Think of it as a Samuel Beckett play:
Title: "Waiting for Wilfred."
The Plot: "Wilfred the Turkey and the President of the United States Meet the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press."
Setting: The White House Rose Garden. Perched on a felt-covered table is one hell of a big tom turkey, 55 pounds of it. And an ugly thing, too -- plastered with yecchy, hangy red bits demanding an avian dermatologist.
Curtain: Ronald Reagan, in the role of president, strokes the feathers of the horrid beast. But nervously, because in a previous Thanksgiving production, the animal went berserk, turning a run-of-the-mill photo opportunity into a frenzy of feathers. This year the turkey, a native of Minnesota, looks as if it's taken a tab of Thorazine. The poor thing can barely shuffle its feet.
Lew Walts, executive vice president of the National Turkey Federation, who is wearing a regulation silver turkey tie clip, tells the president how the bird was fattened. (Corn, soybean milk and vitamins.) Reagan has heard this speech for as many years as he has held his office, but he may have forgotten. He smiles. He nods and nods.
Enter Sam Donaldson, as himself:
"HEY, MR. PRESIDENT WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT THE FARM BILL?"
Reagan, who has not held a formal news conference since Sept. 17, was keeping the subject on the bird.
"The only questions I'll take now are about the turkey," he says.
Sam again: "MR. PRESIDENT, HOW DO YOU LIKE THE TURKEY?"
The president reckons that he likes the turkey well enough and says something about how in German "Wilfred" means "resolute for peace" and how that is a nice sentiment in this world, considering. A Secret Service man -- you can tell from the single-breasted raincoat and the beige earpiece -- nods and nods.
Sam is in awesome form today. He seems to have inherited his lungs from Maria Callas and his gall from Foghorn Leghorn.
"CAN YOU TELL US ANYTHING ABOUT THE HIJACKING?"
The president says he'd just as soon not bore his guests from the National Turkey Federation with a bunch of inappropriate talk about terrorism and all that stuff.
"I don't think it would be right," Reagan says. "We'll keep the subject to what's going on here."
And then (as if on cue!) the turkey starts gobbling and gargling and all the other sounds a bird would make when tortured by such attention.
"Gobble," says the turkey. "Gobble, gobble."
"I agree with everything you've said," says Reagan.
And their agreement was the source of presidential mercy, perhaps.
Wilfred will not be spending Thursday on a platter. He will spend the remainder of his days on the grounds of Evans Farm Inn in McLean, to be pestered by young children interested in "petting" wild animals. Wilfred lives.
And the president exits stage west, for Santa Barbara, this morning.
Dim the lights.