlling interest in GE, the parent company of your network, I am the ‘big boss’”. He patted his vast stomach and released a startlingly loud guffaw. “The ‘big boss’, indeed!”
The identity of his host now became terrifyingly evident: it was none other than J. Packington Paco III. He remembered the time that his colleague, Keith Olbermann, had been demoted and compelled to perform certain secret, but presumably menial and punitive, tasks for J.P. For weeks after his return to his New York office, Olbermann would sit at his desk, staring into the middle distance with a haunted expression, twitching spastically. Every now and then he would giggle hysterically, then look over his shoulder in terror, apparently unaware that the sound had emanated from his own larynx.
Matthews began shaking uncontrollably and started to splutter: “I…I…you…you…he…he…”
J.P. smiled – which, if anything, only enhanced the aspect of sinister indifference Matthews had noticed upon regaining consciousness.
“I congratulate you on your mastery of the nominative singular pronouns, sir; however, in the interest of saving time, we shall take your knowledge of the plural forms as given. Now, to business.”
With the aid of both hands, Matthews managed to guide the brandy snifter to his lips. His teeth chattering against the glass sounded like a china cabinet in an earthquake. Still, persevering in fulfilling his need for liquid fortitude, he got the rest of the brandy down.
J.P. took a chair by the couch and continued. “Mr. Matthews, you recently hosted a television program entitled The Rise of the New Right.”
“Yes, yes…legitimate story…good sources…timely material…” Matthews was aware of the fact that he was babbling, but his speech sounded so much like his normal television delivery that he hoped no one would notice.
J.P.’s eyebrows curved downward in a stern frown. “That program was a tissue of lies!”
In other circumstances, Matthews might have felt stung by the remark; but he was now sufficiently anesthetized by the brandy and the residual effects of the knock-out drug, as well as restrained by fear, to answer feebly, “Oh, was it?”
“It was. A sophomoric exercise in knee-jerk liberalism. Practically the political equivalent of Reefer Madness. I am deeply disappointed in you, sir.”
Possibly there were other sentences in the English language that Matthews might have found to be more frightening, but he couldn’t think of any at the moment. He quivered like a forsythia bush in a heavy breeze.
J.P. settled back in his chair, his map suddenly a vision of beatific contentment. “I think you need a change, Mr. Matthews. A fellow spends too much time in a liberal echo chamber like New York, he begins to lose his ability to weigh and discriminate, to separate the factual wheat from the ideological chaff. Y-e-s…I think you need a change. More than just a change; a challenge! Perhaps a stint as a foreign correspondent would do you good.”
This was a contingency so astonishingly and blessedly different from the half-dozen or so horrible possibilities that had been racing through Matthews’ mind that he would have leapt from the couch in joy, if some practical joker hadn’t replaced the bones in his legs with overcooked spaghetti.
“That’s a great idea, J.P.! You know, I’ve long felt that our Paris bureau could use…”
Matthews halted in his acceptance speech. “I beg your pardon?”
“Darfur. The violence there is almost criminally underreported in the news media. You could have quite an impact there, Mr. Matthews.”
Matthews was far more alarmed at the kind of impact that Darfur could have on him. “No! Surely you don’t mean…”
“Or perhaps the tribal areas on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the front in the war on terror. You’d have to keep your head about you, of course.”
It was precisely the difficulty of keeping his head, as opposed to the relative likelihood of it winding up as a decoration on some tribesman’s pike outside of a Taliban encampment, that made the suggestion unthinkable.
He might not be able to stand yet, but there was nothing that was going to prevent him from kneeling.
“No, no! Please, J.P.! I’m a married man, with children! I..I don’t travel well…irritable bowel syndrome…and my asthma…Please, sir, isn’t there some way I can make amends and still keep my television program?”
J.P. smiled benevolently, and helped him to his feet. “There, there, Mr. Matthews. If I am any judge, I do detect something like genuine remorse. Yes, I think there may be a way for you to make up for your mistake.”
* * * *
The following week. A television studio in New York. Chris Matthews is about to go on the air with a new edition of Hardball. Three…two…one…and…action!
“Good evening, this is Chris Matthews. You’re probably wondering why I’m sitting here on a small wooden plank over a big tub of water, dressed in a clown suit. Well, the answer is simple. Last week, I hosted a show dedicated to the proposition that the new wave of conservatism in this country represented a huge threat. And you know something? I was wrong. As…er…several well-placed people in the news industry have pointed out, almost all of the violence we’ve seen in the political arena in the past year or so has been caused by leftists. Therefore, in order to give you all a more balanced view, and to afford my critics some measure of justice, I’ve asked a few of the conservative movement’s leading lights – Mark Steyn, Stacy McCain and Ann Coulter - to come on the show tonight and...[sigh]…Dunk Mr. Tingles! Mark, looks like you’re up!”
Stacy McCain: Whoa, whoa, whoa! That farce you called a documentary was about conservatism in the United States, and you’re inviting a Canadian to take the first crack at you? I don’t think so. Here, Mark, give me the ball!”
McCain winds up and hurls the ball at the bull’s-eye, hitting it dead center. Matthews drops into the cold water. He climbs the short ladder – his one-piece white-polka-dot-and-red suit clinging to his skin, his orange hair streaming - and heaves himself onto the platform. “Meh”, he mutters to himself. “It’s a living.”