Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Spirited away

Something I ate on Christmas Eve must not have agreed with me. My stomach was terribly upset. I could hardly sleep all night. Of course, those ghosts that kept showing up didn’t help any either.

I didn’t really mind the first ghost too much. All she did was bring me back to my childhood, which was pleasant enough. The second one brought me down the road to see the neighbors, the ones with all those children, including the one with the crutch. Frankly, those people are major whiners and whingers, but even that wasn’t so bad. But the third one brought me to the future and, man, was that a trip.

Things turned out to be way worse than I expected. It was the year 2039, and political campaigning was hot and heavy in preparation for the coming presidential election. One candidate was Jenna Bush-Hager, who had secured the Republican nomination by virtue of coming out ahead in the exit polls of the Iowa caucuses back in 2037. Her Democratic opponent was Chelsea Clinton. Both had been certified as candidates by the International Committee on American Bankruptcy and Receivership, co-chaired by Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan and Meng Xianyun. Both Clinton and Bush-Hager were claiming to be the candidate of change, who would turn the country around after the failed one-term presidency of Michelle Obama. Ms. Clinton, on a campaign swing through the southwestern states of Arizona and Sonora, was promising to finally bring the troops home from Iraq, Iran and Syria. Ms. Bush, meanwhile, was in the Pacific Northwest, attending rallies in the states of Washington and British Columbia, promising to improve relations with the Quebecoise Republic. Her riposte to Ms. Clinton’s foreign policy promises was to pledge to, once and for all, get Osama bin Laden. And, like all Republican candidates, she swore she would stop once and for all the flow of illegal aliens swarming over the U.S.-Brazil border. Controversially, she had made a stop-over in the Idaho-Montana Christian Republic and had appeared in public with Prime Minister Huckabee. Meanwhile, President Obama was staying above the fray, having gone off on an official trip abroad, attending the funeral of Fidel Castro in Havana, where she was expected to rub shoulders with such venerable (some would say decrepit) world figures as Emperor Vladimir I of the Russian Empire and President Bertie Ahern of the Republic of Europe.

To cut to the chase, the political situation in the U.S. was a mess. It would soon be 60 years since there had been a national ticket that did not include the name Bush, Clinton or Obama. The general population was restless and frustrated. From the Port of Pasadena to the newly renovated sea harbor of Philadelphia, the voters were just plain mad. The candidates could feel the seething rage underneath the surface, as they made the obligatory whistle stops at such waterfront ports of call along the Mississippi Sound as Topeka, Kansas and Columbia, Missouri. The reason was obvious. In its 33rd year, the writers strike was starting to take its toll. Never mind that there had not been a new feature film in nearly three decades but, without late-night comedians to put things into perspective, people simply did not have a basis for judging which politicians were beyond the pale and which ones were way beyond the pale. For example, when Jena Bush-Hager referred to Hermosillo as “the nicest city in the whole state of Sinaloa,” people in the northeastern U.S. didn’t know how major a gaffe this was or, more importantly, how funny it was. With no successors to Leno or Letterman or Stewart on the airwaves, there was no reliable political comedy barometer.

What was really sad was seeing the crumbling old cinemas, decaying from disuse. It wasn’t clear how much of this had to do with the writers strike or the state of technology. Naturally, every house in the country had a 14-foot-by-8-foot plasma screen on one wall or another. But, other than reality shows and news broadcasts, there was nothing to watch but movies that were at least 30 years old. Well, unless you counted the series of shot-by-shot remakes that Gus Van Sant had been turning out for years. (His version of Gone With the Wind, starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, was actually quite popular.) Other directors tried working from old scripts, but many left the business completely, out of frustration. Brian De Palma took the interesting approach of continually remaking his own movies. Steven Soderbergh turned out some innovative films in which the actors improvised everything from beginning to end, but no one would pay to see them. For a while, people were mainly watching live sports. But, by the time that the minimum body weight for athletes—even in golf—topped 500 pounds, well, people just lost interest. After that, sports fans devoted themselves exclusively to fantasy sports leagues. To hell with real-life athletes. People preferred to have their athletes incredibly gifted and aesthetically and attractively proportioned—if it they weren’t, strictly speaking, real. Mostly, people were using their wall screens to view amateur videos piped in by satellite by the Murdoch family-owned YouTube International. Things had gotten so bad that they didn’t even mind paying $450 per download, just to watch some guy in his underwear ranting about how people should stop making fun of Britney Spears’s last five facelifts and how badly her latest comeback attempt failed when she sang a duet with her great-granddaughter. The other main programming for home viewers, of course, was the panoply of weather channels. People would religiously check several times a day, in case any of the day’s hurricanes would venture into their local region.

How did things ever get to be in such a state? Where did it all go wrong? I looked imploringly at the grim specter who had shown me all this. Was this the future that would definitely be—or was it the future that would come about if no action was taken? I beseeched the ghostly figure for an answer. But it did not speak. Still, I knew what I needed to do. Starting on Christmas Day, I would stop driving my car. I would no longer go on holidays to places that required a journey by air. I would get a handle on my carbon emissions. Even more importantly, I would start going to more movies. But not just any movies. I would only go to quality movies, that deserved my support. I would avoid teen comedies and anything staring David Spade or Martin Lawrence. And never again would I cross a picket line, no matter what the issues involved are. And never again would I never, ever watch any reality TV program. And I would make a resolution to really, really pay attention to the positions of all the presidential candidates and not just pick one to vote for because he reminds me of myself. Most importantly, I would not sit down to write anything after having had several stiff drinks. I would do all these things, just as long as I got another chance. Please!

Then I woke with a start. It had all been a dream. None of it had been real. Or had it? It didn’t matter. I immediately jumped out of bed and ran outside in my pajamas and sprinted down the road, yelling “Merry Christmas” to anyone I met and reminding them to separate their recyclables and to go out and see Atonement. Before long, I was exhausted. I dragged myself back into the house. “Hey,” somebody said, “you won’t believe what just happened on Celebrity Big Brother!” I plopped down into a chair and went into a catatonic state. “Somebody, turn up the heat,” I mumbled. “It’s kind of cold in here.”

-S.L., 27 December 2007

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