GHOST TOWN, N.J. - "Mayor, Fat Cat Fringo wants to know if you've had the city water crew run the city water lines to his underground casino on the north side yet."
I walked into the mayor's office and he was finagling around with one of those Rubik cubes. Blue, red, orange, white, green and other colors were scattered all over the place. On his desk sat a fuzzy green thing. Looking closer, I saw it was one of those Chia pets. It looked to be a turtle or a tortoise with green leaves growing out of it - they looked sort of like the springy flora some people throw on their salads - tiny saplings of veggie matter.
"If only I could solve this Rubik. Once, I had all the yellows to one side," he said.
"Huh. Yellow's your favorite color. Imagine that. You even divulged that tidbit of trivia to the Daily Jersey Devil on a slow news day," I said.
"Now what's this about Fat Cat Fringo?"
"Well, he told me he paid you two hundred bucks to run the city water lines up to his casino that's built in one of those Cold War nuclear fallout bunkers. He said to hop to it since he's having some dignitaries from Chicago over this weekend and wants to entertain them at his gaming facility. He said he invested a walloping amount of money retrofitting, rehabbing, and remodeling that fall out shelter and now it's a state-of-art gambling joint. And oh, Fat Cat Fringo also demands free water and a 10-year tax abatement for bringing providence and prosperity to Ghost Town."
Martin Forrest Thwait didn't look up. He was entirely focused on moving around those brightly colored squares so as to solve this moving puzzle of colors and geometric shapes.
"Mayor where did you get the Chia pet?" I asked him.
"Where else? Fat Cat Fringo gave it to me. But I had to name his son as the new safety-service director. I really wanted it. It's cool, isn't it? By the way, Mini Me Fringo is replacing you next week. Now I hate to be the bringer of bad news and you've done a great job for me, but maybe you should start cleaning out your desk today," the mayor said.
"That's nepotism, mayor. Sheer nepotism. Hiring friends and family is illegal."
"Well you may call it illegal, but I simply call it survival. Just like that old banjo player from the Mississippi Delta who legend says sold his soul to the devil so he could play better music, Fat Cat Fringo owns me. Yes, I sold my soul to Fat Cat Fringo."
"Mayor, how could you do such a thing? I've been your loyal friend and minion for decades now and you're hiring a high school dropout who was just arrested last week for dealing heroin?"
"Not to worry, I'll give you a sterling recommendation letter on your last day here at city hall, which, by the way, will be this Friday."
I looked down at that ridiculous green turtle and the green leaves seemed to have grown another inch or two around that agricultural specimen. I thought the Chia pet burped but I could have been hearing things.
"Mayor, at the city council meeting last week there were over six hundred Latinos standing outside. Another two hundred were crowded inside council chambers. They want you to make Ghost Town a sanctuary city. But you took the mandate of Fat Cat Fringo and had ICE arrest over a thousand Hispanics on the south side for political jaywalking."
"Damn straight. White people need those jobs picking apples in Fat Cat Fringo's orchards; picking nuts at his walnut farm; harvesting lettuce, corn, beans, peas and asparagus at his truck farm; slaughtering chickens and pigs in his slaughterhouses; and wheeling around those taxied rickshaws downtown as on-the-hoof taxi cabs. Do you think those Fat Cat FringoMobiles just power themselves? Besides, plenty of those Mexicans have great jobs. That professor at the U, Sergio Santana, wrote that book that's a bestseller. The businessman who owns a traveling circus headquartered in Ghost Town is named Vasquez. Does that sound Romanian, Polish or Irish to you? One of the biggest used auto dealerships in the county is Torres & Delgado Motor Cars and there are plenty of doctors and even some lawyers in town who are Latinos. You don't want to admit it, but Fat Cat Fringo is a very wise man. He knows what's best for Ghost Town."
"Mayor, the city's lost three-quarters of its population in the past few decades. All the mills and factories left town, as did all the residents except for some Latinos. For some reason, they seem to be stuck here. And for your information, Fat Cat Fringo is being investigated by the Feds, along with the men-in-black from the state, for public corruption. Mayor, guess what? So are you."
"Nothing's going to come of any of that. Our wheelhouse is large and in charge. Just like the city prosecutor will get Mini Me Fringo off on that phony selling heroin charge, Fat Cat Fringo and I will emerge from this mess smelling like roses."
"Mayor, you only have five months left in office. Your political rival, as you remember, Lorenzo Gonzales, defeated you by a 6-1 margin in the Democratic primary this spring. Remember? You used over $200,000 - all Fat Cat Fringo's money - and Gonzales only raised $1,131 from that taco and lemonade stand those elementary school children have been operating for the past two years in the barrio. And whether you like it or not, the Republican contenders for the general election, well their names are Hernandez and Martinez. The next mayor, no matter who it is, will be Hispanic."
"Mayor, do any of these names sound as Anglo as Martin Forrest Thwait - Gonzales, Hernandez or Martinez? You should have played up to the citizens more. After all, 78 percent of the city is Hispanic. Just last year, the entire East Side wanted to tar and feather you, then chase you out of town, for declaring eminent domain. Your version of a political control-freak manifest destiny - on an eighth of the the East Side to make room for that landfill dump Fat Cat Fringo intends to open and operate there. Those people were all paid way under market value for their properties. A little old lady was paid three hundred dollars for her little house and yard. Mayor, you can't even buy a decent lawn mower for that cheap, sniveling price."
"Fake news. Just like the Trumpenfuher calls it. It's nothing but fake news. Daily Jersey Devil-style propaganda."
"Mayor, the only person who's ever visited your office for your two lackluster terms is Fat Cat Fringo. In hindsight, you should have had us create a giant pinata that looks like Fat Cat Fringo. We would've stuffed it with tasty candies and cute toys for a Cinco de Mayo party for them. Yes, that's how a real mayor would have treated those children who sold lemonade and tacos for your political adversary, Lorenzo Gonzales. Mayor, those kids annihilated you!"
"Now I know why I hired you. You're a sycophant. You're dumber than a barrel of hammers. Listen, they'll get their friends and relatives in here, too. Wait and see. We're not the only type of ethnic group who hires our own."
"Mayor, Fat Cat Fringo did all the hiring. You just presented his choices at the city hall meetings in which they were appointed to non-elected public office," I said, and Martin Forrest Thwait looked at me coldly and said, "You clean out your desk and be out of city hall by lunchtime. Today. And that's an order."
So I did as I was told. The last cardboard box I carried down from the third floor of city hall had a bit of room in it, though, and I stopped by the mayor's office to say a final farewell. He wasn't there, though. So with only me in the room, I snagged that leafy green turtle and headed out the door.