Disbelief and snickering met the press release, but headlines were duly changed and lead stories were updated. The President was declaring the third to last week in his term of office the Week of Love. The President’s premise was simple: seven days off to find the one you love, to throw yourself at that person without excuse, to surrender yourself to youthful reckless abandon and chase the intensely human and American dream of finding the one you were meant to be with.
The President hoped the measure would raise the nation’s happiness index, which was hovering perilously close to suicidal levels. Never had a country been so close to offing itself in one fell swoop.
The seven days off affected everyone. The President called upon the nation’s cadre of spinsters, asexuals, people with obsessive compulsive disorder that precluded love, lone wolves and other willing members of the single life to run the country’s airlines (which would fly for free for the week), entertainment (also comped), hospitals (service gratis), restaurants (dirt cheap), and police force (paid 4 times their salary) while the week went on.
The happily married or committed American couples were to take the week to reaffirm all that they loved about one another. The President held a press conference directed solely at them, using phrases in his speech like “the country’s backbone,” and “America’s most treasured and least rooted for team.” He told the American Couples to remember that they were also America’s Sweethearts, and he asked for anyone who was in a happy union already to share a kiss at 9pm Eastern Time outside wherever they resided.
The high schoolers of America rejoiced in what was sure to be the most dramatic and most talked about weeks of their lives. Terminally shy band kids worked nervously with their awkward hair while rehearsing speeches meant to win over the most beautiful girl in school. Charming and well-spoken but ultimately misguided young men took the opportunity to suggest to the girl they were dating that perhaps this was it – the perfect chance to lose their virginity during a Nationally sponsored holiday, and get married. In that order. Lovestruck 13-year-olds kept apart by families swooned with the chance to live the happy half of Romeo and Juliet.
The nation’s pessimists spoke vehemently about the ridiculousness and childlike naivete that accompanied the most ridiculous stunt of presidential schmaltz since Kennedy held tea parties during his election. They pointed at graphs with unhappy downward spirals and cited abysmally small numbered percentages. They planned on staying home for the week, perhaps drinking the nice cognac they had bought the year earlier, getting drunk and yelling obscenities at an empty apartment, condo, house.
The nation’s optimists sighed and congratulated each other, patted themselves on the back and agreed that it was nice to be right – everything was going to turn out okay.
The nation’s elderly tut-tutted the lack of planning (only three months notice? Why so much rush?) but smiled at the thought of passed on love ones and talked of nothing but love lost while hoping for one last bit of shared companionship. The nation’s toddlers were paired off by hopeful and doting parents. The forty-somethings considered chasing the ones with half their age, the twenty-somethings briefly considered pursuing those twice their age.
Those three months before the President’s nationally sponsored “Love Week,” The United States of America saw a glow of happiness unlike any other. Television watching was down, walks in the park were up. Condoms were sold out for miles around the smaller towns. Soldiers were ushered home to be covered in affection by lonely significant others. Independent shop owners let their staff go on their vacation, and fiddled with the thought that all of this love would bring in more business. Chain store district managers and store managers let their staff on holiday and then worked on a schedule for the next months that would make up for the lost time. People talked endlessly about possibility and happiness and being filled with something good, like they were a piece of cake filled with frosting and wonderfulness. People hugged more and kissed more.
Divorces went up. Marriages went up too. But the percentage stayed the same.
The weather got nicer.
Pornography sales dropped ninety percent.
Pessimists waited for the other shoe to drop.
Optimists took off their shoes all together.
The President watched the happiness index of his United States and smiled. He had had trouble falling asleep in the weeks leading up to Love Week the same way he used to on Christmas Eve. He thought about how his bachelorhood was considered his greatest weakness at the beginning of his campaign and then his finest strength by the time he was elected, and then his smile began to sag and as usual, he thought back to law school and winter mornings spent with Linda.
Linda and the President (he wasn’t the President back then – he had a far less pompous name) made pancackes together on winter mornings. Pancakes just didn’t seem like Summer. They would revel in each other’s presence, and the skin-to-skin warmth, and they kissed while new batter cooked on the griddle. They didn’t talk about his political career, they talked about what herbs and vegetables to grow in their garden. The President, at that time, had little political aspirations. Linda, at that time, didn’t plan on leaving the President with a cryptic note to meet her on a bench on a specific week in a specific year.
Instead, the two just ate their pancakes and smiled and decided on rosemary and basil and tomatoes and zucchinis, and Linda dipped her fingers into melted butter and ran it through the syrup and held it out for the President to lick.
The President planned to sit on the bench with the faded note in one hand and pancakes wrapped in tinfoil in the other, and he knew he would never feel more American.