American History Month

“Groovy, Constituents. Welcome to the White House. My name is Jacques, and I’ll be your Congressional Aide for the day. Le groovy, les Constituants. Accueillir à la Maison Blanche. Mon nom est Jacques, et je serai votre Assistant du Congrès pour le jour. Tourner vos chaînes de communication à “Français” si vous exigez que ce jour pour ait été dans votre langue maternelle.” Jacques flashed a smile, then went back into his spiel. “American History is an important part of our heritage. Just over 200 years ago, America was one of the world’s leading super powers. This was the seat of that power.” He spread his arms, indicating the entirety of the Entrance and Cross Halls. “As part of American History Month, you have the privilege of seeing your history and your heritage. It is something to be proud of.”

From the back of the group of 12-year-olds, there came a muffled laugh. Jacques closed his eyes for a minute. Why had he taken this job? What did he care about some moldy old building and a heritage that he didn’t even share? All these stupid kids didn’t care about their own history. He found his focus, opened his eyes, and flicked the switch on his comm. channel transmitter, causing a whine in the ears of all the students. He smiled.

“Sorry about that, just a little glitch. Can you all hear me now?”

There were some mutterings, but most of the heads nodded. How many were here this time, anyway? It looked like it was over a hundred. Well, just as long as he wasn’t responsible for any vandalism. Last time, someone had managed to pour some maple syrup all over the desk in the Howdy Office. How they had snuck past the lasers, he didn’t know and he didn’t care. It had been on his watch, and there had been some threats of firing, but finally they admitted it was their own security lapse, and nothing to do with him. Since then, they had changed the system so that if anyone passed a laser point, their comm. channel would go off and they’d be tagged.

“In the Cross Hall, you can see portraits of Presidents of the United States of America, spanning from the first President, George Washington, to the last president, George W. Bush. George W. Bush is actually hanging in both the 43rd President spot and the 46th. This is unusual as it represents the only President who was ever allowed to serve two non-consecutive terms of two terms each, thanks to the law passed after the Schwarzenegger fiasco while Jeb Bush was President. It was during President George W. Bush’s second term that the Canadian-American conflict occurred.”

From somewhere in the middle of the group, Jacques heard someone whispering urgently. No doubt filling in their neighbor on some of the sordid details of the conflict. Jacques deemed it beneath him to interrupt. Let them get their fill of rumor and innuendo. He was giving them history.

“Please file through that doorway, and we will be in the East Room.” He pointed to the large doors off to the right of the room. The students dutifully trooped through. Jacques thought he heard someone mention The Great Rot. He sighed. Didn’t anyone ever not teach their children that story? He had heard it himself, but at least he had the good sense not to repeat it.

He entered the East Room and decided it was time to deal with the growing feeling of anti-government sentiment. “Does anyone have any questions?” He put on his most welcoming smile, hoping that someone would broach the topic so he could set them right publicly.

His channel buzzed and he clicked it over to the first link.

“I heard that the only reason that Canada was able to win the conflict was because they caused The Great Rot. Is that true?”

Jacques clicked back to himself. “No, that is not true. As you may or may not be aware, parts of Ontario were also affected by The Great Rot. It was an unfortunate, although entirely natural, phenomenon.

“The Great Rot occurred in 2022. It started in what is now the Vermont Territory. It seemed harmless at first, a simple mold that was growing on a few tightly clustered maple trees. Within the space of a month, however, almost every maple tree in the Vermont Territory was barren and unable to produce syrup. From there, it progressed throughout South Canada — I mean, the United States of America — and made it as far as Ontario before it was halted by a Canadian scientist. We’re still unsure where it came from, although there have been many theories, some of which involved environment groups who were angry with the treatment of the trees. They likened the way the syrup was harvested and created with the way that cows were once given artificial hormones. Of course, now we know that the cows just needed maple syrup.” Jacques smiled.

“There has never been any proof, however, that the Great Rot was man-made. In fact, if not for the sudden extreme need for maple syrup due to the discovery of its amazing healing powers, then The Great Rot would have been just another drop in the bucket.” He laughed at his own joke, but saw that the students weren’t buying what he was saying. “Honestly, now, can you really suspect your government of misleading you about this?”

There were some grumbles, but he noticed that the remaining lights on his comm. channel had gone off. “No more questions?” He waited another moment, but there was no buzzing and no lights went on.

“Well, this is the East Room. As you’ve no doubt noticed, it is a very large room. This room has been used for many things — the children of Theodore Roosevelt roller-skated in here.” Jacques gestured to the pair of ancient roller skates that were encased in a shadow box on the wall. “Most recently, it hosted the 9th president to lie in state — George W. Bush himself. That was over 150 years ago. Since then, the room has only been used for these school trips.”

Jacques looked around, half expecting someone to ask what it meant to lie in state. He fielded that one at least once every trip. No one buzzed him this time, though.

“As many of you are, no doubt, aware,” Jacques continued, leading them into the Library, “This is the room in which the Canadian-American Conflict ended. President George W. Bush, with the full backing of his Congress, called the newly elected President of the Sovereign County of Canada and accepted their terms. These terms included the annexation of the United State of America, making it the new South Canada in which you all live today.”

Once in the Library, Jacques pointed to the old-fashioned phone that sat on the desk. “That is the actual phone that was used in that call.” There were oohs and aahs as some of the students pushed forward to see it. Most of them hadn’t seen anything that old. He heard them whispering about it — the lack of the video screen, the buttons with letters and numbers, the two pieces to it! Base and receiver! And it was black! He let the whispers die down before continuing. “Now, the Library itself has been refurnished as many of the items in it were taken to the new capital in Quebec to furnish the Presidential Suite there.”

Jacques comm. unit buzzed. He clicked on the lit one.

“Was Quebec always the seat of government?”

“Wonderful question,” Jacques was beaming. “No, it was not. Canada’s first capitol was Ottawa, which was in Ontario. However, as I mentioned, they were also bothered by the Great Rot. When Canada itself finally seized its own independence from the rule of the British Crown, it was Quebec that led the fight.

Quebec’s maple trees were the only ones that were far removed enough to not be affected by the Great Rot, so they had managed to grow their wealth while others scrambled. Their production, always the highest, had already peaked at over ninety percent of the world’s maple syrup. Because of their great patriotism and willingness to help Canada, they were rewarded with the capitol after the break from British Occupation.”

Jacques realized that he had wandered a bit from the original question, but the students hadn’t noticed or cared. They were gathered in small groups, ignoring him. He saw that the light had gone off on the comm. channel and decided it was time to move on.

“We’ll be passing through some rooms that are no longer available to the public now. Please stay behind the lasers.” He led the way through the twisty maze of lasers, artificial darkness obscuring everything that was not on the path. The darkness pressed in on the path, held at bay only by the lasers. If anyone had crossed the laser, he would find himself in total and complete blackness. The only light would come from their comm. channel, which would allow him to find it and drag the offender out. So far, no one had the nerve to wander off into the darkness. He finally came to the doors of the State Dining Room which he flung open with a flourish.

“Let us gather in front of the mantelpiece, on the far side of the table.” The group shuffled in, seeming to already be bored with the tour. Jacques saw more than one pre-teen make a face at another one, with laughter not-so-hidden behind a hand. It was their loss, he reminded himself. He was presenting them with their history, and if they weren’t interested, the only person they were cheating was themselves. He was doing an excellent, and exciting, job, he reassured himself.

“Here on the mantelpiece,” he pointed, careful not to get too close, “is where there used to be an inscription. The inscription was carved by John Adams, the sixth President of the United States of America, on his second night in the White House. The inscription read, “I pray Heaven to Bestow the Best of Blessings on THIS HOUSE and on All that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and Wise Men ever rule under this roof.” During the Presidency of Schwarzenegger, however, the second sentence was removed. Whether this was done to mock him, or on his own order, it is unclear. Either way, the damage was irreparable, and over time the rest of the inscription has slowly eroded.”

The students peered at the mantelpiece, but since there was nothing there anymore, it was futile. Jacques let the students wander around the room for a few minutes, gossiping among themselves.

“Now it’s time to go to the West Wing!” Jacques hoped that his enthusiasm was catching, but it didn’t seem to be. The students were as apathetic as they were every year. To Jacques, it was the height of rudeness. Here he was, still thrilled at this part of the tour, even after doing it for ten long years, and these idiots didn’t have the sense to enjoy it. He directed them back onto the laser path.

They walked through most of the White House in darkness. For the most part, the rooms were abandoned and covered in dusty white cloths, Jacques knew. When the tours were over, even the “good” rooms would be covered in the cloths. The White House didn’t see many visitors on a regular basis, and the majority of them weren’t even allowed in the rooms. They were given the guided holographic tour in the Visitors’ Entrance. It was only the students that were allowed to come this close to their own history. The general public weren’t considered safe enough. Even though the conflict had been over for more than one hundred and fifty years, there were still some simmering hostilities. For the most part, people were happy now. According to the reports, healthcare was better than it had ever been in the past, and the unemployment rate was below one percent. Almost every student in his group would have a job in another five year to ten years. Jacques sighed. Bless Canada. How would they survive with this crew in charge?

The path abruptly ended at a door bathed in white light. Jacques turned to face the group. A few in the back hadn’t realized it was time to stopped and had bumped into the students in front of them, causing a bit of a scuffle. Jacques waited for the dust to clear, literally, before he spoke.

“This is the West Wing. It was in 1902 when the term was coined, and for over a hundred years this was the center of activity. This is where the First Family lived, where they held their press conferences, and where the President worked in his office. His office was once called The Oval Office, but was renamed the Howdy Office right before the annexation.” Jacques laughed a little. “Not that those two things are connected. Are you ready to see the West Wing?”

The was a murmur from the crowd of students. Jacques thought it best to take it as a yes. Otherwise he feared the tour would be there all morning. He opened the door, admitting them into the glory of the West Wing.

In sharp contrast with the rest of the White House, the West Wing was decorated in a cowboy theme. The wallpaper featured little cowboys on bucking broncos, the table lamps were meant to look like cacti, and the garbage cans were oversized cowboy boots. The bookshelves, made of weathered fence, or at least it looked that way, were filled with Zane Grey novels, and a big poster of John Wayne was on the door of the Howdy Office. There were cowboy hats on the tables that had once held peanut brittle, but now just held a plastic imitation. The only difference from the original that Jacques knew of was in the Howdy Office.

The students stood in stunned silence. This they could enjoy. It was the same every year. Suddenly interest was piqued, and his comm. channel was buzzing and blazing with light. “One at a time,” Jacques told them unnecessarily. He selected the first one he had seen go on.

“Did the West Wing always look like this?”

“No, I’m afraid not. There are some photographs on that wall,” Jacques gestured to his right, “that show the original appearance. This was done during the reconstruction.” Jacques felt himself slip into lecture mode. “After the excesses and destruction that occurred during the Schwarzenegger presidency, President Jeb Bush began an extensive reconstruction effort. It involved millions of dollars and several hundred workers. The offices were all rebuilt and redecorated. This room, for instance, was originally redone with white marble and alligator skin wallpaper. The general public was outraged and demanded things be remedied. Unfortunately for President Jeb Bush, his Congress was not behind him. After passing the law which allowed past presidents to come back to office for a second set of two terms, the Republican Party elected President George W. Bush back to office. His home territory, Texas, donated these items. In order to avoid antagonizing his already overtaxed population that was tired of presidential excess, President George W. Bush installed the items that were provided. It marked the dawning of a new age. That age, however, came to an abrupt end only seven years later, during his second term of his second two terms.” Jacques ran over it in his mind again, checking his history timeline, then smiled again to the group.

“Were there any other questions?”

More lights, more buzzers. Jacques was in his element now. He let the students pepper him with stupid question relating to cowboys for about half an hour before making a show of checking his watch.

“It’s time for you to move on,” he announced, hearing a few complaints. It always happened this way, he knew. They were finally interested and he need to pass them along. Of course, he wasn’t very interested in cowboys and Indians, so that wasn’t such a bad thing. He herded them back onto the path and led them back out to the Entrance and Cross Halls. They exited the building into the dome of artificial sunlight and fake scent of cherry blossoms.

“Please stand on the path to your right. Remain standing; do not sit down on it. Do not reach off the path to touch any of the plants or wax figures. Do not step off of the path until the exit point. The path will convey us to the next stop, Monument Hall. This is where the remaining Presidential Monuments have been stored for public viewing.”

Jacques climbed on the moving walkway at the front and saw the students fall in behind him. “Here we go,” he muttered to himself. “Some more American history.”

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