• Paul Thelan

The Mayor

Some buildings and their balconies. In one of the latter, a woman is cleaning. From another building hangs a billowing American flag. There are green trees to its left, althought the photo is dominated by brown and white hues.

His staff adore him, however, after a few cocktails his chief advisor will admit that he knows very little about who the Mayor is. If you comb through YouTube you will be disappointed to find zero ammunition against the Mayor. He never speaks off the cuff; instead, he stays obscured in a serene cloud of political correctness and bipartisan clichés. At the office he orders his coffee black, with a plain bagel, and always thanks the gopher by name using the memorization skills he honed in law school. His suits are understated, blues and grays, but never too dull.

Esteemed journalist Rebecca Rodriguez arrives with a crew to interview the Mayor at his office. Her compassionate tact had nearly lulled the Mayor into honesty in previous encounters, so today he is on his guard. Once the crew has finished setting up and everything is in place, she asks the Mayor how his family is. He tells her that Kathleen believes Ms. Rodriguez is too hard on the Mayor. She smiles, and tells him to pass along her best. To lighten the mood, she starts the interview with a light jab about how his hair has greyed from his inauguration picture—which hangs behind him on the wall. He laughs, and recites a quote from President Lyndon B. Johnson: “When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself it could be worse. I could be a mayor.” The Mayor is a prisoner to his tightly constructed schedule. He begins the day at five-thirty reading emails, the morning’s headlines and the box scores of local teams on his iPad. After that, he drops his only child off at his private school in his hybrid sedan. Then work, lunch at one of three downtown locales, chicken salad or tuna fish, back to work, drive home, dinner, and then, just before dusk, the native of the city can be spotted jogging in the West End Park with the family’s Golden Retriever, Satchel. He runs fast enough to eliminate the possibility of small talk with his fellow citizens. He smiles and waves at everyone he passes and as he completes his run he often finds himself envying their anonymity—their freedom.

Ms. Rodriguez’s interview is a broad profile of the Mayor’s career. She hits the major plot points. The election; he recalls the sea of people cheering wildly, an assortment of red, white and blue balloons lightly bouncing off of his outstretched arms. Then they tackle his early popularity, evident by his 78% approval rate during his first term. The first pitch he threw out, clocking at 75 MPH and garnering a SportCenter highlight. How he piloted the arbitration during the teacher strike, an unprecedented move that saved the city from hiring a legal team. Then she leads him down to the current state of affairs. The deficit, spending cuts, the Snowplow Scandal. She asks him whether or not he deserves another term. He tells her he wouldn’t know what to do if he wasn’t serving the people of his beloved city. He almost believes himself.

At age eleven he dressed up as a knight for Halloween. While trick-or-treating he told candy givers that he was a “noble and honest servant of the Kingdom” when they asked what he was. He wanted to dress as Mick Jagger, but his parents forbade it. It would be the last year his parents, a state’s attorney and a teacher, allowed him to dress up, for he was getting “too old” and needed to “get serious about his future.” From there, the Mayor hit every beat on their blueprint: Magna Cum Laude, Harvard Law School, associate at a private firm, and assistant state’s attorney. But it was his role as Laertes in his undergraduate school’s production of Hamlet that he was most proud of. His parents did not catch any of the ten shows he performed.

As Ms. Rodriguez struggles to withdraw a glimpse of honesty, the Mayor checks his watch to see how much longer he must endure. He wears the same leather-strap watch every day. As technology advances, it becomes more and more difficult to find the corresponding battery. She asks him about his wife.

The Mayor’s wife embraces her role as a public figure with elegance. She knows when to smile and to which camera. When to shake hands and when to hug. She is the descendant of Eldon B. Patrick, a 19th century industrial mogul. She has his sharp chin. She directs operations for a foundation created in the mogul’s name. The non-profit combats housing discrimination and provides scholarships to local kids. Five years ago, for the Mayor’s 40th birthday, she spent a hefty sum on a new watch—a platinum band with small diamond nodes. He never wears it. He tells her the leather watch was his father’s, and that it holds invaluable sentiment. She knows this to be a lie, as she asked the Mayor’s father, days before he died, who replied “What watch?”

And how about your time in undergraduate school? Your days on the gridiron? Ms. Rodriguez inquires. The Mayor regurgitates clichés. He self-deprecates about his athletic achievements, is overly thankful towards his patient faculty, and closes with a benign slight towards his Alma Mater’s rival school. But his mind replays a different experience.

The Mayor, with a youthfully bare face, wearing a T-shirt and jeans, sits at a table in a far-away corner of the student commons. Banners hang from the walls, congratulating the students on their impending graduation. The Mayor is seated with a brunette boy, David, the two of them locked into their final game of chess. They had dueled wits with one another dozens of times over their tenure, a near split in the standings. David baits the Mayor with what appears to be his standard Sicilian defense, only to run the Queens Gambit and take the match. The Mayor insists on a rematch, but David refuses, noting that it’s best to go out on top. They walk out together and when they reach the seldom-occupied Chemistry building, David stops and takes a seat on a bench, taking a dainty, gift-wrapped box from his bag. The Mayor is delighted by the gift, immediately throwing in on his left wrist. The Mayor’s eyes swell; he kisses David on his forehead and leaves him on the bench, alone.

The interview wraps up with policy talk and as the camera’s light dims Ms. Rodríguez rises to thank the Mayor for the interview; she parts by asking him if she’ll ever get an honest and colorful answer out of him. He smiles. Perhaps during my second term, he says, before checking his watch and excusing himself.