Wearing a pith helmet and brandishing a blunderbuss, Marshbaum burst into my office and ordered me to the floor. I looked at my faux friend and media foil, about to ask him what his latest scheme was. With Marshbaum, who was fed “Honeymooners” episodes by IV when he was a child, everything is a scheme to make money. But, in the fraction of time I had before he yelled for me to get under my desk and cover my head, I quickly determined he was serious.
“We’re at war!” he shouted, hyper-kinetically upset.
“Of course we’re at war,” I said. “Bush diverted resources from Afghanistan to invade Iraq. Been at war five years.”
“Not that war,” said Marshbaum. “This is bigger. China invaded our homeland. We’re under attack. And thanks to a 5–4 decision by the Supremes, me and Ole Betsy will defend my home from the Commie invaders.”
“You been watching too many recycled Cold War films?” I asked. “China is our trading partner. They loaned us billions to reduce our exorbitant unbalanced budget. Their factories are producing goods for the American consumer almost as fast as Washington politicians have been producing verbal diarrhea.”
“The Chinese have launched rockets at us. We don’t have much time.”
“I didn’t see anything on the 24/7 news channels about an invasion.”
“Of course not,” said Marshbaum, “they’re too busy tracking celebrity weddings, break-ups, and drunk driving arrests.”
“Even the worst journalist would pick up on an invasion of the U.S,” I said.
“Yeah,” he replied sarcastically, “like they picked up on the PATRIOT Act violating a half-dozen constitutional amendments? Like they figured out the Bush–Cheney Oil and Screw Corp. lied to them about Iraq, the environment, the housing crisis, the economy, and how to make barbecued burritos?”
“But war with China?” I asked skeptically.
“China!” he said authoritatively. “Largest Communist country in the world. More than a billion people. Largest Army in the world. While the politicians focused on being nasty to Cuba, which has only 11 million people and hardly any weapons, the Chinese have been getting ready to invade us. It’s been a sneak attack that started years ago. Some of the best students in American colleges are Chinese. They’re the cadre for the take-over, and it’s less than a week away!”
“I assume you have evidence,” I asked, playing along with Marshbaum. After all, I had no idea how deadly a blunderbuss could be, especially if I was in the same room with one.
“Tents,” said Marshbaum. “Thousands of tents have been set up the past two weeks on every major road in America. They’re ammunition depots. Come July Fourth, the Chinese students will stop getting perfect scores on their SATs, join their comrades from all the Chinese buffets, go to the tents, activate the weapons and blow us all sky high with Roman Candles and Multi-break Shells. Dahlias, Willows, and Rings. An arsenal of destruction!”
“They’re fireworks!” I told my naive friend. “Fireworks! Jefferson, Madison, and the patriots started the revolution so we could eat hotdogs and potato salad, then shoot off a color spectacular and get a three-day weekend.”
“For a journalist, you’re even denser than I thought.” And so he walked me through his logic. “Ninety-Eight percent of all fireworks we use for July Fourth are made in China.”
“I see no evidence of war here,” I said. “The Chinese also supply most of our toys and just about anything that winds up at the Dollar Store.”
“Do you think the largest army in the world would be content to stay in Asia and eat sushi all day?” I disregarded the anomaly that sushi is a Japanese dish, but when Marshbaum is on a roll it’s hard to divert him with logic. “Come July Fourth, they’re going to shock and awe us with their fireworks, play a Tchaikovsky overture, and then take over the rest of America.”
“The Olympics are only about five weeks away,” I reminded him, “why would the Chinese attack us when it’s hosting the leading display for unity and peace?”
“Because they need more emaciated squeaky-voiced gymnasts,” he said, “and we’ll be so grateful to get rid of them and those snooty equestrians as well that we’ll wave flags to honor China.”
“Americans are going to wave Chinese flags? That’s ridiculous!”
“American flags,” said Marshbaum. “Most flags and flag pins—you know the ones the semi-patriotic American politicians always wear—are made in China.” Marshbaum thought a moment. “Maybe their Army won’t need to invade us. They’ve already defeated us.”
WALTER BRASCH is the author of Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush.