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Spinning Dixie: A Novel Excerpt from Spinning Dixie: A Novel

by Eric Dezenhall

People ask me how a boy who was raised by a mobster grew up to become Press Secretary to the President of the United States. The answer is, when reporters started hammering me with questions about my pedigree, I did something sly that caught the Washington press corps off-guard:  I admitted everything.

The Times: "Jonah, is it true that upon the death of your grandfather, Mickey Price, you attended a Mafia summit?"
Me: "Who do you think called the meeting?"

Follow up: "Would you say your relationship with Mr. Price was of the conventional see-Grandpop-on-Sunday kind?"
Me: "It was the opposite of conventional. He and my grandmother virtually raised me after my parents died. They were my best friends." 

Global Wire Service: "Mr. Eastman, it's been rumored that you arranged for the murder of a mob figure who was said to have crossed you?" 
Me: "Absolutely not. I handled it personally." 

As Henry Kissinger once said (but did not abide), "What will come out eventually must come out immediately." People were stunned by my answers. Sure, I was using candor as a spin device, but Washington found it "refreshing." Washington likes to think it finds candor refreshing, but honesty in this town is a novelty mint, not sustenance.

Nevertheless, the same frankness and irreverence that had been the "Jonah Eastman brand" for the last two years of the Truitt Administration had finally become my undoing. I was fired this morning. 

Before I took my job as the President's spokesman, I had been a Republican pollster. I specialized in handling difficult elections, ones that needed an unconventional boost. And, yes: My grandfather was the late Moses "Mickey" Price, the Atlantic City gangster known as "the Wizard of Odds." 

Despite its Nixonian whiff, let me be perfectly clear about something: I am not a gangster. My Edie wouldn't have married a gangster, but she wouldn't have married a choirboy either. She had choices and, at some level, knew what she was doing. I couldn't have gotten to the White House being a cherub, and some of the runoff from Mickey's jungle of shadows had crept into my frequency. While I am tempted to reinvent myself for the reader, I am no more immune from my environment than the mirror prophet with whom I share a name, the one in the Bible who tried to run from God and was swallowed by a big fish. Jonah was chosen by God to be in a sea of trouble and, in my more philosophical moments, I believe I was genetically predisposed to scandal. Anyhow, spinning at this stage would be a lie that runs counter to the spirit of my forced retirement from the lying business. 

Officially, I wasn't fired. I resigned. I did so after a few unfortunate catalysts put me in play. It began when the head of the Republican Party declared the current recession to be a "communications problem." As Press Secretary, communications strategy fell under my purview. Then there was The Remark. 

I made The Remark two days ago during a press conference after a suicide bomber -- an erstwhile taxi driver from Yemen -- blew himself up at a Phillies game killing twenty four people. Even though I was technically a Jerseyan, Philadelphia was the provenance of my "hometown" sports team. When asked by the White House correspondent for the Philadelphia Bulletin how I felt about the attack as a man who hailed from the region, I said, "It's hard to believe Western civilization is going to be taken down by a bunch of cab drivers." 

To make matters worse, a network correspondent aboard Air Force One claimed to have overheard the President bark, "Aw, hell, we always negotiate with terrorists," in a discussion about potential response options. Moments before taking off, the Big Guy had finished giving a speech where he echoed every other recent president with the canard, "We do not negotiate with terrorists." (FIRST POUND/CONVEY RESOLVE -- PAUSE FOR APPLAUSE) The President totally said it, too. I was standing right next to him. Like the Secret Service agent who is trained to throw his body into the line of an assassin's bullet, I defused a potential crapstorm by instinctively telling the correspondent that I had made this remark, too. I was known for doing a mean Truitt impersonation -- the molasses Mississippi drawl, literary allusions, tractor-seat wisdom. The network, terrified of a White House freeze-out, agreed to make me the lightening rod. 

Copyright 2007 by Eric Dezenhall