Can a Libertarian mayoral candidate find common cause with preservationists?
Following is installment 4 of an end-of-the-year fictional serial. About a fictional mayoral campaign. In a fictional city. With fictional characters.
Repeat: This is fiction.
- * * * *
By the time Lenora Garvey arrived at the firehouse, escorted by the rabbis of the Precinct 24 Men’s Moped Militia, the demonstration was well underway. A staff meeting – conference call, actually, with the brass in Luxembourg – had kept her late at the bank.
“It’s OK,” Binyomin Basar whispered to her. “You’re supposed to make a late entrance. Makes you look more important.”
He flashed that endearing smile, that twinkle in his eye.What was it with that kid? Why did he always know what she was thinking?
“Andale, Lenora! You’re late!” Colores Salud emerged from the knot of protesters circling the sidewalk. She withdrew a sheet from a bundle of photocopied press statements and handed one to the candidate. English on the front. Spanish on the back. Lenora prayed the two sides said the same thing. If not… well, not trusting was no longer an option. And praying never was an option, not since the last time she accompanied her parents to Baptist services and proclaimed herself a Libertarian. That was back in 7th grade.
Since when, Lenora wondered, did her campaign need to print 20 press releases? Were there even 20 reporters left in this city? Were there even one or two who might show up to her events?
Well, she could always count on seeing Bugs Fletcher. She had indeed caught his “Underground Live” show on PTV and seen his Undergrond News scattered and flying in pieces along downtown sidewalks. But somehow he didn’t seem to count.
And the young woman with the Destiny tattoo would be here, as always. She seemed more professional than Bugs. But Lenora had a hunch, a hunch she couldn’t trace, that this Destiny wasn’t exactly a dues-paying member of the Society For Professional Journalists, either.
Lenora scanned the headline on Colores’ press release.
“GOP CANDIDATE GARVEY MARCHES ALONGSIDE TOPSI, BLASTS MAYOR ELBOWS FOR DESTROYING CITY’S HISTORY!”
“I do?” Lenora asked Colores. “I mean, I did? I…”
“Sure you are,” Colores said. “You’re here to march with TOPSI. There’s even someone here from the Daily Tribune!”
TOPSI. TOPSI. Now she was marching with something called TOPSI.
“Hey Hey. Yo Yo. Mayor Elbows Got To Go!”
That was TOPSI. Chanting. Or trying. Its members paraded about in ill-fitting firefighter jackets and red helmets. This collection of geriatric white people with drawn faces and thin voices holding signs and trying to raise their voices somehow didn’t strike Lenora as “Yo” chanters from the ‘hood.
“Save the firehouse! Save our history!”
To her right Lenora spied a TV camera. This was news! No wonder these TOPSIs were mustering a chant.
So what was this TOPSI? She returned to Colores’ flyer. There it was, spelled out: The “Temperance and Preservation Society Inc.”
Hmmm. Temperance. Lenora shivered.
Preservation? Lenora was never much of a preservationist, either. Let the free market decide what buildings people want to live in or look at. Not self-appointed edificial fetishists.
Colores was tapping her foot feverishly. Finally she grabbed Lenora’s arm.
“Over here,” she said. “Come meet Mistress Boswell. She runs the TOPSI show. People listen to her, or else. She gets in the newspaper a lot.”
“I don’t know, Colores,” Lenora said. “I’m not sure I can sign on to this.”
“Sure you can! Everybody’s mad at Mayor Elbows.”
“What are they mad at him about?”
Colores shrugged. “Something to do with this firehouse. Elbows wants to tear it down, then build it back up, bigger.”
“So? It looks like a dumpy firehouse to me”
“I don’t know. Mistress Boswell is mad about it.”
As the demonstrators marched, three uniformed firefighters, two of them tall young men with short brown hair, the third a short, squat fellow with a bushy black mustache, stood to the side watching the parade.
At first Lenora thought they were glaring at the TOPSIs. Could tensions erupt? A confrontation? Would she have to take sides?
Upon closer inspection, she saw no reason for alarm. The firemen looked as befuddled as she was.
Just then the chanting stopped. Mistress Boswell pushed an oversized knit cap out of her eyes and lifted a megaphone.
“We are here today to put Mayor Alfred E. Pneumonie on notice!” she cried. The now stationary paraders clapped. “We are tired of our history being torn down! Downtown Firehouse #4 is an essential part of our past! A reminder of an era of new construction of the New Brutalist School! Mayor Elbows has already torn three of these firehouses down, all built in the middle of the 20th century, when our modern city took shape…”
I’m not just confused, Lenora told herself. I’ve been hacked. Someone has invaded my brain and inputted alien code.
A faint voice interrupted her thoughts.
“So, candidate Garvey, I see here that you are supporting TOPSI’s position…”
Lenora turned around to see a thin man with a closely cropped white beard and strands of gray hair atop his head. Only the far corner of his mouth moved as he spoke.
He held out his hand. Without meaning to, Lenora almost crushed it.
Binyomin Basar whispered surreptitiously into Lenora’s ear: “That’s Niles Linkletter. He writes the editorials for the Daily Tribune. Has written them for 47 years. Also a member of TOPSI. Be careful what you say.”
“Hello,” Lenora said. “You must be Mr. Linkletter? I’ve heard so much about you.”
“I’m not surprised,” Linkletter muttered. “Not that I’m particularly well known. But, as you of course know, Wheel and I are cousins. I was sorry he dropped out of the mayoral race. He seems to have found an impressive substitute.”
Of course. Everybody ends up being related to somebody you know in this city, Lenora was learning. And, well, this Mr. Linkletter – it makes sense he’d come from the same gene pool as her campaign manager and bourbon buddy Wheelock Willoughby III.
“Mr. Linkletter. Could you tell me a little bit about this TOPSI group? I’m new to town. They say they’re preservationists. From what Wheel has told me, the preservationists despise all these ugly government buildings that went up in the ’50s and ’60s.”
“No question about it. Miss Boswell herself picketed this firehouse when it went up. I wrote some of my finest editorials against it.”
“And surely she and the other TOPSIs would never today want to live near a building like that?”
“Heavens no!” Linkletter chuckled through the corner of his mouth as though spitting into a coffee cup. “Mistress Boswell lives out in Staven. We all do. But we love this city. And we hate to see its history disappear.”
Lenora just wasn’t getting it. “So why is she mad at Mayor Elbows for tearing it down?”
“A number of reasons.” Mistress Boswell cut in. She was done megaphoning. The chanting and parading had resumed for the camera. “TOPSI is outraged because that firehouse represents the living memory of the overreaching of government and the inhuman scale of massive developments from an important part of this city’s development. We should never tear down such reminders, lest we repeat the mistakes of history.
“And TOPSI is outraged because of all the public money” – Boswell cut Lenora a knowing glance – “that will be wasted building a new firehouse. Millions of dollars will be stolen from the taxpaying public to erect a hideous new firehouse removed from the scale and vernacular of downtown. Mayor Elbows spends all that money simply to reward the firefighters union, which contributes money to his reelection campaigns and helps him bring voters to the polls. Even though they can’t vote themselves. Since they all live in Staven.
“There. A number of reasons why this firehouse demolition project is a travesty of justice. The number two, to be exact.”
Waste of taxpayer money! This Mistress Boswell was singing her tune.
So what if Mistress Boswell lived in Staven just like firefighters? Who’s a Libertarian to tell people where to live?
Lenora turned to Niles Linkletter. “You bet I am standing alongside my kindred marchers from TOPSI in defiance of this outrage from City Hall,” she told him. “These are my people!”
Niles Linkletter slipped a narrow notebook from his Tweed jacket pocket and scribbled away.
- * * *
IT OCCURRED TO Lenora that part of the campaign event routine was missing. Where were the conspiracy theory-laden questions from Bugs Fletcher? Or the recited political arguments disguised as reporter questions from that Destiny person?
She spotted the pair across the street. Grabbing two more press releases from Colores’ stack, Lenora walked toward them. They might not constitute the friendly press. But any press was better than no press. That’s what Colores said, anyway.
Lenora found Destiny sitting on a pile of construction rubble, huddled over a laptop. She looked as though she were guarding it from Bugs, who stood over her, pointing, his scrawny figure a kinetic jangle.
Lost in conversation, neither of them noticed Lenora approaching from behind.
Bugs was practically shouting in excitement. “There. Right there! I told you. ‘Pacer.’ That gets you all the federal court documents. Use my password: ‘Under G News.’ Three words. Initial caps. Then type in ‘Lincoln, Nebraska’ …”
Destiny turned her head up toward Bugs. From what Lenora could see in profile, Destiny was weighing the command. Should she listen to this nut? Or shoo him away?
Destiny returned to the keyboard and started typing.
“Wow. That’s a long list of cases.”
Lincoln, Nebraska. At her campaign announcement at the library, Lenora had been startled when Bugs asked her about her days back in Lincoln. She hadn’t come all the way East to keep hearing about Lincoln, Nebraska. Yet here it was. First, when she and Abby started dating, it turned out Abby’s family lives in Lincoln. They’re big wheels there, even. OK. A coincidence. Now Bugs and his questions about Lincoln. Sure, it was crazy. But Destiny – who didn’t look crazy, even if Lenora hadn’t figured out her game as of yet – was interested in a series of court cases from Lincoln, Nebraska.
“Quick! Shut down that screen!”
Bugs had spotted Lenora. Destiny, flustered by the sudden command, obeyed. The next sound Lenora heard was the merry Microsoft Windows sign-off chime.
Bugs regained his composure, although his arms remained jangling. He smiled a gap-toothed welcome.
“Well, well, well. Mizz Le-NOR-a GAR-vey! What a surprise!”
“A surprise, Mr. Fletcher? Why are you surprised to find me at a campaign event that you came to cover?”
Bugs responded with his knowing, conspiratorial chuckle. “Yes. Yes. There really aren’t many surprises. Are there Miss GAR-vey? Not in this town. Not in LIN-coln… Nebraska, either.”
Lenora steeled herself. This nutcase wasn’t going to unnerve her, she reminded herself.
“No surprises for the GRAND-daughter of Garveyites who enlists in the corporate banking world, travels to a new city as the supposed regional district manager of a financial institution, and arranges to enlist in a REAL ESTATE FLIPPING SCHEME…”
Hold steady, Lenora told herself. Remember. This guy’s off the charts.
“… to help the WHITE political plantation perpetuate a HOAX on the black community!”
Destiny’s laptop was slapped shut, and Destiny herself was fleeing. Lenora took that as a sign. News cycle over.
- * * *
ONE LAST ENCOUNTER remained fixed in Lenora’s mind. She wrestled with it, hours later, as she and her campaign inner circle revisited the day’s events from the sanctum of Wheelock’s Clubroom.
Colores, Wheel, Binyomin, Lenora were all smoking celebratory Macanudos. Wheel kept their glasses filled with bourbon, except for Binyomin’s. Binyomin hosted a private bottle of Slivovitz.
“I know I’m playing the sap,” Lenora said, staring into her glass. She hated playing the sap. “But he was such a cute kid. Just sitting there with a sad look on his face.”
Colores and Wheel shot each other helpless looks. Binyomin slid a feverish puck toss at the plastic Rack ‘n Roll pins. Strike.
The story hadn’t impressed the others nearly as much as it had Lenora. Maybe, Lenora figured, because they hadn’t seen the boy. She had. He couldn’t have been more than 8. She stumbled across him on the pile of construction debris when after Bugs scooted to chase fleeing Destiny.
Lenora asked the boy where his parents were. He said that he lived with his grandmother, that she worked in an office nearby. She asked what he was doing. “Hanging,” he said. She asked what he liked to do. For a while he said nothing, kicked at the concrete rubble. Then he told a story about the time his class took a trip to a bowling alley in Staven. His eyes lit up; you’d think the boy had flown to Candy Mountain.
When was that trip? Lenora asked the boy. Two years ago, she learned. Two years ago!
His vacant gaze returned; their conversation drifted. Lenora got the sense the boy had done nothing fun in two whole years, since that one lousy trip to Joey’s Lanez.
Lenora asked the boy what he does for fun, after school, on weekends. She asked the question as many different ways as she could think of. One mention of a dinner at Chuck E. Cheese. That was it.
“What is it with this city?” Lenora demanded, startling her pals with a fist pound on the Wheelock’s bar packed with a full 200 pounds of fury. “Don’t kids have anything to do? No rec centers? No parents at home? They have to find some way to get to Staven to go bowling!?”
“Lenora,” Wheel offered meekly. “I hate to say it. You sound like a liberal.”
Lenora exhaled. “I know. You’re right. It’s just that… Did I ever tell you about the trophy I won in Lincoln? I bowled 300. And I wasn’t much older than that kid.”
“Wow.” Colores was impressed. Wheel less so. “No,” he said, wiping the imaginary traces of Lenora’s fist pound from the mahogany bar, “I don’t remember you telling me that story.”
“Well, New Haven should know that story.” Binyomin put down the puck, took a pensive sip of Slivotiz. “Lenora, this is great. What a story! Do you know who owns Joey’s Lanez?”
The bright light of recognition swept Colores’ face. She fished a pen from her purse, began jotting notes on the margins of an unused flyer from the day’s rally.
“The mayor,” Binyomin continued, now standing erect, bobbing back and forth in short, rhythmic bursts, “can’t find the time or the money to give kids like little Calvin a place to bowl in the afternoon… unless of course he can find a stranger to drive him to the mayor’s brother’s tax-paying establishment in Staven …”
“Lenora, stay with me here. Whatever the kid’s name is. We’ll get his picture. Can’t you see it? Then a picture of you with your bowling trophy. Three hundred! ‘Lenora Garvey understands what it’s like to throw strikes. She knows what it’s like for a kid to dream. At least she hasn’t forgotten….’”
Colores recorded every word. Lenora sat back, relit her Macanudo. There was no stopping the Garvey campaign.
A pause of silence filled the room upon the completion of Binyomin’s recital. Lenora eyed the young rabbi.
“One thing I don’t get, Binyomin” she said.
“What’s not to get?”
“You. And me.“I know why Colores is working so hard on this campaign. Wheel and I are soldiers in the same liberty crusade. And I can’t thank you enough for all the moped rides and advice you’ve been giving me. But why are you here?”
Binyomin grinned, lifted his glass. “Can’t beat the refreshments!” he said, winking at the others. “Or the company.”
“I’m no expert on your people’s ideology,” Lenora continued. “But I know this: Lesbians aren’t your chosen people. I get the sense you spend a lot more time thinking about kosher chickens than the Laffer Curve. And what do you have against Mayor Elbows?”
Binyomin chuckled. “The man has chutzpah. Like you wouldn’t believe.
“We used to work our tails off for that man, every election. He won 95 percent of the vote in the 24th Precinct. Every time. Not 94. Not 96. 95 percent. It would have been 102 percent, but we didn’t want to raise any eyebrows.
“Then he goes mishuggeh on us. Starts playing with the wrong crowd.”
“What did he do?”
Binyomin counted on his fingers: The mayor supporting a gay rights bill. The mayor “playing footsie” with the Bubbekvetchers. The mayor letting the police department fall apart so badly that the yeshiva in Precinct 24 had to organize its own armed neighborhood moped patrol just to keep their families safe walking to and from their homes.
“I get it. I get it,” Lenora said. “Except… you ditch Elbows for backing gay rights. And you run over to a lesbian?”
“But Binyomin. Let’s be real for a moment. You guys call homosexuality an abomination.”
“And if I remember my Ayn Rand correctly from Cornell, you Libertarians think the Old Testament is a fairy tale. Not to mention a waste of time.”
“Well, you could put it that way…”
“So we understand each other.”
That damn smile. Lenora grabbed for her glass, raised it in slow motion to cover her face. No one, as far as she was concerned, needed to see her reduced to a mush puddle.
Click here for the next installment, Dinner With Elbows.
Feel free to comment or offer alternative plot twists below.
GOP Finds Mayoral Candidate
Garvey Finds An Issue
Rendezvous For Destiny