Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On the Air with Benjamin Bear

On the way into the kitchen to get a snack, I heard noise emanating from the dining room, so I decided to take a detour through that room and see what I could see.  And, oh, what I did see! 

Teds swarmed all over the round wooden top of our dining room table.  In and around, and in some cases dangling overhead, cables and other wires snaked hither and yon.  Birnie and Biwi deftly scampered about testing connections, plugging and unplugging cords into and out of power outlets, and bending and unbending different wires.  Mack stood sternly eyeing his wristwatch.  Shoshonna, Sweetie, Mickey, and Letta busied themselves along one edge of the table setting up a bank of little telephones, and checking if they worked properly.  So all-enveloping was the Teddy turbulence in the room, that it bubbled, burbled, and overflowed out over the table’s circumference, welling up again on the floor where scores more Teds scuttled, scurried, and skittered over and under the thick, wooden pedestal legs jutting out from the center of the table.

Smack dab in the very center of all this sturm and drang, in fact in the exact middle of the table top, sat Benjamin, with a look of serious concentration on his face as Brighton adjusted a pair of earphones on his head.

“Two minutes, everyone,” Mack announced loudly enough that all motion in the room stuttered to a halt for a fraction of a second before recommencing immediately, but at an even more furious rate.

Chuckling slightly, Biwi walked over and set a microphone down in front of Benjamin, tapped it while looking over to Birnie who stood near the edge holding earphones to one of his ears.  When Birnie nodded, Biwi smiled, stood up, and gave Benjamin the thumbs up sign.  Benjamin thanked him and pulled the microphone a little closer to himself.

I have the patience of a Ted, I’m afraid, so I couldn’t take the suspense any longer.  I stepped into the room, watching carefully where I put my feet, and asked Benjamin, “What in the world are you guys doing here?”

Looking over at me, with a little harried frown, he said, “I can’t talk now.  We’re almost live.”

“Almost live?  What does that mean?”

His frown turned into a moue as he humphed and said, “We’re just about to go on the air.”

“On the air?” I repeated rather doltishly.

“You don’t have to repeat everything I say, you know,” Benjamin admonished me, picking up on my mistake immediately.

“One minute!” Mack’s stentorian growl filled the room.  This time the buzzing activity barely stuttered at the interruption before it once again accelerated as Teds scurried to complete whatever task they had at paw to do.

“See?” Benjamin nearly screeched at me.  “There isn’t time to talk about this right now.  We can do it later.  Ask Brighton if she can squeeze you in somewhere in my schedule.”

“Squeeze…?  Schedule…?”  There I went again.  Taking a deep breath and willing myself to calm down, I insisted, “Just give me the bottom line here, Benjamin.  Then I’ll let you get about your business.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake!  Isn’t it obvious?” he screaked, raising his paw and sweeping it from one side to the other, to indicate all of the activity apparently in its last stages of frenzy.  “My talk show is just about to go on the air!”

“You’re doing a talk radio show?  When did you start doing that?”

“This is the first show today,” he answered hurriedly, fussily adjusting his earphones.  “It’s part of my presidential campaign.”

“You’re starting a radio talk show because you think it will help you become president?” I queried, biting my lower lip in order to stop myself from smirking in disbelief.

“Well, if Al Franken can get elected senator after doing a talk show, I figure I can get elected president doing my own show,” he told me haughtily in his squeaky little voice.

Now I really began to have trouble keeping myself from laughing.  I turned away and retreated a safe distance behind him where he wouldn’t be able to see me if I finally lost control.

Mack saved the day for me as he rumbled out, “30 seconds!  Quiet, everyone!”

Such was Mack’s imposing presence that quiet actually descended upon the room, even though pockets of activity continued for a few more seconds.  But when Mack began to count down from 20 seconds, all activity finally ceased.

By the time I had found myself an unobtrusive observation point, Mack was nearing the end of his countdown.  “Four, three, two, one…” at which point he signaled to Brighton who had quietly made her way over to the microphone during the past few seconds.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” she greeted the listening audience.  “Live from our studios at Teddy Bear College, WTBC welcomes you to our newest program, a talk radio show hosted by none other than Teddy Bear College’s very own Chairbear, Benjamin Bear.  And with no further ado, here he is now!”

With this, she handed the mike to Benjamin, who took it and set it down in front him, saying, “Welcome, Teddies everywhere!  You are On the Air with Benjamin Bear!”

On this cue, Mack, standing off to one side on the table, raised both paws high, palms up, and all of the Teds in the room, clapped and cheered as loudly as they could.  By this time, Biwi had picked up his camera and was recording the whole proceedings from table-top level, while Gracie, our flying Teddy bear, was recording the view from above with a second camera.  After a few seconds of clapping and cheering, Mack chopped both paws quickly down, and the clamoring welcome for Benjamin ceased instantly.

“For our first show today we have a very special guest,” Benjamin informed his audience.  “On the phone with us is ex-president George Dubyah’s very own Teddy Bear, Bushy Bear!  Thanks for joining us on our first show today, Bushy.”

“Glad I could join you, Benjamin,” Bushy replied, his smooth, drawl emanating from a speaker so that everyone in the room could hear him.  “Congratulations on your new show.  And good luck with your campaign for the presidency, too.”

Benjamin straightened up, squared his shoulders, and smiled gratifyingly at this last remark.  “Thank you, Bushy,” he said.  “I appreciate your support.  Actually, I’m glad you brought up my campaign.  As you know, one of my primary reasons for running is that I think human beans have had their chance and have only managed to muck up everything more and more.  It’s time we Teds came out from behind the scenes and got this country back on track again.  I realize we’ve always had a policy of assuming only advisory roles in our relations with human beans up to this point in history.  But that approach can only be effective if our human beans actually listen to our advice.”

“I’ve got to agree with you there, Benjamin,” Bushy said.  “My own personal experience in the White House provides ample support for your argument.”

“Exactly,” said Benjamin.  “In fact, that’s one of the things I’d like to talk with you about today.”

Mack had been frantically gesturing toward the edge of the table where Letta and the other three Teds had been seated at a bank of telephones ever since the show began.  At this point in the conversation, Benjamin finally looked up and saw Mack pointing to the phones.  He nodded and said, “But before we get into that, Bushy, I need to remind our listeners that they can join in our conversation by calling us right now at 888-Ted-Talk; that’s 888-833-8255.  Give us a call and let us know what you think about Teds making a historic change by throwing out the human politicians, cleaning up government, and putting the citizens of this once proud country back in the driver’s seat once again.

“Okay, now, Bushy,” Benjamin said, getting back to his guest, “perhaps you can share with us some of your experiences during your 8 years in the Dubyah administration.  That must have been quite a frustrating time for you.”

“Talk about an understatement,” Bushy replied.  “My relationship with Dub – that’s what I call him, Dub, or sometimes just GW; he says he thinks GW is sexy or something; poor fella, more likely he just has a hard time remembering his own name at times – anyway, our relationship has always been an on-again-off-again kind of thing.”

“You mean there were times our former president not only didn’t listen to your advice, he didn’t even seek it in the first place?” Benjamin asked.

“Worse than that,” Bushy corrected him.  “Right from the beginning this rivalry developed between Cheney and me.  He was jealous of the time Dub used to spend with me when we first got into office.  He immediately began undermining my influence with Dub.  He was relentless.  He criticized everything I said or did.  It got to the point that when Dub thought things were going smoothly, he’d avoid me entirely.  Even when we did happen to run into each other and talk a little, he didn’t really want my advice, just corroboration of….”

“…his own ideas?” Benjamin interjected.

“Um, yes,” said Bushy after a short pause.  He seemed about to say something more, but Benjamin continued, “So he didn’t even use you as an advisor most of the time, if at all?”

“Yeah, you could say that,” Bushy agreed.  “In fact, in most of our meetings we hardly talked at all.  Instead, he spent the time clutching me close to his chest and crying.”

“Crying?” Benjamin asked, amazed.  “I didn’t know he could feel anything other than self-righteous anger, let alone cry.  That’s amazing.”

“Very wearing, too,” Bushy sighed.  “Starting with the senate debate about the missing weapons of mass destruction, Dub sought me out more and more just for some hugs and a good long cry.  I tell you, his hugs got so tight after a while that I developed a major case of compression.  Lucky for me, after the elections I was able to fit in some intensive sessions with Sassafras, who quickly got me back in shape again.”

“So you’re saying that things have gotten so bad that presidents not only don’t listen to their Teds’ advice, they don’t even ask for it in the first place?” Benjamin asked in a voice filled with incredulity. 

“Well, I only know about how it was with Dub, but…,” Bushy began.

He was interrupted by Benjamin announcing, “Ah, here’s our first caller.  Hi, who are we speaking with?”

“Hi,” said a tiny little voice, “this is Penny from Carterville, Illinois.  Thanks for taking my call.”

“Sure,” said Benjamin.  “Do you have something you’d like to ask Bushy about, Penny?”

“Um, yes.  Uh, Mr. Bushy, I was wondering, now that he’s not the President any more, what Mr. Bush is doing with his time these days,” Penny asked.

“In other words,” Benjamin interjected, “is Dubyah doing anything more productive than he did when he was in office?  Is that what you’re asking, Penny?”

“Uh, well, not really,” she responded hesitantly.  “I just wanted to know how he spends his time now.”

“Right,” said Benjamin.  “So, Bushy, what about it?  Is he doing anything more productive with his time now that he’s out of office?”

“Errm, well,” Bushy waffled slightly, “uh, I really couldn’t tell you much about what he does with his time these days.  We’ve kind of taken a little vacation from seeing each other at the moment.  He spends most of his time in Dallas while I’m down here in Crawford.  When we do interact it’s at a distance.  Mostly I’ve been spending my time editing his book, correcting his spelling and grammar and doing my best to correct his memory of events as well.”

“So, you mostly correspond through email?” Benjamin asked.

“Oh, no, not at all,” Bushy corrected him.  “Dub doesn’t do email.  He doesn’t do computers at all, in fact.  Heck, he can barely type with one finger.  No, we mostly correspond via Secret Service couriers who carry the manuscripts of his book back-and-forth between us.  We don’t even write letters to each other all that much.  Just as well, his writing is hell to decipher.  Mostly, he just tells the couriers what to tell me, and I do the same with my comments.  Not the most efficient way of doing things, but then,...”

“Yeah,” interrupted Benjamin, “we are talking about dealing with Dubyah here.”

“Uhm, yeah,” Bushy murmured.

“Well, thanks for your call, Penny!” Benjamin boomed.  “Next we have Rory on the phone, is that right, Rory?”

“Yeah, this is Rory from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.”

“Welcome, Rory, do you have something you’d like to ask our guest today?”

“Yeah,” said Rory.  “I’d like to know who is ex-vice president Cheney’s Teddy Bear.”

“Good question, Rory!” Benjamin congratulated the caller.  “I’d like to know the answer to that one, too.  What do you say, Bushy?  Who was the intrepid Ted who advised Cheney?”

“Oh, uh, well,” Bushy hemmed and hawed.  “Uh, the truth of the matter is, he never had a Teddy,” Bushy answered.

“No one would take the job?” Benjamin asked jocularly.

“No, well, it was hard to find anybody willing to take it on,” Bushy admitted.  “But we eventually did find someone with the right stuff who was willing to take the job.  Trouble was, Cheney nixed the project.”

“What, he was afraid of the childhood memories a sweet little Teddy Bear might call up from his past?” Benjamin queried, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Actually, no, that wasn’t the problem,” Bushy said.

“Are you sure of that?” Benjamin wanted to know.  “Human beans are, after all, a very unstable lot, especially political human beans.”

“Yeah, very sure,” Bushy affirmed.  “He was afraid Bammo – that was our operative’s code name – Cheney was afraid Bammo might be bugged.”

“H…,” Benjamin began, but was interrupted by his caller, Rory, “Is that what he told this Bammo?”

“No, not directly,” Bushy responded.  “But the first thing he did was have the FBI guy who brought Bammo in to him cover Bammo’s eyes and ears with his hands.  Then told him to get the bear outta his sight, that you never knew what might be bugged these days.”

“Talk about paranoid,” Benjamin sneered.  “I tell you, these human bean politicians.  It’s just like I’ve been sayi….”

But once again Rory interrupted him to ask Bushy, “But if this FBI guy was covering Bammo’s eyes and ears with his hands, how do you know what Cheney said?”

“Oh, everything he said came in loud and clear from the mike we had sewn into the knot of Bammo’s neck ribbon,” Bushy told him.

“Okay, thanks for the thought-provoking call, Rory,” Benjamin breezily terminated the call.

At this point, Mack waved at Benjamin to get his attention, pointed at his Mickey Mouse wristwatch, and held up 4 claws – four more minutes.

Benjamin nodded at Mack and said, “Well, we just have time for one more call, folks.  Hello, and who is this?”

The shouted response took the room by complete surprise, for a number of disparate reasons.  “It’s me, Benjamin!” reverberated around the room, inspiring a sudden, painfully loud twang and whine of feedback from all of the speakers – WheeeEEEeiiiIIiinnneee!!! – causing Benjamin to grab hold of his earphones, pull them briskly from his head, throw them to one side, and quickly clamp both paws over his ears, while at the same time screeching out his own eardrum-piercing, “Yaaiiiiiiii!”  Nearly everyone else in the room followed his example in this, myself included, covering our ears in a vain attempt to escape the pain of the waves of reverb scouring the room.  Although, I did catch a glimpse of both Biwi and Gracie continuing to record the chaos going on around and under them.  I figured they must be wearing earplugs or something.  Meanwhile, everyone’s fur, and what little hair I have left on my head, stood at full attention from the static electricity that filled the air.

We were lucky there were no delicate, long-stemmed glasses in the room at the moment, or they would have no doubt all been shattered by now.  As it was, I worried about the glassware next door in the kitchen.

As the room’s vibrating air finally started settling down to normal levels, fur and hair began lying flat once more, and Teds who were still nearly deaf started yelling questions at each other.  Unfortunately, at the same time the caller decided to ask, as loudly as possible, of course, “Are you there, Benjamin!?!  Can you hear me!?!!!”  The reverberation this time – WheeeEEeing! – was not quite as loud and piercing at it was the first time.  Or maybe it just seemed that way, since most of us were still in the early stages of regaining our hearing anyway.  But our fur and hair didn’t come to full attention this time, settling for a half-hearted salute instead.

The diminished level of noise could probably be attributed to the heroic efforts of Birnie, Sherman, Shoshanna, and Mickey, who, once the initial shock of the first wave of noise had died down slightly, had quickly jumped into action, running around the table top frantically turning down the volume on all of the speakers.  Mack, Letta, and Kippy soon followed suit, climbing down to the floor to begin turning down the speakers there.

Brighton and Chuffy were now over in the center of the table top, helping a stunned Benjamin sit up and soothing his badly rumpled ears.  When it seemed he was able to make out what the others were saying to him, he croaked into his mike, “Bushy, are you there, bear?  I’m sorry but we had some…technical difficulties, and we….”

“He isn’t there,” Birnie informed him.  “We lost the connection.  We lost all of the connections.  In fact, we’re temporarily off the air, as well.  That blast really did a number on our equipment.”

“Oh, no,” Benjamin moaned.  “My first show, too.  What a mess.  What happened?  Was it sabotage?”  He perked up at the thought and began to exclaim, “I bet it was.  I bet it was the FBI who sabotaged us.  Yeah, I bet it was.  Them and the CIA.  And probably the Secret Service, too.”  Cameras still rolling, Biwi and Gracie both zoomed in for close-ups of Benjamin, who was speaking faster and faster now.  “Yes, that’s it!  They’re all out to get me!  They can’t take it that I’ve got the stuffing to stand up and tell the world how human beans have screwed everything up!  They are!  They’re all out to get me, I tell you!”

Biwi had pulled his earplugs out by now, and he snorted at Benjamin’s ranting, while Birnie told him, “Just calm down, bear.  Take a deep breath and get a hold of yourself.  Nobody’s out to get you.”

“No, they are!  They’re running scared!  They know I’ve got the goods on ‘em, and they’re afraid I’ll get swept into office where I’ll clear up all this sordid mess!”  Benjamin was on a roll now.

Brighton did her best to soothe his troubled soul, hugging him, rubbing his shoulders, murmuring comfortingly, “There, there, Sweetheart, everything’s going to be all right.  Just calm down now.  Everything’s fine.”

Her reassurance seemed to be taking effect, as Benjamin noticeably softened his stance and slumped over a bit into her embrace.  Still, he continued to mumble, “We’ve got them on the run now, Sweetest.  We’ve got….”

At that point, the last caller’s voice boomed out into the room again, insistently demanding attention, “Benjamin!  You there, Benjamin?  This is me calling you!  I’m on a telephone!”

Benjamin once again stiffened up, and shot Birnie an accusatory look, complaining, “I thought we lost all of the callers!  What’s she doing still on the line?”  He craned his neck looked frantically about the room.

“We did lose the ca…,” Birnie began, looking around and searching the room himself.

Once again the caller interrupted, “Hi, Benjamin!  I see you!  Can you see me!”

“See me?  She can see me!?!” Benjamin cried out, nearly fainting at Brighton’s feet.

“Over here!” the caller yelled joyfully.  “I’m over here on Biwi’s cell phone!  See me?”

Everyone’s eyes turned as one to the sight of a little panda bear, jumping up and down at a far edge of the table, holding a little cell phone to her ear with one paw and waving wildly with the other.

“Oh, my gawd,” Benjamin moaned, seeming to deflate into a heap at Brighton’s feet.  “It’s Itsy!  What the he…, what do you think you’re doing, for heaven’s sake, Itsy?”

“I’m calling you on the radio!  What do you think?” she answered reasonably.

All Benjamin could do was stare and mutter, over and over again, “Call me on the radio.  Call me on the radio.  Itsy was calling me….”

“I wanted to axe you some questions,” Itsy yelled out across the table.  “That’s what you do on your show, right?  I wanted to know why doesn’t tomorrow never come?  And where does yesterday go?  And if there’s….”

"That's what happened," observed Biwi.  "Itsy was too close to the mike here when she called.  That's why we got that tremendous feedback!" 

By this time Benjamin had his head buried in his paws and was silently whimpering and muttering unmentionable things under his breath while Brighton did her utmost to reassure him and calm him down.

Luckily for us all, and most especially for what little sanity Benjamin had remaining, the dulcet sounds of Thea’s voice reached us from the kitchen. “Lunch time!” she called.  “Come and get it!”  Music to our ears.  In a flash the room cleared except for the sad little tableau of Brighton and Benjamin cuddled close in the center of the table and Itsy standing at the table’s edge, now turned facing me, arms upraised, and insistently urging me, “Uh!  Uh!  I need a ride, Daddola!  Mommola has lunch time for us, and I can’t get down from here by myself!  Gimme a ride!  Please!  I said ‘please,’ so you have to do it.  It’s a rule!”

“Oh, well,” I said, reaching down to pick the little scamp up, “if it’s a rule, I guess I have to do it then.”

“Yetz!” Itsy exclaimed triumphantly.

I carried her into the kitchen where we joined the rest of the Teds who were scattered all over the floor contentedly devouring tuna fish sandwiches and swigging cupsful of hot cocoa.  The call of lunch time was so strong and enticing that soon even Brighton and Benjamin were able to join us as well. 

Benjamin barely touched his sandwich, however.  All he seemed able to do for the moment was to sit and stare dejectedly into space.  In an attempt to draw him out of himself a little, I took the opportunity to ask him something I had been wondering about.  “I notice you have a rather unique interviewing style,” I told him.

“What?” he said, looking over my way.

“Your interviewing style,” I repeated gently.  “I thought it distinctive and unusual.”

“Oh, thanks,” was all he could manage.

“I was wondering,” I persevered, “where you learned to interview like that.”

“Oh, I studied the best of ‘em lots before I started the show,” he told me, sitting up a little straighter.

“Really?” I continued, hoping to take his mind a little more off his worries.  “I only ask because I noticed that a good deal of your style seems to depend on interrupting the people you’re interviewing to finish their thoughts for them, or asking them leading questions.”

“Yeah, well,” he replied, and actually managed a little smile, “like I told you: I’ve really studied the techniques of the best of ‘em.  That’s exactly how you’re s’posed to do it.”  Ah, he was beginning to go into lecture mode now.  “After all, you can’t let the interview jump around all over the place, can you?  It’s your job to control it, to keep it on track.  So, you kind of guide it along, keep them from getting off message and start spouting off their own ideas that’re totally unrelated to the message you’re trying to get across to your listening audience.  I mean, that’s why you’re interviewing them in the first place: so they can make important points for you.”

“Uhm, hum,” I almost choked on my sandwich.  After chewing more carefully and then swallowing, I managed to say, “Gee, I thought an interview was meant to get at the point of view of the person being interviewed.”

“Oh, that’s old hat,” he assured me.  “These days you only have people on so they can make important points for you.  To let people know that other important people agree with the way you think.  That way the listeners get to know that they’re pretty stupid if they don’t agree with your ideas, too!”

His earlier despair seemed to have evaporated.  He now sat up straight, all puffed up and full of himself.

“Yes, well, you certainly seem to have mastered that approach to interviewing, if you can really call it that,” I told him.  “But now I’m wondering who your mentors were.  Who were these famous interviewers whose styles you’ve mastered and made your own?”

“Oh, you shouldn’t really need to ask that,” he admonished me.  “Just think about.  Who are the two most famous interviewers in America right now?”

I started to think about it, but before I could get very far, Benjamin interrupted my thoughts and told me the answer, “Larry King and Oprah! 

“Think about,“ he insisted.  “That’s exactly how both of them operate.  Ask a leading question, listen and if they don’t get to the point soon enough, interrupt and finish whatever they’re saying for them.  And if their answer starts to go off course and not go where you want ‘em to go, you interrupt and say it for them!  It’s all very simple, really.  And quite effective.”

Now I was starting to get a headache.  Unfortunately, as I thought about it, I began to see Benjamin’s point.  But that only made me more depressed.

Just then, Biwi chuckled and let out a howl of excited laughter.  His sandwich long since devoured, he had taken up his Honeypot 5000 netbook computer and was now laughing appreciatively at what he was viewing on the web.

“What’s so funny?” Benjamin demanded.  He seemed irked that his lecture was being interrupted by Biwi’s laughter.

“This,” said Biwi, pointing at the screen of the netbook.  “You’ve gone viral!”

“I’ve what?” squeaked Benjamin, who began looking frightfully down at his body.  “How could I catch anything?  I haven’t been out of the house all day!”

Biwi laughed even louder.  “No, you haven’t caught anything,” he reassured Benjamin.  “I’m talking about your video on YouTube.”

“My what?  On what?” asked Benjamin, more confused than ever.

“Your video,” Biwi said, sliding the netbook over in front of Benjamin where he could see it himself.  “Gracie and I put together a quick edit of the video of your show today and put it up on YouTube just now.  And it’s going viral.  You’ve already got more than a 100,000 hits on it, and it hasn’t been up more than 10 minutes!”

“Oh!” was all Benjamin could manage at the moment.  “Is that good?”

“Good?” asked Biwi in return.  “It’s better than good; it’s….”

At this point, the opening bars of The Teddy Bear’s Picnic sounded on Brighton’s cell phone.  She took it out and spoke into it a moment before turning to Benjamin and saying, “It’s ABC Nightly News.  Diane Sawyer wants to interview you tomorrow night.”

Even Benjamin looked shook up at that revelation.  He recovered quickly, however, and said, “Tell them of course, I’ll be more than happy to talk with Diane.”

“Kewl,” purred Biwi, taking back his netbook.  “I’ll give it right back to you.  I’ve got to tweet this first, though.”  As he settled the netbook back in front of him, he looked at the screen and did a double take.  Laughing loudly once again, he turned to Benjamin and told him, “Well, you’re definitely going viral.  It seems Rush Limbaugh is denouncing you angrily on the radio right this minute.”

“Oh, good!” thrilled Benjamin.  “Can we get a copy of that, so I can listen to it later?”

“Sure,” said Biwi, typing away on the netbook’s keyboard.

Brighton’s phone trilled again, and after answering it, she looked a little doubtful but then said, “Wait.  I’ll ask him.”  Turning to Benjamin she said, “It’s Kitty Kelly’s administrative assistant.  She wants to do an unauthorized biography of you.”

“Well, I guess she doesn’t need my approval for that,” Benjamin joked.

In the next few minutes, the first trickle of phone calls and emails turned into a flood.  Matt Lauer wanted Benjamin for the Today Show.  Bill O’Reilly wanted to debate him on Fox News.  They wanted him to do a special appearance on Entertainment Tonight.  The word was that the National Enquirer was trying to dig up something slimy from Benjamin’s past.  And, would you believe it? – they wanted him to appear on the next season of Dancing with the Stars!

Reeling from the media frenzy attacking us in our very own kitchen, I stood up and made my way to the deck, where I hoped I could get a little peace and quiet.  Thea followed me out.  Smirking, she bent down and kissed me on the forehead.  “At least there’s one show we know he won’t be appearing on,” she reassured me.

“I bite,” I said.  “What show is that?”

Bridezillas,” she grinned.

“Ah,” I sighed, laying my head back on my lounge chair and looking up at the tree tops.  “Thank our lucky stars for that.”

“Oh, I do,” she said.  Then, looking in through the screen door at the full embrace of our Teds on the kitchen floor, she added, “And I thank our lucky stars for them, too.”

“Point taken,” I said, sighing dramatically. “Point taken.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Benjamin Enters the Fray

Biwi snickered as I stumbled over a giant box of crayons on the kitchen floor, zooming his camera in for an extreme close-up of my face. As I reached out to grab hold of a chair to keep myself from falling, I noticed that the floor was covered by a large assortment of Teds hunched over several open boxes of crayons, a rainbow of colored pens, reams of colored construction paper, plastic scissors, white glue, clear glue, glue sticks, and various other implements of artistic intent.

“Does your mother know you’re doing all of this?” I inquired.

“’Course she does,” Benjamin responded, looking up from the poster he was working on.

“I take it you’re responsible for organizing this?” I said, indicating the whole topsy-turvy floor with a sweep of my free hand.

“As usual, yes,” Benjamin answered. “I’m always in charge of all the important stuff,” he added pompously.

“Then I presume you realize you will also be held accountable for cleaning everything up once you’ve finished whatever it is you are engaged in? Including any stray crayon marks and other unintended consequences of arming so many Teds with markers of mass destruction?” I countered.

“Oh…yeah…well, I’m sure we’ll get it all cleaned up when we’re done,” he hedged.

“Don’t worry, Daddola,” chimed in Brighton, “I’ve already got the clean-up committee organized. Mack’s the chair.”

“I am heartened to hear that the clean-up is in such good paws. I can now be certain that this room will be spick-and-span by the time your mother has to get in here and start cooking dinner,” I told her.

“By the way, Benjamin, what are you all working on so diligently?” I further inquired.

“My campaign,” he replied, puffing himself up even more with pride.

“Campaign?” I asked. “What campaign?”

“Really, Dad, you should keep up with current events more,” he admonished me. “My campaign for the presidency.”

“Presidency?” I managed to rather inanely repeat. “I thought you had already been elected to the presidency of Teddy Bear College.”

“Not that presidency,” he corrected me, not without some asperity. “The presidency.”

The…?” I couldn’t help but founder.

“Of the United States!” he nearly shouted. “I’m running for President of the United States of America!”

“But we already have a president,” I objected, even more confused than before, if that were possible, which I suppose it was, because I definitely was more confused.

“I guess you could say that,” he said dismissively. “I’m getting ready for the next election. After I’m elected, I’m going to be a real president.”

“What’s wrong with our current president?” I wondered.

“The same thing’s wrong with all our other presidents,” was Benjamin’s ready answer. “They never do what they say they’re gonna do when they’re running for election.”

“They don’t?” I asked, surprised.

“’Course not,” he responded, clearly disgusted with my naiveté. “They promise whatever they think will get them elected, and then once they’re elected, they do whatever they want, which is usually totally different from what they promised.”

“Do you really think that’s true?” I asked.

“Sure. Look at the Republicans,” he suggested. “They promised heaven on earth, and ended up giving us pure hell.”

“Hmm, well, you’ve got me there,” I agreed. “But what about the Democrats? Surely, they’re more trustworthy than the slimy Republicans.”

“Oh, you think so?” he sneered. “They promised everything would change, but then nothing changed. So that’s just like the Republicans, only the Democrats promised us everything and ended up giving us nothing.”

“I’m afraid I have to concede your point on that one, too,” I admitted reluctantly.

“I should think so,” he huffed. “I’ve put a lot of thought into all of this over the years. I’ve waited and waited for the politicians to come to their senses and do the right thing. Finally, though, I realized they don’t have any senses to come to. So I decided it’s time somebody showed them how to do it right, and that somebody is me. So I’m throwing my hat into the ring.”

“I didn’t know you weared a hat, Benjamin,” Itsy exclaimed, peeking down at Benjamin on the floor from where she stood, towering above him from on top of the table.

“I only wear it on special occasions,” he retorted. “It’s…oh, for heaven’s sake,” he interrupted himself, “that’s just an expression. It means….”

“I hate ‘spreshuns!” Itsy told him indignantly.

“Yes, yes, we’re all quite aware of your aversion to expressions,” he sighed, dismissing her objection. “This one simply means that I am adding my name to the list of candidates for the presidency.”

“You coulda just said that in the first place,” Itsy informed him before disappearing from sight.

“OoOh!” he grumped. Brighton put her arms around him, and soothed him with a kiss on the cheek.

Trying to get the conversation more or less back on track, I asked Benjamin, “What’s your campaign slogan going to be?”

“We’re still working on that,” he confided. “So far we’ve got a couple of possibilities. I kind of like, ‘Let’s Get It Right This Time.’”

“That’s not too bad,” I temporized, “although it reminds me a little of Obama’s ‘Change We Can Believe In.’”

“That’s the idea, but
we’re implying we’ll make the right changes,” he noted.

“It never hurts to denigrate the opposition, I suppose,” I mused.

“’Specially if you can do it in a underhanded way,” he said.

“I see you really do have the makings of a master politician,” I stroked him. “What other possible slogans have been suggested?”

“Well, there’s, ‘A Warm and Fuzzy White House,’” he offered, “or maybe a rhyming slogan like, ‘A Hug and a Kiss Would Not Be Amiss’ or perhaps something more direct, like, ‘Keep It Stuffed, Sweetheart!’ Get it?”

“Couldn’t miss it,” I nearly groaned. “Look, your slogans seem to be on the right track, but what kind of platform are you offering?”

“Oh, we’ve got a sure-fire platform!” he enthused.

“Okay, lay it on me,” I said, inwardly squinching.

Benjamin crooked his head to one side and looked at me suspiciously, “Are you inwardly flinching?” he demanded.

“Who, me? Flinch? Inward? Never,” I replied. That was the truth, too. Well, I hadn’t been flinching, inwardly or not. I’d been squinching. So what if they mean the same thing. The point was…well, the point was that I didn’t want to tell Benjamin what I had been doing inwardly. So I didn’t.

To distract him, I told him, “I’m eager to hear your platform. I’m extremely keen to hear more. Please do enlighten me.”

“Well,” he hesitated, but for only a millisecond, “first off, of course, we’re going to do away with all taxes. No more taxes!”

“That’ll be a real vote-getter, that’s for sure,” I admitted. “But how are you going to pay for all of the government programs? How are you going to pay for the military? And, more to the point, how are you going to pay your own salary?”

“Easy!” he assured me. “We’re going to hold fun raisers! Every day! 24 hours a day. We’re going to have fun raisers 24/7! Isn’t that brilliant?”

“Magnificent,” I agreed. “Truly boffo.”

“Plus we’re going to print more money, with pictures of famous Teddy bears on it. So there’ll be lots of money coming in. But there’s more,” he continued. “We’re going to abolish war!” he proudly declared.

“Oh, that’s a good one,” I said. “But, umm, what happens when countries have a disagreement and they’re unable to reach an agreement even after extensive peace talks? How are they going to settle them?”

“Oh, we’re doing away with peace talks, too,” he told me. “They don’t work all that good anyway. No, we’re going straight to the games.”

“Games?” I asked, puzzled.

“Sure,” he reassured me. “Each country involved will get to pick a sport or whatever kind of game they like, and then the countries’ll have their champions play each other in those games. Whoever wins the majority of the games, wins the argument. Couldn’t be simpler.”

“No, it certainly couldn’t,” I had to once again agree. “Do you have any other planks in your platform?”

“Yeah, we’re going to put a Teddy in every home!” he told me.

“Well, that’s certainly going to be a popular plank,” I said.

“And the great thing is that then we’ll be able to keep an eye on everybody in the country,” he revealed.

“Keep an eye on…?” I stammered, dumbfounded.

“Sure!” he crowed. “We already know human beans can’t be trusted to keep out of trouble on their own. They need help from us Teds. So all Teds will be reporting to Birnie about what their human beans are doing. Birnie’s going to be head of my secret service, the BIA. That way, if anybody gets out of line, Birnie and Biwi can give them a good talking to and make sure they straighten up and fly right.”

“Straighten up and fly…,” I continued to splutter, unable to believe what I was hearing.

“Human beans have been screwing things up for too long,” Benjamin averred. “It’s long past time somebody took charge and made them shape up. Who better to do that than Teddy bears?”

“Umm, well,….” What could I say? “What if the voters don’t like the idea of the government watching their every move?”

“Why should they object?” he wanted to know. “The government’s already doing it. We’re just going to do it better is all. Plus, we don’t have to tell them that’s what we’re going to do. We’ll just tell them they’ll get a free Teddy once we get elected.”

“Isn’t that a little underhanded?” I asked. Or is that “underpawed”? I wondered to myself.

“So? That’s how you do it,” he assured me. “You tell ‘em what they want to hear and don’t tell ‘em what they don’t want to hear.”

“You certainly do seem to have this politician thing down pat,” I acknowledged. “But aren’t you going to have a tough time carrying out all of your promises once you’re elected?”

“Oh, that’s no problem,” he poo-pooed. “Once you get elected, you don’t have to worry about all of that. Forget all your promises. Once you’re in, you’re the one in charge, and you can do whatever you want.”

“Uh, isn’t that the kind of thing that made you want to run for election in the first place – to do away with false promises?” I asked.

“Not really,” he corrected me. “I want to get elected, so I can run this country the way it should be run. You have to tell everybody what they want to hear to get elected because they’re just a bunch of human beans. They’re confused. They don’t really know what’s good for them and the country.”

“And you do?” I wondered.

“’Course!” he exclaimed. “That’s why I’m running! Once I get into office, I’ll whip this country into shape in no time!”

“I’m sure,” I said noncommittally. In an effort to change the subject somewhat, I asked, “So what are you going to call your party?”

“We’re still in the early stages on that,” he informed me. “Kippy suggested the Bull Moose Party because that’s what Teddy Roosevelt called his party when he ran for a third term. But I don’t think that works. We don’t even have any stuffed moose in our party yet. Besides, that party lost.”

“Good point,” I said.

“Yeah, so we’re trying to find a name that will appeal to the masses, if you know what I mean,” he confided.

“I think I’m beginning to get the picture,” I said.

“Right now I’m kind of leaning toward either the ‘Warm and Fuzzy Party’ or the ‘Par-dee Party,’” he said.

“Well, they both have a certain appeal,” I assured him, crossing the fingers of my free hand behind my back.

Just then, “Ka-WHOOMPF!” Itsy’s cannon sounded, and an even more terrible racket arose from the hallway behind me, sounding rather like Spike Jones on drugs. Turning around I saw a little line of Teds marching into the kitchen, with Itsy proudly leading the way (with her bonnet either set at a jaunty angle or just as askew as ever) pulling her cannon behind her. Immediately behind her marched Lily-pop blowing enthusiastically, if tunelessly, on a party horn. Behind Lily-pop strode Waldo loudly and wildly unrhythmically beating on a toy drum, while Sparkie brought up the rear, unsteadily bearing a big sign with “Itsy for Prinzess, Kween, Kink, and Impress” scrawled across it in a hallucinogenic rainbow of colors.

The noise was so loud I could barely hear Benjamin exclaim, “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” behind me. However, it was somewhat easier to then hear him shriek at the top of his little warm-and-fuzzy lungs, “What do you think you’re doing? Are you trying to make me lose the election? You can’t run for the presidency, too! That’ll just play into the hands of the opposition by splitting the vote!”

Itsy started to answer him, “I ain’t….”

But he interrupted her to complain, “What? I can’t hear you!”

Deciding she was too far away from him, she marched over to him until she stood right under his snout, and tried again, “I ain’t run….”

“What? I still can’t hear you!” he yelled. “Your band is too loud! Can’t you tell them to put a lid on it?”

“We don’t got a lid!” Itsy yelled back. “We….”

Trying to forestall another round of bickering between the two of them, and at the same time keep my eardrums from bursting and my nose from starting to bleed copiously, I reached down and gently removed the horn from Lily-pop’s paws and the drumsticks from Waldo’s. The cacophony ceased immediately, returning blessed quiet to the room.

“I’ll return these to you later,” I assured them, “should you want to practice some more outside. All musical practicing shall from this day forth be done outside, far from the house, preferably deep within the woods if you can manage it. You certainly need have no fear of wild animals attacking you while you’re making such, um, glorious ‘euphony’ together.”

“Okay,” Itsy agreed. “But we’re gonna make music together, too.”

“Oh, quite,” was all I could think to say to that.

“And it won’t be any phony kinda music neither,” she corrected me.

“Of course not,” I said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Sheesh, today was certainly a day for disinformation.

Meanwhile, Benjamin had apparently decided to take a more tempered and diplomatic approach. Putting on his best smilely face, he addressed her softly and gently, “Look, Itsy, sweetheart,” he began, oil dripping metaphorically from every pore – you couldn’t help but admire just how much of a politician he was turning out to be, “this isn’t the time for bickering. After all, we’re not Democrats. We Teds need to stick together. United we stand, and all that.”

His whole performance was so unlike him that even Itsy had to stand mutely and marvel. Either that, or she was wondering if some weird spirit or demon was inhabiting Benjamin’s body, kind of like George W getting his strings pulled by Cheney. Whatever her reasons, she let him blather on for now.

“The only way we’re going to get our paws inside the White House is to work together. You can see the sense in that, can’t you?” he implored. Wisely, he chose not to give her the opportunity to respond, but plunged ahead with his desperate appeal, “I’m sure we can pool our resources and come out an even stronger and more viable force on the political scene than we already are.

“Here’s what I suggest we do. Let’s run together on the same ticket! I’ll run for president just like I was planning to. After all mean, I’m the stronger candidate at the moment. I have more name recognition than you, right now anyway, what with me just coming off my address to the United Nations and everything. Once I, er, we, get elected, though, you’ll get lots more publicity, and your name recognition will sky rocket. I can’t make you Vice President because Brighton’s going to be that. I can’t make you Secretary of State either because Biwi’s going to be that. I could make you Secretary of the Inferior,” he mused, obviously winging it now.

“Or, I could put you on the Supreme Court,” he continued, on a roll by this time. “I’m going to fire all of them and start over with a clean slate. About time, too. They can’t even tell a chad from a hole in a card for heaven’s sake. I can’t make you Chief Justice because that position’s made for Mack. But I can put you in Clare Thomas’s seat. He never says anything anyway, thank heaven.”

“Not like me,” Itsy managed to squeeze into Benjamin’s diatribe. “I say lots of things all the time.”

“Indeed,” he acknowledged, pausing for moment to peer down benevolently at his little sister. “So, what do you say?” he asked congenially. “We join forces, make our two parties one, you quit running for president and….”

“I ain’t runnin’ for president,” Itsy informed him. “You can go ahead and run for it if you want.”

This statement stopped Benjamin mid-peroration. Catching his breath, eyes big with surprise, he asked, “What did you say?”

“I ain’t runnin’ for president,” Itsy repeated. “I been trying to tell you that.”

“Yeah, but, but…” It was now his turn to stutter. “Why do you have a band and a campaign poster and everything?”

“I’m gonna be princess, queen, king, empress,” she told him. “I’ll be over you when you’re president. I’m gonna be your boss!” she informed him triumphantly.

For a moment, Benjamin was actually silent. He was dumbfounded. Then he laughed and said, “Okay, then, go ahead and run for all those things. I don’t care. You probably won’t get elected anyway.”

“Will too,” Itsy insisted.

“Will not,” Benjamin returned.

“Will too,” Itsy shot back.

“Okay, okay,” I intervened. “That’s enough. I think we’re all agreed that you can both go ahead and run whatever campaigns you want. Right?”

“Yetz!” Itsy replied snappily, immediately firing off her cannon, “Ka-WHOOMPF!”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Benjamin grumped, paws to his ears.

“Do you agree, Benjamin?” I prompted him.

“What? Oh, yeah, sure, whatever,” he muttered, starting to turn back to his poster-making.

Trying to sidetrack Itsy from any more confrontations with Benjamin, I asked her, “So what are you going to call your party?”

“Well,” she said, “I wanted to call it ‘Itsy’s Girls Rule Party,’ but Letta and Biwi said that wouldn’t work ‘cause boys wouldn’t think they could vote for a party called that, they’re so stupit.”

“Um, yes, that makes a kind of sense, I guess,” I waffled. “So what are you going to call it?”

“Itsy’s Birfday Party!” she yelled out enthusiastically.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” said Benjamin, turning back to face Itsy again. “That doesn’t make any sense!”

“Yetz it does,” Itsy affirmed. “Somebody’s always having a birfday every day. So we’re just going to make it a rule that everybody has a birfday party for somebody every day! That way everybody gets cake and honey and presents every day. Who couldn’t like that rule?” she wanted to know.

Benjamin stopped in his tracks, scratched his head, looked thoughtful, then, with a look of pleasant surprise on his face, he said, “You know, that actually could work.”

“’Course it could!” Itsy agreed. “I thought it up, and I’m a girl, and girls are always right.”

“Humph, well, we’ll let that slide for now,” Benjamin decided, apparently still in a residual diplomatic mode. “But, you know, if we worked that in with my 24/7 Fun Raiser Days platform, we might have a real game stopper here.”

“What game?” Itsy wanted to know.

“Huh? Oh, that’s just an…, um, never mind,” Benjamin replied. “Let’s focus on the Everyday’s a Birthday Fun Raiser scheme for now,” he suggested, actually putting his arm around her shoulders and bending down to go into a political huddle with her. “We can give people Teddies for presents. That’ll be a great way to covertly deliver our agents into homes across the country!”

Talk about your strange bedfellows.

I took this moment of temporary détente to leave the room, stealthily tip-toeing away before all hell could break loose once more. I wanted to find a place to hide a toy horn and drum sticks where I could be certain no Teddy would ever find them again. Fat chance, I know. But I had to try. No matter where I went, I could still hear murmurs and chuckles of political intrigue emanating from the kitchen. It looks like we were in for some interesting times ahead, heaven help us.