CELL PHONE NOISE

“Jesus, what time is it? Oh, right. The middle of the night. When these calls always come. Hello?”

“Maggie, it’s Tony Fauci.”

“Hi, Dr. Fauci.”

“How are you feeling? I see your weight is down three pounds from our last conversation. Wonderful. Are you exercising? How’s the knee?”

“All good here. How are you?”

“Little tired. Maggie, I’ll be honest with you: I have not slept since February. I think I leaned against a wall and nodded off for a moment in mid-March, but I’m making the Cannonball Run through this pandemic.”

“Dr. Fauci, you have to take care of yourself.”

“I have a country to heal.”

“True. How would you characterize our efforts so far?”

“Early in my career, I did a residency at what we would now call a group home for those with severe mobility issues, and at the time referred to as the Spaz Shack. That was the place’s official name. Much crueler time, Maggie.”

“Yes, it was.”

“And for some reason known only to the contractor and God, the place had stairs. Now, the whole point of a spaz is that he can’t walk stairs! But they would try. Sweet Funky Winkerbean, would the spazzes try to walk the stairs. And they’d come tumbling down. This was nine or ten times a day. Sometimes they’d make it halfway, and look so proud of themselves, and then it was another spazalanche. It was demoralizing to everyone involved.”

“Sounds it.”

“So…that. That’s how I would characterize the United States’ efforts in fighting the coronavirus.”

“That’s not an endorsement.”

“It is not. Our pandemic response has endemic flaws.”

“Such as?”

“Maggie, as a man of science I usually couch my statements with qualifiers. Not this time: literally everything. We have done literally everything wrong. At every junction, we have asked ourselves the question ‘What would a smart country do?’ and then done exactly the opposite. Prevention, testing, logistics, communication. You wanna know how things are going? I’m sharing an office with the MyPillow guy.”

“I don’t want to believe that.”

“They moved him in a couple days ago. He stole my prescription pad.”

“Not great.”

“And on Tuesday, I have a call scheduled with Dr. Phil. The President is enamored with him, and no one can get it through to the President that Dr. Phil is not a medical doctor. So now I have to talk to him, and I have been briefed that Dr. Phil is going to try to sell me emus.”

“What now?”

“Emus. He raises them or something, and apparently he ties to sell ’em to everyone he talks to. So that’s gonna be my Tuesday. A thousand people are gonna die in New York on Tuesday, and I’m gonna be chatting with Texas Oprah.”

“That doesn’t seem like an efficient use of your time.”

“On Wednesday, I speak to Gene Simmons.”

“From KISS?”

“The President calls him Dr. Love. Everyone told him it was just a song. He doesn’t care. Gene has heard about an Israeli drug named Phlegmaquil which could be a viable treatment for the coronavirus. I looked into it. Turns out Phlegmaquil is made from rabbit juice and expired Frosted Flakes. I reported this to the President. He didn’t care.”

“President Trump loves his unproven treatments.”

“Yes. His new favorite is Dilantin.”

“Dilantin? Isn’t that an out-of-date epilepsy drug that makes your teeth fall out?”

“Among other side effects. Wickedly toxic medication. It’s a last-resort drug. You’d rather use anything else.”

“Does it even have any effect on corona?”

“Who the hell knows? Chemo might kill corona, too. Some treatments are not indicated for all ailments. We’re doctors. We’re not allowed to ‘just see what happens if I do this to the patient.’ But now he’s got it in his head.”

“Who put it there?”

“Jared or some guy on Twitter semi-openly calling for my assassination. Either one.”

“Yeah, I saw you need security now because of the conspiracy theorists and whackadoodles.”

“Life is a carnival.”

“You’re hanging in there during the press conferences, though.”

“Not easy. Maggie, that is not easy. First off, the President does wear a lot of cologne.”

“He loves his Drakkar Noir.”

“The man picked a scent in 1987 and stuck with it. And when you’re up close to him, there are all these noises and sounds that you can’t hear over the teevee. Rumblings and sub-vocalizations and quite a bit of intestinal burbling. Loud breather, too. Like a rhino trying to breathe through a snorkel. President Trump takes an effortful breath.”

“It’s an audio bonanza.”

“And then, of course, he starts speaking. And that’s rough. I won’t lie: the worst parts are when he’s talking. I’ve served under six presidents, and two of them were morons. Reagan and the second Bush. Utterly clueless. But not like this guy. Reagan and Dubya were at least embarrassed of being tinybrained. They tried to hide it. Not this guy.”

“He has overruled you on several points.”

“The masks, yes. I would recommend that all Americans wear masks over their mouths and noses when they leave the house. The President disagreed, because he didn’t want to meet the Queen of England looking like that. So we told him, There’s a pandemic, sir. You’re not meeting the Queen of England for quite a while. And he blew a raspberry and went back to scrolling through Twitter.”

“That’s not encouraging.”

“And then Mike Pence says Sir, maybe your bold decisions could be brought to bear on this mask question. So Trump explodes. Starts screaming. You wanna wear a mask, Mikey? Little Mikey wanna mask? and he made Pence wear a wastepaper basket on his head the rest of the meeting. Pence was crying. It was no way to run a task force.”

“I think you used the word ‘demoralizing’ before.”

“It applies here, too. Very depressing to be surrounded by so much buffoonery at such a serious moment.”

“Well, hang in there. The country needs you.”

“I need a nap. Or an enormous bowel movement. Either one would refresh my spirit right now.”

“Keep the faith, Doc.”

“Wash your hands after you hang up.”

“Yes, sir.”

DIAL TONE NOISE EVEN THOUGH PHONES NO LONGER DO THAT