Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

Wakey wakey

Where were we? Oh right. So I had this totally freaky dream. I dreamed that in the middle of George W. Bush’s 8-year term, they decided to have an election, just a sort of quick referendum on how he was doing. It seemed like a good idea to have him explain himself and make sure we were all with the program. (I know, crazy huh, but you know how logic gets all messed up in dreams).

And there was this really good Democratic candidate. Tall, smart, talky, nice smile, war hero. Actually, a bit too tall, a bit too smart, a bit too talky, but kinda cute, what with the smile and the hero stuff. He was Bush’s good twin or cyborg nemesis or something – I dunno, some crazy experiment at Yale in the sixties that went a bit dodgy.

Then there was something about a papier-mache turkey in the desert, and it turned out Bush was, like, really a robot, and then we all wondered if that meant the war in Iraq was just a virtual reality game or something, but then it wasn’t because all these guys in camo turned up, minus limbs and waving voting papers and explaining that American’s biggest export was democracy and they’d found a new market for it.

And the other guy was stalking round the place going “I have a plan! I have a plan!” and sometimes "Friend? friend?" like Boris Karloff in that old Frankenstein movie, except his suit was a lot sharper. He had a cute sidekick who didn't say much but was winking at all the girls, and some of the boys even though he kept going on about how married he was. Tch. You always get those at parties.

Because, right, suddenly it was a party, and it was Election Day (you know how time gets all messed up in dreams) and all the kids came out to vote, and people were voting till three in the morning because they were so into it. That was weird.

And then the party was happening at my house but also on the TV (you know how place gets all messed up in dreams) and I don’t quite know why, but Eminem was there and someone dressed as Osama bin Laden (I guess Halloween came into it somehow). Maybe it was Dick Cheney? Because I didn’t see him anywhere else, although someone said they saw him upstairs going through my underwear drawer, but that can’t be right. Maybe he was just perving at my old e-mail. Seems like the type.

And then someone put “I Will Survive” on the stereo because Cheney’s daughter was a lesbian and Bush’s daughters are, like, major fag-hags, and then we were all yelling at some guy in the corner who said that gay people can’t be teachers, not until hell freezes over and the earth is round.

And someone was outside shouting “Don’t leave the children behind!”, and I don’t know why, but a moose and a polar bear and a tiny spotted owl kept racing through the room going “What about meeeeeeee?” closely followed by some guy with what looked like an oilcan.

Oh yeah, and that guy who played Superman was there, and Arnold Schwarzenegger wheeled him in and they were both wearing T-shirts that said “I [heart] stem-cell research,” which seemed like a good thing.

And everyone was chanting, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. It sounded like “Pour more beers! Pour more beers!” and Bush kept shaking his head and saying “But I’m the designated driver,” and then he said “Oh, what the hell, one won’t hurt.” Over in the corner the tall guy had his head in his hands and was moaning softly. Too much cognac maybe?

All sorts of other freaky stuff was going on, but you know how all the details mush together and then fade away when the radio clicks on and the announcer reads the news.

Which was that Bush was still the president after all. Duh! It was all a dream!

So I went into university and taught my class as I usually do on a Wednesday, but for some reason the students, who’d all just voted for the first time, were practically catatonic and all my usual jokes didn’t raise a smile.

I guessed at that point that it might be one of those dreams where you think you’ve woken up, but you haven’t really.

Suddenly friends were talking about moving to Canada or New Zealand, in that loopily optimistic way that people used to talk about making it big in a dotcom and then retiring at thirty to write novels and work in soup kitchens and hike the old Silk Road.

Some actually cried. Some apologized, as if they’d personally done something wrong.

And there was Bush on the TV doing his first press conference, and he was speaking in coherent paragraphs, exhibiting confidence and even intelligence. Barely recognizable as the twitching, grinning clown from the televised debates. Almost a different man, in fact. Perhaps they’d reversed the results of the mysterious experiment? Or fixed his control panel?

He was talking about earning capital and planning to spend it, although it wasn't clear what on. (For some reason, this reminded me of our schoolyard con-man back in fourth form, who could make money out of nothing. One day he picked up a couple of dozen ice-cream sticks off the ground, marked them off in one centimeter increments with a pencil, and sold them as handy pocket rulers for 5c each so he could buy himself a Trumpet.)

But you know how there’s always some magical thing hidden under your pillow that tells you it wasn’t all a dream? In my case, there’s a Kerry-Edwards sticker on my washing machine, carefully peeled off by old friends Matthew and Hamish who visited us the day after the election to do a couple of weeks’ washing and to debrief on what it was like road-tripping round the swing states: exhilarating and infuriating in equal measure. And what it was like at Kerry HQ on election night: exciting, and then just grim.

Scrabbling around for consolations amid the post-election debris, the most we came up with was that Bush gets to clean up in Iraq. Even though it sounds like he’s already fixin’ to mess up in Iran.

Hmmm. You know that conventional wisdom about not switching presidents in the middle of a war? It makes you wonder, is Dubya like the guy who throws a match in order to say “Stand back, everybody, I’ve got a fire extinguisher!” (Pssst…. George! That’s a flamethrower… the extinguisher is over there, next to the UN building).