Red lighting flashed, as the President's party and the castaways assembled under black clouds to perform a short but important ceremony: the raising of the flag over their new collective home.
Gilligan was completing the flag pole as the first guests arrived. He looked like a swami with his head wrapped in thick layers of cloth bandages. Although he'd been unconscious for only a few minutes, Mary Ann kept a close watch on him as she tidied the clearing.
"Vicki!" A familiar, hearty voice boomed across the open space. The Old Ex-President and his Wife arrived with their employees and guests: a considerable circle of actors, actresses, and persons-in-attendance. Radiant in the place of honor, to the left of the old man's wheelchair, was Ginger Grant.
"Yes, yes," said the Old Ex-President's Wife, patiently. "You can play with Vicki later." Mary Ann was surprised to find the old man gazing rapturously at Ginger. Clapping his hands he repeated, "Vicki!"; then, turning to his wife, "Thank you Mommy." A famous conservative actor used a napkin to wipe a thin ribbon of drool from his quivering chin.
"There aren't any seats here. What should we do, Poppy? Sit on the ground? We'll get our suits dirty." The Governor of Florida was speaking to his father, another ex-President.
Poppy replied, fondly and with great earnestness, enunciating slowly and clearly. "Pioneer spirit," he said. With one finger raised for emphasis he added, "Red Studebaker, Odessa Texas." Underscoring his point, he concluded, nodding his head positively, "Message: I care." They sat on a blanket spread by a maid.
A group of military officers arrived, broad-shouldered and bemedaled. Looking more like an usher than a Navy man, the Skipper trotted along behind, a little out of breath.
Next were a pair of pasty-faced men in late middle-age, accompanied by an entourage of healthy-looking lads in form-fitting tight gym shorts. Mary Ann's eyes grew wide. "My goodness! Those don't leave much to the imagination!," she thought. Later she learned the two men were the Reverends Pat and Jerry, television evangelists renowned for their impassioned oratory condemning homosexuals. This surprised her at first, for, on reflection, she was certain she'd never seen two more effeminate-looking gentlemen in her life. "Takes all kinds to make a world," she said to herself, and left it at that.
The Professor arrived, leading a delegation of serious-looking men and women with thick spectacles and pocket-protectors. She heard them saying things like, "acetylsalicylic acid;" and so she rightly left them to themselves.
The Howells did not attend. They were on the golf course Gilligan had built for them, entertaining a large number of men and women in expensive clothes. "Civic matters," said Mr. Howell grandly, "are best left to the Mayor."
Mary Ann noticed a strange thing: the hum of many voices. It'd been 40 years since she'd been among a group this size. It was an unsettling thing that would take some getting used to. Despite her feeling of claustrophobia, she made her way to where Gilligan stood, to one side of the island's main path, not far from the Old Ex-President and his group. She wanted to be near her friend.
The President and his advisers arrived, preceded by the crackling of Secret Service radios. When the photographer was ready, the ceremony began.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said the President, reading from a prepared text. "We gather here in this place of exile, not to mourn the passing of an old world, but to celebrate the birth of a new world." (Applause.)
"Would you enjoy a cocktail, sir?," asked the President's English butler, Tony, who was discretely passing among the crowd with a bar tray on one arm.
"In doing so, we turn to, and reaffirm, the traditions of our people: our families, our God, and, here today, our flag." (Applause.)
The Reverend Jerry blew his nose loudly into a brightly-colored silk handkerchief. This was distracting at first to Mary Ann and Gilligan; but no-one else seemed to mind.
"From our childhoods we have all heard the story of the Philadelphia seamstress who sewed our country's first flag, on a winter's day more than 200 years ago." (Applause.)
"Vicki!," approved the Old Ex-President. The President continued:
"We do not know what words General Washington said on that occasion. But we do know the words -- the eloquent words" (here he departed briefly from his prepared text) "-- with which other great men have celebrated, and honored, our national symbol."(Applause.)
(From the golf course, in the distance, Mr. Howell shouted, "Fore!")
"In the Stars and Stripes is 'the experience of a great people, and nothing is written upon it that has not been written by their life,' said President Woodrow Wilson in 1915." (Applause.) The President, visibly moved, wiped his moistening eyes.
"Ma'am, a cocktail?," asked Tony.
"'The flag was flying when the British surrendered to General Washington at Yorktown, when Admiral Perry reached the North Pole, and when our soldiers battled at Iwo Jima,' said another great man, a great man who I am privileged to say is among us here today." (Applause. Many in the crowd turned toward the Old Ex-President, who beamed and applauded happily.) "'The stars in varying constellations and the stripes of alternating red and white have accompanied Americans from the Marne to the Moon.'" (Lengthy applause.)
"Where will we get our suits cleaned, Poppy?," asked the Governor of Florida. "Is there dry cleaning on the plane?"
"Today we unfurl a new flag, with a new constellation. Of this new national symbol I will quote the great General Marshall, who, in 1942, just six months after the infamy of Pear Harbor, said, to an audience of young people in his day, 'We're determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand, and of overwhelming power on the other.'" (Lengthy applause.)
Mary Ann noted uncomfortably that someone nearby had passed gas.
"Our lives will take many turns we cannot predict. Yet I'm certain of this: Wherever we carry it the American flag will stand not only for our power but for freedom." (Lengthy applause.)
"And now," concluded the President, "I'd like to ask my esteemed colleague from the state of Hollywood" (appreciative laughter and applause) "to assist me."
On cue, one of the Old Ex-President's guests stepped forward: a former Olympic weight-lifter turned actor turned conservative activist.
"Who's that?," Mary Ann whispered to Gilligan.
"An actor," replied the Old Ex-President's Wife, pleasantly, with no attempt to keep her voice down. "They're grooming him to be President one day. First it was going to be Governor of California. Looks like it's time for a new plan." She smiled her patient, practiced smile, which Mary Ann returned politely.
"Ready Arnold?," mugged the President.
The actor/activist nodded, grinned, flashing a trademark thumbs-up to the crowd. On the President's signal, he pulled a rope lanyard to hoist the new American emblem: white and red stripes, with a single white star on a field of blue. Click-wheeze!, the camera turned.
Gilligan and Mary Ann stood at attention, hands over hearts, as the flag unfurled. Behind her Mary Ann heard the rattle of ice cubes against cocktail glasses.
"Job done, Arnold?," deadpanned the President.
"Tureminated!" replied the actor/activist, beaming his brightest smile and firmest thumbs-up sign to the crowd.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the President announced grandly. "I christen our island home 'New America'!" (Applause.)
Red lightning flashed overhead. The ceremony was complete.
The participants straggled away. Some lingered, shaking hands and slapping shoulders. Others headed toward the golf course to join the Howells, or toward the huts, to unpack.
The Old Ex-President's Wife led her group away. "See you again my dear," she said to Mary Ann as they passed. The Old Ex-President sat upright in his wheelchair with a large grin, chin moist with dribble. "Vicki!," he said, in a voice of pride. To her embarrassment, Mary Ann noticed a large erection pointing stiffly upward under his blanket. As she passed, Ginger leaned and whispered, "Now we know what they mean by 'father of his country.'" Mary Ann frowned and looked away.
"Should we change into our golf suits now, Poppy?," asked the Governor of Florida. Poppy smiled as he passed. Mary Ann politely asked him, "What did you think of the ceremony?"
Earnestly he responded, "Self help. Rags to riches! That's American enterprise. Now he has his own little flagpole business. But the job's half done." Wagging a warning forefinger he said, "No time for complacency." Pounding his fist into an imaginary dais he added, "Eliminate the estate tax!" Speaking reassuringly he said, "Stay the course."
Mary Ann thanked him and, as the crowd broke up, she and Gilligan stayed behind to clean the clearing.