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The president's recent pretzel mishap inspires dreams of snack profiling, terrorist cells and Enron-generated ironies.

Derek Jennings 

Pretzel logic

Twenty years from now we'll all remember where we were when we heard the news. I was in the reading room, looking at the paper when I found out that President George W. Bush, the leader of the free world and the symbol of American power and prestige fainted after choking on a pretzel.

Huh? I know that up is down and right is left, but I swear that life gets more surreal by the minute.

I'm watching the President make a news appearance later in the day and notice the big eye-jammie (ebonic teachable moment #26: eye-jammie: n., welt, bruise or abrasion of the face with proximity to the eye).

I'm thinking to myself, we're at war, Israel and the Palestinians are busy trying to usher in Armageddon, India and Pakistan are on the brink of atomic holocaust, and the President of the United States can't be trusted to chill and watch the football game by himself? Makes me feel reeeeeal secure.

I know Vladimir Putin an 'nem are like, "We gotta build a missile defense shield. Quick." And somewhere, presumably, in a fortified bunker, I envision Vice President Cheney hooked up to a nuclear Jarvik-17 artificial heart, only a pretzel away from the presidency. I shudder.

The night after all this happened, my sleep was fitful. I Had A Dream. I guess it's only right, seeing as this is Martin Luther King season (and I can't have his because its been co-opted by commerce and trademarked by the King family).

Here's how my dream went: I flipped the television on and turned the dial to CNN.

Announcer: "At a press conference, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer addressed a somber press corps."

Fleischer: "The president is resting and doing well after having been assaulted by a salty snack."

Press Corps: Mumbling, shuffling of papers.

Reporter #1: "Excuse me, sir. Can you confirm reports that the snack in question was a pretzel?

Fleischer: "We will not confirm that at this time. We are still gathering information and will make you aware of the details when it is deemed appropriate. We have taken several snacks in for questioning and are hoping to make a determination as to whether this was the act of a lone, desperate snack, or part of a broader, nefarious conspiracy. We are looking into associations of the snack, who may have been a member of a snack cell."

Reporter #2: "Umm, aren't a group of snacks correctly termed a package or pack?"

Fleischer: "Colloquially, yes, you could consider them a snack pack. However, from a national security perspective we will continue referring to this alleged cadre as a cell."

Click goes the remote and I'm watching the local news:

Reliable News Anchorman: "As promised, here on Channel Zero's We Said It First News at Noon, we bring you a very special look at a positively frightening phenomenon and pose the tough question (ominous theme music): "How Safe Are Our Snacks?"

Investigative Reporter: "I'm here live with a Wake County woman who says she's the victim of pretzel assault." (Camera pans to show a woman with a patch over her eye.)

Patch Woman: "Yes. (Sob). It happened to me about a week ago. I was enjoying some Bavarian Utz pretzels with my husband--the big, thick, crunchy kind--and then he-he-(sob)."

Husband (rubbing his wife's shoulders): "Be strong, honey, be strong."

Patch Woman: "He bit the pretzel and a piece of it ricocheted off the wall like shrapnel and hit me in the eye. It scratched my cornea. The doctors in the emergency room told me that just a fraction of an inch to the left and I could have been blinded for life (sob)."

Reporter (looks at the camera and makes a compassionate face, then looks back at the woman): "Oh my. That sounds serious. Has this changed the way you feel about pretzels?"

Patch Woman (sobbing hysterically): "Yes! I'm on Prozac now. When we go shopping, I--I can't even go down the snacks aisle anymore. I let my husband drive the cart and I just wait next to the breakfast meats until he gets the cookies."

Reporter: "This is so disturbing." (Looking at husband) "Did you know that pretzels could be dangerous?"

Husband: "I didn't know. I'm so sorry, honey." (Becoming angry). "Those bleeping bleeps should put a warning label on the bag or something. I thought the Bavarians were our friends."

Click. I switch to Headline News:

Narrator: "Snack profiling has become a hot topic after two men carrying soft pretzels were prevented from boarding a passenger plane in Philadelphia. Airline security there would not corroborate whether there is a nationwide alert for the suspicious salty snack and have issued, for now, an official 'No comment.'"

Click. To the Bloomberg Financial Channel:

Narrator: "Cyberdine Corporation issued a press release today announcing the creation of a new snack detector that can differentiate between Doritos, Corn Chips and sweat socks hidden within sealed metal luggage. Snack smugglers often use sweat socks to throw off snack sniffing dogs at customs checkpoints.

"Cyberdine's entrée into snack security began with the manufacture of monitors for movie theaters in urban neighborhoods to help detect scofflaws who'd ignore theater rules and sneak in three-for-a-dollar Reese's Cups from the supermarket instead of paying the theater's rate of $7.85 per package.

"When asked whether the technology worked for pretzels also, Ian Vanderhorst, CEO of Cyberdine had this to say: '(Scratchy audiotape) Um, er, uh ... yeah. Yes it does.'"

Narrator: "Stocks of Cyberdine have risen 56 percent today in midday trading."

I flip the channel again, this time landing on C-SPAN:

Announcer: "We bring you live coverage from Washington, D.C., where The Rev. Jesse Jackson has entered the fray over snack profiling."

Jackson: "We are here today to say that snack profiling is wrong."

Agitated Crowd: "Now you know that's right! Go on, Jesse!"

Jackson: "Today we have been made aware that there is snack profiling in the air. It's happening in the very capitol of our nation. It's an abomination, hence this occasion, for a demonstration of our righteous indignation."

Crowd: "Uh-huh!"

Jackson: "Earlier today at Reagan National Airport, no less then three people were prevented from boarding a plane--stopped only because of their snack preference. Two of them were carrying Suzy-Qs, and one of them was in possession of Ho-Hos. I'm here today to tell you that these are civil liberties no-nos. What's so disturbing about this is that several passengers were seen boarding the plane with Twinkies. Now, I say to you, Twinkies are known to be golden and full of flavor, but why single out the Suzy-Qs? Is it because they are snacks of color?"

Announcer (straining to be heard over rousing applause): "Mr. Jackson also declared the launch of a new nonprofit, S.O.S. (Save Our Snacks), to fight snack profiling."

Click. Back to CNN, where Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge is seen holding a press conference.

Ridge: "We are actively looking into the origin of the suspected terrorist snack goods. We have good intelligence that many pretzels sold in the United States originate from Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Even as governor of Pennsylvania, I had suspicions about those Amish people. They wear those big hats. They have long beards. We'll get to the bottom of this."

Click. To a major network.

Anchor: "Earlier today, a remarkably resilient President Bush addressed an anxious nation for the first time since the brazen pretzel attack. We now bring you an excerpt of that speech, in which he stood firm and resolute in the face of great danger and uncertainty."

Bush: "Whurever they may be hidin', we're gonna find 'em and do what we have to do. Pretzels, hear me well. If you're in supermarkets, bodegas, school lunch bags or vending machines, we will find you and bring you to your just desserts. Our founding fathers never had to deal with the threat of such a broad array of snack foods. I think they only had to be concerned with dried fruit and beef jerky. But we will find the responsible snacks. And we will not be distracted in our hunt for justice by things like a recession, international diplomatic crises, or huge, all-encompassing campaign finance and deregulation scandals. We're not gonna do it." (Bangs hand on desk for emphasis).

Anchor: "A recent poll shows that an overwhelming 99.9 percent of Americans approve of the president's handling of the snack crisis. Seventy-eight percent feel that discrimination against pretzels is justified if it will save a life, and there is a 50/50 split on whether network newscasts should label their special coverage 'Snack Attack!' or 'America Fights Snacks!'"

That was a weird dream. Not as weird as reading a quote from the White House that said Bush figured he was only unconscious for a few seconds because his dogs were in the same position when he woke up as they were before he fell. (He also said they were "looking at him funny.") Or hearing that Bush recalled his mother reminding him to always chew his pretzels. (Dag, did she have to remind him to breathe, too, when she sent him off to prep school in the mornings?)

But none of this is as strange as life must seem for those Enron employees who've been barred from selling their stock or reinvesting their 401K plans. Enron's CEO Kenneth Lay made more than $100 million by dumping his shares just in advance of the Texcrement now hitting the Wall Street fan.

Considering that Lay is one of Bush's homeboys (Dubya reportedly refers to him as "Kenny boy"), and his biggest campaign contributor, it's tempting to go off on an Oliver Stone tilt and surmise that the president's shiner was actually a gift from a penniless and pensionless former Enron employee who connected the dots before connecting with a roundhouse right.

I don't mean no harm. Lord knows, I wouldn't want every embarrassing thing I've ever done to be newspaper fodder. But if I'd ridden a whirlwind of cash to a resounding Republican primary victory over a more qualified opponent? If my biggest campaign contributor was exposed as a scurrilous cheat who'd lined his pockets while his employees financial futures went down in flames? If 31 members of my cabinet were connected to this brewing scandal in midst of a recession?

I'd talk about pretzels, too. EndBlock

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