Last year, Americans threw up their hands at eight years of What-Should-Be and elected into office a man who campaigned on a direct, sometimes confrontational, platform of telling America What Is. After two terms of being brutalised with torture-porn, adrenalised by 24 and coddled by a man who seemed to have stepped out of Norman Rockwell and talked like he had a mouth full of wet paint, it was time for a guy who promised nothing but a mirror. And last Thursday he was going to be at the Westin, and we were going to be staying right around the corner from him. But that wasn't the only thing we heard about that day.
When it was a cute story floating about Twitter, folks didn't know his name or what he was doing with a homemade balloon. You know when you see a group of kids at a fair and one of them lets go of his balloon and it flies into the sky and becomes a smaller and fainter dot of red against the clouds? Well, now that balloon had become national news, because the kid was still freaking attached to it.
It was an impossibly sweet and picturesque nugget of universality carved out of the Colorado mud. It was only on second thought that you imagined the kid, drifting away and terrified, the whole world stretched out below him like a toy landscape.
So when the balloon was recovered, without the child - whose name, by this time, was Falcon, and who had been on the hundredth episode of Wife Swap, and whose father was a storm chaser - it was pretty hard to actually accept the reality of what must have occurred. That a boy had fallen out of a makeshift device somewhere over Colorado, and was in all probability smeared unrecognizably over the landscape of same. How could that compare to the narrative of a magical bird-named child who went up into the sky in a silver cloud and never came down again?
How long would this fairytale be able to continue before reality's magnetic charge pulled it back in? As it turned out, it was until Kid Icarus was found, alive and safe. We chided ourselves for putting our love of a good story before our wishes for a real human being, or at least a televised one.
But when the fable came crashing back to earth, it hit so hard that another narrative tract was carved out of the crater and launched skyward. As the details came out of the circumstances in which Falcon's balloon had launched, it turned out his 2012-obsessed, reptiloid-believing, fame-addicted dad Dick was the truly Icarean one.
What Is is great comedy. America's sainted transcendents of the form - Bruce, Pryor, Hicks - made careers out of traveling further and further into the realm of brutal honesty. But What Is isn't great politics. Without a steely resolve, What Is soon degenerates into the noble foolishness of What Might Be, a stone's throw from the futile wastelands of What-Should-Be. The last time a President determined to stay the course of What Is, we got COPS, Timothy McVeigh and Monica Lewinsky. Because What-Must-Be needs a release valve: What Is is well and good, but What-Should-Be must be, somehow.
The moment when the story in Richard Heene's head slips its earthly bonds and sails into the sky, never again to diverge with reality, is marked clearly in this video. It makes a noise hilariously similar to what it sounds like when a human being, puffed with heated gas, deflates.
Because everything after that moment - the moment when Falcon protests, "you said we did this for the show" - becomes automatically filtered through an incredulous prism: the question of, "how the hell did they think this would go?"
Was this meant to be the moment when America congratulated Richard Heene on his engineering prowess and media savvy, patted him on the back and awarded him a house next to the Kardashians'? If Falcon hadn't explicitly drawn the line between the Heene reality and the rest of the world's narrative, would we have just gone on forever believing the family was made up of latter-day Da Vincis and Anne Franks? How the hell did they think this would go?
Waiting outside the Westin for three hours for a glimpse of the man who had by now been returned to his position of Most Significant American, we asked each other, was this better now that we knew? We never saw Obama, and Falcon had never flown at all.
No matter what you thought of the way the President was doing his job, the fact remained that millions had gone to the polls and agreed to remove the blindfold. His candour invited a Zen disregard for idolatry: if you meet Barack Obama on the road, question him. But what place What-Should-Be? Trickling off primetime, bleeding out of the organs of discourse, it retreats into artwork of Presidentially anointed unicorns, hateful mashups of Obama and Heath Ledger (what?), balloons that we fly up into the sky and deep within our skulls; and when they return, the young life we imbued them with is gone, or was never there.