There is no knowing how far I might push these people. My position seems unassailable, my power immense. I control my own destiny, its course mediated only by whatever measure of control or conscience I may discover.
I entered into negotiation with the selectmen over the position of municipal treasurer for a complex of reasons. Principally, I was peeved-why all this turmoil about a position that is best maintained in a quiescent state? Previous officer-holders had been ejected or had left of their own volition and no citizen would submit to a draft. Weary of serving as search agent I sought to stop the nuisance by nominating myself.
A second motivation was frankly, openly and unapologetically pecuniary-somebody would draw some thousands in salary; might it not as conveniently be me? I have debts unpaid and desires unmet, and gasoline is getting dearer by the day. As treasurer I could have the happy office of writing myself a check from time to time.
But let us not overlook the glory. Who does not feel a tingle, take in a sharp breath of air, perhaps skip a beat of one's patriotic heart when a municipal official passes by? For a decade I have been meeting moderator, and that does surely grant its hours upon the stage, but then comes adjournment, absquatulation, and it is all gone in a scraping of chairs. So many years ago that I was then young and virile and vigorous and had not endured most of the crippling reverses and abuses that have laid me now so sad and low, I was first selectman. Some yet remember some of the good I did; most have forgotten my more embarrassing lapses. Could I not again for a year feel the admiring gazes of the citizens lying upon my fair self?
Yet I hesitated. It required a full year after being relieved of the selectman's job before I felt again whole, unmolested, alone and free, before I was able to come home Wednesday evening not feeling I owed the next six hours to whomever crossed the threshold of the Puddle Dock town office. Why should I now do what no other among the seven hundred of us would?
So perhaps I got a little pushy. But you can see the necessity. I would have some assurance, some protection against the position devolving into whatever sort of unpleasantnesses must have driven away my predecessors. I would tell them the terms under which I would allow myself burdened with our collective business.
To these they immediately acquiesced: a private office, my own computer, separation from the view of the public, duties performed at times convenient to me, and authorization to shop the state surplus barn for such supplies and equipment as I might require. Feeling myself at full charge and gaining ground without resistance, I demanded a cordless mouse.
I have left open the possibility that other needs will arise. I have offered preliminary designs for a badge of office, ceremonial robes, letterhead, truck lettering, and office carpet and wallpaper choices. I may ask that on hot summer evenings when I work late I be provided a quiet but cute woman to present me with glasses of gin and tonic so that I am rendered cool and comfortable enough to add and subtract efficiently. Her compensation (although many may of course volunteer as well) shall be found in some account other than as a debit against my considerable salary.
So all this I have engineered and for almost a month the setup has worked. I anticipate wobbling through the time until next March meeting well enough to pay our obligations, discharge such liens as may be paid, present my box of accounts to the auditors and retire with the gratitude of a reassured public. Our first selectman assures me she has found a man willing to stand for election next spring and I shall again be free of municipal encumbrance.
Because while I shall surely have a great bunch of fun playing at town treasurer, and expect to both retire a deal of debt and maybe buy a ginkgo tree or some gin drinks or take the family to dinner at one of the mid-priced chain establishments, it is still a nuisance, a burden, a worry, and a nagging invasion of my time and life and thoughts. A normal person does not ask how he or she might give over large blocks of free time to do the work that others can't or won't do.
Which brings me (and you, if you're still with me) to where I wish to go in our few remaining minutes together today. I had a rule, seldom violated, that saved me much consternation during my dozen years as selectman: If a person begs to be appointed to the planning board, don't; if a person resists appointment, consider him or her a fit candidate.
Whatever the agenda, the activist will seldom see even the other side of an issue, much less the multiple facets presented by almost any question more involved than the toss of a coin or your computer's query of its Yes and No switches. Do not select a passionate digger of clams as your clam warden. I believe I was a better regulator of the right to fish alewives from the Sheepscot River tidal waters (a duty incumbent upon selectmen of coastal rivers-they go mostly for lobster bait) as a non-fishing, non-fish-eating, non-lobster-trapping or lobster-consuming party pressed into service than had I grown up on the river with a lust for the springtime run.
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So it must be in most offices at most levels. Human nature does not change when the job scales up from selectman to governor or senator or president. Those who want it are probably not those we need or want. Reluctance would be an excellent characteristic in presidential candidates I think. We do not often see it. Rather, they form exploratory committees, they set up fund-raising mechanisms, they network and schmooze and connect with lobbyists and investors and millionaires and billionaires and they get themselves appointed to commissions and corporate boards and they give over their lives for years or even decades, working and positioning and accumulating and trying often several times until beginning that hoped-for last successful thrust upcurrent to the office they have so long coveted.
In the United States of America we are allowed to pick a president from Column A or Column B. We may have a Republican or we may have a Democrat. There are differences in style and demeanor, or course, but both parties are more interested in perpetuating their dominance than they are in making the world or this country or the lives of its citizens better or happier. The press is almost wholly committed to this affair, even producing editorials from time to time in praise of the glories of "Our Two-Party System."
Third-party candidates are variously flaky, far-out, insubstantial, light-weight, or sometimes just too short. They are always, by definition and prophesy, unelectable. Do not vote for one, the parties and the press tell us. Don't waste your vote.
So we dutifully vote for a Democrat or a Republican and get one or the other. And we get, over and over and over again, corruption, lies, waste of resources, willful ignoring of desperate problems, wars and invasions and illegal clandestine operations oversees, and erosion or violation of domestic rights. In our country children still go hungry.
My desperate liberal friends tell me there is a difference between the parties. And so there is. The amount and degree of misery is apportioned differently under the alternating regimes, but every fundamental problem or issue that has irritated or devastated this country and planet since I was a child has gotten worse, and not one has been solved or retired or even markedly improved in my almost fifty-nine years.
All my life I have seen the establishment parties in control and I have seen war and lies and theft and incompetence and murder, and more poison in the air and water and land, and more money in the pockets of the poisoners and thieves and their friends in high places. And every Democratic and every Republican presidential candidate has given over his or her normal, whole, sane life, made bad deals with evil interests in furtherance of that candidacy and with the results that you and I have seen. I hold no faith or optimism that turning out these admittedly disgraceful Republicans and letting Pelosi and Reid and Rahm Emanuel and an assortment of investors and CEOs in consultation with whatever operatives Obama or Clinton will bring to the meetings build a government will get us out of the pattern our love of these parties and their methods has laid so heavily on our land and our lives.
You see them and hear them as they rally the true-believers and I'd think it would make your flesh crawl and your heart sick. All the excitement and hoarse yelling, the balloons and hats and trite and shallow lines. They want it, as my mother used to say, "so bad they can taste it." It may be change, of a sort. And you can believe in it if it makes you feel better. But I'll tell you I think there are many mothers among us whose children will be shredded to no gain in Iraq and Afghanistan and who knows, maybe Pakistan many months or years after we get our glorious regime change here at home, no matter the winner.
By the time you are pronounced a "viable" candidate for national office, the connections have been made and the deals have gone down and you no longer think and feel and weep and bleed and cry and die as do the rest of us. I am not happy with this conclusion, but I cannot delude myself that I do not come to it, do not feel it, must not say it.
There are a thousand or a million capable, smart, honest, decent citizens of this country who, if drafted for a four-year term in the White House with no opportunity to run for re-election would work themselves into a hospital bed or a psychiatric center to do as much good and as little harm as possible while advancing the causes of peace and reconciliation, reducing poverty and hunger and the innumerable torments we have allowed to infect our universe. We could find such a person by lottery perhaps, or by searching the local firehouses and welfare appeals boards and Salvation Army offices.
We will never know the agreements or the engagements or the promised rewards or penalties that have made each president and every Congress fail us. We only know that every election in which the winning candidate has been created by the Republican-Democratic primary and caucus model has disappointed or damaged us.
I might write-in my road commissioner for president. He's an offensive lout who says he'd do many terrible things, but it would take a great effort to talk him into accepting even the job of selectman for a year, no matter how nice a set of wading boots we might throw into the deal. I'd take a chance on such a man. History has shown we could do worse.
Readers sometimes write, and Mr. Cooper thanks them for doing so, although he will use the burden of his new duties as interim municipal treasurer as an excuse for not finding the time to respond to most missives. He does ask that those interested take note of his new address: firstname.lastname@example.org; DSL service has come to his wretched hovel at the edge of the swamp and he has aligned his life with the high-speed pipe to whatever future his ignominious past has turned him toward.