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Al Gore Returns to Fantasy Island

05/20/02 12:00AM By Philip Baruth
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(Host) Being one of Al Gore's closest confidantes has never been a walk in the park for commentator Philip Baruth, but over the last several months it's become particularly trying. As is often the case with Philip, we cannot guarantee that this commentary contains even a shred of truth.

(Host) The calls from Al Gore always come in the very dead of night, but over the last six months I've begun to let the phone ring longer and longer before picking up.

I feel a lot of affection for this guy, and I think he's suffered, but he's become like one of those friends who can't seem to move on after a devastating break-up. Every phone call has only One Subject. Every phone call begins in anger and ends in tears, and you can only walk someone through that so many times before your emotional legs get too tired.

Tonight Al wants to talk strategy. He and Joe Lieberman have secretly agreed to campaign in the primaries together, the deja-vu ticket, a larger-than-life, we-was-robbed tour-de-force.

What I want to say is, "Al, this is madness." But I'm a friend, and even though it's been a year and half since Florida, he's not ready for straight talk. His heart is like this big smashed-up pinata. So I say simply, Joe Lieberman? Do you think he's *right* for you, Al?

But Al can't hear the cautionary tone. He pours out more strategy. What comes next is something he calls Return to Fantasy Island: He and Lieberman have been working out on the weekends with a band of mercenaries and retired Navy Seals, and at some point next year -- Al is mum on exactly when -- the two of them will come ashore on a deserted beach 30 miles west of Havana. They will stash their scuba gear in the jungle, and they will make their way slowly toward the outskirts of the city. Al will handle communications and dead reckoning; Lieberman will disable any resistance.

And then, with a little luck, they will snatch Elian Gonzalez and return him to Florida. He pauses, waiting for my approval, but instead I say that it's late, and I have to be up early in the morning to re-caulk the downstairs bathroom.

Now he knows I want off the phone, but he can't let it go. He and Lieberman have spent millions this past summer on extremely high-tech dry-runs of the 2004 election. Their computer simulations all point to a re-match every bit as close as 2000. In at least one of those simulations, Vermont is the next Florida, with everything coming down to Burlington, and everything in Burlington coming down to my ward, Ward 4. Al pauses, and his voice takes on a thin echo of the old charm. "Can I count on you to bring your people along, Phil?"

Now I feel as though I owe him something like the truth, so I say, "Geez, I don't know, Al. We just had the school budget voted down for the second time out here. It's a tough row for a Democrat to hoe." And then, even though the house is perfectly dark and silent, I lie and I say, "I think I hear the baby crying, Al, I'm gonna have to go."

He knows he's obsessed and that he's driven me away, but he puts a brave face on it. "Good night, my friend." Then there's a pause, and then he says to me what the old Cuban-Americans say as they sip their espresso in Miami. "Next year - in Havana."

Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.


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