Cornered Rats

There is no escape, for any of us, from the grim realities which await in the year of our Lord, 2016. Once again, the United States of Texting faces the challenge of choosing a fresh leader to plunge us forward into the ever-deepening quagmire of history that defines the ill-fated career path of this ongoing and oft critically flawed democracy experiment. Who in the name of Horatio Alger is going to don the mantle of power and lead this flagging concern a few steps closer to its ultimate tar pit? Although my opinion of the Republican Party is prejudiced by good taste and a near-flawless sense of self-preservation, I must confess a morbid curiosity at the prospect of unleashing any one of the insufferable rogue elephants upon the world, if for no other reason than to watch Western Civilization blanche with horror that the Ugly Americans have once again chosen an intellectually bankrupt huckster adept at convincing struggling Middle Class wretches that unattainable future prosperity takes precedent over fair pay, healthcare, and safe working conditions today. In the upcoming months the scurvy dogs of the Media Industrial Complex will expend a great deal of energy bamboozling the electorate into believing America’s choice rests between a radicalized liberal scheming to confiscate the hard earned fortunes of billionaires and a stalwart values-minded conservative. Pure prevarication. Anybody with a functional frontal lobe can see the choice boils down to four more years of business-minded policies sprinkled with a few mild socialistic notions or a quick plunge over the cliff at the hands of a wild-eyed suicidal cultist hell bent on expediting the Apocalypse, be it triggering another financial collapse or a nuclear exchange.


Speaking of Apocalypses, an otherworldly thing happened to me, to us all, in 2000: George W. Bush was appointed President of the United States by the Supreme Court. As a result of that unprecedented decision, I was transformed from a moderate to a foaming-at-mouth-liberal even though I didn’t budge one angstrom on any given political position. Warped political metrics aside, I still identify as a moderate. On some issues, I sympathize with the liberal perspective, and on others I see eye-to-eye with the conservative view. Then again, as those labels have lost their meaning, I don’t know what I am anymore—besides titanically pissed off that our choice of viable political parties stands at two, and meanwhile grocery stores dedicate an entire aisle to over a hundred different varieties of breakfast cereal. Where are the protests and riots demanding a total reversal of these realities? Has high fructose corn syrup rotted our brains past the point of no return? It’s possible our passive acceptance of a rigged wheel stems from the fact that once in a while we beat the tilt and usher in a winner. Clinton and Obama were grand exceptions to the common Presidential Election horror show which casts the public in the unenviable role of a cornered rat feverishly deciding which of two rabid stray dogs angling for its blood and guts will tear it apart least violently.


But what do I know? I had a chance to get in on the ground floor of Apple and instead socked everything in a dubious business venture. Despite a lack of investment savvy, I’m nevertheless a gifted political prognosticator, 5–2 in presidential elections, 7–0 if the debacle of 2000 had played out as it should have, with a fair recount of all ballots in the state of disarray known as Florida, the United States’ flaccid uncircumcised tallywhacker, dangling out to sea in such a manner that forever suggests the benefits of immediate castration. Forgive me for repeating myself but some wounds are beyond the limits of the healing arts to remedy, and anesthetics must be administered in constant intervals, usually at The Benighted Whale, a local watering hole where I malinger for hours at a time content to nurse a pint of craft beer and stare blankly at the local access feed on the remote edges of the bar, in a little alcove framed by grainy black and white pictures of Wild West luminaries in their natural habitat. The bartender, a gruff seadog covered in the ghostly remnants of merchant marine tattoos, won’t change the channel and isn’t above bouncing anybody foolish enough to ask twice. Good thing too. For if the channel had been disturbed a couple of weeks back, I would’ve missed an interview with Rufus T. Firefly, a part-time busboy and croupier from Edison Park, Illinois, who has surreptitiously thrown his chapeau into the 2016 presidential ring. A less than imposing figure, Rufus T. Firefly stands a petite five foot three, sports a black mustache and bushy eyebrows modeled after a late 19th century archduke or viscount. Although his wire-rimmed spectacles, claw hammer coat, and spats are a century beyond their expiration dates, it’s impossible to imagine Rufus attired otherwise, for he is definitely the product of a bygone era, a man born out of his time. In him I see a kindred spirit looking for his place in a world gone mad, a fellow windmill chaser unafraid to declare the uncatchable prize nonetheless seized. I obtained a transcription of the interview through Journal Graphics, P.O. Box 1005, Pueblo, Colorado, 81001, for the meager cost of return postage plus a pledge to never publish the contents without express written permission, a promise I’m breaking to demonstrate that people are untrustworthy scoundrels.




Gary Piles: Welcome to the show, Mr. Firefly.


Rufus T. Firefly: [glances around the studio] Nice set up you have here. All that’s missing is a demolition crew. And me. I should be missing as well. [lights a big black cigar]


Piles: You can’t smoke that here.


Firefly: I have to. Here is the only place I’m presently at.


Piles: What makes you think you’re the best choice for president?


Firefly: From where I stand, I’m the only choice. But as I’m sitting, I recant my stance.


Piles: What are your views on immigration?


Firefly: In general, I’m against those who are for being against it, but I see some merit in the arguments of those who are against being for it. The issue demands further study. But in the meantime, I recommend building a twelve-foot high wall along the Mexican border. The makers of thirteen-foot ladders can thank me later.


Piles: I don’t think you’re taking this seriously.


Firefly: Did your wife dress you this morning or are you divorced? Either explanation works.


Piles: Hillary Clinton—


Firefly: Better known as the Benghazi Broadhammer. We had lunch just the other day. Well, she had lunch. I was the one who cleaned up her mess. The current president knows what it’s like to clean up a gigantic mess. Glorified custodial services, that’s all the presidency is. Except half the public wishes you were dead.


Piles: Your adversarial approach is very off-putting.


Firefly: Call me a trend follower, but frothing lunacy is in vogue, which is why the public is completely stupid and not to be trusted with something as important as voting.


Piles: Are you suggesting that we appoint a president?


Firefly: We tried that. Didn’t work out too well for anybody besides the defense contractors, body bag manufacturers, and comedians.


Piles: Then what do you propose?


Firefly: A lottery drawing. We choose the next president randomly. Can’t be any worse than our present popularity contest format. But in case the lottery picks a real loser, we limit each term to one month. If the lottery picks a Kardashian, the term limit changes to fifteen minutes, served, and picks again.


Piles: Your open contempt for democracy is an interesting contradiction, given your aspirations.


Firefly: Democracy is an illusion created by plutocrats to disguise their get-rich-quick schemes and machinations. Speaking of machinations, I need to feed the meter. [jumps out of his seat, returns a minute later] That’s right, I took a cab. Where my mind is at I sometimes wonder. But not for long.


Piles: A week ago during a stump speech you said the only thing we had to fear was fear itself, that you only had one life to give to your country. Do you think quoting famous platitudes will resonate with the electorate?


Firefly: No, but the truth might. It hasn’t been tried before.


Piles: Examples?


Firefly: For starters, history shall judge this nation on how it treated the least among us and its heroes, and so far it’s looking pretty bad. Minimum wage has less buying power today than it did in 1969. Tip minimum wage hasn’t been raised since the early 1990s and stands at $2.13 per hour. The only group that has fully recovered from the economic collapse of 2008 are the top 1%, claiming 95% of the gains since. Even though productivity has soared, real income has flat lined for two generations. In 2000, Social Security had a surplus of over two trillion dollars. By 2008, the government had borrowed every last surplus penny to pay for two wars and tax cuts that disproportionately favor the wealthy. We are the only first world nation without a national healthcare system engineered to cover everybody. We are also number one in total incarceration worldwide, over two million inmates, all of whom are guaranteed healthcare unlike at-large citizens. Want comprehensive coverage? Break a plate glass window and remand yourself and your healthcare issues to the custody of the state. If you’re a veteran with health issues, prepare to queue up until death. A recent study found that 28% of veterans who applied for VA healthcare benefits died before their application was processed. If that’s not disgusting enough, deceased applicants exacerbate the bottleneck by winding their way through the system to a literal dead end. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut: life in the USA is no way to treat an animal.


Piles: If the nation is doomed, then why run for president?


Firefly: Because even a sinking ship deserves a captain.


Piles: Your outlook is certainly one of a kind.

Firefly: That’s me. A bad poker hand.


Piles: [to the camera] Coming up after the break, a man who tames voles and a woman who says interesting things in Swahili.




R. A. Roth