Yesterday afternoon, Mitt Romney tried to perform some sort of prank. He finished up a campaign stop at Chicago’s Gino’s Pizza, then had the leftover pizza . . . delivered to the Obama campaign headquarters?
I’m sorry, what?
Now his communications director Gail Gitcho is claiming it was “just a nice gesture since we were just a few blocks away from their HQ yesterday and had extra pizza.”
But I’m not convinced. Nice gesture or not, it’s clearly the sort of thing that someone thought was going to be funny.
And you can see how this would happen. It reminds me of a story from President George W. Bush’s autobiography, when he was trying to write an essay at boarding school and needed a fancier word for tears. “Lacerates were flowing down my cheeks,” he wrote.
This is the sort of nice gesture you make when you know what a prank means but not how to use it in context. “It’s okay,” I picture Romney saying, pushing his aides aside. “I once read an article about pranks in the Economist, and it was very edifying.”
In general, you can tell that a prank has failed when everyone starts responding to it with confusion and bewilderment rather than laughing. “What?” they are saying. “Why are you sending them used pizza?”
“Nice gesture!” you shout. “It was a nice gesture!”
And it didn’t have to be like this.
I never thought that this would happen, but I am in a position to advise Mitt Romney.
For years, I sent people pizza as pranks. Pavarotti sang arias. Michelangelo painted chapels. Or do I mean sculpted? Well, forget Michelangelo. Georgia O’Keefe painted flowers. Or do I mean flowers?
Let me start over.
If there is one thing I am good at, one skill on which I would stake my afterlife, it is my ability to send people prank pizzas. I know it’s an old-timey, somewhat played-out prank, on par with calling restaurants to inquire if their refrigerators are running.
Many is the bemused call I have received from someone on the receiving end of a pizza, who informs me that his mother just went to the door and was serenaded by an unhappy-looking Domino’s employee, or that her grandmother is still recovering from the “breadstick incident.”
There is an art to this, a subtle and time-honored art dating back to the days when you would send freshly killed joke elk to your neighbors’ caves, that Mitt is in no way respecting. There are two questions any pizza-prankster must ask:
First, is this a situation where pizza would be welcome and seem natural?
Second, am I Mitt Romney?
If the answer to either question is “Yes,” except in special cases, do not send the pizza.
So what was this? This wasn’t a prank. This was just weird and uncomfortable, like when your high school math teacher starts doing the Worm at prom.
Still, it gave me pause. Could this lack of puckish spirit be what’s bedeviling the whole field? Maybe. On the scale between People Who Tend To Be Mistaken For Slowly Melting Blocks Of Ice and People Who Tend To Be Mistaken For Rabid Badgers, the slot that is usually occupied by Someone Sort Of Folksy Who Doesn’t Frighten The Horses is conspicuously empty.
But Mitt is not the man to fill it.
Mitt, please. You’re a born straight man. Don’t try to fight it. Don’t take this the wrong way, but when you try to be folksy, it terrifies us. It’s like watching John Quincy Adams try to do the macarena. We worry that you’ve snapped.
So stop trying to relate. You are America’s Awkward Stepdad, and the sooner you accept this and just spend your time talking about policy ideas, the more we’ll respect you. Now it’s like you’re trying to deliver us prank pizzas to show that you can be fun and “hip.” No, wait, you are actually delivering prank pizzas. Or gestural pizzas. Or something. Whatever it is, we’re concerned.
Besides, the next time you want to send pizza, try Herman Cain.