“What? Do you want him to carry an abacus around with him all day long?” said a visibly annoyed Steven Schwartz, the beefy dirty-tricks operative now running the McCain campaign. “Jeez Louise, he’s a war hero; what does it matter he has a hard time with numbers?”
Despite this pubic bravado, the McCain campaign is privately worried about the state of their candidate’s rapidly calcifying brain. Noreen Funk, an aide whose principal job is to fluff McCain’s residual hair before campaign appearances, told the Deep End that it’s not just numbers that McCain has trouble with.
“He reminds me of my uncle Ernie,” fluffer Funk said over coffee during a stop in Salt Lake City to firm up the vetting process on potential Veep candidate Willard “Mitt” Romney. “Half the time, he doesn’t even know what city he’s in. Plus the fact that he can’t remember my name and calls me ‘Snookins,’ which is what he calls all the girls on the campaign bus.”
Ms. Funk directed us to a secret McCain Website, where we found a transcript of a session, dated Aug. 22, 2008, in which staff members attempted to bring Mr. McCain up to speed on numbers he might have to come up with during campaign stops:
Staff: OK, let’s start with some basic stuff. How many times have you been married?
The Candidate: Huh? You can’t ask me that! I was a prisoner of war, and if I wanted to dump my first wife and marry a beer heiress, then that’s my business, you imbecile!
Staff: We’re here to help you, so there’s no need to inflict your famous temper on us.
The Candidate: “We’re just here to help you.” That’s what my prison guards said to me in the Hanoi Hilton, and don’t you ever forget that I was a prisoner of war, so you can never criticize me for anything, including the fact that I regularly fly off the handle.
Staff: The correct answer is “two.” OK, how about children? Do you remember how many kids you have?
The Candidate: Are you trying to trip me up? Bush and his goons tried that trick in the South Carolina primary back in 2000 and accused me of having a colored love child. Anyway, my wife—the second one, I think—but I’ll have my staff get back to you on that …
Staff: We are your staff, sir.
The Candidate: Well, why are you trying to trick me, then? Are you trying to confuse me? There are kids from my first marriage, as I recall, and some from my second, and some adopted ones thrown in, so I can’t be expected to keep them all straight, especially since I was a prisoner of war …
Staff: The prisoner-of-war thing may work with the regular media, but we’re getting tired of it here on the Straight Talk Express. The correct answer is “seven.”
The Candidate: Seven what?
Staff: Seven kids. Try to memorize their names.
The Candidate: Look, my friends, I can’t even remember the names of the Seven Dwarves. I always forget what’s-his-name, Snoopy or something.
Staff: OK. Every morning when Noreen fluffs your hair, she’ll write their names with a Bic pen on the palm of your hand.
The Candidate: Is this another of your tricks? Which hand?
Staff: We’ll have Noreen write their names on both hands. That way it won’t be so obvious you’re reading off your hands. It will be like a teleprompter.
The Candidate: Who’s Noreen? Is she my wife?
Staff: She’s your hair fluffer.
The Candidate: Oh, you mean Snookins. Why didn’t you say so? Is this another one of your tricks?
Staff: Here’s a helpful hint: If you can’t come up with the right number, say seven. Most things come in sevens, like the Seven Dwarves, the Seven Deadly Sins, The Magnificent Seven, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People—
The Candidate: OK. I get it. Like the Seven Commandments and the Seven Blind Mice.
The Staff: This is hopeless. We give up. Here’s what you do: when someone asks a question about numbers, just say you were a prisoner of war.
The Candidate: Got it. Which war was it, again?
D.P. Sorensen writes satire for City Weekly.