May 20, 2013
‘Donald’: A Black Site of Rumsfeld’s Own
Posted on Feb 18, 2011
By Eric Martin and Stephen Elliott
Editor’s note: On Feb. 8, the same day that Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir “Known and Unknown” was released, McSweeney’s cheekily launched its own treatment of Rumsfeld’s legacy in the form of “Donald,” a satirical novel by Eric Martin and Stephen Elliott.
As McSweeney’s put it on the book-centric section of its singular and highly addictive online smorgasbord, “ ‘Donald’ is a fictional exploration of this startling question: ‘What would happen if Donald Rumsfeld, former defense secretary and architect of the war on terror, was abducted at night from his Maryland home, held without charges in his own prison system, denied a trial, and kept in a place where no one could find him, beyond the reach of the law?’ ”
Truthdig is pleased to present this excerpt from the first chapter of “Donald,” in conjunction with McSweeney’s and co-author Elliott’s own excellent Web hub for literary enthusiasts, The Rumpus.
He is reading. The library is empty except for two limp scholars by the window. Look at their posture. How much butt would he have kicked here? The place is old, the oldest library in an old town. It’s too dark but the scholars don’t seem to mind. They’re twenty years younger than him, but he could outwrestle them. Them and every scholar in his weight class in every library in the world. His scholarly skills are not shabby, either. He reads like lightning. His hands are always moving, wringing ideas from the page. “Like a perv,” an assistant aide’s assistant once observed, and if by that she meant the body is the mind then fine, nice jab, he could give a rat’s how it looked. There’s a reason she was an assistant’s assistant. A reason generals and bureaucrats waited for a turn with him, turns that by well-publicized accounts were not all pleasant. But was he fair? He was so fair. He was so fair he screwed himself all the time.
He does not know the kid who sits down across from him, leaning two pointy elbows on the table. Six feet tall, soft 170, swallow’s nest of hair. The girl watches from three steps behind. He can’t tell if she’s ridiculously beautiful or if that’s just what girls always look like when they’re twenty-five. Good lord god almighty.
“Sir,” the kid says. “Good afternoon.”
Silence circles the drain. The kid’s got something. Head still. Hands away from his face. “Quick,” he tells them, finally, “I’m old, you know. Ha ha ha.” He smiles at the girl. Her short blond hair is blinding atop her cream-colored cashmere sweater. She smiles back. Her mouth looks very organized and fertile, and she looks like she knows her boy’s set to get reamed, and that’s fine with her.
“Not that old,” the kid says. “I’ve followed your career with interest.” Here comes the nervous hand now across lips and chin, unable to hold its position. No ring, no watch, thin fingers.
“Well hasn’t it been interesting.”
“Start to finish,” says the kid.
“Oh am I finished?” His best grin, tops and bottoms. He winks at the girl and she doesn’t look away. “Absolutely right,” he says. “I’ve sure been blessed in that department but it’s all over now, like the good song says.” From the shelves, thousands of books lean down on them, oozing leather, arcana, decay. “I won’t waste your time,” the kid says. His voice is nasal and he tries to go down low to hide it. Your voice is your voice, there’s nothing to be done. “The commission is going to request that you testify. We would like to flesh some things out prior, as your schedule permits.”
“What’s this we, white man?” He checks to see if she gets the reference, or anything for that matter. She’s grown stony. Her sweater is beginning to look scratchy.
“I’m ghosting the report,” the kid says. “There are omissions in your account. We’re looking to set baselines for productive dialogue.”
He idly slides a book about Interwar naval innovation across the table. “I’m retired,” he says. The kid is trying to maintain eye contact like he learned it just last week. Get a name. Don’t look away until you’ve logged the color of their eyes. The girl’s are grey, the kid’s turd brown. He doesn’t care about their names. “How retired I am is reading books less pertinent than the crap you took this morning. Pardon my.”
The girl winces. She looks like she remembers that crap well. There’s something familiar about her. Who? Someone’s daughter. Her thin top lip is half-pointy, like his successor’s come to think of it, or maybe not, it could be nothing, except it can’t be nothing the way scorpions are scrabbling through his throat. This library is supposed to be members only, military and safe. Who let them in here?
“There are things in this report,” the kid says, “things that are going to break hell loose, and I do want—the commission, we—to give you due chance for answers and the record.”
His successor’s daughter watches to see how the old man takes it. His thinning hair is parted. His undershirt is dry. He glances at her and she smiles again—nope, the mouth is different, too big and garish, too unseri¬ous—and he smiles back. A glut of smiles as if they’re sipping cocktails instead of starting the gorilla dance. Perhaps she’s never attended a ream¬ing. There are two real kinds of people in this world. Deep down, she must know that her boy is neither of them.
“The record.” He pushes on his rimless glasses, tilts his head, and gives the kid his strangler look. “Aren’t these books the record, all around us?” The kid was not brought up to see books as wholes, only collections of data that could be boiled down, context stripped out. He could know the kid’s age, the kid’s cholesterol, the kid’s genome and test scores, the diameter of the kid’s unit, and yet would he know the kid? “You want to add to the record? What’s the question? Ask me. Now.” He uncurls a pinky and wiggles it. The girl looks like his own wife.
“Okay,” answers the boy, and he knows he’s made a big mistake.
The girl doesn’t look like his wife. The girl is slender and blue-eyed but she doesn’t look fun. It’s the face shape that’s the same. A circle composed of perfect little squares, round and rectangular at once. He’s met movie stars possessed of such-shaped faces. He has met dictators’ wives. But not many. His wife has aged comprehensively but he still sees that shape, even when he’s far away, even with his arms, legs, and eyes closed tight around her, even if conditions on the ground have changed.
“The practices you authorized,” the kid begins, “have always been the exception to the rule, the ugly facet of what nations do to survive and thrive.” The kid is angry, and his anger has smoothed his jitters away. Even his nasal voice sounds cleared up by adrenaline. “But you made it the rule. You called it legitimate. You sat next to the throne and offered pre-forgive¬ness for grave sin. And the world will never forgive us that.”
The kid’s blood is about to slough the skin off. If he wasn’t such a kid this is when he’d call security, but this kid? This? These are his enemies now? This guy instead of the suicidal hostile or the one-legged mountain¬man on horseback cum machine gun? The hubris. And yet he had done it, too. Sitting in a library writing treatises on factory seizures and executive power.
1 2 NEXT PAGE >>>
Previous item: Why I Miss Norman Mailer
New and Improved Comments