The mayor’s position in most small-towns is primarily ceremonial. The heavy lifting of administration falls on a professional manager. The town manager keeps the town compliant with state and federal mandates, interfaces with labor and keeps the books. The mayor bangs a gavel and is the “face” of the town.
That was not how Mayor Ray Wagner ran Eaton Rapids.
Broadly speaking, most people in and near Eaton Rapids shared one of two very different opinions about Mayor Ray Wagner.
The vast majority thought of him as tireless in his efforts to keep Eaton Rapids a pleasant, safe and economical community to live in. He seemed to be everywhere. He seemed to see everything and was notorious for living his motto of “A stitch in time saves nine”.
Everybody had seem Ray striding along and suddenly skidding to a halt, whipping out his cell-phone and calling somebody to address some issue he, and only he had seen.
It might be a faded stop sign or a leaking water-service pipe or poison ivy growing on a city playground. Ray punched speed dial and the issue would be handled before close-of-business the next day.
Ray even called private citizens when he saw something they needed to address. Nearly everybody took it in good humor. Ray’s heart was in the right place and the sign/leak/poison ivy was real and needed to be addressed.
Since this was the majority opinion, it was a good bet that Wagner would be mayor for as long as he wanted to keep running for office. If pressed, most of the towns people would have described him as a Jack Russel Terrier: Fearless, going everywhere, checking everything out.
Jarrell did not share the prevailing opinion.
Jarrell first met Mayor Wagner when he was eleven year old and peering over the top of the privacy fence that surrounded Tessa SanFillipo’s swimming pool.
Tessa was in eighth grade and was “developed”. It was also rumored that she sunbathed au naturel, a rumor she did nothing to dispel.
Jarrell was standing atop a spool that had been left by the closest utility pole when he felt the firm, business-like tap on his right shoulder. Turning around, he saw the mayor.
Blushing furiously, Jarrell was struck dumb.
It didn’t matter.
“I am not going to ask what you were doing. It is pretty clear and I am not going to put you into a position where you might be tempted to lie” Mayor Wagner said.
“I walk by here pretty frequently” he continued. “It is my expectation that I will never catch you looking over a privacy fence anywhere in my town again.”
Jarrell nodded and dashed off, humiliated. It might have been worth it if he had managed to catch a glimpse of Tessa, but all he saw was her fat calico cat.
Mayor Wagner shook his head. He rolled the empty spool back to the utility pole and parked it so it was plainly in sight from the alley-way that ran behind the SanFillipo house.
It had started last summer. Neighbors up and down Elizabeth and Jackson Streets were complaining about furniture being stolen off their front porches. It did not take Sherlock Holmes to figure out where it was going.
Mrs Wagner provided the other half of the puzzle. The girls (mostly in their fifties and sixties) where Mrs Wagner had her hair “done” kept track of the young girls who might get into trouble. Tessa was high on that list. Even the silver-haired brain-trust was in awe of Tessa's spectacular development. They chalked it up to genetics and Tessa's consumption of ice cream and other dairy products.
The mayor put two-and-two together and got four. He had the one of the city workers drop off a spool that was sturdy and of the correct height. It certainly wouldn’t do to have the local Romeos break his neck falling off Mrs McCartney's rotten wicker furniture.
Every time the mayor passed Elizabeth street he looked down it to to see if the spool was still parked next to the utility pole. If it wasn’t, then he made a detour and as often as not, he had the opportunity to tap on some young man’s shoulder...although in one case it wasn’t a young man and in another it was a fully grown adult.
In the case of the adult, the mayor called to police and the issue was addressed.
So, when Jarrell’s buddy Danno suggested that Jarrell get a hold of the mayor so he wouldn’t have to commute to Lansing, Jarrell wanted nothing to do with the idea.
Jarrell was picking up Merle, his Blue-heeler and he stayed to chat a few minutes with Danno.
Danno could see Jarrell was stressed and asked why.
“You know how in school there would be a new kid and you could tell how there was going to be a fight?” Jarrell answered.
“Yeah” Danno replied.
“That is how it is in Lansing. I will be doing something and look up. The chatter stops. Everybody is looking the other way.” Jarrell said.
“Maybe you are imagining it?” Danno said.
“No. The most natural thing in the world is to look at somebody when they look up or look your way. I get that not everybody will do that. But NOBODY is looking at me.” Jarrell said.
That is when Danno suggested he stop commuting to Lansing. “Look, you are wasting almost two hours a day commuting. You aren’t getting enough work and you hate it when you get it. Now you tell me it isn’t safe.”
“It is time to shit or get off the pot.”
Jarrell was not looking forward to renewing his acquaintance with Mayor Wagner.