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Coffee with Mr President

Coffee with Mr President

A Story by Michael C.S. Clifford
"

If you bumped into the President of the United States on a street, what would you say to him?

"

COFFEE WITH MR.PRESIDENT

 

 

If you suddenly bumped into the US president,

what would you say to him?

 

 

A SURPRISE ENCOUNTER always happens in an unexpected place: a shop, a library, a station or even a restroom. It happened to me on a backstreet. Okay, not a narrow, dark, dangerous back street but more the kind of thoroughfare where nobody goes because it doesn’t lead anywhere. But possibly it led from somewhere on that day.

At first he walked past me, and I didn’t give him a second thought because of his dark glasses. But a couple of seconds later something clicked in my brain - it must have been his protruding ears - and I realized I knew the man from somewhere. I didn’t need a second to recall when and where; especially as, passing an electrical shop, I could see a picture of him on all the televisions in the window. ‘The US President arrived this morning,’ proclaimed the announcer in my own language, ‘to discuss economic issues with the government.’

I had heard that already, and that the President was staying in the most luxurious hotel in the city. So what was he doing here, in one of the most run-down areas of the same city? I should have carried on, and continued to mind my own business. But how would you react if the President of the United States walked past you on the street? I turned and walked quickly after him, and caught up with him when he stopped at a corner.

I used the chance when he looked quickly in my direction. ‘Are you who I think you are?’ I asked, unknowingly using the sentence which Heike Makatsch, in “Love Actually”, gasped  when the she found the British Prime Minister standing on her doorstep.

The visitor looked away, and then back at me. ‘And who do you think I am?’

‘You’re the President of the United States.’

The medium-sized, middle-aged man uttered a word which he never would say in front of the cameras. And then continued: ‘Who are you then? Secret service, police, journalist?‘ I had spent two semesters at Pennsylvania State University, so not only was my English passable, but I also spoke with a US accent. No wonder he thought I some busybody fellow American.  

'I’m just an ordinary citizen here', I answered. 'Are you lost, shall I call someone?’ From the way he was dressed, in jeans and a simple blue-checked shirt, it should have been clear to me that he hadn’t just got detached from his entourage.

‘No, I’m not lost, buddy, I just want to look around this city of yours.’ He pulled out a black baseball cap and placed it on his head, as if hoping to avoid anyone else recognizing him. 

He crossed the street and I hurried alongside him, narrowly missing being hit by a streetcar. 

    ‘Can’t I ask you to go away and leave me alone? And not to tell anyone that you saw me?’

 ‘Oh I’m sorry,’ I answered, a bit hurt. To tell the truth, more than a little bit hurt. ‘I just thought . . .  Well, that maybe I could show you around.’

The president stopped on the sidewalk and waited until I was off the street. He looked at me  over the top of his glasses. ‘Maybe that’s not a bad idea, I’m sorry if I was rude . . .  I could use a drink. Is there anywhere round here I could get a coffee? I’ve been traveling all night, and I’m feeling it.’

    ‘Let’s go in here.’

We were standing outside a small café, which I knew would be empty at this time of day. I told my unusual companion to sit in a corner while I went to the counter. ‘Just get me a black coffee,’ he said. The elderly, unworldly woman behind the counter, who wouldn’t know whether we were speaking English or Danish, or even some dialect of Mongolian, just nodded and poured the two coffees. Sitting down at the table with the President again, I said: ‘I think I'm dreaming, drinking coffee with the most powerful man in the world.’

He raised his cup to his lips. ‘You think I’m “the most powerful man in the world”? Where did you hear that?’

I was taken aback. ‘Everybody says that.’

‘Perhaps everybody else says it, but I don’t.’ He took a quick gulp of his coffee, and that seemed to invigorate him. ‘Listen, I don’t, I CAN’T decide anything for myself. I didn't even decide to come here . . . wherever I am.’

‘You don’t know where you are?’ I asked incredulously.

‘Before I go on trips they tell me where I’m going to but I forgot the details. It’s only if I’m going to somewhere important, like London or Paris, that I remember. Okay, on the flight here they told me a few things about this place, and what I should pretend to be interested in. But I don’t want to see old palaces, or churches. What is there really to see here?’

‘Well, this part of the city, where we are now, is the most interesting at night. You can hang out, have a beer or two, and maybe pick up a chic.’

‘Sounds great,’ he laughed. ‘But being President means that I’m always surrounded by other people who decide my life for me; it’s like being in jail. No way could I get out one night and have a bit of fun in a place like this.’

    ‘But there are other things. I mean, you have your political power.’

    ‘What is “political power”? Before I can do anything I have to talk to other people and persuade them. And other people talk to me and try to persuade me not to do it. It’s no easy job, and I can forget the policies and reforms I personally want. Not to mention the companies and lobbyists I have to keep happy. The mayor of any city has an easier job, and more power, than I have.’ As he spoke, I noticed how old and wrinkled he looked in real life, much different from the dynamic figure he presented - or some make-up artist presented - on TV.  I could imagine him sitting at a baseball game eating a hamburger and swigging beer, just like an ordinary Joe, and he wouldn’t have stood out.

 

    ‘But Mr. President, I hear that you have a special button on your desk in the White House. If you press that button, you’ll destroy the world.’

‘You mean the so-called “wipe button”? If I were to press that button just because I had a bad day, do you know how many people would suddenly call me, come rushing into my office? No, I could press that button as many times as I like, no rockets would be launched, the world would not be destroyed.’ Then he pushed his face closer to me and whispered: ‘Do you know how many countries now have atomic weapons? How many have a nuclear arsenal large enough to destroy the world? And in how many of those countries there aren’t as many checks and balances on the leader as we have? You don’t know who the most powerful man in the world is when it comes to destroying this planet and, quite frankly, neither do I.’

    I couldn’t answer. He continued: ‘You know, you’re not a bad guy. I don’t even know your name, but I like talking to you. Could I ask you to keep this meeting to yourself? I mean, afterwards not go to the tabloids and report it?’

    ‘No problem, I’ll do that for you.’ No newspaper - tabloid or broadsheet - would have believed me anyway.

    ‘Great. I’m only doing this job for four years, or eight years if they put enough pressure on me, and then afterwards I’ll be forgotten. Can you say who was president twenty or thirty years ago, or know what they looked like?’

    ‘If you give me a few moments to think . . .’

    ‘That’s what I thought. Presidents are forgotten, unless they do something special or, like JFK, are assassinated. So when I’m a nobody again I’ll come back here and then you can show me this town of ours, and we’ll go out for a few beers together, and pick up a chic.’

    At that moment the proprietor of the café switched on her television and our voices were drowned out. ‘Here it is landing,‘ boomed the announcer, ‘Air Force One, the official airplane of the President of the United States, landing here at our airport.’

    ‘That must have been earlier this morning,’ I wondered aloud.

‘Sure was,’ confirmed the man opposite me.

‘And now we switch to the city center, where the president is about to give a speech,’ continued the same announcer. I saw the by now all-too-familiar face ascend a podium and wave. He looked so happy and cheerful, so different from the mood of the man sitting at that table with me. The crowds watching him cheered loudly.

    ‘This is such an honor for me to be here in your country,’ the president began. ‘In a city which is so full of history, and which has given so much to the world.’

‘Why did you say -‘

I broke off in mid-sentence; I had suddenly noticed something on the TV screen. Behind the podium was a famous clock on the tower of our City Hall; the hands of the clock showed a quarter to twelve. Exactly the time now. Also, in the corner of the television screen were the words: ‘Live Broadcast.’

‘What’s going on here?’ I demanded. ‘You’re not the President. He’s in the city center right now.’

    The man opposite looked like the President, sure enough, and his accent was flawless. He shrugged. ‘What should I say to you buddy? After Ronald Reagan was shot back in 1981, the Secret Service decided to find doubles for the President. Men who looked exactly like him, and were paid so much they would be prepared to risk their lives, to risk being shot or blown up by a crazy. Now you know what’s going on here. But I’ll tell you: there are two problems with this way of protecting protect the President. One is, that these doubles very quickly get nervous in their jobs, and want to get back to normal life. They very quickly want to go out and drink a few beers, maybe, or start to pull chics again. ’

‘I see . . .' I didn't try to hide the disappointment in my voice. 'You’re only a damm -‘

At that moment the whole café, and the whole street outside, shook. The proprietor screamed something about an explosion and dived down behind her counter. ‘That was somewhere in the center of town,’ I shouted.

The television screen went blank. The announcer babbled something about an interruption in transmission; then, some seconds later, there was another announcer, pale-faced, sitting in a studio. ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he began, pale-faced. ‘We have just received word that the President of the United States has been assassinated, here in our city. We’ll bring you more details as soon as . . . ‘

The man opposite had pulled out a cell phone and was shouting into it: ‘What happened? Do you need me? Right, I’m at - ‘ He flicked a finger in my direction.

I told him the name of the café and the street we were on.

‘Right send a car, and we’ll see what we can do. I’ll do all I can to sort it out.’ He flipped his cell phone closed and turned back to me. ‘As I was about to say, there are two problems if you have to recruit normal Kansas farm boys to be your doubles. The second of these problems is that, if one of them does get killed, you have to account to the country, to the world, why you let an innocent Joe die just to save you. I’m the President, so I just can’t say it was somebody else’s decision. As Harry Truman always said, “The buck stops here.” Either way, I’m finished. When this all comes out, I’ll be hounded. Just like Nixon and Watergate, the people will never forget me for this.’

    ‘What do you mean, “either way”?’

    ‘Because there is an alternative, buddy. That is, let the world believe that I really am dead. I won’t be criticized, but I won’t be forgotten either. Like with JFK, people will always remember me AND my face. I won’t be able to walk down a street in the world without people pointing a finger at me and saying: “He looks like the dead President.” Just like those doubles of Elvis Presley who can’t be left alone.’

    ‘So it seems you’ll never be able to come back here and pick up a chic with me.’

    ‘That’s the story, my friend.’ At that moment a big black car pulled up outside. A huge,

muscular man in a dark suit jumped out. ‘Whatever happens, it’s back to the jail for me, 

whatever jail it now is. See you around, citizen . . . ‘ 

 

© Michael C.S. Clifford  2011                                   

www.ten-minute-stories.com

 

© 2011 Michael C.S. Clifford


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The first sentence sucked me in and I read it all the way through- I think it's a fascinating story. From an American's perspective, one would think I would be 'enraged' to hear about such a thing happening and what the president really thought. Honestly, I can see it; I would hate to go to all these places I don't really want to go to and to honor these buildings and site I really could care less about. The part about the doubles is very well done and very well thought out. Perhaps you should work for our Secret Service. They could certainly use the help.

I give it a 99/100. My only issue is that some of the line spacing was a bit jagged, but that's just a decorative issue. I'm a bit OCD, so forgive me.

Posted 8 Years Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

That was a good story, unusual, engaging and well written. Thanks I enjoyed it very much.

Posted 8 Years Ago


The first sentence sucked me in and I read it all the way through- I think it's a fascinating story. From an American's perspective, one would think I would be 'enraged' to hear about such a thing happening and what the president really thought. Honestly, I can see it; I would hate to go to all these places I don't really want to go to and to honor these buildings and site I really could care less about. The part about the doubles is very well done and very well thought out. Perhaps you should work for our Secret Service. They could certainly use the help.

I give it a 99/100. My only issue is that some of the line spacing was a bit jagged, but that's just a decorative issue. I'm a bit OCD, so forgive me.

Posted 8 Years Ago


2 of 2 people found this review constructive.


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Added on January 30, 2011
Last Updated on January 30, 2011

Author

Michael C.S. Clifford
Michael C.S. Clifford

London, Hampstead, United Kingdom



About
Who am I, and why does the world think I've got anything interesting to say? Well, I am a graduate in Psychology, History and Law, and have been working for 20-odd years as a teacher and psychological.. more..

Writing