On a cold morning in January, in a year that most Fergus Fallsians had assumed lay only in the distant future, Mayor Mingalone sequestered himself in his sumptuous, mahogany-paneled office, where diligently he attempted to ignore the electronic sign blaring his city’s name through the window and instead to concentrate on the question at hand, which was whether or not to run for another four-year term.
You have now arrived in
** Fergus * Falls **
The sign’s designer, the renowned Polish-African artist Ngomo Stemelewski, claimed that the sign would never repeat itself. Watch the array of colored light bulbs for one hour, he said, and you would witness three hundred sixty unique presentations of the city’s famous and infamous two-word name. Avoid the sign for one hour, and you would miss three hundred sixty presentations that the sign would never display again. To most Fergus Fallsians, the sign was a presence of grandeur and absurdity that hovered over the ordinary routines of their lives. Columnist Evelyn Kopak of the Fergus Falls Examiner once described the sign as street theater and bourgeois arrogance rolled in a single illuminated package. To Mayor Mingalone the sign was a comfort and a menace, a welcome and a warning, a victory dance and a frontal assault.
The Mayor felt a certain intimacy with the sign because it beamed its message directly across the intersection of Van Buren Avenue and Thirty-third Street into his sumptuous mayoral office in City Hall, over which he had been presiding for fifteen years.
You have now arrived in
^.^ Fergus Falls! ^.^
As the Mayor knew all to well, the upcoming election would be held in a scant one hundred days, which meant that the time long since had past for fence-sitting and hand-wringing and Hamlet-soliloquizing on the part of the incumbent. Due to the Mayor’s considerable political skill, of course, he had managed to fence-sit and hand-wring and espouse vague, circuitous treatises at any and all opportunity, garnering plenty of free publicity and water-cooler conversation but infuriating long-time aides and financial backers and the election commission. Meanwhile, Councilwoman Sandra Engebritzen, who had announced way back in September—an entire lifetime ago—had been campaigning vigorously and tirelessly ever since. Day after day throughout the cold Minnesota winter, Councilwoman Engebritzen released position papers and orated from church pulpits and stumped for votes in the parking lots of grocery stores and shopping malls.
Not, of course, that the public was paying much attention.
“Will he or won’t he?” bugled the front page of the Fergus Falls Examiner. The story filled two columns and included a photo of its subject musing pensively in front of a window, a cartoon question mark over his head.
Mayor Mingalone (rhymes with “King Baloney”, as his critics were wont to call him) allowed himself one last chortle over the newspaper. Then he threw it in the trash.
As the Mayor also knew very well, he very possibly was suffering from an illness or condition of some sort, something potentially quite serious, something that was playing pinochle with his mental processes in a way that the Mayor knew he should find more alarming than he actually found it. He allowed that an ordinary person, faced with such circumstances, would opt to forego the rigors of a (yet another) political campaign, followed by a (yet another) four-year term in public office. Yet the fact that he struggled so mightily with this decision demonstrated the gumption and suitability he brought to the mayorality that he so magnanimously maintained, or so the Mayor insisted to himself and his confidants, and of course his psychiatrist.
Mayor Mingalone only sporadically enjoined the medication prescribed to him because, as he boasted to Doctor Paisley, he believed that what ailed him lay beyond the realm of medical science. When the doctor asked him to elaborate, however, Mayor Mingalone atypically found himself at a loss for words. The Mayor was not used to explaining bizarre ideation, vague feelings of persecution, and most distressingly, vivid hallucinations. All of these symptoms had manifested themselves only within the past year, which was long after the Mayor had decided he need not learn anything new about himself or the world at large.
The best explanation that crossed his mind was one that he barely could acknowledge, let alone confess to his psychiatrist, which was that the Fergus Falls, Fergus Falls sign was somehow responsible.
Mayor Mingalone often considered closing the Venetian blinds to stop the onslaught, but he never did so. He was afraid he might miss something.
=> Fergus Falls <=
~~~ FERGUS Falls ~~~
You have now arrived in
The Mayor preferred to think of himself as a virile, active, effective public servant, afflicted with shortcomings of health no worse than male pattern baldness, a tendency to redden and perspire upon physical exertion, and a bit of spare tire around the tum. Not too shabby, the Mayor allowed, for a man commencing his fifty-seventh year of trodding the planet.
To commemorate the occasion, the Honorable Mrs. Mingalone had surprised her husband (in the company of his entire staff and selected TV cameramen) by decorating his stately office with balloons, streamers, and a birthday cake baked into the shape of the state of Minnesota, featuring the Mayor’s name iced from East Grand Forks to Duluth and a multi-colored star in the center labeled “FF”. When the Mayor strolled unabashedly into the room, he made a wide circle of his mouth and slapped his hands to his face as everyone sang “Happy Birthday”, and he turned all red-faced and out-of-breath as he tried to blow out each of the cake’s fifty-seven candles, all the while the Honorable Mrs. Mingalone—a statuesque, olive-skinned, immaculately beautiful woman whom the Mayor had met and courted at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new casino—was cooing and joking and laughing amiably at his side.
The event stood in stark contrast to the surprise birthday celebration of sixteen years previous, when then-candidate Mingalone was an overweight, balding, corpulent district attorney who walked into a room full of staff members and TV cameramen and turned all red-faced and out-of-breath over a cake that carried only forty-one candles. Another difference lay in the person of the Honorable Mrs. Mingalone, who in those days was a svelte, striking, Scandinavian beauty with a slight overbite whom the Mayor had met and enraptured at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new warehouse-style supermarket.
Mayor Mingalone believed he owed part of his popularity to the annual surprise birthday party and similar rituals. They staked his claims in the year, and they gave the public something to look forward to. Mayor Mingalone also firmly believed in replacing his wives at regular intervals, although he tried to keep them in the same general mold so as not to confuse. The Mayor insisted that such strategies reinforced his image of youth and vitality. While physically attractive men who kept the same wives inevitably deteriorated year after year, the Mayor flaunted constancy from the day he took office.
On normal days, the sign did not provide even half a wit’s trouble to the Mayor. Normally he was thoroughly engrossed with his numerous and expansive duties, which included cajoling aldermen, hob-nobbing with dignitaries, signing official city ordinances, browbeating his staff, posing for cheesy photographs with boy scouts and the elderly, and rigorously negotiating the details of his official business trips to southern California or coastal Florida or the islands of the Caribbean.
The sign never troubled Mayor Mingalone when his time was well occupied.
Yet whenever he was by himself, trying to resolve an issue or clarify his emotions, the sign kept interrupting.
“Hello, Mayor,” said Rocky the Flying Squirrel as he zipped about the room. “And how are you today?”
“I am very well, Mr. Squirrel,” replied the Mayor.
The Squirrel disappeared just as the Mayor reached to shake its furry gray paw.
|/|/ Fergus FALLS \|\|
+ Fergus Falls +
You have now arrived in
By residents and visitors alike, Fergus Falls was described as either a small big city or a very large small town. To the optimists, the Double-F offered the culture, glamour, and career opportunities of a major metropolis, while keeping the neighborliness, convenience, and moral conviction of its rural, Midwestern roots. With a smirk, Mayor Mingalone liked to joke to friends and cronies that Fergus Falls kept the narrowness, stupidity, and stubborn closed-mindedness of its heritage, while gaining the dirt, crime, corruption, and noisy indifference of a Chicago, Philadelphia, or New York.
“But we’re working on it,” the Mayor would add proudly.
To the public, Mayor Mingalone was a bastion of rampant provincialism. With his every speech, his every pronouncement and interview, Mayor Mingalone’s civic passion flowed forth as an essence or a body aroma, something that oozed from the pores of his flabby skin and burst through the seams of his off-the-rack suits.
“No baseball team is finer than the Fergus Falls Aristocrats!” he boomed on opening day to the crowd at Tischinski Stadium.
“No morning radio show is more awakening than the KFFL Morning Zoo, with Dan, Gordon, Chantalle, and Crazy Louie in the helicopter,” he warbled in a paid commercial announcement.
“How could a man or woman earn a better living than toiling selflessly for such corporations as Amalgamated Agriculture, Fergus Papermills Incorporated, D & C Tool and Dye, the Four-F Bank (Fergus Falls First Financial), and Seven-M Industries (Minnesota Mining, Manufacturing, Marketing, Merchandizing, and Mesmerizing)?” the Mayor asked in a campaign fundraising speech at the North Star Club, a private organization that catered to Fergus Falls’ financiers and capitalists.
“Name, I dare you, a swankier neighborhood than Valleywood Heights, or more endearing than the East End, or more promising than Little Siberia, or more anything-goes and bohemian than Eleven Corners,” Mayor Mingalone postured in a famous Christmas Day television address, which he delivered poolside from the luxurious Las Brisas Hotel of Acapulco, Mexico.
“Name a better city than Fergus Falls,” he had continued, toes dangling in the water, “and I’ll eat my own liver.”
“La Crosse, Wisconsin,” retorted hard-boiled, iron-haired Evelyn Kopak the following morning in her newspaper column. “Or Rochester, New York, or Eureka, California. Or any city that lacks derelicts in its doorways, soot in the air, callous corporate businessmen, ancient streets and avenues that go begging for repaving, and perhaps most significantly, a balding, corpulent, sun-worshipping, philandering hypocrite occupying the mayor’s office.”
“You pay for the surgeon, Mingalone,” Kopak had concluded. “I’ll supply the frying pan and onions.”
Mayor Mingalone shuddered as the name Evelyn Kopak trespassed his thoughts. He shuddered despite the warmth his highback leather chair provided, its deep red veneer the match of the mahogany-paneled walls. He shuddered despite the glow of the Fergus Falls, Fergus Falls sign, which, curiously, he felt protected him from those who hated him and would do him harm.
And Evelyn Kopak certainly hates me, Mayor Mingalone glowered. Oh, to be rid of Kopak. To bask in the tropical sunshine on a sandy beach, coconut oil smothered on back and stomach, hand clenched firmly around a vodka gimlet with a twist of lime, then to return home to the absence of tart-tongued assaults from an iron-haired troglodyte—what an absolute pleasure that would be! It even might compensate for losing the good title of mayor in front of the good name of Mingalone.
The Mayor procured a sheet of official City of Fergus Falls stationery. With pen in hand, he was poised to draw a vertical line down the sheet and label the left half “For” and right half “Against.”
You have now arrived in
How could the Fergus Falls sign keep inventing original Fergus Falls’s? The sign possessed a limited number of lights and a limited number of colors, and the letter “F” could be signified in only so many ways. How could the sign not double back on itself eventually? On the blank sheet of official city of Fergus Falls stationery that he discovered in front of him, the Mayor turned to sketching the current screen of the Fergus Falls sign, and when he finished he turned the sheet over and sketched the screen that followed.
Mayor Mingalone insisted his staff purchase stationery from Fergus Paper and Pencil Supplies Incorporated, a Fergus Falls institution for over fifty year. Indeed, nearly every object in the office was purchased from a local vendor, among them the plush yet uncomfortable divan and matching chairs (Gaylord and Sons Furniture) the intricately-branched Venetian crystal chandelier (Falls Lamps and Lighting), the purple and sepia closed-cut carpeting (Central Minnesota Carpeteria), and even the airplane tickets to Trinidad and Tobago, site of a conference on effective urban housing (Louise Mingalone Travel, Inc., bailiwick of the Mayor’s sister-in-law.)
“Why,” the Mayor boasted joyously in sparkling internal monologue, “I even snack occasionally on raw mushrooms.”
In its bucolic infancy, Fergus Falls was the center of Minnesota’s thriving mushroom-growing industry. Motorists chugging their Model A’s into town were greeted by a sign that proclaimed “Fergus Falls: The Mushroom Capital of America”, followed by the sight and smell of huge, steaming piles of the fungi’s preferred growth medium, a mixture of manure from cows, sheep, and chickens. Years of evolving commerce and common sense had banished the mushroom growers outside the city proper, yet the Mayor proudly supported the industry all the same.
Indeed, Mayor Mingalone struggled to think of just one item in his personal possession that did not in some way support his constituency, and was pleased for as long as he was able to come up with not a one.
Then he remembered the Haldol.
Mayor Mingalone kept and used a variety of pharmaceuticals: one for high blood pressure, one for high cholesterol, one for no good reason (a Vitamin-E supplement that had been initiated by one of the previous Honorable Mrs. Mingalones, who had believed in such things) and one for the sheer utter hell of it (Trychoxidil, the latest in hair restorers, which Mayor Mingalone happily and greedily applied to his bare scalp because he was convinced that it would do nothing whatsoever.) Each the Mayor purchased proudly and resolutely at one of several Fergus Falls pharmacies.
But one prescription he filled from an anonymous establishment that resided on the Internet—that vast, bloodless marketplace where anyone could be anyone.
Haldol, Mayor Mingalone heard echo in his mind.
Haldol, Haldol, Haldol.
“Hello, my name is Hal Dahl,” said Hal Dahl to the startled Mayor. Hal Dahl was a trim, middle-aged Norwegian wearing a tan golf shirt and plaid pants. He was hovering unabashedly over the credenza.
“Nice to meet you, Hal,” responded the mayor. “Have a seat.”
Haldol, the Mayor repeated to himself, was the psychoactive drug that his psychiatrist had prescribed in a mild dosage. Doctor Paisley explained that while he still was uncertain how to diagnose the hallucinations and related symptoms, he thought the Haldol would help. When the Mayor pressed for the names of illnesses for which Haldol was prescribed, the doctor listed schizophrenia, which was a serious cognitive and emotional disorder; psychosis, another serious cognitive and emotional disorder; and Tourette’s syndrome, a disease characterized by sudden muscle spasms and random verbalizations. Doctor Paisley was especially concerned that the Mayor was contracting one of the first two diseases, although the Mayor kept insisting that he would prefer the Tourette’s syndrome.
“You see,” the Mayor explained with a hearty chuckle, “the voters might respond quite favorably to an otherwise ordinary politician, who, in the middle of a speech or debate, erupted in random profanities accompanied by violent arm movements or leg kicks.” For emphasis, he spastically jerked his legs and arms. He peered pleadingly at Doctor Paisley, whose expression remained earnestly clinical.
“Francis, this is no laughing matter,” said Doctor Paisley in his quiet voice. “Your condition does not seem to be improving on its own, and so deserves our serious attention. Conceivably your mental state could worsen enough to require hospitalization.” The doctor was a slight, earnest specimen who wore delicate wire-rimmed eyeglasses and narrow neckties and textured suits of tan, beige, and related earthtones. Nevertheless he was the one person who could intimidate the Mayor with a mere tilt of his head, or by looking at him directly in the eyes while daring to grasp the mayoral arm or shoulder in order to make a point.
“Humbug,” replied the Mayor.
“Tell me about your father,” began the psychiatrist during another session.
The Mayor turned somber and reflective.
“My father was shot and killed when I was a teenager,” he said. “Dad was an honest working man—he delivered milk for a dairy. One day on his rounds he stumbled into a gun battle and was caught in the crossfire. At his funeral I dedicated my life to stopping violent crime and making cities safer. I haven’t stopped since.”
The doctor peered at his patient with measured sympathy and concern. “What a horrible tragedy,” he said.
“Yeah. I trot it out every campaign. Never fails to boost my numbers a point or two.”
“Do you still think about this loss?”
“What loss?” asked the Mayor, scrunching his face.
“The loss of your father. His death in the gun battle.”
“Oh no, he’s not dead.”
“You just said that—“
“That’s just a story I invented for politics,” said the Mayor with a wave of his hand. “I have the old boy stashed in a retirement home in Brooklyn Park.”
Doctor Paisley radiated disapproval and annoyance, and the Mayor replied with a confused shrug and a wandering gaze that settled on an empty corner of the doctor’s desk.
“What happened to the photo?” asked the Mayor.
“Francis, neither of us has time for lies or digressions or games—
“You know which photograph I mean, don’t you? The one in the metal frame. The photograph of you and your family on a picnic.”
Doctor Paisley continued his steady and serious glaring. “Francis, please, we need to—”
Mayor Mingalone kept pointing insistently at the vacant spot on the desk.
“All right,” said Doctor Paisley. “If you must know, one of my patients stole it.”
“Stole it?!” cried the Mayor. “Why would one of your patients steal a photograph?”
“He’s a fourteen year old boy. He’s suffering from severe mania and delusions of grandeur.”
“I’ll have him arrested for you!” continued the Mayor volubly. He puffed out his chest, eyes ablaze. “We’ll track him down and throw him in the brig. He’ll never steal anything again!”
“When are you going to stop this nonsense?”
“This is not nonsense!” said Mayor Mingalone. “Stealing a man’s photograph is like stealing his soul. Tell me the boy’s name, I’ll get it taken care of.”
“Enough!” barked the psychiatrist. “You can babble gibberish and divert attention from your problems all you like, but that will not change their reality.”
“I want to suffer from Tourette’s syndrome!” shouted the Mayor, pounding his fist on the furniture. “Now tell me the name of the boy who stole your photograph!”
“Peter Peterson?” he wailed. “Donald Donaldson? Oswald Mulm?”
“Who are those people?”
“Names I’m inventing at random, of course.”
Despite the Mayor’s best efforts, Doctor Paisley proved as intransigent toward divulging the name of the thief of the photograph as he was resistant to the Mayor’s selecting his own diagnosis, and the Mayor left the doctor’s office with a renewed prescription and an appointment for a brain scan by magnetic resonance imaging, an appointment that the Mayor doubted he would find the time to keep.
It is incredible, the Mayor thought, absolutely incredible, that a slightly overweight man of fifty-seven years who suffers from male pattern baldness and overactive sweat glands and who hallucinates on a regular basis is able to gallivant to tropical paradises on an expense account, manage the local government of a burgeoning Minnesota metropolis, and—here was nothing to sneeze at—woo, court, and bed almost whichever voluptuous, statuesque woman he sets eyes upon.
The Mayor lowered his gaze from the Fergus Falls sign to street level, where the unmoving traffic on Van Buren Avenue met the unmoving traffic from Thirty-third Street, as per usual. On the icy sidewalks, streams of overcoated pedestrians trudged past one another, struggling slowly ever forward as if they were walking uphill, which was also per usual, because the intersection was the windiest in the city, too. Eventually, the Mayor’s eyes tracked the kind of people for whom he was searching: three homeless men camped over a heating vent by an abandoned store front, creatures of rags and dirt and poor hygiene—the sort of people, the Mayor knew from experience, who were just as crazy as he certainly might be.
So why, Mayor Mingalone posed to himself, am I the successful mayor of a successful city, a man of means and power and influence, and they, they, THEY are rotting in alleys and bus stops and unused doorways, begging miserably for dimes and quarters, watching their teeth fall out and their limbs freeze off, waiting for nothing less than death—DEATH!— to solve the dicey little problem of their lives?
Obviously, they don’t have the Mingalone initiative.
They simply don’t have the guts to make anything of themselves, to overcome their handicaps and do something with their lives.
That’s why I’m the mayor, Mayor Mingalone gurgled to himself, and they’re not.
Haldol, Haldol, Haldol.
The mayor stared at the plastic vial of little pink pills. Take two a day, read the label, as ordered by Doctor Lincoln G. Paisley.
What kind of name, thought the mayor, is Lincoln G. Paisley? What kind of name is that for anyone, let alone a psychiatrist? The mayor recounted any number of sessions during which Doctor Paisley had discussed symptoms, diagnoses, tests, medications, dire warnings, and other mumbo-jumbo. But Mayor Mingalone was more interested in questions of nomenclature. Why is your name Lincoln? Why is your name Paisley? Wasn’t Lincoln a president? Isn’t Paisley a sofa?
“Hello, Mayor,” said the paisley sofa, its speech resplendent in exaggerated vowels.
“Paisley sofa, old friend,” replied the Mayor joyously. “How good of you to come!”
* Fergus Falls *
-*- Fergus *-*Falls -*-
You have now arrived in
°°° FERGUS FALLS! °°°
As best as the Mayor could determine, the hallucinations had begun one year previous, which had been a year like any other in Fergus Falls except for one horrendous springtime afternoon on the shores of San Francisquito Creek.
San Francisquito Creek was one of the nominally inconsequential tributaries of the Fergus River that took it upon itself that spring to swell three times its normal size, flooding basements and clogging traffic and shamelessly diverting money and attention from other concerns. Someone on the Mayor’s staff had thought it a fine idea if the Mayor would trundle up to the creek and help with the clean-up, thus countering his critics’ persistent claim that Hizzoner cared only about the tycoons downtown, not the hard-working folks in the neighborhoods.
At onset, the stunt felt awash in promise. Awaiting the Mayor’s limousine at the pre-assigned flood clean-up spot were the usual City Hall beat reporter from the Examiner as well as a phalanx of photographers, camera crews, and men and women in stylish suits and well-coifed hair and holding microphones. They represented not merely the five television stations of Fergus Falls, but those from outposts as far flung as Fargo, Duluth, and St. Paul. The lot of them congregated attentively around the Mayor as he emerged from his limousine, and dutifully they recorded him rolling up his sleeves and loosening the tie around his neck.
“Mayor Mingalone,” called one of the reporters, “what is your response to the flood?”
“I’m against all floods!” replied the Mayor with great resolve. Cameras whirred and flash bulbs popped. “Just look at the damage we have here.”
The Mayor swept his chubby arms to a creek that, to the untrained eye, appeared like any other creek, albeit banked by soggy underbrush. In fact, due to an error that both the scheduler and press agent would be unable to explain, the Mayor and the media had landed some five blocks west of their intended destination, where an actual volunteer clean-up crew was cleaning up actual flood damage. Unaware of this, the Mayor gamely waddled down the non-flood damaged embankment with the collected media in tow, their fine shoes squishing uncertainly into the spongy ground. The Mayor lifted the closest loose object available, which was the end of a large, mossy log.
“Look at this log. I bet it was a healthy tree before the flood. Somebody help me move it out of the—OWWW!”
“What happened?” asked someone.
“Oh, just a bee sting!” he shrugged, still smiling, dutifully ignoring the red welt swelling rapidly on his forehead. He casually swatted away the small yellow-and-black something that was flitting about him as he switched the end of the log from one hand to the other before cradling it in the crook of an elbow. More of the insects that the Mayor assumed were bees materialized and hovered and buzzed in a decidedly hostile manner, despite the bonhomie that he chose to muster in response.
“To continue, if we work together, our city can recover from floods or any other natural….hey these bees are feisty little fellows, aren’t they? What’s the best way to- OWWWWWW!!!”
The reporters and photographers immediately leapt several steps backward, yet, as consummate professionals, kept their microphones and cameras trained squarely on their subject, who was busy frantically waving his stubby, business-shirt bedecked arms at the maelstrom gathering around him. Someone in the crowd identified the insects—correctly, as confirmed later—as yellowjacket wasps.
As he thrashed and squirmed and swatted, the Mayor finally dropped the log, unfortunately onto his left foot. Even more wasps spewed forth. One managed to fly up the Mayor’s right pants’ leg and sting him on the lower calf.
“OWWW!!! JESUS GOD DAMNED CHRIST!!!!” the Mayor screamed, as recorded by the microphones for Channels Five, Thirteen, and Twenty.
With wasps suddenly hot in pursuit , the Mayor bolted up the riverbank, the assembled media and mayoral aides and campaign workers scrambling to his side, only to scramble away to avoid the wasps, who tailed the Mayor doggedly all the way back to the limousine and kept stinging him at regular intervals.
“Get these God-damned bees off me before another one of them—OWWWWWWW!!” The Mayor continued with even more caustic invectives, including F words that were neither Fergus nor Falls.
The spectacle lasted until the Mayor finally staggered his way into the limousine, by which time he had sustained at least twenty stings. His rotund, fleshy Mayor’s face had expanded into a Thanksgiving Day balloon, his right eye had swollen shut, and his left eye looked like Lucifer searching for fellow fallen.
As dutifully filmed, the ambulance crew transferred the Mayor from the limousine to a stretcher, then sped him away through the streets of his city. None of the aides or media had dared enter the sanctum of the Mayor’s ambulance, opting instead to tail him to the hospital at a respectful distance.
Inside the ambulance, the Mayor laid prone and groggy.
“What….happened?” he moaned. He couldn’t move his head, which felt like an avocado pressed between two anvils. Neither could he move the rest of his body, which also felt swollen and beaten. His view was limited to a circle of sky and clouds, as demarcated by a porthole in the ambulance’s roof.
After what seemed like a week, a voice spoke to him, ethereal and wispy.
“Four squared,” it said.
The Mayor tried to turn to the voice, with no success. His head would not move.
“Who’s there?” he barked.
“Four squared worth of years,” hissed the same voice, as if in accusation. The voice was high and grating, although clearly masculine.
“That will be your tenure as mayor,” the voice continued, “after you complete your current term in office.”
The phrase ‘complete your current term’ activated alarm bells in the Mayor’s psyche, for it implied that subsequent terms were not necessarily in the offing.
“I warn you, Mayor Francis Mingalone…”
The Mayor struggled mightily to turn any which way he could. Yet the straps, or whatever they were, were holding him quite strongly and tightly. He was forced continually to gaze at the blue sky and clouds, which were peaceful and attractive, but told him nothing.
“Make this your last year,” the voice continued. “Let someone else be mayor next time.”
The owner of the voice finally showed himself, to a degree. A man’s head loomed into view, blocking the sky and clouds and sunlight, so much so that the head was essentially a silhouette. The head looked extremely big, although perhaps it was not so much big as it was near. Could it be the head of…geez, a midget?
“I’m serious,” squealed the head. “Enter into one more campaign, and I assure you that terrible events will unfold.”
“You mean,” grogged the Mayor, “that I’d lose?”
The head contorted into a grimace, then rolled its beady eyes to the roof.
“No, you putz,” it said. “I mean that your city will be destroyed!”
The Mayor stared open-mouthed, but found nothing to say.
“Skeptical, are we? Listen, Bub. I see things, I know things, I recognize the consequences of actions. The names and numbers translate into some very frightening fish poop, believe me.”
Shadows danced across the head as it spoke, vaguely suggesting events that the Mayor did not understand.
“I’ll repeat this one last time. Choose to run for reelection, and enemies will spew forth into Fergus Falls to rampage and ransack and do all that other bad stuff. Just like those wasps from the log. Or just like the Trojans from the…um….” The head raised a stubby finger and snapped it a few times. “Help me out, what am I going for here?”
“Condoms?” suggested the Mayor.
“Horse!” shouted the head in triumph, just as it disappeared in a flash of white light.
“Horace,” shouted the ambulance driver.
“Yeah,” replied the attendant who was leaning over the Mayor, and who had been shining a flashlight in the Mayor’s eyes. “He’s just coming out of it now.”
Mayor Mingalone found his brain refocusing and his eyes looking squarely into a black man with a thin beard and a mustache. The black man was peering back at him.
“Fish poop?” asked the Mayor.
“Take it easy,” replied the man with the beard.
“I thought I saw a midget,” said the Mayor. He turned his head left and right. To his surprise his head was not strapped down to anything. Nor was there a porthole to the sky in the roof of the ambulance.
“There’s no midget here, your honor,” said Horace, the ambulance attendant, who spoke in a deep, well-modulated baritone. “Although I believe the respectful term is ‘little person’.”
“Little person,” echoed the driver.
“Midget,” corrected the Mayor diligently, and the attendant stared at the Mayor in blithering non-comprehension.
As the ambulance pulled up to a hospital, a delegation of orderlies and nurses opened the rear door and wheeled out the patient, as documented by the reporters with microphones and photographers with flash cameras, all pressed against police tape like fans of movie stars or rock and roll.
You have now arrived in
~ Fergus Falls! ~
As Fergus Falls approached the end of Mayor Mingalone’s sixteenth year in office, the city shone like a cherry pie on the windowsill of the Northern plains. Doe-eyed youths from farms and state universities arrived in waves at the bus terminal, hoping to succeed in the paper industry or grain brokerages or in one of the four F’s or seven M’s. “Icebacks” sneaked down from Manitoba and Saskatchewan, then scoured downtown streets for recyclable aluminum cans and fallen change. The city’s moms and dads paid good money to the touring companies that staged Broadway hits at the Orpheum theater downtown, and after the final curtains they returned to their tract housing to pay off the baby sitter and to make love under the beneficent glow of late night television. In her thrice-a-week column in the Fergus Falls Examiner, Evelyn Kopak described in precise detail just what was happening in Fergus Falls and how one might go about surviving it. Day after day, people struggled with their jobs and families and neighbors, and with the cold and snow in winter or heat and humidity in summer, and with the city’s quaint but ridiculously inefficient layout of streets and avenues, which led to the terrible automobile traffic. At the intersection of Van Buren Avenue and Thirty-third Street, motorists regularly gridlocked in front of both City Hall and the sign that beamed Fergus Falls, Fergus Falls to all who gazed upon it.
Mayor Mingalone reached his decision. He pressed the appropriate button on the intercom, and half a minute later his office was filled with his closest advisors and associates, none of whom Mingalone trusted beyond a gerbil’s behind.
“Gentlemen,” Mayor Mingalone said confidently, leaning back in his highback leather chair, chomping on a raw crimini mushroom. “I have decided to run again. We are going for four more years.”
The aides let out a brief hooray.
“What’s this?” asked Carl, the oldest and blandest of the Mayor’s associates. Carl was pointing to a sheet of official Fergus Falls stationery on which someone had scribbled a series of Fergus Falls’s in different lettering styles.
“Shut up,” said the Mayor. “We have work to do.”
“Stan, schedule a press conference for five o’clock. I want the newspaper, the TV, the radio, UPI, AP, the A & P—everybody. Tell them their punctuality is required even though we’ll be starting thirteen minutes late. Carl, call José Hosea on the blue phone and tell him I’ll support his secret river development project, whatever the hell it’s going to be. Then hang up and call him on the white phone and hit him up for a campaign contribution. Billy, call the Examiner’s gossip columnist and leak the news that I’ve decided to run. Better yet, tell the weather guy for KFFL. He’ll spill it all over town.”
“Are you going to take any questions at the press conference?” asked Billy.
Billy was half a year out of Central Minnesota State and still very much in awe of the legendary politician who had hired him as an aide, a situation that Mayor Mingalone found almost ideal.
“Yes,” replied the Mayor decisively.
“Make that no,” said Carl flatly.
“Make that no!” said the Mayor, beaming the slightest of frowns at Billy for his impertinence. “But I’ll take one question from that woman, the one who does publicity for the casino. Carl, you know her. The tall, olive-skinned one with the wonderful—” Mayor Mingalone mimed an international gesture made famous from the movies of his youth.
“Fuciella Fleming,” said Carl. Mayor Mingalone hated Carl with a passion and wished he could get along without him.
“Fuciella Fleming,” repeated the Mayor. “Tell Fuciella Fleming that we will take one question at this press conference, and the one question we take will come from her.”
The aides squirmed uncomfortably, like kiddies in need of the toilet.
“What the hell’s wrong?” barked Mayor Mingalone.
“Well, your honor,” said Stan Regnort, the shriveled, pigeon-faced press agent. “It may appear to be a conflict of interest. Ms. Fleming is, after all, your wife.”
Mayor Mingalone sat back in his sumptuous high-back leather chair and folded his hands behind his head. He glowered pensively at the assembled aides, one after another, none of whom held his gaze for longer than an instant.
“How many times do I have to tell you,” he said, the light of the Fergus Falls sign gleaming off his bald head. “There’s no conflict of interest because she kept her maiden name.”
“Now get the hell out of my office.”
Twenty seconds later, Mayor Mingalone was alone once more, save for the illumination of one nearby electronic sign and one very distant, very cold January sun. The day had not arrived, he told himself, when Mayor Mingalone would succumb to impossible memories, vague threats, or the hallucinations of a fractured mind. No, he was a greater man than all of that. He was a public servant, a public servant to the core. Of course he was going to run again, and of course he was going to win.
Damnit, the city owed it to him!