Thursday, November 04, 2004

True presidents, false presidents.

Today for lunch, my dad and I went someplace other than our regular restaurant. He took me for hot dogs at Costco in Dunwoody, and we went browsing.

While we were eating the hot dogs - and I'd loaded mine up with relish and onions -and sitting on the crowded benches, I asked Dad if he had heard anything about the new Philip Roth book. I figured, even if he didn't seem the type to read Philip Roth, he'd enjoy the revisionist history aspect of the new book. My dad, in college, was a history major and taught high school history at one point.

"You know Philip Roth, right?" I asked.

"No, what'd he write?" my dad asked.

"Umm, PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT and GOODBYE COLUMBUS, back in the '70s," I said. "He won the Pulitzer Prize for AMERICAN PASTORAL or THE HUMAN STAIN just recently. I forget which."

"PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT sounds familiar," my dad said.

I didn't tell him that PORTNOY's the only Roth I've even attempted to read. But I couldn't do that one. Too much awkwardness, psychoses and obsessive masturbation. It reminded me of real life. I didn't talk to my dad about PORTNOY.

"Anyway, this new book is weird," I said. "It takes place in the 1940s, but, in it, Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR for the presidency. It goes on from there to explain how life would've been different."

"Did Lindbergh ever run for the presidency?" my dad asked me.

"I don't think so," I said. "The book just suggests he was popular enough to have won it."

"No, I think he sought a nomination at one point," my dad said. "And I think he actually, um, was pro-Nazi in some of his speeches."

"Yeah, that's why the book has a swastika on it," I said. "It's about a Jewish family trying to live during the Lindbergh presidency."

"Well, that definitely would've changed history," my dad said.

"Oh, and apparently it's got a big, twist, shocker ending," I said about the book. "It's gotten really good reviews."

At this point, a woman sitting down the long table from us looked over at me and interrupted us.

"I'm sorry, but that book that you're talking about sounds really good," she said. "You know a lot about it."

"Oh, well, um ...," I said. "I work at a bookstore. I'm good at talking about books."

"Actually, you have me interested," she said. "I'm going to go check and see if they have it in the book section right now."

"It's called THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA," I told her. "We keep selling out of it at my store."

She thanked me, which made my dad grin at me. Either out of pride or amusement.

Then, before leaving to look for it, she stopped and asked, "Didn't Philip Roth write the RABBIT books?"

"No, that was John Updike," I told her. "He has a new book, too, and they just put his collection of short stories out in paperback."

"Oh yeah," she said to me.

Then she winked and said, "Wow, you're good."

I felt like I was in an ad. As she walked away, my dad looked at me like I was nuts.

To be honest, I had an Updike discussion with someone a couple days ago who was downright appalled that I'd never read any of his Rabbit Angstrom books. So I'd gotten an Updike refresher.

Anyway, when that lady left, I talked to my dad about the election. And he told me that Bush (whom my dad supported) shouldn't bother me so much.

My dad said our everyday life, thus far, has been affected very little by whomever happens to be in the White House. Maybe some policy changes. A tax cut or a tax break. But nothing really major.

I think he's right, in general, and I know that the institution of the presidency and the nation on the whole can survive a bad president. But I fear that someday someone will prove that not to be the case, affecting a profound change.

Like in that Philip Roth book.

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