A barrage of red, white and blue balloons rose on the wings of applause from an already-packed Masty Hall as Pat O'Neraghty took the podium to keynote the second morning of the Coalition for a New Consensus convention.








          "Thank you!" Pat thanked his perceived admirers, "...thank you, thank you! Aren't we in fighting shape this morning?" He backed away, challenging the crowd, staring them down… a fighting banty cock spoiling to intimidate poultry of lesser pedigree. "Ready to take on the violence, incompetence and the corruption inherent in our present two-party system? Among ourselves, our watchwords for the day may be competition but, ultimately and unlike the corroding institutional parties, unity. A marketplace of ideas and tactics, then resolution... and a unified front as we venture out into an uncertain, but promising future..."

          "Bored yet?"

          Henri Ratzelkreuz handed Glenn Savitt a cup of muddy fluid. "Pat's been gulping down coffee since before dawn; don't think we can catch up to him, but we can try... it’ll be legal until and unless Secretary Bloomberg starts his fifth party, wins and starts imposing sharia.  Or is it sixth… or seventh… I get confused…"

          "Mmmm..." Glenn wondered aloud, though the contents of the monogrammed styrofoam cup held a distinct lack of savour. "Pat's been too long among Tillerbites... he's trying to sound like Dirty Harry, firing up a mob.  All he lacks is an empty chair to shout at.  His take on the War on Violence?"

          "Violence pretty much keeps the CNC together, now that winter’s breath dispersed this season’s Wall Street protesters and the Tea Party stands exposed as a cheap Moral Majority front. And not only Austin's boys on their nocturnal missions... Jack would be the most unstable President since Andy Jackson.  Trump to the tenth power!  Out in Detroit he had the media eating out of his hand with all the ass-kicking he's promised and delivered; even how democracy was only violence by proxy.  Hear that he’s even got Kid Rock and Ted Nugent thinking of deserting the Grand Old Prostitutes, depending on who screws whom at their next convention.  You know..." Ratso grinned, "...he said the American experiment depending on counting up numbers; whoever gets the second highest number of votes admits defeat and goes away for four years without it actually coming to gunfire or litigation..."

          "Except last time around and in Y2K..."

          "Lawyers, guns and money… as the story goes… and only two out of three there.  Which is what Jack mentioned, with that little shrug of his and, of course, the media went away writing all about what he might have done in the same situation... he didn't confirm it, didn't deny it, either. And with the Speaker gone to a special place for special people since the last primaries and the Vice President subpoenaed over those Nigerian deals unfolding in the Panama papers, the public ate it up. Jack scares people, and they like it... look at how the shutdown lobby came to terms with itself once he started promoting that Million Maniac March!"

          "Just as long as they don't find him in some alley, standing over a dead whore with one of those shovels or chainsaws he's always talking about... now, shhh…"

          "I want you to consider this!" O'Neraghty worked the crowd. "In the last thirty years, over ninety-six percent of Congressional incumbents were returned to office… now I’m talking about incumbents running in November, not the weirdos coming out the primaries.  Despite last session’s pedophilia and Russophobia fiesta, the so-called term limits revolution of a century long-passed and more criminal indictments than Fanniegate, that figure still hovers between ninety-two and ninety-three. Of the few new faces, the great majority succeeded to office only upon the death, primary defeat or, in a few cases, principled retirement of an incumbent... or his or her indictment or rare conviction for a crime, or crimes! Why... do you realize that in 2008’s November's race when the stock market crash and the unemployment made an electoral and popular majority vote for a black man; after all the dire predictions and blogging, only three incumbents out of nearly five hundred contested House and Senate races were defeated… one, two, three!... and that one of those already had one foot on a banana peel and the other in jail? And yet, all polls and studies show that confidence in our elected officials is at an all-time low... worse, even, than during the darkest days of the Clinton impeachment hearings. The New York Times poll, back in March, ranked us twenty-fifth out of twenty-seven occupations in the public trust... behind the used car salesmen, realtors and insurance men, morticians, even lawyers! It's true! And if it weren't for the disastrous publicity that the energy and banking sectors have been experiencing, lately, we'd have run last. Dead last!"

          "I don't think that was too smart of him," Henri ventured. "Sure, Catfish wrote off the insurance people but we've got plenty of bankers on board, and realtors... God knows! there are enough lawyers out there for everybody..."

          "Mmmm..." Glenn repeated, nodding, checking his watch. Like the timepieces on the wrists of perhaps a third of the Conks in Masty, it had a smiling Catfish in a top hat whose whiskers were already coming up on quarter to ten, under the bright blue lettering: "TIME for a CHANGE!"

          "Now," Pat continued, "some might point to the success that the Rainbow Coalition once experienced, not to mention the Christian right, the Tea Party even the Reform Party. The Libertarian boomlet last time out – until Gary Johnson couldn’t recognize a single good foreign commander (not that any of us coulda done better), Nader throwing the Y2K election to President Bush and all those Russians. And, make no mistake, there has been a significant third party presence, of late, if only as spoilers. But where are our independent voices in Congress? In the statehouses... South Dakota and Vermont excepted?"

          "Demographics," Henri smirked. Glenn, nodding through the speech and Henri's running commentary, checked his watch again.

          "The true lesson of the Reform, the Rainbow and Trump and all of these other movements is that change only grows out of confrontation," Rayna's keynote speaker concluded. "And if it is our destiny to challenge the two-party system, and fail... as Teddy Roosevelt, George Wallace and John Anderson failed, not to mention Ross Perot... I say, well, would we have been the better society if those who, in 1860, attempted to dissuade Abraham Lincoln from tossing his stovepipe hat into the ring with the support of a new, untested minor party with a record of oh and one had prevailed?"

          "Bring back the Know-Nothings!" some wag hollered back from the peanut gallery.

          “The Whigs!” proffered another.

          "They’s on Trump’s head!" another shouted in response.

          Ratso chuckled, tossing his empty styrofoam cup at a trashbucket; it hit the rim and bounced off. "Well, Pat ain't no Jesse Ventura! Ain't even an Al Franken! And before he wraps himself in the flag, speaking of spectacle and violence, tell me if we're going to have any trouble outside."

          "Are you kidding?" Glenn retorted. "You live here, you know how incompetent Andy Morrison is... and he's probably their best organizer! It'll be a Chinese... pardon me, an Asian-American… fire drill out there!" He sniffed, as though the pungency of the early morning air held portents and augurs among the garlic and sugar pastries and the perspiration. "When they count up votes, I wouldn't be surprised to see Pat and Rayna run out, crying, looking for the nearest psychic channeller outside to sign up with."

          "Are they here?" Henri inquired, peering out into the crowd, as if on the watch for aliens. "Figures! Some of those California people never got over Ahrnuld and wife... now they're talking up George Clooney taking on Dennis Hopper… no, he’s dead, what's his name, that other fellow - Meathead from that old TV show?  Next time?  Busey?  Bonaduce? At least Robin Williams’ not gonna run, dead too, nor Gilbert Gottfried... for the present, unless they cancel his show.  And Tim Allen and Dennis Miller wouldn’t take the pay cut.  So we’re down to Hank Junior and Sir Charles Barkley dukin’ it out for Guvnor of Alabama.  Well, keep in touch. Something unexpected outside still might jump up and embarrass Patty-poo!"

          "Is that supposed to mean anything?" But Henri, with a quixotic smile, had already delved into the crowd. From the podium, Pat was already winding up his spiel…

          "Well let me tell you this, the Rainbow still shines brightly over Masty Hall today. Minorities and Jews, white Anglo-Saxons; we are all ethnics and immigrants, too; small entrepreneurs and working people, retirees, Italians and housewives. Is that sexist? Well how about Second Amendment freedom fighters and house-husbands, there's some of each here, too! People who play ball for a living... but not with the status quo... like Antoine al Shabazz of the Cleveland Cavaliers, stand up Shabby, hard to miss ya! And Vic Paleveski, winner of last year's Duluth-Superior Open on the Hooters Tour!"

          An impossibly tall, impossibly thin black man stood up from the VIP bleachers behind O'Neraghty and waved, standing next to the short, thick, sandy-haired golfer, making, as it appeared to Glenn, a sort of human numeral ten.

          "We've got plenty of people with political experience who are tired and frustrated of having their concerns ignored. Republicans? Why not! Maybe even a few Democrats, sadder maybe for the pigfight in the midterms and the meltdown ever since... probably wiser, definitely older. You know, a colleague of Jack's father, Senator Parnell, coined a term for those who got into politics through Gary Hart's campaign, way back in '84... Frumpies! Formerly Radical, Upwardly Mobile Professionals! As opposed to us Stumpies... still radical!... up on the stumps and the soapboxes, doing the good work for Austin Tillerman, also from Colorado, keeping watch out on them mountains and Mexicans out there, ready to blast a couple of those United Nation's black helicopters out of the sky! Yes... and I think we have some Frumpies and Stumpies here, the both!... why don't you give yourselves a hand!"

          A vendor stepped into Glenn's path as he turned away in disgust and incredulity.

          "Hey! Hey, yo! Got a minute?"

          "Not innarested," Glenn turned his face away. "I'm late!"

          "No... hold on, remember?" the vendor thrust his own face into Glenn's. "From yesterday?"

          Glenn recognized the man... with brief, stabbing guilt at the convention junk he'd appropriated, then dumped in the Ivona wastebasket to be thrown out, or for the maids to take home... he was the one whose wares Tom Beedle had ransacked the other day. "Oh yeah! How's business? Listen, I gotta check back, but..."

          "Business sucks, man! Help me. Please! You people gotta help me!"

          Glenn was already past the little wagon of kitsch, but the desperation slowed him, interested him, too. That, and the liberal guilt. "So, what's this about?" he asked, turning, carelessly...

          "You know Tom Beedle, don't you? You were with him. Listen, me an' the other guys, we gotta talk to him! Those motherfuckers outside, they're cutting us all new assholes. Bootleg shit all over that park. Buttons! T-shirts! Watches, like yours," he pointed, "only the cheap shit; Chinese, break down inna month but only fifteen dollars.  Probably fulla lead or that white stuff they put in milk.  Even those little underwater aquariums that move around with plastic catfish when you shake 'em, telescopes you look into and see 'Democracy - it's in the stars!' and then it blackens your eye?  Stuff we're selling for eight bucks they got for three, and they're still makin' all the money because they don't pay no royalties, no rent, no permits fee... nothing!  Well, maybe a little something to somebody under the counter.  We gotta talk to Tom..."

          "I'll tell him if I see him," Glenn backed away.

          "It's our life! Our fuckin' business... I got four kids. We paid you guys a hell of a lot of money to be here," the vendor added in an increasingly hostile tone, "and it's all going down the toilet!" He aimed one of the plastic telescopes towards Glenn like a .45. "If Beedle doesn't fix this, we ain't coming back tomorrow. We walk. And the next time we see you, won’t be in court!"

          "Then I'll be sure to tell him." Shaking his head and cursing under his breath, Glenn kept circling the periphery of Masty Hall, suddenly wary of each of the shouting, gesturing hawkers, each of whom seemed to be glaring at him, personally, demoralizing death-rays spouting out from their eyes.

          Pat O'Neraghty, after several false gestures of conclusion, now really seemed to be coming to his end... "so, without any further words, I'd like to introduce to you a man who has been one of the true inspirations for the Coalition, Emmy Award nominee for his supporting role in "Sales"... here's the man whom millions know and love as the toughest department store detective in all Chicago, but whom we also appreciate as a humanitarian, a friend and a philosopher... and no relation to Scott!... give it up for Todd Walker!"

          Glenn turned away, muttering "fuckin' actors" as a tall man in a cream suit and capped, gleaming teeth stepped forth and waved. He pushed rudely through the crowd, cutting to the outside edge of the hall where the press of flesh was less dense... finally discerned Anne, waiting under a makeshift red, white and blue-bannered "Polish Pups" booth.

          "Glenn! These things are yummy! Want one? They taste just like the ones at the stadium..."

          "Too early," Glenn waved her off, queasily. "How are we holding?"

          "Good, good! But," she added, "it's not just a question of winning, any more, it's how you win, and what happens after."

          "You think I don't know? Reason I look so ugly is I just got through with Ratso, or he got through with me."


          "And he's another one, hunnert and ten percent behind starting some bloodbath outside tomorrow to draw in more out-of-town media." Glenn's sour expression soured another ten degrees, he shook the remnants of the crappy coffee out of the convention cup and began crushing it between his fingers. "Pinhead, Beedle, Ratso... are we supposed to be the vanguard of the New Age political consciousness, or an Apalachin powwow of jerks?  Hoods who couldn't shoot their way out of a TV movie? And what are Rinker's people up to? Where does he fit into all of this shit?"

          "They want pure white snow and snowpeople, yellow dandelions - all those environmental things. And to mine or, at least, electrify that white-elephant fence across Arizona and New Mexico and zap the incoming Mexicans like flies.  Windmill-powered Mexi-zappers, of course.  And a big noise when the Trillerbite concedes with his testimonial to Sheriff Senator Joe, and maybe a little gratitude in lieu of officially designating him elder statesman.  Maybe a promise of appointment as ambassador to the Hapsburg Empire when his term’s up and he’s what… ninety four?"

          "Rinker's dishonest. I don't trust him. I don't want you spending so much time with him either."

          "Take it up with Morty Scow," she retorted, sharply. "I have got my job to do. Austin Tillerman has a lot of influence, he may not have enough people to have his way, but if this was a matter of a choice coming down to who has the fatter checkbook, take out the Rayna factor and I think we'd be in a lot of trouble."

          "I'm not talking about Tillerman," Glenn persisted, "I'm talking about Rinker!"

          "What's your problem? He's just there, that's one of those things. It's better than being on the other side, having to work with Jack through Scow and Beedle..."

          "I just don't want you to overdo your socializing with him, like you were doing last month, in Sedona, at that garbagemen's affair..."

          "Recyclers..." Anne corrected him, licking crumbs from her fingers.

          "Garbagemen!" Glenn scolded. "Besides, do I smell garlic?  I don't see how you can eat that shit so early in the morning!" Leaving Anne staring in amazement and contempt, he set his jaw, preparing to march off into the crowd but lingering, like a dog waiting to be kicked one last time.

          "Yeah, well screw you, too!" she finally replied and, with that, Glenn turned and took off. The Polish Pup vendor stared, perhaps a little too hard. "Oh... sorry..." she said, "...these are really good, he doesn't matter. Diet-cranky! In fact, let me have another."

          Squeezing a quarter inch of her new Pup from its bun, Anne glared angrily at the retreating Glenn, then bit off a hot, garlicky bite. Glenn glanced over his shoulder as he elbowed his way towards one of the DreamBell™ banks and, with a final look to ensure nobody important was hanging around the pay phones, took out the number Beedle had given him, dropped six Reagan quarters into the slot, and dialed.

          "Hello? Yah... Tom suggests we get together and figure out how to do this thing.  Yeah, we’re secure, it’s a public phone.  I've got an idea. It is? OK, we'll meet at... hold on, let me write this down..."

          He fumbled for a piece of paper, but found none... only the largest wedge of the styrofoam coffee cup he'd been slowly crumpling during the unpleasant exchange with Anne.

          It would have to do.   

          "Go!" he said and, as the actor onstage told one more Hollywood location anecdote, and made one more plea for the whales and children, Glenn wrote down the address and time that the man on the other end of the line gave him.









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