The island of Maui used to be the most stylish, hippest and upscale spot in the state of Hawaii, world famous for its glittering tropical beaches, verdant floral jungles, pristine coral reefs, spectacular wildlife, magnificent vistas and sparkling, rainbow-crowned waterfalls. It was a favorite haunt of celebrities, rock stars and tech billionaires. Accommodations for ordinary visitors averaged about three hundred dollars a night. Maui Wowee, the local weed, grown clandestinely in the rich volcanic soils of the island’s lush hinterlands (it’s still technically illegal in Hawaii, unless you have a “329 card”), was world famous for its psychedelic and aphrodisiac properties, and was much prized as an ingredient in cannabis cuisine. And as the original site of the Royal Court of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Maui was also the center of native Hawaiian history, art, music, culture, tradition and religion.
Today, though, Maui is a smoking pile of ciders. One might say that Paka’a, the wind god, and Pele, the fire goddess, at long last joined forces to demonstrate their displeasure with having the Kingdom’s cultural citadel desecrated by the Haoles, to whom nothing is sacred but the Almighty Dollar. Or you could chalk it up to anthropogenic global warming, and call it just another instance of the wildfires that are roasting places both exotic and mundane all over the planet at the moment. In any event, as of this morning, Maui is toast. Literally. Now, like so many other magical places which that potently toxic potion of technology and greed humankind so ardently brewed for the last three centuries has destroyed, no matter what is done, that particular piece of paradise will never, ever be the same again. Aloha mau loa aku, Maui. E hoomanao na akua ia oe.
And while I’m on the subject of greedy, toxic humans, Thursday afternoon, while Maui was going up in flames, Gretchen texted me during a consultation with a Saudi public relations analyst seeking advice on how to optimize positive spin on the LIV Golf League tour with a message that popped up on my workstation screen reading: “Some blithering jerk named Perry Johnson wants a phone consultation ASAP.”
Indeed. He got one, about eighty minutes later.
Johnson: Hello? Tom Collins?
Tom: This is he. Perry Johnson, I presume?
Johnson: Yep. Call me Perry.
Tom: Sure, Perry. Call me Tom. How can I help you today?
Perry: Well, as you know, I’m a Republican candidate for president… what the?
Tom: Ah… yes… um… sorry.
Perry: Were you laughing just then, Tom?
Tom: Oh, no, no, of course not. I was… coping with this summer cough and cold I’ve contracted going in and out of the heat and air conditioning in closed spaces filled with people from all corners of the country on Capitol Hill this week. That place can be a real petri dish, you know.
Perry: Do tell? Gee, I hope you get better soon.
Tom: It’s no problem, really. Thanks for your concern.
Perry: You’re welcome. So anyway, I’m running for president as a Republican and I’m planning to go to the Iowa State Fair.
Tom: Yes, I’ve heard that you have been putting quite a bit of money into Iowa lately. That Super Bowl ad you ran, for example.
Perry: Oh yeah, that. Cost a pretty penny, no doubt about it. But the name recognition was worth it.
Tom: Nevertheless, you’re still polling at less than one percent, correct?
Perry: Right, and that’s why I’m calling you.
Tom: I see. May I ask who recommended my advice?
Perry: Well, I’m not sure you know this or not, but in order to qualify for the Republican debates, a candidate has to get forty thousand unique donors from twenty distinct states, and in order to do that, I have been selling T-shirts for a dollar.
Tom: For a dollar? Custom T-shirts with a slogan silk-screened onto them, that sort of thing?
Tom: Gee whiz, Perry, T-shirts like that have got cost more than a dollar to produce, unless they are being manufactured from the ground up in China with Uyghur slave labor.
Perry: What! Who told you… I mean, of course they do. It’s kind of a… loss leader, to get the necessary numbers, you see.
Tom: You mean, you’re selling custom slogan silk-screened T-shirts at a loss on the Internet and counting each dollar sale as a campaign donation from the person who bought it in the state where they live?
Tom: Um… have you… checked… with the Federal Elections Commission about whether doing that is… shall we say… kosher?
Perry: I found a lawyer who told me it’s legal.
Tom: Really? You paid some lawyer a princely sum to tell you that, and you’re done?
Perry: Hell, yeah. I figure if doing that is good enough for Donald Trump to drum up slates of alternate electors in seven states, then it’s good enough for me to sell some damn T-shirts. You have problem with it?
Tom: No sir. Not my problem. What do the T-shirts say?
Perry: They say, “I Stand with Tucker.”
Tom: Tucker Carlson?
Tom: So… Tucker Carlson gave you my number?
Perry: He said, if I was going to do something like that, I need some advice from you.
Tom: Oh… kay… yeah… I must remember to… thank him. So anyway, I suppose he told you about my marketing plan, and how this initial consultation is free of charge, then?
Perry: Yep. I figure at that price, how can I go wrong?
Tom: You can’t. What would you like advice about?
Perry: How to work the Iowa State Fair. It’s a big thing, media-wise, you know. Make-or-break moments, crucial sound bites, on-camera interactions with everyday people. Can’t afford any mistakes.
Tom: Understood. Where do you want to start?
Perry: Uh… how about… the butter sculptures?
Tom: Sure. Photo ops, posing with them, then?
Perry: Okay, let’s start there. What about posing with them for photo ops?
Tom: First of all, avoid the cow.
Perry: But that’s the most famous one, isn’t it?
Tom: It’s also been there since 1911.
Perry: Oh, my God! Not the same one?
Tom: No, I meant, the Butter Cow has been a perennial feature of the Iowa State Fair since 1911; every year except 2020, when the Fair was canceled due to covid-19. Every sweaty, unwashed rube tourist who goes to the Iowa State Fair gets their picture taken with the Butter Cow. Pose next to it with a voter, and you look like a total cliche of the Pandering Amateur Politician. Pose for a photo next to that thing by yourself and it says “naive newbie tourist,” like you’re the same kind of person who pulls off the road in every jerkwater town that has a local roadside attraction; like you’re getting your picture taken with the World’s Largest Ball of Rubber Bands in Podunk, Nebraska.
Perry: There’s a town called Podunk in Nebraska?
Tom: No, no – there are real towns named Podunk, of course, but they’re all in New England or upstate New York. I was speaking metaphorically.
Tom: Yes. Nebraska is a metaphor representing a place populated by gormless hicks.
Tom: Correct. Rather like some other people I could think of at the moment.
Tom: Never mind. It’s…
Perry: But what does gormless…
Tom: Let’s just say, someone like the sort of people who unquestioningly support Donald Trump, for instance.
Perry: But aren’t those the people who I want to vote for me?
Tom: Certainly. But you don’t want those people to perceive you as one of them.
Perry: I don’t?
Tom: No, absolutely not. Even they have enough sense to know they’re too stupid to be president of the United States. What they want to see is the image of a champion – a strongman who will take revenge for their petty grievances on others whom they blame for their shortcomings, misfortunes and failures; minorities, mostly, and other marginalized segments of society, like homosexuals, artists, foreigners and intellectuals.
Perry: So no photo ops with the Butter Cow?
Tom: No way, no how, Butter Cow.
Perry: Maybe I should I avoid photo ops with all of the butter sculptures?
Tom: Not all of them, but you do need to be careful. This year there are three that are getting enough publicity to boost your name recognition, but you should have photo ops with only one of them.
Perry: How do you figure that?
Tom: There are butter sculptures of three athletes: Kurt Warner, Caitlin Clark and Jack Trice. You should only pose for photo ops with the butter sculpture of Kurt Warner.
Perry: Why not the other two?
Tom: You should not pose with the butter sculpture of Caitlin Clark because Caitlin Clark is a woman. That could be subliminally interpreted either as you intending to name a female running mate, or as you being unsatisfied in your marriage. Both would be big vote losers with Iowa Republicans in the 2024 caucuses.
Tom: First, because they want a family man with a pretty-to-beautiful wife who doesn’t have a career; and second because Joe Biden already has a female running mate, so they are all automatically against it.
Perry: Oh, rats! I never even thought of that.
Tom: Which is why you’re talking to me. And Jack Trice is black. Need I say more?
Perry: No, no, of course not. So how about the food? Which Iowa State Fair specialty foods should I be seen eating and how should I eat them?
Tom: It’s important that you realize you’re virtually certain to be confronted with a choice between the three Iowa State Fair Best New Foods Finalists. It is extremely important that you must avoid being seen eating the Grinder Ball.
Perry: What’s a Grinder Ball?
Tom: A blend of bacon balls stuffed with mozzarella cheese, wrapped in bacon, rotisserie smoked and dipped in warm marinara sauce.
Perry: Sounds tasty. What’s wrong with it?
Tom: It’s gluten free, and everyone in Iowa knows it.
Perry: I don’t get it. What’s…
Tom: “Gluten free” says, “East Coast elite liberal,” that’s what. “Gluten free” says, “Whole Foods,” “organic produce,” “alfalfa sprouts,” “kombucha,” “goat’s milk yogurt” “free range chicken,” “fair trade coffee” “green tea” and “yoga pants.” Be seen eating a gluten free food, and the core Republican 2024 Iowa caucus voter will drop you faster than one of their steaming hot pesticide-infused, artificial-fertilizer-grown conventionally-produced Idaho baked potatoes.
Perry: Oh. Right. How about the other two? And, uh, what are they?
Tom: The other two are the Iowa Twinkie, which is a smoked bacon-wrapped jalapeno stuffed with pulled pork, sweet corn, cream cheese and ranch seasoning, glazed with sweet barbecue sauce and served with ranch dressing; and the Deep-Fried Bacon Brisket Mac-n-Cheese Grilled Cheese, which is smoked brisket with macaroni and cheese between layers of American cheese and two slices of bacon cheddar bread, deep-fried and served with raspberry chipotle barbecue sauce.
Perry: Are they both okay, then?
Tom: The Iowa Twinkie, yes. It will be a positive image builder with the current Republican base in Iowa for three reasons. Number One, it has bacon and pulled pork in it, which signify rural manliness and rejection of Jewish and Islamic culture, which is what Iowa Republicans expect of any red-blooded candidate for whom they would vote. Number Two, the dish itself is a stuffed jalapeno, which is an acceptable Republican way to eat hot peppers, and not considered to be too Hispanic. Furthermore, hot peppers represent the additional male attributes of adventurousness and toleration to pain. And Number Three, it has “Iowa” in the name, and Iowa Republicans think Iowa is the center of the universe.
Perry: But not the other… brisket mac-and-cheese thing?
Tom: You can be seen eating the Deep-Fried Bacon Brisket Mac-n-Cheese Grilled Cheese sandwich, but under no circumstances should you dip it in that raspberry chipotle barbecue sauce.
Tom: “Raspberry chipotle,” says “East Coast elite liberal,” and that says…
Perry: Okay, okay, I get it. So should I turn down the sauce completely, or just not be seen dipping the sandwich in it?
Tom: If possible, take the little plastic sauce dish off the plate and politely place it on the food booth table. Don’t draw attention to it by throwing it in a trash can or anything like that. But if you can’t get rid of it, make sure you hold the sandwich up high and as far away from any possible shot frame that might contain the sauce.
Perry: Hmmm… maybe I should just play it safe and not even try that one.
Tom: I would say, don’t touch it unless the person handing it to you is wearing a Perry Johnson for President button…
Perry: Or one of my Stand with Tucker T-shirts?
Tom: Yeah, I suppose so… or, as I was going to say, if the person handing it to you happens to be a female less than thirty years old who is an eight or better.
Perry: An eight?
Tom: Right. Actually, that goes for any of the foods.
Perry: Eight what?
Tom: Okay, in that case, forget what I said about the female. You don’t want to risk having your picture taken at the Iowa State Fair with a woman less than an eight, and if you don’t know what an eight looks like, just stay on the safe side and try to avoid having your picture taken with any women.
Perry: Sounds like that might be a challenge for me.
Tom: Not from what I’ve heard so far. Okay, so now, do you have a pad and a pen or maybe have Notes open on your phone?
Perry: Ah… yeah, I’ve got a pencil and legal pad here, will that do?
Tom: That will do just fine. I just want to make sure you get all this. Ready?
Tom: Avoid being seen eating any of the following: Amish Donuts, Bubble Tea, Burrito Bowl, Catfish in a Boat, Catfish on a Stick, Cotton Candy Art, Lamb Gyro or Gyro Salad, anything with “Vietnamese,” “Korean,” or “Italian” in the name, any kind of tacos or ceviche, and Butterbeer Ice Cream.
Perry: Okay… but… why?
Tom: The Republican base in Iowa doesn’t like the Amish, art, black people, Asians, Hispanics, Italians or foreigners in general.
Perry: All right, that explains the Amish Donuts, Bubble Tea, Burrito Bowl, Catfish in a Boat, Catfish on a Stick, Cotton Candy Art, Lamb Gyro or Gyro Salad, anything with “Vietnamese,” “Korean,” or “Italian” in the name, and any kind of tacos or ceviche, but what about the Butterbeer Ice Cream?
Tom: Butterbeer appears in the Harry Potter books, and the Iowa Republican base is at least fifteen percent Evangelicals, all of whom are completely convinced that the works of J. K. Rowling are satanic because they tell stories about children practicing witchcraft and sorcery.
Perry: Omigosh, pitfalls and bear traps everywhere! Good thing I talked to you about this. So what Iowa State Fair specialty foods will get me Iowa Republican caucus votes?
Perry: A what?
Tom: A-H-O-O-T-E-N-A-N-N-Y. It’s a cross between a pancake and French toast.
Perry: The French thing won’t be a problem? You mentioned foreigners.
Tom: Iowa Republicans don’t think of it the way I described, there’s no association with France; I just put it that way for your benefit. Everyone in Iowa knows them as A-Hootenannies. Some of them do call the dish “German pancakes,” but the German connotation is okay because the current crop of Iowa Republicans approve of the Nazi subtext in “German.” Okay, so, continuing… Apple Pie Cookie Ice Cream, Bacon Cheddar Pretzel Dog, Cherry Dream Ice Cream, Birch Beer Soda, Blueberry Mini Donuts, Buffalo Chicken Bacon Ranch Fries, Bird Dog Crispy Chicken Sandwich, Caramel Apple Cake Pops, Cookie Dough Sundae, Cotton Candy Cheese Cake, Deep Fried Pickle on a Stick, Deep Fried Pretzels, Deep Fried Strawberry Shortcake, Deep Fried Sweet Corn Nuggets, Dill Pickle Flavored Cheese Curds, Fried Caramel Apple Cow Tales…
Perry: They eat cow tails in Iowa?
Tom: That’s T-A-L-E-S. Cow Tales are type of candy. They freeze them, batter them up and deep fry them. It’s similar to a deep fried Milky Way bar.
Perry: Oh. Okay, got it. Go on.
Tom: Grilled Shrimp on a Stick, Iowa Sweet Corn Sundae, Bacon Maple Monkey Bread, Oreo Brownie Blast…
Perry: What’s that?
Tom: It’s like a big fudge brownie made with Oreos: a gazillion calories, huge low density lipids and ridiculous sugar. I’d suggest, by the way, that you go to the Fair amply supplied with antacid tablets and a pocket bottle of Pepto Bismol, and that you take a five grain aspirin in the morning and another in the afternoon. And get some fenugreek capsules to take so your blood glucose doesn’t go through the roof and throw off your mental acuity. Furthermore, you should stay hydrated with plenty of plain water – it won’t look good if you collapse from heatstroke after eating this stuff. Okay, and… Peanut Butter Cream Donuts, Pretzel Dogs, Pop Corn Shrimp, Pork Belly Pinwheels…
Perry: Pinwheels? Pork bellies?
Tom: It’s pork meat with the skin. The pinwheel thing is where they roll it up with bacon. Then they deep fry it, of course, and smother it in barbecue sauce. It’s a huge dosage of saturated fat. Don’t eat more than one. All right, and… Soft Serve Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Sundae, Southern Fried Corn on the Cob, All American Grilled Cheese Sandwich…
Perry: That one sounds like a good choice – very patriotic to be seen eating an All American food item, right?
Tom: Now you’re getting the idea! That’s what sells with Iowa Republicans. So, concluding our list… Walking Banana and Smores Desserts, and Walleye on a Stick.
Tom: It’s a kind of fish that White people eat. As opposed to catfish; we discussed that earlier. And stay with the stick, because if you get Walleye in a Boat, they’ll be watching to see if you eat it all.
Perry: Well, at least there are a lot of politically safe choices, anyway.
Tom: Exactly. Absolutely no reason to be seen – or photographed – eating anything problematic.
Perry: All right then, excellent! Now, how about my message?
Tom: Your message?
Perry: Yes, my message to the Iowa Republican voters.
Tom: Like the message on your campaign Web site?
Tom: As in, “Two Cents to Save America?”
Tom: Cut two percent from US government discretionary spending every year until the federal budget balances?
Tom: In what, fifty years?
Perry: Oh, no, much quicker than that.
Tom: Care to explain how cutting two percent from discretionary spending, which is like, what, twenty-eight percent of the total federal budget, is going to do that in less than half a century? Tell me, what’s the actual cut work out to, anyway, something like six-tenths of a percent of the total budget per year?
Perry: That’s correct, but you need to consider the compounding year-to-year impacts and the economic multipliers resulting from the trickle-down effects of the rising GDP due to enhanced cash flow in the free, unregulated markets I will incentivize, as well as the increased velocity of money supply, which, taken together, will result in…
Perry: Uh, yeah?
Tom: Less than six-tenths of one percent of Iowa Republicans could understand what you’re saying, and even they won’t care.
Perry: Okay, then I’ll tell them about how my growth-oriented energy policy plan, integrated with restructuring of the immigration laws, will increase the workforce participation rate, stabilize the Social Security system and…
Tom: These are Iowa Republicans we’re talking about here, Perry, stuffed full of the same insane foods you’ll have to eat when you go their benighted State Fair, out of their minds on overdoses of sugar, fat and salt in the sweltering August heat.
Perry: Yes, okay, sure, what else could it be? And?
Tom: And if you want them to show up at a Republican Party caucus in Iowa, in January, dragging along ten of their friends whom they have convinced to caucus with them in favor of you, Perry Johnson, because of the awesome impression that you, Perry Johnson, made on them at the Iowa State Fair, you can’t be out there talking to them about esoteric interactions among the national budget, the federal reserve system and the five most influential techno-industrial sectors of the macroeconomy.
Perry: I can’t?
Tom: No! Seriously, Perry, these people don’t care about the fact that you, Perry Johnson, sincerely believe that you have everything figured out in a system of multivariant differential econometric equations lurking in that supposedly magnificent brain of yours.
Perry: They don’t?
Tom: Absolutely not! And moreover, let me assure you, they care even less that you earnestly want to explain that stuff to them. Try to do it, and I guarantee, they will reject you faster than they did Ron DeSantis when he tried to imitate the behavior of a normal human being.
Perry: They will?
Tom: Count on it! These people are angry, ignorant, selfish, frustrated bigots nursing a laundry list of imagined grudges and grievances, who are thoroughly deluded by years of social media brainwashing into believing in a fantasy world populated by delusional conspiracies and fabricated boogeymen. Reasoning with them is completely futile. If you want them to vote for you, if you want them to caucus for you on a freezing cold Iowa night next January, you must appeal to their basest, most primitive, atavistic and barbaric instincts. And you must do that because, due to what’s happened to them in the last ten years, that’s all they have left – raging hate, fear, anxiety and raw, irrational fundamental emotion.
Perry: Oh, really?
Perry: Then… oh, [expletive]! I don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell, do I?
Tom: No, you don’t. Still feel like running for president?
Perry: Um… let me think about that.
Tom: Fine. And when you’re done thinking, call me back if you’d like.
Tom: But next time, you pay.
Perry: Uh… what are your rates, anyhow?
Tom: Call my office number and select option three. Goodbye.