I hadn’t thought about the dancing chicken in years. Back in college, we spent an inordinate number of the wee small hours across the river in Chinatown, sating our munchies with copious, steaming plates of clams in black bean sauce or shrimp with Sichuan hot peppers at one of the joints that were open 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year. In those pre-video-game days, the storefront arcades were comprised of mainly pinball machines, with one endlessly fascinating exception.

The very much alive and seemingly well chicken was housed in a plexiglass cubicle mounted at eye-level on a console with a series of control knobs designed to allow customers to dictate what precise dances said chicken would perform, but as far as I remember, the fowl had only a couple of moves, mostly bouncing from foot to foot on the wire mesh floor of the enclosure. Now this was several years before the animal liberation movement and nearly a decade prior to PETA, and — coupled with the fact that chickens don’t have much of a facial expression — concern for the bird was, let’s call it — wanting.

Not very long afterward, the chicken vanished, never to be seen again. At first we thought it simply died but upon reflection, realized it was more likely swept away by the winds of a rapidly rising consciousness, given its circumstances, which we realized much later, included a mild electric shock each time someone pressed the buttons. Certainly not the kind of thing that makes you feel good about yourself in retrospect and almost sufficiently ghastly to make us swear off recreational substances forever — almost. You’re probably wondering “Why bring it up now and what could it possibly have to do with the impending election?” Let me explain.

In an unmistakable effort to demonstrate that he’s as tragically hip as the next boomer, the president has recently taken to busting a move or two before rallies to loosen up the crowd, with a kind of hybrid shimmy of an old man trying not to fall and roller-skating primate in an oversized suit. Never mind that a Donald Trump crowd needs loosening like it needs LSD. Believing anything the man says after all this time is most likely limited to the presidential cultists, as loose in their credulity as their idol is with his mendacity.

As I watched anyway, awestruck, as the president sort of shifted his weight from one foot to the other, shaking his tiny fists like a tomato-can boxer waiting to take the next dive, I couldn’t help remembering the Chinatown Chicken and how for a time we actually believed or at least acted like we believed, it was dancing. Wondering if there would be a time, as there eventually was with us, when the crowd would realize what they believed, or acted like they believed, was nothing more than P.T. Barnum-level BS without any of the fun stuff. But I did have to admit, the one thing Donald Trump has been able to consistently retain through his every outrage of the past four years is an uncanny ability to stun.

In these final weeks before the election, when we think we’ve heard it all literally thousands of times, he still manages to rise above — or sink below — whatever he’s said or done previously. Even in the waning days of what ideally will be his only term in the White House, he effortlessly obliterates the obscenity threshold he crossed yesterday with every intention of doing so again tomorrow. Although this has been going on since his “American carnage” inauguration speech, which George Bush termed “Some weird s*it,” reviewing the past two weeks sufficiently illuminates exactly how weird it’s become.

As the president struggled to enumerate the good qualities of QAnon at last week’s NBC Town Hall, it was obvious he is incapable of learning or simply refuses to learn, either of which is extremely dangerous. Considering the universal criticism of his difficulty in condemning white supremacy weeks ago, this should have been a slam dunk, but the bizarre conspiracy movement had the one attribute impossible for Trump to ignore: “They seem to like me very much.” And then, triumphantly announcing the group’s opposition to pedophilia matched his own, it apparently escaped him that the only people unopposed to pedophilia are pedophiles.

On the bright side, the polls are increasingly tipping toward Joe Biden and the president’s desperation is wearing down whatever thin patina of credibility he may have once had from even his most loyal enablers. Even as noted epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm warns “the next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the pandemic.” While infections are spiking in 30 states and Europe is beginning to look like it did in March, the president insists on giddily repeating “we’ve turned the corner” on COVID-19, urging the country to fully reopen.

Hearing the president of the United States say things like “Suburban women, will you please like me” is so pathetic you begin feeling sorry for the guy, at least until the next time he opens his mouth: Osama Bin Laden is still alive and the Seal Team Six raid to eliminate the notorious terrorist was faked; 85% of those who wear masks are infected by the coronavirus ... “Joe Biden will listen to the scientists” ... horrors! .... And if we’d listened to Dr. Fauci, we’d have “over 500,000 deaths.”

With apologies to PETA, it may be time for drastic measures, like bringing the Chinatown Chicken out of retirement ... much more believable and a way better dancer.

Walt Amses lives in North Calais.

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