The Belly of the Beast: An Inexplicable Adventure -- by Ian Murphy

I didn’t know where I was. It was dark, cavernous, wet. There was a choking fug like you wouldn’t believe, and a roaring sound, like wind. Though I was firmly planted on the floor of whereever the hell I was, I felt like I was flying. At points, the sheer pressure on my skull was too much to bear. If you have ever been there you know what I’m talking about by now. That’s right; I was in the belly of a whale. Of course I had little idea at the time.

Last thing I remember, I was programming my TIVO to record Katie Couric and Matt Lauer’s Today Show take on Bob Woodruff’s shrapnel-filled head. It would be days before I heard about Woodruff’s brain swelling, or Michelle Kwan’s quest for Olympic gold, because, as you know, I was in the belly of a whale. But I didn’t, not just yet. I didn’t know if it was day or night. I didn’t know what day it was. Could I be dead? I heard a faint cough. I was not alone.

I struggled to get my feet under me, the floor felt like a slick dense sponge. Fiddling in my pockets for my lighter, I felt wetness. I repeatedly stuck the flint with the serrated wheel to no avail, each time drawing the attention of my surly companion. “Aghhhhhhhhh! What?! What is it, who is it?! Talk to me-me-me-me!” He echoed. The desperation in his voice was palpable, as thick as the stank fog surrounding us. “Uh hello-o-o-o?” I offered back. By now I was terrified, certain I was dead. “ there, hello? What the fuck is going on-on-on-on?” Nothing. Silence. The sullen robotic lisp began again at a whisper. Repeating something I couldn’t quite make out over the din. “Speak up-up-up!” Nothing. Silence.

I was still fighting to keep my balance when I felt hot breath drying the back of my neck. I flailed around and fell on my ass, as the faint whisper was shouted at full human volume “LOCK BOX-OX-OX-OX! LOCK BOX-OX-OX-OX!” My body was shaking and my eyes strained to see in the pitch. Just when I thought my heart would explode, the man quieted his shouts to a mumble and lit a match below his bearded face. “Holy motherfucking shit-it-it-it! Y-you’re Al fucking Gore-ore-ore-ore!”

“LOCK BOX-OX-OX-OX!” he roared again. I slowly stood. “What the fuck are you doing here, dude? What the fuck am I doing here? Where the fuck are we-we-we-we?!”

Gore got right in my face. I could smell the filth in his beard, and on his breath. “We’re in a motherfucking whale, dude.”

My mind was reeling. My brain felt as if it had been removed and placed on a rocking chair and instructed to whittle a silver spoon from a wooden fork. The match went out, I sat down, I couldn’t take it, I didn’t believe it. We sat there quietly and listened to each other breath. Gore was close. How close? Hard to say. Uncomfortable silence is the same all over, even inside of a whale. “So-so-so-so…you going to run in oh eight -eight-eight-eight?”

“What do you think I’m doing here-here-here-here! I’m getting strong; honing my social security charts, aligning my chakras, I’m getting strong. Gore strong-ong-ong-ong!”

Brain, spoon, fork.

I decided to leave the interview for later. “Seriously, WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE-HERE-HERE?”

 “Oh we picked you up-p-p-p.”

“Picked me up? From where – when – Jesus fucking Christ-ist-ist-ist!” I was certain I was dead, and now paying for my earthly sins.

“We have your IP address, you were sleeping when we showed up-up-up-up.”

“We who? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT-OUT-OUT-OUT?” I felt a tug on my left sleeve, and I tried the lighter one more time. My nervous system buzzed as spark caught fluid and cut through the dark. Standing before me was the entire uniformed Washington Generals basketball team. So there I was, stuck in the bowels of a whale with Al Gore and the team with the worst record in the history of basketball.

“Meadowlark Lemon-on-on-on!” I hissed in their direction, to create some space. They retreated and collectively chattered about trying their hardest. “Yeah right-igh-ight-ight!” One of them began to cry, and received a stiff backhand from Gore. I put the lighter back in my pocket.

“You’ll never get the nomination-tion-tion-tion.” It just fell out of my mouth, I braced for a thrashing.

“But I’m Gore-ore-ore-ore?” he reflected. “I’m strong now, not wooden anymore; I’ve tempered myself into hardened, electable steel-eel-eel-eel!”

“Yeah whatever dude, you’re in a whale’s stomach hanging out with some of the biggest losers in history-ory-ory-ory.” “What happened to you anyway-ay-ay-ay?” I added. “You were such a fucking automaton throughout the entire Clinton presidency and the 2000 election. I know you got robbed, but now, when it doesn’t matter, you grow some balls-alls-alls-alls…human emotion, conviction-tion-tion-tion?”

It was relatively quiet for maybe five minutes, but hard to tell, under the circumstances. “You have to believe-eve-eve-eve.”

I barely made out through the sniffling. “Believe in what – Hillary-ary-ary-ary?”

“Believe in this-is-is-is,” Gore lisped confidently as he again struck a match and slid it under the glass of an old lantern. The living walls around us glistened, and I saw the shadows against them doing back flips, trick shots and spinning basketballs on their heads, fingertips and toenails. I pivoted around and I saw it. The Washington Generals had mad skills. Impressive, I thought, especially in a whale.

“Well, that’s great,” I said, “But so what? It’s too late. If you had half the passion you projected at your last couple of speeches while you were running, you would have won the election by an un-stealable margin. There’d be no war in Iraq, and God knows what else-else-else.”

Gore perked up. “Wouldn’t have cut funding to fix the levees in New Orleans-Orleans-Orleans. Plan B would be available over the counter-ounter-ounter. Soil erosion-osion-osion…”

“Right. But what does it matter now-ow-ow?”

“Wasn’t my fault. The handlers – strategists-ists-ists…”

“Haven’t you guys figured this out yet? The strategists don’t get it. We can tell. We can tell when you’re faking it. We’re not Republicans. We don’t have blind faith-aith-aith-aith. You have charisma now; you know why? Because it’s all over, and you can be yourself-elf-elf. If only one of you losers could figure that out before it was too late-ate-ate-ate.”

“But—triangulation—the DLC says—third way-ay-ay-ay…”

The Generals were still kicking serious ass. One of them was holding three basketballs in each hand. But now, some of them had put on Globetrotters jerseys. Others were trying them on and whistling “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

Gore was still talking. “The strategists say-ay-ay…can’t concede the center, can’t be too condescending-ing-ing-ing…”

“Listen, dumbass,” I said. “The one thing a strategist will never tell you is that you don’t need his help. The last thing they’d ever want you to figure out is that if you just say what you really think, you’ll do better than a hundred guys mechanically reciting the same tired platitudes we’ve all heard a thousand times-imes-imes-imes.”

“But the focus groups-oups—”

“Screw that. We’re sick of it. People are dying for authenticity. They’re so starved for it that they’re accepting stupidity as a substitute-ute-ute. No matter how good your bullshit is, it’s still bullshit. People know when they’re being pandered to. Some of them like it. They voted for Bush. The rest of us are dying to hear someone tell the truth. None of you people have come close-ose-ose.”

“Authenticity-icity-icity-icity…” Gore said, contemplating. “Interesting. Must be some way to fake it-t-t-t…Gotta call Carville-ille-ille…”

I’d had enough. “You asshole, you don’t deserve to win-in-in-in.”

Gore became enraged; his eyes glowed. “RECOUNT-OUNT-OUNT-OUNT!” he said. The Generals formed a circle around me, playing the most deft game of piggy-in-the-middle imaginable. Balls were whipping all around me, over me, nearly breaking the sound barrier. I tried to play it cool.

“What about Diebold-old-old-old?” I asked. “What about HAVA-va-va? Are you guys even thinking about—“

“MOONBAT-AT-AT!” Gore shrieked. A basketball hit me square in the face, temporarily blinding me. Stunned, I could only feel the Generals closing in. I had no idea what was going on, and I never will. As my vision returned, I could only stare, slack-jawed, at the most awesome display of motor skills I have ever seen. I heard a bell.

“Ah, that’s your stop – op – op – op!” Gore shouted over the rising noise of gushing seawater. I lost consciousness. I would think it was all a dream, but I woke up in England.

And that’s the way it happened.


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