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(Love Is) the Tender Trap

[whitespace] Shirley MacLaine Shirley resisted for a bit, but not after he appointed her Minister of Health and Culture. In the end, an opportunity to remake America in her own image was simply too precious for her to pass up.




I get no kick from Champagne
Mere alcohol doesn't thrill me at all
So tell me, why should it be true
That I get a kick out of you?
"I Get a Kick Out of You" (Porter)

By Zack Stentz

LIKE SYSTEMS of government, each moment in popular culture carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. But how were Frank, Dino, Sammy and the gang to know that the cheerful ginger-haired girl they shared the stage with was actually an iron-willed woman who would storm Camelot, bring their gin and testosterone-soaked reign to an end and open the page on the darkest chapter in American history?

None of it would have happened if they'd only let him go to Disneyland. On his first visit to the United States, the son of a peasant turned leader of the world's other superpower couldn't give a damn about the pig farms that shifty-eyed Nixon wanted to show him. He had seen enough of those back home in mother Russia.

No, Nikita Kruschev wanted to ride the roller coaster and see this fabled "Tomorrowland" firsthand. But security concerns and Uncle Walt's rabid anticommunism put the Magic Kingdom out of reach, so Nikita's American hosts assuaged him with the next best thing: a visit to the set of Can-Can.

He was disappointed at first, at least until he caught a glimpse of the film's gorgeous young star and realized that meeting Shirley MacLaine was no consolation prize. The rough-hewn Soviet was no poet, so he had no words to describe how he felt, staring into the candid blue eyes of the Rat Pack's only female member as his soul was ripped forcibly from his body. All he knew as he sat aboard the noisy, clattering Aeroflot jet winging its way to Moscow was that he must have this woman and make her his, no matter what the cost.

So when, two short years later, a yapping young pup of an American president presumed to tell him where he could or couldn't put his nation's nuclear missiles, Kruschev decided to use the occasion to bury the capitalists once and for all. As Nikita shut his eyes and ordered his missiles to be launched, the orange mushroom cloud he saw in his mind's eye became transformed into Shirley's copper hair, her elfin grin, her enchanting laugh.

Millions perished on both sides in the atomic conflagration and subsequent invasion, but it was worth every bit of spent blood and treasure to be riding at the head of a T-55 tank column, clanking down the Vegas strip to claim his prize.

Shirley resisted for a bit, but not after he appointed her Minister of Health and Culture. He had seen the steel in her gaze, and the KGB dossier indicated that her health-consciousness and unusual spiritual beliefs set her apart from her Hollywood chums. In the end, an opportunity to remake America in her own image was simply too precious for her to pass up, and she willingly took her place by the pudgy premier's side.

The first years of the occupation were hardest on the Rat Pack, marked as retrograde elements by their wealth, popularity and unswerving devotion to the pleasure principle. Dino's final act of defiance, clutching his martini glass and leading his fellow prisoners in a rousing chorus of "That's Amore" right up until the moment the execution squad opened fire, became legendary among the beaten American citizenry.

It wasn't long afterward that Joey, sapped of the will to live, walked into a propaganda benefit the occupiers were holding to raise funds for crippled children and set off the plastique strapped to his body, taking out a sub-Commissar, a KGB colonel and three regional administrators.

Frank, Sammy and other survivors fled underground as the Soviets' inevitable retaliation followed. While Nikita administered these harsh measures upon the populace, Shirley set out to remold her people's minds and bodies. Red meat, cigars and Cole Porter songs were banned in the new America, replaced by a melange of Marxism-Leninism, enforced health-consciousness and mandatory meditation.

Worst of all, the delightfully cave-like bars and clubs that had served as America's collective living rooms were closed as security threats, replaced by antiseptic, window-filled establishments that only served unholy concoctions of blended fruits and vegetables spiked with bee pollen, bran flakes and other foul additives.

Nikita saw these changes and smiled. He couldn't abide eating greens and had never had much use for religion before, but if his love's endless natterings about crystals, karma and reincarnation kept her happy and the people under control, who was he to complain? Besides, her loyalty to the new order was beyond reproach. She even had sent her own brother Warren off to an Alaskan re-education camp for plotting insurrection with Sinatra and one of the surviving Kennedy brothers.

Let her have her amusements.

But Nikita Kruschev's moment of apotheosis didn't last. As the '60s wore on, the erstwhile conqueror of the USA became increasingly reclusive and took to administering his territory from a tint-windowed penthouse at the top of the Sands, where he slowly drove himself mad with decadent bourgeois pleasures, a latter-day Tiberius at Capri.

Despite Shirley's efforts to improve his health with a strict regimen of juice smoothies, wheatgrass and herbal enemas, Nikita continued his sad decline. "She's trying to kill me with those things," he'd mutter, returning instead to the embrace of his first love. Who knew the Americans could work such delicious sorcery with humble grain vodka? Martinis, screwdrivers, Bloody Marys--endless flavors and mediums in which to consume his sacred elixir. His downfall was of the 80 proof variety, and came bottle by bottle.

Lost in the embrace of alcohol and milky flesh of his flame-haired concubine, Premier Kruschev in his reverie proved oblivious to the forces gathering to hasten his downfall. Out in the countryside, Sinatra's rag-tag army was making the hated occupiers bleed and bleed and bleed. The 4-F who'd failed his service induction physical twice was showing up those vets who'd mocked him for staying home with the Bobbysoxers while they licked Hitler and Tojo. Between experience gained in From Here to Eternity and helpful tips from his mob buddies, Frank had become the cocktail nation's answer to George Washington and Marshall Tito.

And thanks to the efforts of Sammy (whom terrified Soviet troopers referred to in hushed tones as "Candyman"), his assistant Malcolm and their Afro-Judaic freedom fighters, America's cities had become ungovernable as well. Within hours of Kruschev's 1968 death (from acute ethanol poisoning), the Rat Pack rebellion had completely swept the occupiers from the land and the Stars and Stripes once again flew from America's makeshift capitol in the Circus Circus lobby.

Democracy was restored and the new government sought out the few bartenders who had survived the occupation and set them to work teaching their sacred craft to a new generation of eager acolytes.

And what of Shirley? In the first heady days after the revolution, there was talk of pushing her out the window of her dead lover's penthouse palace, like Jezebel after Ahab's death. But Frank and Sammy wouldn't hear of it. Despite everything--the dark years of war, occupation and mandatory juice-drinking--they still loved their wayward sister.

So instead, Shirley MacLaine was sent on a nationwide tour of contrition, singing and doing dinner theater in the refugee camps and shattered cities of America. Eventually, she was even rehabilitated enough in the public eye to resume her acting career, doing a few mediocre Burt Reynolds films and a Larry McMurtry adaptation or two. But she never tasted wheatgrass again.

A Shirley MacLaine Kind of Place

Menlo Park

Menlo Java & Juice
1083 El Camino Real, Menlo Park (650/328-2407).


Milpitas

Surf City Squeeze
661 Great Mall Dr., Milpitas (408/946-6151).


Mountain View

Juice Time
1040 Grant Road, Mountain View (650/967-5557).


Palo Alto

Mango Café
435 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto (650/325-3229).

Slammin' Juice
2717 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto (650/328-7959).

University Coffee & Juice
271 University Ave., Palo Alto (650/322-5301).


San Jose

Java N Juice
519 W. Capitol Expwy., San Jose (408/265-8301).

Juice Land
5395 Prospect Road, San Jose (408/253-6940).

Smoothie King
5180 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose (408/261-0646).

Surf City Squeeze
(inside 24-Hour Fitness) 1531 Parkmoor Ave., San Jose (408/947-7567).


Santa Clara

Juice Society
797 Franklin St., Santa Clara (408/241-1119).


Sunnyvale

Juice Plus
2416 Town Center Lane, Sunnyvale (408/732-7826).


Various Locations

Happy Juice
McCarthy Ranch, 135 Ranch Dr., Milpitas (408/935-8423); Princeton Plaza Mall, San Jose (408/ 264-7437); and 111 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose (408/885-1953)

Jamba Juice
848-B Blossom Hill Road, San Jose (408/225-2582); 1030 El Paseo de Saratoga, San Jose (408/874-0670); 1570 Bascom Ave., Campbell (408/558-0320); 21265 Stevens Creek Blvd., #201, Cupertino (408/366-2582); Blossom Hill Pavilion, 624-40 Blossom Hill Road, #628, Los Gatos (408/358-6040); 1037-A El Monte Ave., Mountain View (415/237-0690); and 69 Town & Country Village, Embarcadero and El Camino Real, Palo Alto (650/325-2582)

Whole Foods Market/Juice Bar
1690 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell (408/371-5000); 20830 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino (408/257-7000); 15980 Los Gatos Blvd, Los Gatos (408/358-4434); 774 Emerson St, Palo Alto (650/326-8676)

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From the June 11-17, 1998 issue of Metro.

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