The American, uh, Way

[Ed's note: You may recognize parts of the following story. You may not. Regardless, know this: Humor is like a cosmic fortune cookie: Somewhere within there is a kernel of truth.]

Nowhere is a small place. So small that for a time it didn't have a governing body. No mayor, no town council.

Then, one day, something happened.

A stranger came to town.

His honor, Judge Dippy Church, and a fellow who cuts heads (along with ears and necks) named Flathead were at Mother Pearl's establishment, The Whistling Chicken Cafe, trying their best to get drunk on long-neck brews from the local brewery, The Bloated Toad, when the stranger stepped inside, flashing a big city grin.

"Gentlemen," he said.

His honor and Flathead looked around. They had been called a lot of things, but 'gentlemen' was not one of them.

The stranger flashed an even bigger smile and stepped to them, hand extended. "The name's Robbins. I'm from the East Coast."

"You're lost," Mother Pearl interrupted. "Just follow the road you came in on, make a right instead of a left--"

"I'm a journalist," Robbins continued. "I write for a big city newspaper. I'd like a word with your leader."

His honor and Flathead looked at Robbins, at each other, at Robbins again. "Our leader?"

"Your highest elected official, then. The mayor?"

There was an awkward silence, interrupted by Mother Pearl clinking empties.

"You do have a mayor, don't you?"

His honor was about to say 'no', when Flathead hooked him by the elbow, and pulled him aside.

"What are you doing," Church whispered.

"I'm saving us," Flathead whispered back.

"How's that?"

"We don't have a mayor."

"I know that."

"But he doesn't," Flathead said.

There was a pause, then Flathead and his honor looked at Robbins, flashing big smiles. They looked at each other again.

"So," Judge Church said.

"So," Flathead said. "If we don't produce a mayor here and now he may leave, not writing a word about us. And if he doesn't do that, then people don't come, and we don't make money."

The honorable Dippy considered this, then nodded slowly. "So. What's the plan?"

"We have an election."







The good judge considered this. Then he nodded again. "You go round everyone up. The Pissant Brothers, the sheriff, the game warden, everyone."

Flathead downed the last of his latest long-necks, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and hurried out past Robbins.

As he did Judge Church said to the big-city stranger, "Here's the thing."

By the time Flathead returned--the sheriff, the game warden, the Pissant Brothers, everyone in tow--his honor had explained the situation to Robbins and how it was to be resolved. And soon.

Robbins seemed acceptable to this, and took a seat at the bar.

His honor climbed up on the bar and fired a shot from the revolver he carried into the ceiling.

"All right, folks," he said. "Here's how it is. We need a mayor and a council, and we need them now so this gentleman can write about us for a big city paper. We haven't got time for a proper election so we'll have to have a make-do."

"A what-do," Mother Pearl said.

"A make-do. A bare-knuckle contest. Winner takes all, runners-up are on the council."

"And how do you plan to do that," Mother Pearl interrupted.

Dippy, annoyed by the interruptions, reached down and brought out a large bottle of whiskey. He set it down hard on the bar.

"Drink it down. No chaser. Last man standing is the mayor. Anyone who doesn't pass out or throw up is on the council."

To make a long story short it was a close race, but in the end his honor, Judge Dippy Church, became the first mayor of Nowhere. Flathead came in second.

He passed out following a slow dance with a moose head.

For years this is how the mayor and council of Nowhere were elected.

Then, one day, something happened.

The Women's Temperance League and Bingo Society took over the election process.

No more drinking, they declared. Not when it comes to something as serious as the election of our leaders.

All right, Mayor Flathead, then in his fifteenth term, said. What do you propose instead?

A cook-off.

At first this didn't sit well with some. But then someone noticed his honor, Dippy, was rather pleased by this change.

What gives, Flathead asked one day when Church was getting his hair cut.

"What?" Dippy said, keeping a close eye to Flathead and the scissors he used.

"You think a cook-off is a good idea?"

"Of course."

Flathead cut in silence for several minutes. Then he realized, glancing in the mirror's reflection, Dippy was smiling.

Just like that Robbins fellow from the big city.

"Oh," Flathead said. "I get it."

"Finally," Dippy said. "Finally."

The Women's Temperance League and Bingo Society, in their haste to rig the election in their favor, failed to specify exactly what had to be cooked in the cook-off.

So his honor, Judge Church, suggested a dish.

The Women's Temperance League and Bingo Society, upon hearing Church's suggestion, had nothing collectively to say. Not at first.

Then Mother Pearl spoke up.

"Chili," she said, echoing Church's suggested dish. "Why, that's, uh, a wonderful idea."

Not so. The Women's Temperance League and Bingo Society were eliminated in the first round. Their entry was less than effective.

The Pissant Brothers, who were expected to do well with this dish, were knocked out of the race in the second round.

Mayor Flathead, also expected to endure, was done in Round Three.

As a consolation prize he was made judge in the contest. (Owing much to the fact the other judge kept running to the bathroom, located outside.)

The rules this election were simple: The chili with the most would produce, among other things, the next mayor. The runners-up were council.

Up first was Sheriff Pabulum's Chili.

"Heavy on the tomato," his honor, Flathead said. "Smooth. But heavy on the tomato. A kick, yet mild."

Then he swallowed his mouthful.

A moment later he gagged and choked.

"Good lord," he gasped. "You could remove paint from a house with this stuff."

Everyone waited while he downed two beers.

Courtesy of The Bloated Toad Brewery.

Next up was Mother Pearl's offering.

Mayor Flathead breathed deep and dug in, consuming a heaping spoonful.

"A hint of pork, Jalapeno, BBQ flavor." His honor considered his mouthful. Suddenly his eyes bulged and he wheezed. Through his nose. Bump Dion rushed in and attempted to give him the Heimlich maneuver. Flathead swatted him away, choked down what he had in his mouth, and downed more beer.

Game Warden Smitty stepped up with his receipe.

Flathead dabbed at his sweating face and forehead with the tail of his shirt and plunged in.

Everyone waited. Flathead sighed, signaling it wasn't so bad. "Excellent. A beanless chili. A bit salty. Good use of peppers."

Suddenly he gasped, choked, and wheezed through his ears. His tongue flicked out of his mouth like a frog's tongue after flies. He clamped his jaws with his hands, and screamed through his nose. Cousin Junior hurried up with a pitcher of fresh beer. Flathead down the entire thing in one swallow.

When he had recovered he eyed the sheriff. "What the heck is that? Drano with meat chunks?"

Before Pabulum could answer Flathead fell into a coughing fit. Mother Pearl moved quickly to him, pounding him on the back.

"S-s-s-top that," Flathead whispered in between coughs. "I think my backbone is in my chest." He wheezed, a soft whistling following.

"Beer. Now."

The fire inside Flathead eventually died out and the judging continued with an entry from Cousin Junior and Bump Dion.

"Black beans," Flathead said around his mouthful, watching the partners in plaid-collar crime. "I like black beans in chili. No spice. Lime. Just a hint--"

Suddenly he choked, grabbing at his throat with both hands. His eyes watered. His tongue slithered in and out of his mouth.

"Arrrrrrgh," he said. "Ahg burghed magh tahg."

"You what," Mrs. Prudesnot asked.

Flathead seemed to leer at her, through great frog tears.

"Ahgm eeging nooo-clear wahhg."

Then he toppled off his chair.

[The entire story is available for purchase. Please specific Catalog No. 'F001-005'.]

Copyright James C. Hess 2007. All Rights Reserved.