A peacock walked past the window as I ate breakfast last Saturday at an old country inn in Albuquerque, N.M., his great fan of bejeweled feathers open wide, following a peahen who was pecking around the gravel as if he didn't exist. The peacock appeared to be infatuated, shuffling around, waggling his rump, craning his bright blue neck, the little doodads on his head bouncing around rather fetchingly, and the peahen kept scratching in the dirt, looking for grubs. Think of Elvis in a silver jumpsuit doing "One Night" at the Sands and the audience studying the dinner menu and trying to decide between the salmon and the baby ribs. Finally he got her cornered up against the window and then he stretched the great fan open to the max and he strutted and stuck out his chest and waved the tail feathers. The lady appeared interested for a while, and then she slipped past him and he deflated in about three seconds.
It was painful for a man to watch this. The peacock's great fan of iridescent blue-green beauty, when it deflates, becomes a feather duster, a street sweeper. You go from Waldemar the Magnificent to Bobo the Groundskeeper.
He reminded you of the president trying to win hearts and minds in Ohio this week, except Mr. Bush's tail feathers have been pecked practically clean by events. It was likewise painful for anyone to watch. As painful as seeing Henry Kissinger at a recent conference on Vietnam say he had no regrets. No president in your lifetime or mine has seen his fundamental competence -- his ability to think clearly and manage the government -- so doubted by the voting public as Mr. Bush has. This is humiliation of a rare sort.
If Mr. Bush wanted to reverse his slide, he could do it with a phone call to his vice president. Tell him, "Hey, Gunner, I'm sending over your resignation. Sign it and leave the building immediately, and don't take any floppies with you." Mr. Cheney would have a grand mal seizure right there, and be taken away to a sanitarium, and then Mr. Bush could get 1) Newt Gingrich, 2) John McCain, 3) Jeb Bush, 4) Rudolph Giuliani -- take his pick. America needs a No. 2 who wouldn't give Americans a coronary if he became No. 1. The top story on the news that night is "Gunner Dumped as Veep," and a fresh breeze blows through Washington, and the American people perk up and imagine that the Current Occupant is in charge and able to connect the dots.
"Cheney Resigns" is the headline for two days, and anonymous White House sources say that Gunner was cut loose because he was blind, deaf and demented on the subject of Iraq. The suspense of Who Will the New Prince Be? occupies us for a week. The pundits and bloggers puff and blow and when finally the new man is confirmed by the Senate and gives a ringing speech about the need to put our differences behind us and all pull together, lo and behold the subject has been changed and America is no longer standing around the coffee machine talking about what a dope the president is. Nobody uses the I-word (incompetent). We're still buzzed from the big news.
Defeat is inevitable in life, and every cock is bound to meet a hen who isn't interested, and eventually we all go shuffling off to the Old Soldiers Home and plop down in front of the TV set and doze through the shows. We're all destined to fall apart. But you don't have to do it in your 50s when everybody is looking at you. You can fall apart gently and privately. Don't go down hard like Dennis Kozlowski or Bernie Ebbers or Kenneth Lay.
I once saw an old Hollywood star eating breakfast in a hotel dining room in Dublin. He was touring in a play that had been reviewed rather gently and compassionately, and here he was with his famous face, grinning at a couple of tourists who came over to ask him to autograph their placemat. Once he was an icon and sex symbol, and now he was 80, an old trouper enjoying his breakfast and smiling at the world. Gerry got to that place, and Jimmy and Ronnie, I think, and George H.W. and for sure Bill has gotten there. People see Bill in public, grinning, and they can't help it, they grin back.
If you want to be beloved, don't wait too long.
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(Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.)
(c) 2006 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved.Distributed by Tribune Media Services, INC.