The Altered Boy
Debate and Desire in the Time of Conflagration
Wednesday, October 7, 2020, 6:26pm local time
Dressing Room B, basement of Kingsbury Hall
University of Utah, Salt Lake City
Mike Pence, the incumbent Vice President of the United States of America, paces the room furtively, a few beads of sweat clinging to his temples. He’s about to appear in front of the nation, facing off against his rival in the 2020 Vice Presidential debate, Senator Kamala Harris. He is petrified.
“Just stay focused, we can do this!” he tries to convince himself, shaking two Chiclets into his mouth. “We will prevail. Our cause is righteous and the power of the Good Lord is on our side and… she’s just a woman, after all.”
Pence shuffles through a sheaf of notes, trying to recall the talking points Stephen Miller handed him earlier that day. “Marxist… abortion… pedophile… anti… ant… an-ti-fa… Whew, I don’t know how President Trump keeps all these words straight in his head. I wish I was as smart as him… but we all play the cards we were dealt, don’t we. The Lord, in his infinite wisdom, created me just as I am and placed me in this position to do his perfect bidding, to restore this great nation. And I will not let him down — God or the president!”
Pence clenches his jaw and stares resolutely forward, furrowing his brow in an effort to focus his thoughts and, he hopes, give off an air of masculine confidence. “We will prevail,” he firmly states. “We WILL prevail.”
His eyes settle on the coffee pot warming on a hotplate across the room, and for the first time he smells the tarry, acrid scent of overheated, hours-old coffee that permeates the space. The aroma assaults his nose and penetrates somewhere deep behind his small black and white eyes, clouding his vision and overwhelming his consciousness. His ears buzz and the room goes white as Mike Pence tumbles back through the years to a singular Sunday, early in 1964…
It was an especially cold winter that year in Columbus, Indiana, and not-quite-five-year-old Michael Richard Pence was standing in the gathering space of the St. Columba church basement after mass, his new blue striped mittens swaddling his tiny hands while his older brother’s hand-me-down Daniel Boone hat (Mother let him put it on after the service was done) kept slipping down his forehead, threatening to cover his little eyes. While the adults were chatting endlessly about their grown-up concerns, all young Mikey could focus on was the snack table, 12 feet away and piled with donuts. So many donuts, of every color and shape he could imagine! And if he tried, he could almost smell the maple frosting of the prized bear claw over the burnt stink of that awful coffee drink the adults couldn’t seem to get enough of. He desperately wanted to run over to the table and gorge on the donuts, filling his mouth and tummy with the sweet confections, but he knew he would have to ask Mother’s permission first, and he didn’t know how to assert himself — how to interrupt the adults when they were talking loudly amongst themselves — so he waited.
That night, after his Sunday dinner and bath, the family was gathered around the flickering black-and-white Zenith television receiver. Generally, on Sunday evenings the Pences would watch the wholesome American western Wagon Train, and young Mikey especially was enamored with the daring heroics of the early Americans traveling ever westward, fighting the savage natives and conquering the land. There was one particular episode a couple months back that had a profound impact on the boy — the guest star was Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan, and his performance as the heroic Capt. Paul Winters so resonated with the young Pence that he decided then and there that he would become a cowboy and lead his people to the promised land, just like handsome Ronald Reagan.
But tonight his older brother Greg had other plans—he had convinced their parents to switch channels halfway through Wagon Train, much to Mikey’s dismay. Greg Pence, only a few years older but vastly more worldly, insisted that the family watch something called The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Now, young Mikey didn’t much care for Ed Sullivan or his show. He didn’t like music or dancing, and the “comedians” they featured were anything but funny. In fact, the only act Mikey enjoyed was when Sullivan had the singing cowboy Jimmy Dean on to do some songs, and even then Mikey thought Dean should stick to roping cattle.
Tonight would be different, however. Greg claimed these Beatles were the best thing since sliced Wonder Bread and insisted the whole family watch their debut American performance. At first little Mike was bored and frustrated — Old Ed Sullivan was doing his usual thing, talking like he had a mouth full of chocolate milk and hunching around just like creepy Mr. Palmer down at the hardware store — they were missing Wagon Train for THIS?
But then something happened. Sullivan introduced a band from Liverpool (where the heck even was that? Somewhere in Canada?) and the screen cut to a group of four unusual fellows in matching suits and guitars who started singing and… gyrating. These Beatles were playing a music that was unlike anything young Mikey had heard before — it pulsed and throbbed and shimmied in a way that made his body bob and his head dizzy. The sounds they made and the way they moved and looked (they had long haircuts!) stirred something in Mikey Pence that exhilarated and bewildered his little head — they were so unlike the cowboys he idolized from TV and the movies. These boys looked into your eyes and smiled and sang in unison about wanting to hold your hand and suddenly that was all the little Pence wanted — was for someone to hold his hand.
The camera cut to the audience, and Mikey was shown even more startling visions — with their tight sweaters and horn-rimmed glasses and teased up hair, the young ladies in the crowd were convulsing in an even wilder manner than the Beatles themselves, screaming and bouncing and smiling like it was Christmas morning. Little Mikey thought these girls should be ashamed of the way they were carrying on! He hoped their mothers would have a good word with them when they got home. This just wasn’t the proper way to behave!
And yet… something about their unbridled enthusiasm, the pure physical joy they radiated… something about it made young Michael Richard Pence long for that kind of freedom. Though it confused him greatly, he wanted that in his own life… all of it. He wanted to be the Beatles, with their guitars and moptops and knowing smiles. He wanted to be these young ladies, shaking and screaming and crying in ecstatic release of pent up desire… for what exactly, he did not know. He just knew he wanted to live with elation and abandon and to be these Beatles and these girls… to be anyone other than musty old Ed Sullivan or the even-keeled, straight-shooting cowboys that just minutes before seemed like the greatest heroes a boy could aspire to.
Now he wanted it all.
And mostly, he wanted someone to hold his hand…
Back in Utah, Mike Pence finds himself slapping his own face, hard, once across each cheek. “Gosh darn it, THINK, Mike! THINK! If you blow this one we could lose the whole thing! You can’t let the President down! We MUST seize a second term and keep those Godless heathens out of the highest halls of power, thus securing my position in four years time to lead the Believers to the Rapture! It is His will and it shall be done! The Good Lord moves within me and guides my tongue! Thank you, Baby Jesus! Thank you, Mother!”
This time from the door.
“Delivery!” a voice exclaims from the hallway… a female voice.
“N-no, thank you,” Pence stammers. “We’re all good in here…”
“I got a delivery for a… Mike Pence. You want me to leave it out here?”
“Y-yes please,” Pence yelps. “I… I need to focus right now.”
“Suit yourself. But FYI, this edible arrangement isn’t getting any fresher.”
“Oh my, fresh fruit for me?” Pence excitedly whispers to himself. “I hope there’s banana slices!”
“Yes yes, that’s fine!” he calls out. “Just leave it out there!”
The Vice President closes his eyes and slowly names the books of the Bible out loud, both Testaments, and then does so a second time, just to make sure the delivery woman has ample time to leave the fruit basket and disappear down the hallway. “It just wouldn’t do to interact with a young lady right now,” Pence murmurs. “Not while I’m collecting my thoughts… and without a proper chaperone present… it just wouldn’t do.”
“Now… I think it’s time for some well-earned banana slices,” he chuckles to himself as he strides across the room and pulls open the door.
And there she stands in all her dark glory.
Both feminine and masculine, terrifying and alluring — Kamala Harris, the witchy woman, the embodiment of all his fears, his nemesis. Her lip curls in a disdainful smirk as her bottomless black eyes bore into him, through him, violating him from skull to groin. He feels the blood drain from his face and his throat goes dry. The Vice President wets himself.
“It’s you…” he croaks.
“Hi Mike,” Kamala says, wiping a drop of grape juice from her chin. In one swift motion she places her hand in the middle of his chest and enters the room, sending him sprawling backwards across the floor. Leering into his terrified eyes, she makes a show of locking the door and killing the lights.
And then she is above him.