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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Phone to Bind Them All

Paul Ryan, twirling a rubber-coated dumbbell through his fingers, leaned back in his office chair and said, "Hm."

He said the "Hm" to no one, as there was no one in his office. As the dumbbell--a twenty-pounder the color of Gargamel's dreams, the color of Ryan's eyes--shifted from one finger to another, Ryan heard himself say "Hm" and felt the need to respond to himself.

"Ugh," he answered. He dropped the dumbbell to the office floor.

The loud thunk of the weight smashing into the aged wood elicited another required response from Ryan. "Oof," he said. Again, to no one but himself.

The initial 'Hm' beginning this strange self-contained conversation had, of course, begun 77 minutes earlier, when, curious, Ryan had turned on his television--framed nicely in an Ikea shelf put together by his wife--to watch Donald Trump's impromptu press conference. He watched the President approach the podium as if he were stalking wounded prey, and for 77 minutes Ryan was transfixed.

20 minutes in, he wished he were a smoker like his predecessor.

40 minutes in, he reached for the dumbbell.

50 minutes in, Ryan was certain time had stopped entirely, and there was nothing left to do but wait for the contraction of the universe to compress him into a tight ball, then rip his atoms from his other atoms.

A minute after the press conference, all that was left was: "Hm."

Ryan was the only man left on earth. Then phone on his desk rang.

He answered. "Hm," he said.

"Mr. Speaker," his assistant responded. Ryan always found it odd that his assistant--whom he could clearly hear behind his door--never simply shouted out to him. "I have... you know. He's on the line."

"I don't know who." Ryan stared at the numbers of his phone. "Not... surely. I mean, he just left the..." Ryan gestured to the television. "It's still live. He--"

"He's on the phone."

"But he just left the--"

"I don't know, sir. We don't have a TV out here. But we do have a phone, and the President is on it. Shall I put him through."

Ryan did not say the things the President should be put through. Ryan did say this: "Hm."

Which the assistant took as an affirmation, and suddenly there was a voice bursting into Ryan's tidy ear.

"Paulie. Man. Paulie! Did you see--"

"Hm." Then: "Mr. President. What can I do--"

"Paulie, I just gave one helluva presser. That's what it's called, right? Presser. And I pressed and I pressed and didn't confer with anyone. ANYone. I just pressed. So pressed."

Ryan checked the television screen. He could see the podium, and he could see the curtain--a strange yellow embroidered curtain reminding him of his grandmother's house. To the left of the screen, the color of the curtain, was The Hair hovering above the outline of a suit.

"Sir," he said, "part of you is still on camera."

Ryan saw The Hair shift, followed by a bit of the suit. "I'm still on?"

"Yes sir. Yeah."

The Hair moved off camera, and the camera cut to Wolf Blitzer.

"You're now.... Hm." Ryan leaned down, picked up the discarded dumbbell. He began to lift it up to his face over and over, occasionally framing his face with both the receiver and the weight as if his face were between parenthesis.

"Paulie, I just did what you guys told me to do. FANTASTIC. I told them, fantastic. Told them I wasn't interested in what they had to say. What they write. They're wrong. You guys were right, you know that. I should've done that two weeks ago."

Ryan cleared his throat. "Good, Mr. President."

"Russia my ass. I'll show them Russia."

"I don't know about that." The words slipped out before Ryan could stop them. So he countered himself before Trump could respond. "Not sure Russia is the main point here. What matters is that you." Ryan searched. Found. "You put them on notice! You put them on notice, sir. Reagan called press conferences 'feeding the beast' and you slayed the beast today!"

Ryan waited but nothing came back to him. After a moment, he heard his assistant shout--finally, simply shout--from the outer office: "He hung up! Want me to call him back for you?"

"Hm," Ryan muttered to his empty office. Then, louder: "God, no."


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