Dear Mr. President

This is not a political post. This is the story of how, almost ten years ago, I wrote something so stupid that I forgot it was published on a not-too-shabby literary website. The memory was triggered when I heard the song “Dear Mr. President” by Fitz and the Tantrums. (The album’s a year old, but it’s new to me. I’m kind of behind on the times right now when it comes to music.)

Anyway, in 2002, former Marine Gabe Hudson wrote a collection of short stories called “Dear Mr. President” that drew on his experiences in the Gulf War. He is also the editor-at-large for the literary magazine McSweeney’s, which has since branched out into a sort of media empire. Roughly around the same time his book was published, he and two other McSweeney’s editors began selecting and publishing actual emails sent through their website to then-President George W. Bush. The letters are sometimes poignant, sometimes very funny, and often both.

Map IrakIn 2002, I was a bored high school student. I spent my lunch periods either in the library or the art room. One day during a library lunch, I decided to take up the site’s offer to send President Bush my thoughts. I wrote a few letters under a few different pseudonyms, but it was my first one that was put on the site. It was very exciting. I didn’t tell anyone it happened. The writing itself is not worth bragging about:

Dear Mr. President,
My U.S. History teacher says that if I write a letter to you, I will get Extra Credit. Then maybe I will pass and even graduate. I can go to journalism school and maybe even become a correspondent in Iraq. On the Spanish channel they spell Iraq “Irak.” I think that it is funny. However I do not think it is funny that so many people die out there.

Sincerely,
Jessica Ferrara

It’s not poignant. It’s not funny. It definitely doesn’t belong next to a letter like this one:

Dear Mr. President,
I’d like to tell you about my cousin, Jay. … Jay served in Iraq for a year, leaving his wife and family behind to fight a war that was based on lies. He came home a few months ago, on a short leave. He looked haunted, and hunted. The burdens of what he had done in Iraq slumped his shoulders and lowered his head. He rarely met anyone’s eyes. I don’t know if time can ever erase these scars on his mind and soul.

Sincerely,
Anastazya Pencak

or this:

Dear Mr. President,
Wanna come over? I’ll make you some hot dogs.
Sincerely,
Stephen Gwinn

With all the submissions to various websites and publications I’ve made over the years, this is the one that makes it. The only reason I think anyone could possibly find it amusing is that it could have been mistaken for an actual letter from an ambitious student. After all, it was published right after this one:

Dear Mr. President,
Hi. I like politics and I want to become President in 2032.
Sincerely,
Patrick S. Sheridan

Actually, the part about forgetting about it for nine years isn’t entirely true. I alluded to the letter when I applied for a head writer position on a college TV program by listing McSweeney’s as a publication. It didn’t exactly impress the producers, and it didn’t help that I also left out the fact that it wasn’t under my name. That’s not to say I regret using a pseudonym. The reason I’m proud of it is that it not only made the site, but it’s still there.

For the record, Jessica Ferrara has no namesake, and I do find it funny that the Spanish call it “Irak”.

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