An hour later, arriving home, this father, Delmore Bwight Sr, entered what he called his “study,” a former broom closet which he had paneled and vented so that, when he smoked his pipe, which was for the most part all he ever did in his study, he would avoid suffocation. Sometimes when feeling blue, or sometimes even when feeling exceptionally chipper, he would retreat to his study and, while smoking, think about (if feeling blue) how, in spite of how blue he felt, things were sure to get better or (if feeling chipper), how lucky he was to be the sort of man who, for the most part, felt chipper, unlike so many other men, who were so prone to depression, and then his mind would drift, and he would find himself admiring the job he had done on the paneling, which in spite of a few places where the old wallpaper showed through, and a few places where the panels were a bit warped because he’d measured wrong, was a terrific job indeed, far better than most other men could have managed.
After entering his study, Delmore Bwight Sr closed the door and lit his pipe. Using a broom, he confirmed that the vent was open, so that he would not suffocate. Having confirmed that the vent was indeed open, and putting out his pipe just to make completely sure he did not suffocate, Elmore Bwight Sr began to write:
Dear Mr President, he wrote. I write as an admirer, who has witnessed with increasing admiration your escalating leadership, which clearly has so much manly certainty at its core. So please don’t misthink of me as a critic! I am not a critic, I am in fact “a fan.” But when one is having lunch at a cafe with one’s young son and witnesses what I witnessed today while having lunch with one’s son at a cafe, well, one begins to have one’s “doubts” in terms of what one ought to say or do, by way of explaining to one’s son what one’s son has just seen. Because in terms of being appetizing, suddenly my ravioli and the ravioli of my young son (usually considered a “special treat” by us) were being pushed across the table by us simultaneously, causing our plates to ‘tink’ in the middle. Seeing that fellow, as he was paying his taxes, what I observed on his face, plus all that emoting such as sobbing, which I heard from the direction of his mouth, in a supposed pleasure environment, “took the cake” and in my view constituted ample reasons for tinking one’s youngest son’s ravioli.
I say this not to say nay to what you are doing, for I have no strong take on it, as it is not my place to know, and my interests, like the interests of the “common man” throughout the ages, are of necessity more of the house-and-hearth variety, but only to let you know of the effect of a viewing of this type on the average man’s lunch as that average man tries to eat same with his or her young son. If such the patriot as I, owning three separate flags and knowing how to treat these with respect in terms of their folding and flying, if even I, sir, was unnerved to such an extent of pushing my plate across (and I was quite hungry that day), what then might be the effect of such a viewing on someone less enamored of one’s country, say one of those naysayers among us, whose negative tendencies are so hypercritical, who go around with a chip on one’s shoulders, a so-to-say “ax-to-grind?” I daresay that he or she might indeed turn against the country he or she has already turned against, but even moreso. And especially at this gravity history moment, with so many big changes looming in our landscape, such could be a divisive catastrophe. Even at the Cafe today, grumbling was heard by me, and words spoken against your person, by other diners, such as one bald gentleman of powerful forearms who went so far as to say that he would like to see such activities ‘nipped in the bud.” I suppose that the thing I am saying is not so much stop doing it, as perhaps consider stopping doing it in such a visible place, where it is so easily seen by us, the people, such as perhaps some secret or less-public place where the chances of viewership are less so. Because I understand what you are doing, but do all? I daresay my discernments are not of the typical, as I have always been deemed a “quick studier.” I offer no solution sir but endeavor only to provide you with these thoughts, which are, in all honesty, thoughts I myself actually had, which is how I decided to write them to you, and could then do so, being as familiar with them as I by that point was.
With highest regards, your admirer,
Delmore Bwight Sr.
Bwight reread his letter, sucking on his unlit pipe, and was pleased, and sealed and addressed it, and re-lit his pipe, after climbing up once more to ensure that the vent was open.
When his pipe was done (or actually just before his pipe was done, since it was getting a bit stuffy in his study and the air was becoming nearly impossible to breathe) he put out his pipe and, coughing violently, walked to the new Presidential Palace, and mailed his letter to the President by placing it on the Welcome mat of Phil’s apartment, which was now, except for the Welcome mat, entirely enclosed under the golden dome and within the tremendous old Presidential Palace walls, which the Special Friends had propped up with torn-up trees.
Walking home, Bwight reflected on how interesting it was that a man who could do such a terrific job of paneling could also do such a crackerjack job of writing an urgent political note on the spur of the moment, in order to protect the interests of his young son, and he felt good about being who he was, and secretly glad that he wasn’t someone else, someone who paneled badly, or wrote sloppily, or failed to register a complaint with the most powerful person in the country in defense of his young son just because he himself was not a person of particular import, which was not to say he was of no import, since after all, he was a Senior Assistant Secondary Clerk, and had recently been put in charge of the Subdivision of Rubber Band/Paper Clip Disbursement, which he was running with somewhat of an iron fist.
At home, he dashed up the stairs, two at a time, to see how how Delmore Jr was feeling, and found him fast asleep, his eyes swollen from crying. He was a wonderful boy, Delmore Jr. So sensitive. Perhaps too sensitive. Although could one be too sensitive? He thought not. Well, maybe one could. He felt sure that other boys, less sensitive boys, could have seen what they had seen at the Cafe without needing to push away their ravioli plates and without subsequently bursting into tears in a public place, but not Delmore Jr, who had a generous heart and felt things keenly. God how he loved the boy! And the sound of these words in his head, and the idea of him loving his son so loyally, even when his son was a possible sissy, when his own father had loved him so very little, partially because he had been sort of a weakling, brought tears to his eyes, and to conceal the tears in his eyes so as not to be thought a sissy by his wife, should his wife see him in the hallway, he went directly to his study, where he sat smoking and coughing and letting his eyes fill and re-fill with tears, which he found oddly pleasant.
And at the occasional thought that the President might, at that very moment, be reading his letter, the letter he himself had written, he swelled with a happy feeling of pride.
Late that night Jimmy the Special Friend rousted Leon the Border Guard from bed and, holding him under one arm, began sprinting out towards Far North Distant Outer Horner, covering hundreds of yards with each stride, knocking down fences and sheds and small trees.
“Where are we going?” shouted Leon.
“Phil needs you,” said Jimmy, and hopped over a river.
“For what?” said Leon. “Am I in trouble?”
“No, you’re not in trouble,” said Jimmy. “Matter of national security.”
“Wow,” said Leon.
“Wow is right,” said Jimmy.
Soon they had reached Far North Distant Outer Horner, an area of unrelenting brown flat dirt as far as the eye could see.
“Leon, welcome,” said Phil, who was standing with Jimmy the Special Friend beside two huge canvas sacks. “We find ourselves in the midst of a grave national crisis. A possible national hero has informed me of a plot on my life. Jimmy, please produce the possible national hero.”
Jimmy shook the smaller of the two canvas sacks, and out dropped Delmore Bwight Sr, wearing green striped pajamas and blinking his eyes in the sudden light.
“You are Delmore Bwight Sr?” said Phil.
“Yes I am,” said Delmore Bwight Sr, who, in the confusion of being seized by Jimmy and Vance, had neglected to take his glasses.
“Thank you for your letter, sir,” said Phil. “The depth of your loyalty warmed my heart. Truly you are a patriot. And now we, you and I, must do what we must do, mustn’t we?”
“Ah, yes,” said Delmore Bwight, who was a little put-out, actually, at the way he had been rousted from his bed and thrust into that sack, which smelled like it had formerly held onions, and at the way his sobbing wife and son had been rudely told to stop sobbing by these two large men.
“Please dig a hole,” Phil said to the Special Friends. “A deep hole.”
And the Special Friends dug a deep hole, using their bare hands, via scraping and scrambling like dogs.
“Now,” said Phil. “Produce the possible conspirators.”
And Vance picked up the bigger canvas sack and shook it out, and dozens of bald-headed men with big arms came tumbling out, falling with grunts and shouts of protest into the bottom of the hole.
“Jeez, what gives?” came a voice from the hole.
“That’s a long way to drop, fella!” said another voice.
“What is the meaning of this?” said another. “I am a member of the Janitor’s Union!”
“There comes a time,” said Phil. “When a leader is no longer merely a man, but is an embodiment. An embodiment of his nation’s fondest hopes and dreams. Having become this, he is behooved. What is he behooved? He is behooved to protect himself, not because he cares about him, but because his people’s hopes and fond dreams are become his own dreams and fond hopes. When someone threatens the President, they threaten the national fond hopes and dreams, which is tantamount to threatening the nation itself, and I am legally behooved to protect the nation no matter the cost. Therefore this hole, which we have filled full of possible national traitors, and therefore this man, this potential national hero, who will sit on the lip of that hole and tell me which traitor has publically pledged to murder my people’s fond hopes. Who said that thing, sir, that thing about nipping me in the bud? Point him out to me, so that I may repay.”
“I’ll nip his bud,” said Jimmy. “Whoever said that.”
“So will I,” said Vance. “I’ll nip his bud twice.”
“We’ll nip both his buds,” said Jimmy.
“We’ll nip all his buds, then give him a good stiff kick in the groin,” said Vance.
Delmore Bwight Sr looked down in the hole, chewing his mustache, unsure of what to do. He hadn’t meant to cause trouble. Plus he wasn’t sure he could pick out the exact guy. They all sort of looked the same.
“Take your time, citizen!” said Phil. “Take the necessary time to do your heroic work. And thank you for saving my life. Are you comfortable? Soon you wll be wearing a medal. You, you possible traitors down there, form a line, and walk slowly in a circle, so this hero can plainly see your faces. When you get to his feet, where they are hanging down, look him in the eye and say “nip him in the bud,” so he can clearly hear your voice. Go ahead. Begin.”
And the bald-headed men with the big arms, grumbling and shaking their heads, formed a line, and began to circle the bottom of the hole, and when they reached Delmore Bwight Sr’s feet, they each paused and said, “Nip him in the bud.”
When all had passed Bwight’s feet once, Phil stopped the circling.
“Mr Bwight?” he said Phil. “Your answer, sir?”
“I’m not sure exactly,” said Delmore Bwight Sr, who was becoming more and more confused about what the bald man with big arms had actually looked like.
“Not to worry,” said Phil. “Take your time. Leon here will be here to help. That is why I summoned him. When you have made your identification, let Leon know, and he will come fetch us.”
“Okay,” said Dwight Bwight Sr a little sadly, because tomorrow was Saturday, and he and his wife and son had made plans to order pizza for lunch and play Go Fish all afternoon.
The rest of the night Bwight sat at the edge of the hole, as the big-armed bald men circled beneath him, becoming increasingly resentful, saying “nip him in the bud.” He wanted to find the guy, but he couldn’t find the guy, and he didn’t want to identify the wrong guy, so he kept looking down, hoping for someone to suddenly look exactly like the guy, but as the day passed he completely forgot what the guy had looked like in the first place, other than the bald head and big arms, and every single guy in the hole had a bald head and big arms, and Bwight began to get scared. What if he couldn’t pick the guy out? What would happen to him?
God, he never should’ve written that stupid letter.
The moon went down, the sun came up, and around nine Phil and the Special Friends came back.
“Good morning, Mr Bwight,” said Phil. “I assume you are near a decision. Please point my assassin out to me, so I may save myself, and hence the nation.”
“The thing of it is?” said Mr Bwight. “In terms of knowing? Wow, that is not so easy. I mean, I really don’t think he’s down there. Although I could be wrong. Thing is, I definitely can’t be sure. So, you know, I wouldn’t want to say, not being sure.”
“Of course not,” said Phil, who looked a little perturbed.
“We definitely want to get the right one,” said Vance. “Because if we nip the buds off the wrong bald guy, then the real bald guy will still be walking around with perfectly fine buds, planning to kill Phil.”
“How thorough were you boys?” Phil asked the Special Friends. “Are you sure you got every single bald guy with big arms?”
“Oh, we were really thorough,” said Vance. “We not only got every bald guy with big arms, we also got every guy with big arms who only had like thinning hair.”
“Plus we got every bald guy with even slightly-above-average arms,” said Jimmy.
“He’s down there all right,” said Vance.
“He may very well be,” said Delmore Bwight Sr. “I just can’t be sure.”
“Hmm,” said Phil. “This is a problem. Loving my country as I do, how can I knowingly free a man who has publically stated he wishes to execute our country’s brightest hope?”
“I know what you mean,” said Jimmy.
“Well, if leadership was easy, we would all be leaders,” said Phil. “Okay boys. We must do the best we can. So fill in the hole.”
“Fill the hole with dirt?” said Vance. “With dirt?”
“Fill the hole with dirt, after helping those guys out?” said Jimmy.
“Fill the hole,” said Phil. “Fill the hole now.”
“Oh,” said Jimmy.
“Boys, boys,” said Phil. “Do you think I like this? I do not. I like love and life and light, all the things anyone likes, but I see things more clearly. If we want love and life and light, we must oppose death and hate and dark, and someone in there is overflowing with death and hate and dark, and must be opposed. Because who am I? I am Outer Horner, and speak for Outer Horner, and Outer Horner is the home of life and light and love, and therefore, he who opposes me, opposes life and light and love. As for the others, those non-guilty ones, first, I am sure all of them has, from time to time, harbored a negative thought about me, or at any rate has not constantly had positive thoughts about me, and furthermore I am sure that, if we took a vote, all would agree that it is glorious to give one’s life in the name of life and love, and would rather be buried alive than let my potential assasin walk free. And if not,START HERE someone voted against life and love, and against the radical protection of th ebrightes embodiment of life and love, I’m not sure they would not also be traitors. So, in short, boys, fill in the hole.”
“Now?” said Jimmy.
“Now,” said Phil.
And Jimmy and Vance, again scraping and scrambling like dogs, filled in the hole, while the big-armed bald men screamed up at them and Delmore Bwight Sr looked on with big shocked eyes.
“Now, Mr Bwight,”said Phil. “I want to thank you. You have saved my life. How can I ever thank you? I would like to give you this medal. This is not the nicest medal, but the second-nicest medal. Had you identified the precise guy, you would have earned the nicest medal, but as it stands, you at least get the second-nicest medal, which I hope you will wear with pride, and you get to go home which, had you said the guy was definitely not in there, you might not have gotten to do, for reasons of national security. Jimmy, will you please see this partial national hero home?”
And Jimmy picked Bwight up and put him back in the canvas bag, and sprinted back towards Outer Horner City.
And Phil and Leon and Vance headed out to the Border, to collect the daily taxes, leaving behind a pale circle of somewhat less-packed dirt.