Possible Outcomes

1) John Kerry wins both the popular vote and the electoral college vote by indisputably large numbers. Most people are confident that their vote actually was counted properly, and mattered. Few are disgruntled. No one is killed. There are no riots. The Republican Party smacks itself on the forehead with its palm and says “what were we thinking with that guy?” The GOP goes back to being a mild-mannered party of bowtie-wearing fiscal conservatives, myopic bankers, cautious privacy-minded types wary of hypocrisy who really could care less what you do in your bedroom. The rabid reactionary activist unilateralist treasury-robbing Roman-empire types all move to Texas, if they didn’t live there already. Texas secedes. No one minds.

2) John Kerry loses the popular vote, but wins the electoral college vote, despite all the secret creepy people’s best efforts to keep black people away from polling places, tweak the new polling machines in their favor, let dead people vote, etc. After a nightmarish month the case once again goes to the Supreme Court, which again makes a completely unjust decision, except this time, in Kerry’s favor. Everyone says, well, then, I guess we’re square, eh? Everyone is satisfied.

3) Same as the above, except the Supreme Court once again makes a completely unjust decision in Bush’s favor. People riot in the streets. People march on Washington with burning torches and pitchforks. Lots and lots of people die. Bush retires before taking office, because, fact is, he doesn’t have much stomach for all this kind of trouble, and Dick Cheney is sworn in in January. Cheney gives a very long inauguration speech in a bitter cold snowstorm only wearing a wifebeater T-shirt just to prove he’s a really macho and healthy guy, which it turns out he is, because he doesn’t immediately die of pneumonia, but rather, ironically, from a bee sting. Constitutional scholars reveal that under such circumstances, former Secretary of State Al Haig actually becomes president. Haig declares martial law. The United States invades Canada, just for fun.

4) Same as the above, except then New England, New York, and California declare that they’ve had it up to here, people, and subsequently secede from the Union. The rest of the country is like, fine, go, we never liked you anyway. According to the accord the two countries sign, the new one gets to take Interstate 80 with it, which is lifted with thousands of cranes 32 feet into the air so that it’s now a 3,000 mile long elevated highway, such that citizens of the old Republic can drive under it as they go about their business.

5) Ralph Nader, on the campaign trail, uncovers Osama Bin Laden, who all this time, it turns out, has been hiding in Cleveland. They engage in hand-to-hand combat, which is broadcast live to all major news networks. Nader kills Bin Laden, with a cry of “vengeance is mine!” But he is killed himself as well. Out of patriotic sympathy, millions of Americans vote Nader, despite the fact that the candidate is dead. None of the candidates, major or minor, living or dead, have the requisite 270 electoral college votes. The election is therefore thrown into the house, as stipulated by the Constitution. The lame-duck house gets together, smokes a bowl, and decides—throwing a weird bone to nonpartisanship—to elect redneck comedian Jeff Foxworthy President. President Foxworthy survives an impeachment, a coup, and an assassination attempt. Hillary Clinton narrowly defeats Foxworthy in 2008.

6) George W. Bush wins the popular vote and the electoral college vote. Both wins are fair and square. No votes are in dispute. Everyone got their chance. No one got killed, no one got arrested, there were no protests, there’s nothing that can be sued for. Democrats, liberals, people who pay attention to the news, and any reasonable human being are all a bit flabbergasted, to be perfectly honest, but instead of moving to Canada en masse—as they’ve all been threatening at various cocktail parties for some time now—millions of people all get together, and using the web as an organizing tool, decide to voluntarily redistribute themselves to all the thousands of voting precincts across the country in order to level the playing field, like a kind of gigantic collective act of political miscegenation, since with Bush as president for at least four more years—possibly more, you never know with these creeps—there’s no way in hell the Electoral College is ever going to be abolished any time soon, so in order for the vote of a Californian to no longer count as one-fourth that of a vote of a resident of Wyoming, the Los Angelian, well, simply has to move to Cheyenne. San Francisco real estate prices plummet. Billings real estate prices skyrocket. Nashua, New Hampshire becomes the new home of the Broadway theater. All New York City cop shows are now shot in Bennington, Vermont. Fargo, North Dakota becomes the art capital of the world. The island of Manhattan, for the first time in hundreds of years, is farm country. Real Manhattan-grown arugula turns out to be absolutely delicious.

“Faster, Ginger Snap! Roll! Roll!”

At the end of the first lap of the third heat of the Gotham Girls Roller Derby roller rumble, an afternoon of punked-out and padded-up young women racing on roller skates on a long, nasty stretch of parking lot under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Williamsburg, things start to go a little haywire, as Rippin Kittin, one of the fastest girls in the league, #8 in the aqua, starts to pull way ahead of the pack, and Lil’ Red Terror, #19 in the yellow, makes a snap decision that Kittin’s going down. As the pack loops around the first of the three pylons holding up the highway that designate the track, Lil’ Red veers off course, skates under the chest-high plastic tape loosely strung between the pylons, and heads straight for her rival, helmet-clad head down and elbow pads at the ready for a solid clotheslining. Other girls, including Ginger Snap, #80 in the tan, follow suit, and by the third lap, although it’s clear that Kittin is the winner, it’s not clear at all if anyone else has even bothered crossing the finish line. The ref, a young man in the traditional black-and-white striped shirt of his role, grabs ahold of Ginger, and they grapple, he spanking her repeatedly, her arms wailing the air, until they tumble to the ground at the finish line, smiling and red-faced and swinging. In the meantime, on the other side of the pylon at the start line, the rest of the girls–not just from this heat, but from the first and second as well–all dive-bomb into a pigpile on the pavement, skirts and water bottles flying in the air, in a flurry of ripped fishnet stockings, sleeve tattoos, bleached and blue-tipped hair, kneepads, roller skates, sequins, safety pins, plaid minis, acid-washed minis, wife-beater T-shirts, under-eye black paint, and belts made of bullet shells. The crowd goes bonkers.

* * *

At the end of the day, as the crowd is breaking up and heading over to the afterparty at the nearby Union Pool bar, Lefty Leibowitz is describing how this league began. Lefty is not just the Gotham Girls Roller Derby’s announcer, he’s also, with Chassis Crass, #11 in the white, the co-organizer of this league. He explains that they came up with the idea separately a little over a year ago–both of them having heard about the other revival leagues springing up all over the country–and connected with each other over Craig’s List, the popular networking Web site. Lefty sports a brown suit, gray spats, dark cop shades, and buzz-cut short hair. He calls each race for the crowd–and rallies them to “sponsor” the girls at the betting table–over a bullhorn like an auctioneer on speed. “Our very own Vince McMahon,” one racer affectionately calls him, making comparison to the legendary impresario of the World Wrestling Federation. What did Lefty think was happening in that third heat?

“They’re just bad girls, you know?” he says. “They just like to raise hell.” When you’re in a race, and you start to fall behind, “you start to maybe get a little bit angry, especially if your arch-rival’s out there with you, sometimes maybe you’re looking to cut the corners a little bit, and these girls are no strangers to cutting the corners and breaking the rules. I mean, that’s what they’re all about, they’re out here to raise hell, and cause all kinds of trouble. The result that we see is total, utter chaos and brutality. There are definitely some feuds.”

Kind of like in the WWF? “Well, I wouldn’t say that,” he demurs. “Obviously, there’s an element of entertainment to this. That’s part of it.” The state that roller derby in the United States had devolved to by the seventies was–not unlike the professional wrestling of organizations like the WWF–staged, fake, and “not entirely legitimate.” But the young women who originally started the first revival league, in Austin, Texas, he says, who were “kind of punk rock girls,” didn’t know that. “They thought it was all totally straight-up,” he says. “So they did it for real. It was like a real competition. and that’s been the benchmark of all the new leagues that are popping up.” And although today is just a race, when the Gotham Girls have their first real roller derby game–as opposed to just a rumble–in November, it will be completely by the rules: no scripts, no storylines, “just hard-fought action.” Sure, there’ll be fights, he says. But it’s all real. It’s crazy–but it’s not fake.

And the individual rivalries will be “boiling over” in the team play, he says. “I’m a little bit scared to be there, because I know all these girls, I’m friends with these girls, I don’t want to see them get hurt.” There will be medics on hand, Lefty says, just in case. “I hope that no one’s seriously hurt,” he says, although he’s heard rumors of planned takedowns. “I hope that no one is gonna be taken out of the sport of roller derby. But this is always a risk when you get out there, on the floor, and you’re playing to win.”

* * *

Earlier in the afternoon, Ginger Snap is in the middle of describing the breakdown of who, exactly, is here to see the rumble–from the older folks who remember the original roller derby, to the college-age kids in love with the kitsch of it–when a tall young man with stringy hair and a scraggly goatee wheels up on inline skates. “Great idea!” he says. “What’s your agenda?”

“Our agenda?” says Ginger, skeptically, but with a smile. “Is to play roller derby.”

The young man, who introduces himself as Zen, doesn’t know what that is, so Ginger explains how the game works. Zen asks if it’s a new sport; Ginger explains that it’s been around since the thirties, “but the all-girl version started in Texas about three, four years ago, and now there are teams everywhere from Seattle to the Cayman Islands to North Carolina. Chicago just got one; Arizona has Phoenix and Tucson, and they play each other; LA has a huge group…”

“And you push each other?” asks Zen. “Kick each other, knock each other down?”

“Yep,” says Ginger.

“Right on,” says Zen. “Cool. Because I want to develop a new sport. With rollerblades. Maybe it’s not for girls, maybe it’s a guy’s version of roller derby–with paintball guns.” The participants would skate around a track, he says, and “maybe, like, shoot people, and maybe there’s ramps and stuff.” But he figures the guys in his brand-new sport could use some experienced derby girls as instructors.

“So why do you think this is only a guy thing?” asks Ginger.

Zen says, well, sure, he’d love to have female players in his paintball game.

“I’m sure that there would definitely be girls interested,” she says. Ginger excuses herself; she has to go warm up for the heat she’s racing in, the third and penultimate one of the day before the final championship. “This is my husband,” she says, introducing the man in the black-and-white striped shirt. “He’s the referee. Don’t tell anyone.” And she rolls off to get ready for her race.

More Cortázar

[…] On the other hand, there are very beautiful things: I was in Barcelona a month ago, walking around the Gothic Quarter one evening; and there was an American girl, very pretty, playing the guitar very well and singing. She was seated on the ground singing to earn her living. She sang a bit like Joan Baez, a very pure, clear voice. There was a group of young people from Barcelona listening. I stopped to listen to her, but I stayed in the shadows. At one point, one of these young men who was about twenty, very young, very handsome, approached me. He had a cake in his hand. He said, ‘Julio, take a piece.’ So I took a piece and I ate it, and I told him, ‘Thanks a lot for coming up and giving that to me.’ He said to me, ‘But, listen, I give you so little next to what you’ve given me.’ I said, ‘Don’t say that, don’t say that,’ and we embraced and he went away. Well, things like that, that’s the best recompense for my work as a writer. That a boy or a girl comes up to speak to you and to offer you a piece of cake, it’s wonderful. It’s worth the trouble of having written.

—Julio Cortázar, from an interview with Jason Weiss in The Paris Review, from Latin American Writers at Work, George Plimpton, ed.

Andover Alumni for Truth

I went to Andover. Or Phillips Academy, as you call it when you’re there. And the entire time I was there I never—not once—saw George W. Bush.

“But Hop,” you say, “Bush was at Andover a good thirty years or so before you were.” To which I reply, “Where exactly are you getting these numbers?” Touché, my friend. Touché.

Since I did go to Andover, and I know that fact for certain, and am therefore what you might call an expert on Andoverness, I feel compelled now to inform the American people that I have serious doubts about what Bush says he did when he was there. It just doesn’t jive. It doesn’t ring true. Common sense itself calls his account into question—any reasonable person can see that—but when it comes to the knowledge and experience of an expert like myself, what he says just goes right out the window and into the spitoon.

Oh sure, you can point to other people who say “I was there too.” But who are these people? His so-called “friends” and “former fellow students” and “teachers”? I’ve never met them. Have you? Then how can you know you can trust them? Frankly, I can’t even think of a single name of one of these people off the top of my head. And if I even could, I can bet you it would be a name like “Chaps” or “Binky” or “Quahog” or “Roosevelt,” if they’re a girl, or “Buffy,” if they’re a guy. Yes, since they went to Andover too that means that not only are they weird, un-American, and kind of ambiguously gendered, they’re probably filthy rich, lazy sods who haven’t worked a day in their lives for that old meat-plantation-railroad-explosives money, and might even be some of those awful, self-loathing New England liberal types, you know the kind, oh, tax me, tax me. Gross, right? I reiterate: if they even exist.

This is why I find it my moral calling today to start the Andover Alumni for Truth.

Because if not me, who? If not now, when? If not on tomhop.com, where?

If Bush wasn’t actually a drunk cheerleader, as he says he was, but was actually an academically successful and morally upright football player as well as head of the model United Nations—which is the Andover I know, having been to Andover—then who will call his account into question? If he wasn’t actually just a snotnosed playboy, shooting craps and doing the hokey-pokey in the bird sanctuary, which is what he and his campaign and these so-called “classmates” all claim he was doing, but was actually a math prodigy and a concert pianist fluent in conversational Chinese—which is the Andover I know, having been to Andover—then who can ever know anything for sure?

And what if Bush in fact, like Jay Leno, went to Andover High?

And how can we ever know for sure that he didn’t?

Cortázar

[…] I have never described this to you before, not so much, I don’t think, from lack of truthfulness as that, just naturally, one is not going to explain to people at large that from time to time one vomits up a small rabbit. Always I have managed to be alone when it happens, guarding the fact much as we guard so many of our privy acts, evidences of our physical selves which happen to us in total privacy. Don’t reproach me for it, Andrea, don’t blame me. Once in a while it happens that I vomit up a bunny. It’s no reason not to live in whatever house, it’s no reason for one to blush and isolate oneself and to walk around keeping one’s mouth shut.

—Julio Cortázar, from “Letter to a Young Lady in Paris,” from Blow-Up and Other Stories.