[Ed’s note: Marc Herman covered the 1996 presidential campaign, with uncommon insight and grace, for a number of periodicals, including Might, which folded soon after. We asked Mr. Herman to offer timely remarks about this year’s contest, and he agreed — as long as he could do so from his new home, in Chile. This is the fourth in a series of dispatches. These are very real.]
When winter arrives, people in Latin America with the means, or at least the appropriate visa, can flee from the cold southern cone toward the equator, where it has not snowed in about 30 million years, and the beaches are astonishingly perfect, long strands of white sand dipping luxuriously into teal water filled with bright, small fish.
At the election desk we have those visas, and we have concerns about the cold. So after careful consideration, the election desk will now be based in Grenada. Subsequent election coverage, already scattered, will resume from there if any news presents itself, following a careful move of equipment and supplies projected to last three months, and to involve hammocks.
There are other reasons to leave Chile. The most persuasive is the arrival, to a nearby town, of a chupacabra. This animal, known also as the Mexican vampire goat, was not been known to appear south of Guatemala until three weeks ago. Then farmers discovered a flock of sheep slaughtered in a stockhouse in Calama, a desert community only a few days north of Santiago. A predator had torn open the animals’ necks with fierce brutality and drained the bodies of blood, but, suspiciously, left the meat behind.
Northern Chile is a logical place for a chupacabra attack. It is like Nevada, but larger. There is nothing there but copper mines, people with strong opinions about alien abduction, and beautifully colored sand. It once went 14 years without a single drop of rain. It is a harsh, pitiless place. Off the coast is the Humboldt current, a stream of Antarctic water cold enough to trick penguins into thinking they are not so far from home as they actually are. At the edge of the desert is a colony of lost, bewildered, overheated Humboldt penguins, morosely watching their numbers dwindle, not comprehending the depth of their mistake, their shoulders bent in resignation. It is an unforgiving place, northern Chile.
This is where the chupacabra struck. Local officials, taking no chances, took up the matter immediately. Police declared a regional alert. The head of the Carabinero, the national police, sent soldiers and helicopters on nocturnal sweeps, using bright searchlights, of the greater Calama region. They found nothing. Stories filled the evening news. A person dressed in a gorilla suit, an alligator mask and black ballet shoes hung a sign reading “Chupacabra” around his or her neck, establishing a malevolent presence on the downtown paseo, leaping at businesswomen during the lunch hour, biting their necks.
Pictures of the beast, or at least drawings, soon appeared. The chupacabra has the body of a goat, the talons of an eagle, and barracuda teeth. It has a flat, flaring snout and assassin’s eyes. It looks not unlike Tony Podesta. Some theorize the Calama beast is actually a panther lost in a bus crash two years ago while being transferred between two Bolivian zoos.
The Chupacabra remains at large.
Of course, the election desk still has its assignment, for which an enormous budget is available due to the internet boom. But how to possibly relate the new headquarters, the Caribbean, to the Presidency? A document search of the available literature concluded that the only concrete link between the Caribbean and the Oval Office is sugar cane:
“At one point during their conversation, the President had a call from a sugar grower in Florida whose name, according to Ms. Lewinsky, was something like “Fanuli.” In Ms. Lewinsky’s recollection, the President may have taken or returned the call just as she was leaving.(249) . . . the President talked with Alfonso Fanjul of Palm Beach, Florida, from 12:42 to 1:04 p.m.(253) Mr. Fanjul had telephoned a few minutes earlier, at 12:24 p.m.(254) The Fanjuls are prominent sugar growers in Florida.(255)"
Why does a Floridian sugar baron get a 20-minute call through to the President’s desk phone? Experienced correspondents from older publications will laugh at that, because the answer is probably something innocuous like “That’s how Washington works.” Fortunately, lacking such experience, it is easier to simply be troubled, concerned, unsure if the above passage represents something more about the strange world of the White House that can be reported in this space, and related to the election, as appropriate, in the future.