The next day approached like an ominous cloud off in the distance, hailing the coming of a dark and terrible storm. Newt’s flight arrived in town that night and I was set to interview him at, “a time of his convenience,” according to his traveling press secretary, a smarmy little rat-faced fella by the name of Ned. To prepare, instead of doing research or talking to others in the campaign who’d dealt with him directly, I decided to harken back to my days in a traveling minstrel show, and use my acting abilities to climb inside Newt’s psyche.
To get ready for the part I drew on my own personal life experiences to conjure up the proper emotions; remembering being picked on out on the playground in middle school to empathize with Newt’s wild inferiority complex; the time my father left me inside the ice cream parlor while he went out to have a quickie with his mistress to understand Newt’s fear of abandonment. Fortunately for me, in this case, I was already well acquainted with what it was like to live with a colossal ego.
I ended up sitting in my hotel room all night in a trance-like state, so when the alarm clock went off at eight the next morning I was as ready as I’d ever be. I gathered my stuff, took one last look back at the hotel room that had served me so well these past few days, and made my way back to the Gingrich campaign headquarters one final time, not knowing what I’d find there, or if, indeed, I would safely escape.
When I got to the strip mall that housed the headquarters it was even more deserted than usual. The mad cast of characters I’d gotten to know were all gone, with the exception of Jerry, who still stood there mopping the floor, a blank stare on his face, except this time, with the offices locked up, he was simply working over the balcony. It even looked like some of the other businesses that had been inhabiting the mall were now out of business, their slim association with the campaign apparently enough to throw them into the same dire straits.
Not knowing where to go, or when Newt would actually get there, I plopped down on the sidewalk and nursed an Icee I bought from a street vendor. It was a long, hot, slow afternoon, typical of the south. Finally, sometime around three, a late model Lincoln pulled up, it’s front fender dangling by a thread, the trunk held down with an alchemist’s combination of bungee chords and duct tape. Before I could even size up the whole situation, Newt stumbled out yelling something indiscriminate at the driver. He took one look at me and growled, “Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?”
I informed him of who I was and reminded him of our scheduled meeting. He answered in a long string of expletives that left even my callous ears in shock, then added, “All right, but keep in mind what happened with the last reporter who crossed me.”
He was, of course, referring to the young college reporter in North Carolina who had had the temerity to ask Newt questions more piercing than what his favorite meal was and who quickly found himself being rudely escorted from Newt’s presence by his secret service detail.
“Don’t worry about me, sir. I won’t be giving you any problems,” I replied. And truthfully, at that point, I was so desperate to end this long strange odyssey that I was prepared to ask him every softball I could think of if it meant a speedy exit. Unfortunately, that isn’t quite how it went. The interview took place in a Dairy Queen down the road form his former campaign headquarters. The following is a transcript of that interview:
PRB: Mr. Speaker, you came into the race as the candidate of conservative ideas. Why do you think people didn’t end up responding to that?
NG: Well, mainly I think it had to do with me being so far ahead of the times. I’m quite certain that in twenty or thirty years time people will be erecting monuments of me.
PRB: Interesting. And where will the people of the future find the raw material to build statues of such… proportions?
NG: By that time we’ll all be living on the moon, and I can assure you there are ample resources there for us to plunder.
PRB: Indeed. Now that you’re out of the running, do you intend to throw your weight, as it were, behind Governor Romney?
NG: Ha, fat chance. That greasy-haired fool has about as much chance of being a competent civil servant as I do of giving a wrong answer. Of course, if he were to offer me a position in his cabinet…
PRB: Throughout the campaign the major knock against you was that you’re personality is, well, bristly. How much do you think that impression hurt your candidacy?
NG: You know, I don’t know where people get that idea from. Everyone who truly knows me will tell you that I am one of the nicest, most affable… Goddamn, son of a bitch! Hey, Queenie, I told you I wanted curly fries with my burger! What the shit are these!?… Now, where were we?
PRB: Your affable nature.
NG: Right. Like I was saying I’m well known among my closest friends for being a genuine… Oh, you gotta be kidding me! You call these curly fries? My wife’s hair has more curl to it than these and she spends half her day sitting under a hooded hair dryer!…
At that point, Speaker Gingrich started flinging his curly fires (which, incidentally, appeared to me to have an acceptable amount of curl to them) at the pregnant girl who was working the cash register, and a few minutes later, before I or any of his remaining attendants could calm him down, a small horde of police officers showed up.
That’s where my journalistic resolve finally gave out. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out the end of that particular sad story. I was just happy that my horrific adventure had come to an end. As soon as the cops left me an opportunity, I made for my car, slammed it into reverse, sped out through the Dairy Queen drive-thru, and out onto the highway. Never again, I swore. Never again.