El Presidente: a satire of true facts

He moved in his dark German car west past the tomb of Napoleon as police waved traffic in both directions, up and down the banks of the Seine. As he sped over the streets that looped around the entrance of the grand military building, the ancient canons, the fortress walls, he gave his usual salute. A young man across the street on a bike in a camouflage jacket stared at him through the windshield of the car. Geraldo de la Grosso y Gasset looked away from the young man's face and at his own hands on the steering wheel. Who the hell was that? How did he know that kid?

Two minutes later he was parking under avenue Bosquet, still trying to place the face but also trying to shake it off, out of his head. He looked around as he came up out of the garage onto the sidewalk. No one he recognized. But everything else was there: low gray clouds like a ceiling as far as he could see, damp air off the river soaking into his lungs, the top thirty feet of the outdated oversized radio tower watching him from over the rooftops. He stared back at the mesh-metal giant and clenched his jaw. It watched him move into a side street. He walked backwards, as if through a pair of saloon doors. Then he laughed and looked straight ahead, stretched his arm out fast in front of him, his expensive suit sleeve jumping back to expose the heavy watch on his wrist.

It was Saturday morning and the Filipino man behind the desk smiled.

"No rest for the wicked, Eddy," said Geraldo de la Grosso y Gassett in accented English, waving a finger, his heavy shoes clapping on the tile floor as he moved through the lobby and past the desk.

"No sir," Eddy may have said, the man in the suit not exactly listening as he went round a row of open wooden office mailboxes into the elevator, smiling as he always was at that point in his morning commute-- tiny Eddy, the mailboxes and the elevator being the best features as far as he was concerned of the rented university building where he ostensibly carried out the obligations of his position each day. The flesh of his face tightened into a grin as the silly paneled elevator struggled up the mere four flights to his office. The thing never failed to cheer him, the comic creakiness of it, the panels and mirrors. He was sharing a private joke with his reflection, having a good laugh at each floor the thing managed to grumble beyond. Ha! This contraption, this fucked-up Jules Verne-style “rising box” was the perfect opening detail in the portrait of shabby gentility presented by the university that he loved precisely for the cover it provided him. It was his urban cosmopolitan version of tan-speckled fatigues for the world of desert battles likely to continue for the next coming hundred years.

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22 October 2005