Dreaming of a President

In an apartment in Venice four blocks from the Pacific I once knew a boy who fell asleep to The West Wing in the evenings.

I did too, on green couches whose supporting structure would poke at our ribs as we dozed. Those couches are long gone, and the apartment, with it’s drawbridge and fence, now houses people I do not know. Watching The West Wing again, four or five years later, the opening chords of the theme bring that scene back to me instantly. Those two boys were exhausted as they lay down, eyes closing almost before the DVD player could spin up. They had been working long days, from early light to well past dark. They had gone out too, with the exuberance of friends whose lives were usually separated by the Pacific. They were given only those scant hours between work and sleep to enjoy a decade’s worth of camaraderie, and the bar tab often showed their dedication, before the couches claimed their tired bodies as the TV panned over the White House.

This past week, with the DVDs freshly arrived from Los Angeles, we’ve spent hours inside that world, appreciating the acting and laughing at jokes written most of a decade ago. Yet the love for Charlie and Josh, the rueful awareness of my own personal Toby-esque nature, the support for CJ and Donna, these are not the first emotions that opening sequence calls forth.

That is strange because the emotions that return immediately, the deep hope and desire that are so strongly intertwined with those couches and long days in Los Angeles, no longer exist.

In two thousand five, two thousand six, those boys did not fall asleep to The West Wing simply because of exhaustion. Each morning those two boys would rise, perhaps having moved from couch to bed, perhaps still in their clothes, and head to work again. They would get coffee at Groundwork on Rose and discuss a television show neither of them had truly seen. Instead of the episode’s plot they would discus how pleasant it was, just for a moment as they woke in the morning, to believe Martin Sheen the President of the United States.

Habits are our ways of making peace with the world. By repeating small actions, by safeguarding our hopes with nightly support, we build structures capable of carrying us through disheartening turbulence. Between two thousand and two thousand eight I built a life on the other side of the planet to protect my hopes for this country. In Los Angeles for business I learned how my friend had handled the same challenge. He’d fallen asleep to The West Wing every night instead of the news.

In San Francisco now, we have a President who expects me to understand his arguments, if not Latin, and I still appreciate the show. The writing is deft and the characters nuanced despite the tiny snatches that an ensemble drama demands. But the magic and need that made its theme a daily habit is gone, and it is good, busy with new challenges and striving to protect different hopes, to remember how far we’ve come and how impossible such progress once looked.

Corporate confusion (choose your own adventure style)


One evening a friend recommends a television show to you.  “It’s really funny,“ he says, and”you’d love it.”  The conversation continues, but the show comes up several more times.  Upon returning home you decide that it’s not that late and you’ll check it out.  You open your trusted laptop and type in hulu.com, and then the show’s name.  Boom, you’re in luck.  Click.  Now you’re excited, and your friend was very enthusiastic.  You scan the episode list.  Episode 12.  Episode 15.  Episode 19.  Episode 20.  Episode 17.  End.  Confused, you look around for more pages, or another link.  Nothing.  After a bit of reading you click on the Availability” link.  The following text appears:

We are able to post the last five episodes of Modern Family to air on TV. The episodes posted may vary based on ABCs on-air schedule.”

This provides you with one point of information: ABC makes this show.  You go to ABC.com.  You are greeted by a horrible Netflix pop-up, and auto-play Flash ads.  Frustrated, you eventually find the show’s page.

You discover the same five episodes.

Do you:

  1. Close both windows (and the pop-up) and go to bed

  2. Go watch something else on Hulu that you already know

  3. Trust your friend’s enthusiasm and google for a torrent or illegal stream of the show’s pilot

One of these options makes ABC view you as a criminal.  The other two result in you never seeing their product.