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The Incompetent Mayor

 (The Simplicity Tales)

The Mayor of Simplicity was frighteningly incompetent yet the townsfolk adored him and would blindly re-elect him for the rest of his days, simply based on his ineptness. It hadn’t always been like this; Simplicity had once been a paradigm for selfless foresight in all matters civic and personal. But time, pettiness and greed, like rain, had a way of dulling folks’ minds when choosing candidates and unsavory intimations of resuscitating long-forgotten discretions had a way of making good candidates stay at home. A once simple town with simple standards was now unnecessarily unfathomable, boorish and divisive. A paradigm had fallen on hard times and it didn’t take all that long for it to fall so far.

It was a morning like any other at the Simplicity diner during election season. Everyone was shouting at everyone else over misrepresentations introduced by candidates the night before. The diner was in an absolutely demoralizing uproar. Earl, the owner and chef, couldn’t take it anymore. The screaming and invective was horrifying to one who bathes regularly in the soapy nostalgia of earlier days’ more genteel tones. Earl lumbered up onto the counter banging several saucepans together to shut everyone up. And for the first time in weeks the diner was all a-hush. Earl let the wonderful silence sink in. No one dared break the silence.

Earl spoke with just the right mix of grace and “aw-shucks-I’m-not-as-smart-as-y’all,-I-just-own-a-diner” humility about loving the town and having “growed up all his life here”. And then he pointed to groups of lifelong friends who were ready to rip each other’s faces off over issues that hadn’t been issues until the election started a few weeks before. Earl went on for a few minutes and then told everyone that if they wanted to fight, do it somewhere else; he wouldn’t tolerate it no more in the diner. He climbed down off the counter, slipped, cut his hand between the saucepan and the counter and in a fit of frustration slammed the saucepan against the counter with such force that it shattered into many pieces and folks swore they heard that smash miles away. No one in the diner dared move. They jumped when the saucepan shattered but, except for the eggs and bacon sizzling on the grill, the diner was enshrouded in an ear-numbing silence. Everything came to a complete apologetic halt.
And then it happened. No one knew who said it (though many took credit for it), but in that following silence, someone mumbled: “Maybe we should just elect the most incompetent person we can find to be mayor and do it ourselves.”

It was an electric moment for light bulbs started popping off in just about everyone’s head sitting in the diner that morning. (Those for whom no light bulbs went off became the first candidates for mayor). Everyone chewed on the idea for a few seconds and then the cheering went up in the diner. Why not? Why not elect the most incompetent person for mayor? It was the perfect solution.

All of last night’s candidates were immediately dismissed or run out of town. A search committee was formed. Within an hour 3 perfect candidates had been chosen and bewilderedly accepted their nominations. The search committee was disbanded and the election was on. No speeches, no television ads, no posturing, that night the town gathered and by a show of hands the vote was consummated.
And so the Mayor was elected by a landslide. And three weeks into the Mayor’s new term, everyone saw the real value of having an incompetent, stupid person as Mayor.

Simplicity was nestled comfortably at the foot of the Magnificent Mountains between the Grey’s forest and Smooth Lake. While the town enjoyed a reputation as an escape to its eponymous namesake, underneath its simple exterior lurked the complex foibles of human nature. There were those who looked upon the landscape and saw only opportunity for building. They equated developing as progress. The forest, the lake, the mountains, every day they stood untouched was denied gold. And they fought for their right to tear it down. There were those who saw such progress as akin to sacrilege. They equated preservation as progress and they fought for the landscape’s right to remain uncorrupted. And there were the many who were somewhere in between.

It was in the Mayor’s third week as mayor that a group of developers, counting on the Mayor’s stupidity, went to him in secret, proposing an enormous development project in the forest. They promised to sweeten the proposition by offering the Mayor a ludicrous bribe for pushing the development through.

Well, what no one ever counted on was how an incompetent person would react to such a windfall.

As soon as the developers snuck out the back door of the Mayor’s house, the Mayor, enchanted with his new found occupation as a power broker, rushed over to the diner and announced to everyone that was listening that some developers had visited him and given him a hundred dollars to build an enormous project in the forest and he was going to use that hundred dollars to buy everyone a cup of coffee. The Mayor beamed, rightly thinking he had finally earned the town’s trust for making him Mayor. You could hear the crickets chirp at the edge of the forest half a mile away.

Stunned silence begat horror begat amusement begat glorious realization that having someone as stupid as the Mayor was an immense blessing. The developers were promptly run out of town; many other leeches who had thought there was an opportunity in Simplicity realized the Mayor was too incompetent to be trusted and so skeedaddled. Everyone was proud that they had finally solved the problem of politics and underhanded activities.

That was, until the rains came.

It was a late summer’s day when, with unprecedented insouciance, weather and nature got into a brawl. Like addicts going through withdrawal, it really wasn’t their fault that they were both in horrific moods when they met (or collided as some might warrant). But brawl they did and a hellacious brawl it turned out it be. Neither one was in a mood to give in to the other.
The rains hit the town quite expectedly and, in their haste, they forgot to leave. At first it was a cause for celebration as farmers and gardens alike needed the rain, but it gradually grew to a nuisance and then worked its way right up to a cause for concern and then finally a time for panic as the rains just kept coming. The grounds became waterlogged and folks’ damp souls reflected the dreariness and darkness of the skies above.

The Mayor, as expected, was caught like a deer in headlines. Clueless as to next steps, too late he thought of declaring a disaster and calling for help, too late did he and his staff realize that there might be damage from too much rain. In short he proved to be the dimwit he set out to be and the town paid for its shortsightedness.

As the rains continued their soggy onslaught, it had to happen sooner or later. Far on the outskirts of town, a tree fell. It was natural enough that a shallow-rooted willow would go first. Local scientists had made mention of the possibility on one newscast after another until everyone was numb from the talk. And when the first one fell, it inconveniently landed on a generally well-liked elderly couple walking home from a bridge game. With their umbrellas up, they never saw the tree coming. Killed them on the spot, the tree did. Less than a week later a second tree fell across the highway causing a four car pileup and a real mess and several more deaths. With the predictability of a metronome the evening and morning news began to fill up with stories of trees falling over. And they inevitably fell with people or cars underneath them, causing all sorts of disruptions, grieving, as well as intolerable power outages.

There were weeks when folks spent more time going to funerals by candlelight than working.

On the far side of town lived Grump. Had Grump been likeable in the slightest degree, he might have been a more perfect candidate for mayor as he was even dumber than the Mayor.  Grump, though, was different, he had a skill: he knew how to fix things. When things broke, folks grudgingly brought their broken objects to Grump and endured his cursing and complaining that they-didn’t-know-how-to-use-a-perfectly-good-whatchamacallit-and-had-no-business-owning-it-if-they-didn’t-know-how-to-care-for-it-but-leave-it-on-the-counter-and-I’ll-get-around-to-it-when-I-can-I’m-awful-busy-now-but-how-about-next-Tuesday? Eventually Grump would calm down and he would always fix whatever was dropped off at his store. And things once repaired by Grump looked and worked better than brand new.

Grump never liked trees, had no quarrel with them, mind you, just never saw much advantage to them. Like a gardener looking over her gardens seeing only weeds and shapes incongruent, Grump looked at trees and saw work: tree trimming, leaf raking, clearing tree roots out of pipes, just lots and lots of work. He couldn’t see what the fuss was about with trees.

As Grump sat in his house staring at his fire one night with the rains pelting his tin roof, a small inkling of a jot of an iota of a thought wisped through his head from ear to ear and dribbled out. For a split second he had a thought and just as quickly as he had it, it left him. However the very next night as he sat by the fire again, with the rains beating down on his tin roof causing a mighty ruckus, the thought raced across the room, bounced off the mantel, gathered up some strength and caromed into his head, clunked around a few times and settled long enough for Grump to grasp it. “Trees is killin’ people”.

It took Grump a few more nights of thought bludgeoning to develop a full sentence of a thought. “Trees is killin’ innocent people who done nothin’ back to the trees. Trees is terrorizin’ folks.” Grump wasn’t a very smart soul and, as mentioned, wasn’t a very likeable soul. He was a grouch, he preferred complaining, never had anything nice to say about anyone, not even his Mom, whom everyone adored (and that kinda irked most folks in these parts). Grump was a curmudgeon, pure and simple, and not a very bright one at that, but given his innate ability to fix anything he was tolerated uneagerly.

Grump would get up from his shop late each afternoon and make the long soggy trek across the town square to the local bar. No one ever talked to him and, what with the rains and all, no one was doing much talking at all in the bar these days. A lot of drinking, not much talking. The rain can have a dulling effect on people.

Grump sat there this day, with the rains in a particularly violent temper, mumbling. Bartender asked him if he wanted another drink and Grump mumbled: “Trees is killin’ innocent people who done nothin’ back to the trees. Trees is terrorizin’ folks.” Since no one was doing any talking, everyone was listening. Bartender asked: “What’s that you say, Grump?” “Trees is killin’ innocent people who done nothin’ back to the trees. The trees is terrorizin’ the town.”

People nodded their heads in dull agreement. Not much room to argue with that simple little thought. But it just so happened that there were several outsiders passing through who knew the history of the town and saw an opportunity.
The outsiders visited Grump in his shop the next day and for several days after that talking to him about his thought, telling him it was a wonderful thought and he owed it to himself and the town to speak up about it.

Grump never knew he could have a wonderful thought. It really wasn’t in his vocabulary. But he relished the idea that he could have a wonderful thought and he began to believe the outsiders. Why shouldn’t he able to have a wonderful thought? After all, he was an adult, he could fix just about anything, why couldn’t he fix this problem? For no one else seemed to have an answer. Why couldn’t it be Grump’s time? The outsiders worked with Grump and helped him develop a plan to save the town.

So Grump went to the bar most every day, only missing those days when he got really busy, sat on his favorite stool (which was far away from the front door so that he wouldn’t scare customers away), ordered his beers and kept mumbling about the trees. As the crisis continued folks started sitting closer to Grump, asking his advice. After all, Grump could fix things, why couldn’t he fix this?

Grump made his first clear-eyed observation: umbrellas what’s causing these walking deaths ‘cause people can’t see the trees coming. Folks had to stop using umbrellas. Umbrellas were banned from the town. Insurance companies rushed in and changed their policies so that if a person was using an umbrella when killed, they would no longer be covered.

The Umbrella Law made such sense to everyone that the Mayor was swum out of town and Grump was installed as the new mayor. But the Umbrella Law had consequences: without umbrellas, clothes were soaking through and given the atmospheric conditions, nothing was drying very well these days. Dryers couldn’t get all the dampness out of the clothes. Articles that normally were hung up to dry never dried. Clothes and homes started to smell bad.

It so happened that Grump (through his new outsider friends) was able to provide just the right plastic gear to be worn over clothes and also new home smelling equipment to get rid of the musty wet smell everyone was experiencing. No one raised any concerns for conflict of interests; it was looked upon as a godsend that Grump was able to provide in so timely a fashion.

Like all well-intentioned laws, the Umbrella Law created unintended consequences; namely, now that no one could use an umbrella, people were getting wet and getting sick. The hospital was starting to fill with cases of colds and flu and pneumonia. In some cases this was a good thing as the trees continued to fall and fell crushing empty houses (because the whole family was at the hospital). But in other cases the trees fell on what should have been empty houses had people been at work and not resting at home with their colds.

Well, that led to the Near Tree Law. Grump warned that any trees near roads, walkways and houses were potential terrorists and all such trees had to be secured. Garden trees were not to be trusted. Alarms were to be placed on all trees. But alarms are of little use when a tree is falling and alarms that don’t go off until after a tree has fallen are of no use at all. People wanted to be better equipped: the alarms were not halting the trees from falling.

Grump provided chains and spikes to safeguard all such trees. Insurance companies rushed in and changed their policies such that if such tree was not secured, any damage or death caused by such tree would not be covered by policies. Folks secured their trees but soon realized that given the sogginess and unsteadiness of the ground, the chains were useless. Trees were going to fall anyway. And when they did, they tended to cause more damage with loose chains whipping around. 4 unfortunate deaths could have been avoided had it not been for the chains.
It was when the trees started falling pairs that someone mentioned “conspiracy”. “Conspiracy” gripped people’s imaginations. Alarms hadn’t helped; the plastic parkas were useless; the chains, instead of restraining trees, it seemed, were being used as weapons by suicide trees. It was an endless voracious whirlpool of despair the town was being sucked into. People were afraid to go to work, stores were shuttering. The hospital and the schools were becoming homes for many, spending was slowing; people wearing for their lives, listening to news that fueled fears and unsettled sleep.

And just when everyone hoped the bottom had been hit, it got worse. The first suicide pair fell on the outskirts of town taking an old Victorian house with them. It sent a shock wave through the town as no one had anticipated trees falling together. It meant no building, no person was safe. It raised new specters of paranoid possibilities upon which Grump’s friends now preyed.

There had been those who tried to stop the madness, saying the trees were not murderers, but background checks had found them having given to gardening charities and Save Our Trees foundation. They were declared enemies of the town and quickly silenced.

It was decreed that no two trees could touch or be within 10 feet of each other. Crews went out and began cutting trees back for fear that they were communicating with each other. But that didn’t stop trees from falling, killing, falling in pairs, killing in pairs. The witch hunt was on. Rain has a way of dulling people’s minds, and lots of consecutive rainy days can be very dulling indeed. Fear begat protectionism begat conspiracy begat, sadly, war.

Grump drew up a plan for pulling the trees down. The ground was becoming so eroded that it would be quicker and easier to pull the trees down rather than cut them down, and cutting them down was against the law. So pull the trees down they did, one after another, day after day, the trees fell. Those who were horrified by the sight of the forest being brutalized could say nothing. To defend the trees was to defend murderers, terrorists.

And wouldn’t you know, but the killings slowed as the trees came down, and eventually the killings stopped. Grump took credit for the suspension of killings and people trusted him even more. As the killings stopped, so did the desire to tear down more trees. But Grump whipped the town into a ferocious frenzy warning them of how conniving trees could be. Every last single tree must be taken down or there will arise a new forest to take its revenge, Grump warned. And people listened. All the while it kept raining. Trees continued to fall but far from town. Until at last only one tree remained standing.

As it was late in the day, the men decided to tear it down on the morrow. Strange as it may seem, but when folks woke up the next morning, they woke to sun. The skies opened up, the sun came out. There was rejoicing and dancing in the streets: the rains had stopped. People came out of their houses, the hospital, the schools, squinting from the bright sunlight, glowing in the warmth of the sun, missing these many weeks. The wet soggy ground felt good to their feet as their bodies basked in the sun.

As high a high as the town felt basking in the sun was nowhere near as low a low as the town felt when they looked with horror upon the forest. It had been a violent orgy of hate that had ripped the forest down. The land looked like an allergic patient’s reaction after being mauled by a cat; huge gashes of varying depths crisscrossed the land, oozing shredded roots and mud, large gangrenous welts of root balls and tree tops pussed up.

It was Cain’s shame that welled up in the people that hour looking out upon their now-lost friend. But before reaction could well into anger and dismay, tree removers, demolition teams, lumber and paper companies, developers, city planners, financial dream teams, consultants descended on the town and began tearing down, chipping, splintering, logging, moving, smoothing, advising, pricing and drawing up plans for what to do with this tremendous opportunity of a space. Grump was still mayor, but folks were too sickened by the loss of the forest to allow any form of building just yet.

The Planning Committee had no stomach for what was to come next. And so all building was forestalled. And so lawsuits piled up against the town. And so the lawyers brought the media. And so the town once known as Simplicity became a media three-ring circus.

And that was about the same time the drought kicked in. Simplicity’s weather began to look like its political views: things were either black or white, there was no middle ground. But with the trees gone the drought had a more telling effect. There was no shade, the streams dried up, with no roots the ground fissured. Crops failed and Simplicity looked like a town hellbent on becoming a ghost town. Developers still thought there was opportunity for large shopping malls, maybe a concrete rink dedicated to the old forest, but as time went on, hope, like the town, deteriorated.

Grump went back to his shop, disgraced. Fortunate no one liked him to begin with, as no one held his disgrace against him. The drought, though, laughed derisively [townsfolk swore the ground wheezed continuously for days] and scoured the town for more life to suck out of it, like a ravenous troglodyte sucking on the legs of a lobster pulled from back-alley garbage cans.

The unbearable heat caused people to start using parasols to protect themselves from the sun. It had to happen:, of course. An elderly man collapsed walking home from town; since he was using a parasol and parasols are part of the umbrella family, the insurance companies refused to pay any life insurance. Folks complained about the loss of Common Sense and Ethics. Unwelcome, Hell had come to stay.

Months sweltered by with the drought holding a tight grip on the psyche of the townsfolk, when at last the Mayor returned at the beginning of a new election season. Folks had plum forgotten about the Mayor and nearly didn’t recognize him at all. He was well fed and very happy. His happiness was short-lived by the shock and dismay he felt over the state of the town.

Sitting in the Earl’s diner on his third day, the Mayor shook his head, speaking to no one in particular, “When I was Mayor, I saved a forest, a forest so beautiful, people from miles away came to see it and stay in our hotels. When I was Mayor, Simplicity was the place everyone wanted to live. When I was Mayor, I provided jobs, every store was bustling and now they are all shuttered. When I was Mayor, I brought rain and sun to this town in perfect balance. I gave Simplicity its weather.”

And Simplicity’s townsfolk, dulled by rain, burnt by sun and starved by drought, completely numb, lemming-like nodded their heads and agreed that he had been the best Mayor they ever had and so re-elected their most incompetent citizen for his ability to take responsibility for the weather.