Living Hell Extra!

For Want of a Pretzel

A recent incident involving President Bush and an ill-fated attempt
at eating and watching television turned into a literal gold mine
for late-night comics.  Before this week's reruns, David Letterman
was getting better-than-ever mileage out of both his monologues and
the venerable Top Ten Lists.  References abounded to snack foods,
Heimlich maneuvers, and "this just in from the White House."  And
everybody laughed.  Even Yours Truly took his turn, drafting a list
of "Pretzel Bag Warning Labels."  ("May cause thirstiness," "Salty
side up," etc.)

Amusement aside, George W.'s accident has proven *far* more potent
as a historical reminder-- a short, stabbing, sobering blast of re-
trospective perspective.  But not because of what *happened*, but
what *didn't* happen.  CNN anchor Jeff Greenfield, appearing the
following week on Don Imus' morning radio show, posed the stagger-
ing question "what if the President had choked to death?"  And, as
he and both his host agreed, imagine the imagined blame that would
follow!  Or, as Yours Truly mulled over the weekend, imagine *all*
such repercussions and resulting chains of events...

  o President is revived, but with no brain activity.  Body is
    kept alive, but public isn't told.  Leaked information over
    subsequent years bolsters rampant conspiracy theories, even-
    tually replacing Area 51 as the most popular Great Government
    Rumor.  Top secret truth is released thirty-five years later
    by executive order of President Chelsea Clinton-Kennedy.

  o President is revived, is brain dead, and public *is* told.
    Conspiratorial theories form, Bush family diverts all ener-
    gies toward caring for kept-alive son, and raised issues of
    euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide result in sweeping
    changes to health care laws.

  o President's death is announced.  Dick Cheney assumes highest
    office.  Left-wing conspiracy theorists begin amassing "evi-
    dence" that this was planned for years.  Some even claim the
    former Veep's heart attacks were faked.  Total number of Web
    pages soon surpasses those by right-wing conspiracy theorists
    "documenting" Middle Eastern involvement.

  o President dies, but public isn't told for several days.  Sav-
    vy White House media experts create cover story about seclu-
    sion from horse injury during unplanned return to ranch.  Be-
    fore truth can be properly spun, Matt Drudge breaks story on
    Internet.  John Ashcroft is furious, but is hospitalized with
    slight stroke before he can propose his Big Brother Internet
    Snooping Act.

  o President dies, but at insistence of face-saving father, pub-
    lic is told that George Bush junior died of "natural causes."
    Truth is leaked several days later, by underpaid female in-
    tern involved in sexual relationship with prominent Washing-
    ton figure.  Both Bush name and administration become laugh-
    ing stocks.

  o President dies.  Vice President replaces.  War on terrorism
    escalates with aerial bombing of additional Middle Eastern
    territories commenced exactly one month after George W.'s
    record-breaking Texas funeral.  Conspiracy theorists blame
    military-industrial complex and attempt to prove connection
    to Reagan Administration.  Oliver North spends rest of life
    laughing off rumors.

  o And so on...

'Tis an amusing game, the casual speculation of "what if something
went the other way."  (See "What If?" and "What If 2," military
history slash historical imaginings edited by Robert Cowley and
published last year and the year before, respectively.)  More im-
portantly, such guessing serves a stunning example of just how
*easily* a kingdom might fall, or at least be profoundly affected,
for want of a nail.  Or, in this case, a pretzel.  Had a more grie-
vous outcome occurred, imagine the difficulty in *believing* that a
salty snack down the wrong pipe brought down the world's most pow-
erful leader.  After all, strangers things have happened and been
subsequently doubted.

Maybe Oswald *did* act alone.

Maybe Ms. Earhardt simply crashed into the ocean.

Maybe Elvis *is* dead.

Copyright 2002 by Michael J. Legeros


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