Dick Cheney sits on a porch step with his head in his hands. It's 3 a.m. and the street is deserted. A hint of fading spring is in the predawn desert air, but the heat of summer is poised to take hold. The temperature rises fast when the Arizona sun comes up, but Cheney will be long gone by then. J.M. Smith is dead. Cheney's work here is done.
The former vice president of the United States isn't the same man he was 50 years ago, when he was untested by adversity, perceived or otherwise. War has been a looming presence in Dick Cheney's life since he was born. Europeans were dying by the thousands when he came into the world in early 1941, even though we resisted caring until later that year, when our boys started dying at Pearl Harbor.
Nonetheless, war was there, and Cheney was raised on it, fed and clothed and educated by it, influenced and propagandized by it, shaped by it his entire life, the same as the rest of the late-20th-century world. He was born into a world war, watched a Korean one unfold as a child, then cut his professional teeth on two wars simultaneously—a Cold War and Vietnam. Later he helped craft two Gulf ones—first in Iraq, then in Iraq again, to finish the job left undone from the first time—and Afghanistan.
Cheney started his career in government as an intern in 1969 and skyrocketed to the top. He quickly got a job as an assistant to Donald Rumsfeld in the War on Poverty, which we are still fighting and will likely always fight. By 1975, The Dick was White House chief of staff under Gerald Ford, a job he inherited from his old boss, Rumsfeld.
Later, after his cash cow was sent packing by a peanut farmer, Cheney ran for Congress and represented Wyoming for 12 years. In Congress, he sometimes worked as a foot soldier in a new war, the War on Drugs. He helped pass the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which created the Office of National Drug Control Policy. That office, where the infamous drug czar resides (a term apparently coined by Joe Biden, btw) is a known cannabis-hating organization that remains a pain in the ass for marijuana proponents everywhere.
It's not entirely Dick Cheney's fault that he is what he is.
Cheney and his ilk are prone to the Us and Them thinking that has always been a part of human existence and flared repeatedly in the 20th century. They seem to see the world in blacks and whites, a network of crisscrossing lines in the sand, walling off various sectors of society and keeping them separate, occasionally literally splitting families the way the Berlin Wall and the 38th Parallel did. Step over my lines, I DARE you.
But the waves of change wash away the lines as fast as men like Dick Cheney can scratch them on the beach. There is an ocean of humanity out there, both in the corporal sense and philosophically. Americans are tired of inhumanity, however often it arises, and it seems we're ready for change on numerous fronts—violence, gender inequality, economic polarization ... and cannabis.
And partly because of America's shift away from dogma and toward realistic governance and humanity, the cannabis slope is sufficiently slippery that the Dick Cheneys of the world become virtually irrelevant, and along with them the J.M. Smiths. Without a Goliath, David is just some guy with a sling, and without a Dick Cheney, J.M. Smith is just a loudmouthed prick, drooling out hyperbole to random passers-by.
Mr. Smith didn't want to become that, so he talked Dick Cheney into killing him, because he couldn't do it himself. There's only so much a man can do with a twitching middle finger, only so many Fuck Yous to go around. It wasn't a fit of capricious weakness. It was a reasoned decision to end a fight that seemed won. Mr. Smith simply bowed out, like a starter in the bottom of the eighth inning. The conversation went something like this:
"The world overtook us, Dick, left us behind. I don't want to lie in this bed anymore, wishing I could move, and I don't want to be a relic. No offense, but you're a relic, a sad deflated shadow of your former glorious warmongering self. You world doesn't exist anymore, and mine is fading fast. All your wars are over, your favorite ones anyway, and you lost them all. The global Us versus Them mentally is fading. It must have been fun getting back into the White House with Rumsfeld, but even the war you two helped orchestrate is over.
"C'mon you sorry fuck! Do it! I'm not going to lie here for the next 30 years, twitching my finger at the world! Just pull the plug, turn around and walk out. You don't have to say anything. You don't have to watch. You don't have to feel guilty. I want you to do it. Just pull the plug and walk out into the night and disappear."
Cheney looked deep into Mr. Smith's eyes, and what he saw brought the bile of hatred to the back of his throat. He saw freedom in J.M. Smith's eyes. He saw freedom and truth and justice—all the things he tried so hard for so many years to control. Cheney realized then that he couldn't control truth, couldn't withhold justice, couldn't give freedom to anyone. It made him angry to think that Mr. Smith, trapped in his own body by quadriplegia and facing a lifetime of indignity and devastating immobility, was more free than he would ever be.
Cheney looked away from J.M. Smith. He hesitated, clenching his fists at his sides. He thought about the forces he had tried and failed to control for the good of the nation—money, power, terrorists. All of them had slipped from his grasp, all proving uncontrollable. He didn't know if Mr. Smith meant what he said or not, but now it became irrelevant. He wanted J.M. Smith dead.
So he yanked the plug from the wall and stepped out into the cool desert night to think about what he had done.