This is the next installment of my short novel Alien Parade. Previous installments can be found at https://yellowstripsdeadarmadillos.org. In this episode, Narvik Mayor Claire Kornstedt explains politicians.
20. Grand Marshal
The news from Joe about progress on the Larry Mercer Flying Saucer Chevy buoyed Sam’s spirits to the point that she got up the courage to call Robbie Porter in his office in Narvik and make an appointment to see him that afternoon.
She drove the 10 miles to Narvik from her office in the courthouse of the county seat in Bosshardt, Ottawa County’s only officially designated city filled with 1,482 citizens. Narvik had half that population, if that. The state had never seen fit to build a state highway between places of that size and the trip did not even justify a county highway. So the drive between Bosshardt and Narvik was 10 miles of narrow, lonely and winding town roads, most of it officially designated “Rustic Routes,” which was a way of giving all public officials involved an excuse not to spend money on it. Improvements would only harm its rustic nature.
But Sam Tucker loved this drive, especially on a fine, sunny, crisp afternoon like this one. It was a day that would be called chilly if not cold in some regions, but was considered rather warm by the standards of mid-autumn in southwest Wisconsin.
She clipped along in her state government issued white Ford on her way
to talk Robbie Porter out of the plum assignment of grand marshal of the Narvik Alien Days Festival Parade and do it in a way that kept the Porter Law Firm involved with the event – which was to say still kicking in a couple thousand dollars to cover some of the Alien Days expenses.
Actually, Robbie would have been an obvious choice to hit up for Martin Boyd’s fee, but it was Sam’s grand plan (it had made her list) to bring back Ole Olson as grand marshal. When Claire let on that Ole had some money, Sam saw a way to use the exalted grand marshal position to leverage some bucks from Ole as well.
The white Ford rolled up to the old Victorian home in the center of Narvik that had served as the Porter Law Firm offices for the last half century. The old house was the best cared for building in town, freshly painted with a new roof and the grounds were beautiful even now in October. She could smell the freshly cut grass. Bright red burning bushes lined the brown brick walk.
She opened the front door, which triggered a gentle tinkling of bells to announce her presence. Robbie’s assistant, the most stylish woman in Narvik, came to greet her. They shook hands and the middle aged woman asked Sam if she could get her coffee, water or apple cider. In these parts in October fresh apple cider was always on the menu. Sam demurred and took a seat in what had been the parlor.
A few minutes later Robbie bounded down the stairs from his office on the second floor.
“Sam!” he said as if they were old friends. They had never met.
“Robbie, good to meet you.”
“Great to meet you, Sam! But I feel like I already know you! You’re doing great things for Narvik.”
“Thanks,” she said wondering if he’d feel the same in about ten minutes.
Robbie ushered her into a meeting room that had apparently once been the dining room of the old house. Now papers were served there.
When they settled in Robbie leaned across the table, smiled broadly and asked, “Now, what can I do for Narvik?”
“First, thank you sooo much for everything you and your family have done for the festival for so long.”
“It has been our pleasure, Sam. We just want to give back.”
“Yes, well, so we want to make the 36th festival special.” Once again Sam asked herself why anyone would be excited about the 36th anniversary of anything. If Robbie wondered the same thing he didn’t let on.
“Of course!” said the lawyer. “Almost four decades! But, you know, the whole thing – even the parade – is a little down at the heel now, don’t you think?”
Sam very much did think that.
Robbie went on. “I hear you’re planning some things that will get us back on track. If my sources are correct, I’m hearing that The New York Times might be in the picture.”
Sam swallowed hard. “On second thought, I’ll take that water, if you don’t mind.”
When it was delivered she took a long sip. “Frankly, I think maybe the Times is a long shot. But I’m hoping to get good regional coverage.”
“That’s still great!”
“Yes. But here’s the thing, Robbie. In order to make that happen we need to make some changes. Add some things, but also bring some things back.”
“I’m on the same page!”
“Good. Eggsss-zalent. So, we’re working on reviving the Alien dance, getting the Flying Saucer Chevy back in the parade, maybe even having a symposium about Ole Olson’s latest sighting.”
“Wow! Those are exciting things! So, how can we help?”
Sam took another long sip of water. “So, one of the things we want to bring back is Ole, you know, because of his new sighting with the firewood Stonehenge and it being the 36th anniversary.”
“’Firewood Stonehenge’! That’s great. Did you come up with that?”
“Yes, well, I’ve just been kicking that around. Anyway, bringing back Ole…”
Things started to dawn on Robbie Porter.
“Yes? Ole. ”
“Yes. Well. I know that you have been a wonderful grand marshal and that your father before you was a wonderful grand marshal. But we were wondering if, maybe, you would want to take a year off.”
The smile remained on Robbie’s face but it morphed from an obsequious self-confident grin into the smile of a snake. “Oh?”
“Yes. See, since Ole’s had the new firewood thing we thought we would bring him back – just for this year – and then of course you would return to your role after that.” Sam noted how she kept saying “we” as if there were co-conspirators, which there weren’t.
“Hmm,” said Attorney Porter. He calculated. He was close to announcing his bid for sheriff and grand marshal of the Alien Days Parade was a plum. On the other hand, if it got out that he was standing in the way of the return of sweet, weird old Ole Olson how would that look? He suspected a plot.
“Samantha. Ms. Tucker. If you don’t mind my asking, are you working with Sheriff Rhude on this?”
“Yes. He’s helping us get the liquor license for the dance.”
“But I mean on the parade.”
“The sheriff always has a car in the parade.”
“Yes. I know, but I mean are you working with him on bringing Ole back as grand marshal?”
Narvik was a village where everybody pretty much knew everybody else’s business. But the same could not quite be said for all of Ottawa County and, after all, Sam worked in the county seat and lived in Madison. So, she was not yet aware of the potential intrigue of Robbie Porter challenging Sheriff Harold Rhude for his job at the next election. As a result, Robbie’s question stumped her.
“No. Why do you ask?”
Robbie’s smile returned. “No particular reason. For myself, I would be honored to step down for this year to honor the man who made this all possible!” His enthusiasm prompted suspicion.
“Wonderful. Thank you so much.”
“Of course, you’ve cleared it with the parade committee, I assume.”
“The parade committee?”
Robbie chuckled. “Narvik doesn’t stand on formalities much, but my father wrote up the bylaws for the whole Alien Days Festival back in ’83.” He rose from the conference room table and kept talking as he moved to another room. Sam could hear file drawers being opened and closed.
“Now, where is it? Here.” Robbie returned with a thin dark green legal size folder and opened it before him on the table.
“Yes. See there’s a board for the whole thing, people appointed mostly by the village president and she has a seat for herself, of course. And then there are the committees to oversee the various events. Dance, parade, symposium, whatnot.” Robbie reversed the file to face Sam and pushed it across the smooth table at her, a gesture that said, ‘See! This won’t be so easy, kid!’
Despite the gorgeous weather outside, a cold autumn Wisconsin rain started to drip into Sam’s heart. What was it with this place? Every time it seemed she had cleared a hurdle another one got put in front of her. She read through the short by-laws quickly and got the gist.
“So the parade committee chooses the grand marshal?”
“That’s the way it appears. As I say, I’d be honored to stand down in respect to Ole, but we just need to get the committee to agree.” He smiled broadly.
“Those committees haven’t met in two decades,” said Mayor Claire Kornstedt, sitting across from Samantha Tucker at lunch the next day. “I’ve been village president for two years and I’ve never appointed anyone to any of it.”
“I guess I should have asked earlier, but how does the parade happen, I mean who organizes it?”
“It just happens. Thelma puts an announcement in the paper and anybody who wants to be in the parade just shows up at the park. Somebody always steps up to get people organized in some kind of order. In the last few years I think Joe Ellsted has done that. Then everybody just starts walking down Main Street.”
“And the grand marshal?”
“Oh, Robbie and before that his father, have kicked in a couple thousand dollars for so long that nobody even thinks about it. Robbie just shows up in his shiny old Camaro. He even keeps the signs that hang on the car doors that say (she lowered her voice to sound mockingly official), ‘Att. Robert Porter, Esq., Porter Law Offices, Grand Marshal,’ in the trunk of that car. It’s just understood.”
“Robbie’s being a jerk,” concluded Sam.
“Robbie’s being a politician,” said the mayor. “Everybody knows he wants to run for sheriff. He’ll run for sure if Harold retires and he may even challenge him if he doesn’t. But the easiest way for Robbie to get the job would be to make Harold believe he’s going to run anyway so that he just lets Robbie have it. Robbie knows the sheriff is tired.”
“Thus candidate Porter’s desire to hold on to the high honor and distinct privilege of being Grand Marshal of the Narvik Alien Days Parade.”
“It’s a small county, Sam. You take what you can get.”
“You almost sound okay with it.”
The mayor shrugged. “I understand it. I may just be a part-time village president in a small rural town, but my people are all the same.”
“Politicians. Don’t kid yourself, Sam. We’re all the same, even when the stakes are so low. Sometimes I think, especially when the stakes are so low. Dogs fight harder over the scraps when they’re hungry.”
Sam looked heart-broken and puzzled. She had never thought of Claire Kornstedt, a woman fast becoming a hero to her, as a politician and here was Claire pleading guilty to the charge.
Then a wry smile came over the mayor’s face. “You’re disappointed in me, Sam. I can tell. But you know what’s worse than a politician? People who get themselves elected to little jobs like mine and then pretend they’re not politicians. In my mind you run for office, you win an election you’re a politician. You can’t escape it so you should embrace it. Make it something honorable.
“And here’s another thing, Sam.” She leaned across the table. “As someone who wants to be a member of the club, as Robbie so desperately does, I understand him. I can play his game. Actually, I can beat him at it.”