28 August 2007

Alberto "Mr Memory" Gonzales 1955-2007

Today the vaudeville stage is missing one of its greatest stars. Yes, America, bow your collective head in tribute to Alberto "Mr Memory" Gonzales - the simple Attorney General of the United States from Texas who entertained a mighty nation with his astounding feats of non-existent memory.

Born (possibly, it was always so hard for Mr Gonzales to recollect) in or about San Antonio, Texas, and raised - serendipitously one might say - in the town of Humble, Alberto Gonzales's youth would be familiar to many of the great stars of vaudeville: he was brought up in poverty, one of seven children, and his forebears had come to the land of the free as immigrants. Indeed, it seems that Mr Gonzales inherited his great skills of memory from those forebears, grandma and grandpa having somehow forgotten ever to fill in the necessary forms to make their stay in the United States legal.

Where other vaudevillians found themselves on the stage from childhood, however, young Alberto preferred a more conventional path, heading first to the United States Air Force and then into a career in the law. Indeed, this comic genius might have been lost to the dry and dusty legal world had it not been for a chance encounter with the young George W. Bush who, like Alberto, had been called to the bar in his youth (though, unlike Alberto, he had been called there to pony up for several more beers and bourbon chasers). The future president asked Alberto his name and when he responded with the words "Andrew ... no, Alfonso ... no ... it's ... it's ... what would you like it to be?" Mr Bush knew he had his man.

Over the following years, Alberto was always to be found at Mr Bush's side ... whether as general counsel during Mr Bush's governorship of Texas or as chief White House counsel following Mr Bush's accession to the Presidency itself. Yet the young lawyer always found time to hone his comic routines and practise his feats of no memory: soon he was impressing and entertaining all at the Governor's mansion forgetting to mention Mr Bush's drink-driving conviction whilst getting him excused from jury duty. After this impressive feat he would go on to astound his audience by forgetting the unforgettable: his duty to examine in detail the pleas for clemency of the 150 men and women executed during Mr Bush's gubernatorial tenure.

The Texas stage was clearly not enough for so great a talent and soon "The Great Fredo" as Mr Bush knew him, was joining the newly-elected(1) President in Washington where - as White House counsel and later Attorney General - he would stand in the centre of the political stage and forget everything from the provisions of the Geneva Convention to the meaning of habeas corpus, on each occasion rushing up to Mr Bush afterwards and triumphantly demanding, "Am I right, Sir?"

There was nothing that Alberto could not forget: he forgot the provisions of the Constitution, he forgot the separation of powers, he forgot that wiretapping was illegal, as Attorney General he forgot that his first duty was to the People and the Constitution and not to the President. Yet all this was as nothing compared to his final, greatest performance. In a bravura series of appearances before the Senate in relation to his dismissal of eight US Attorneys he achieved feats of memory unseen since Ronald "The Great Ronaldo" Reagan was questioned about the Iran-Contra affair. Alberto forgot who had authorised the dismissals, he forgot he had said it was his idea, he forgot the documents said it was the White House's idea, he forgot that attorneys had been fired for not being "Loyal Bushies", he forgot whether he had had any role in the dismissals at all, and he forgot forgetting whether he had had any role in the dismissals. On 74 occasions Alberto was asked questions by the Senate and on 74 occasions he was able to say he could not remember or did not know the answer in the first place. There had been no equivalent performance by a vaudevillian since the Marx Brothers quit the stage.

The strain of such an act tolled on Alberto, as it was bound to. His memory was now almost completely gone and he was forced to quit the stage forever, leaving us with his last words: "I want to spend more time with ... you know ... those folks I share a surname with ... my ... my ... er family, yes, that's it ... ... Where am I?"

Alberto "Mr Memory" Gonzales will be buried at ... er ... er ... I know I wrote it down somewhere ... look is it okay if I get back to you on this? He will long be remembered ... or maybe not.

(1) ironic quotation marks omitted for reasons of space.