Above Our Poor Power to Add or Detract
Randy Bechtel
Above Our Poor Power to Add or Detract

Were I smart, I would not believe I watched all of the unbelievable Weed mayoral debate July 29. It was Weed’s first and probably its last debate to be televised and streamed by a PBS station. A few people told me the event was later the subject of TV news stories and also of a short clip posted on U-Tube. However, all remembered next to nothing about what they saw. As one said: “Probably because I was overcome by a sense of pointlessness.” Luckily for those of you not smart like me—or to be more precise—those of you like me not smart, I present below a transcript of debaters like us.

First, though, I’ll summarize the rambling opening remarks delivered by the debate’s moderator, Debbie Waddell. The event was sponsored by the Siskiyou League of Women Voters of which Waddell is a member. The PBS station KLUK in Redding both televised the debate and streamed it on the station’s website. Also present was a camera crew of Game Changer Productions, which is filming a reality TV series titled “Weed.”

Below is a photograph of the candidates used to promote the debate on KLUK’s website:

Mayor of Weed

The candidates were ordered left to right according to the dates they registered their candidacies. Waddell’s introduction of each candidate appears verbatim below:

  • Rutherford B. Hayes, VII, retired banker and amateur taxidermist;

  • Tucker Carlson, Sr., retired truck driver and the person with the most legal name changes (55) according to the Guinness Book of World Records;

  • Margo Butkus, hairstylist and ordained minister of the Church of Mary Magdalene;

  • Raoul Romero, owner of the Little Havana restaurant;

  • Fiona Polk-Finkle, heiress to the Polk’s Pickles fortune;

  • Solomon (Sol) Pine, Realtor;

  • Mary Vivian Adams, founder and head of the Church of Mary Magdalene.

Debbie WaddellThe seven candidates were each assigned one of seven podiums arranged in a quarter-circle in the City Council Chambers of Town Hall. Eight of 46 questions submitted by the public were selected by the League’s governing board to be asked of all candidates. The questions were sealed in envelopes to be randomly drawn by the moderator from a top hat once owned by the town’s founder and namesake, Abner Weed. The order of response would begin left-to-right, then reverse with each subsequent question.

Jane and I watched the debate streamed live on the KLUK website. I do not interrupt the transcript below to insert our comments feeling that what we watched was, to borrow words from Lincoln, above our poor power to add or detract. Here then is the debate:

Debbie Waddell: Our first question comes to us from Ruth Baker. Ruth writes: “Our dear friend and lifetime Weed resident Alma Spode passed away last week a few days short of turning 100. For years, kids in town—including yours truly—would go to Alma’s house every Friday after school to be treated to her freshly-baked and amazing sticky buns. I can think of no greater symbol of our close-knit community than dear Alma, God rest her soul.  Which is why, in her memory, I say we name the city’s bocce ball courts after her. What do you think?” A very good question, Ruthy. What do you think, Mr. Rutherford B. Hayes?

Rutherford B. Hayes VII: Governments need to watch their P’s and Q’s when picking symbols. Naming our municipal bocce ball courts after Alma Spode may seem a good idea today, but what about tomorrow? I’m reminded of Benjamin Franklin when he wanted the turkey to be the symbol of the United States. When I first learned that I thought: "Pretty goofy, Ben!" But later I thought: "Why was old Ben goofy this one time in his life?" Then I remembered that back in Ben’s day our country was desperate for immigrants—immigrants to work as servants and hired hands, immigrants to settle the Western frontier. And nothing attracted immigrants better than the promise of food. What better symbol of the U.S. than a bird that most Europeans only dreamed of tasting or only tasted Christmas Day? The problem with Ben’s idea wasn’t goofiness but shortsightedness. After the Civil War this country had more immigrants than it wanted.  What Ben didn’t figure was that someday the U.S. would be a superpower and that if he’d gotten his way, we’d have Russia with the bear, Britain with the lion, China with the dragon and the U.S. with the turkey.

Debbie Waddell: Okaaay . . . So you’re saying Alma Spode was like a turkey?

Rutherford B. Hayes VII: I’m saying, Mrs. Waddell, that our bocce ball courts should be symbolized by someone who will be remembered for something more historic than sticky buns. We need a name whose accomplishments people will recognize 10, 20—a hundred years from now. Which is why I proudly propose that our bocce ball courts be named for Richard M. Nixon.

From off-camera came groans followed by a young woman saying, “Who’s Richard M. Nixon?”

Debbie Waddell:  Thank you, Rutherford. We’ll now hear from Mr. Carlson. What’s your opinion about naming the bocce ball courts?

Tucker Carlson, Sr.: What’s in a name? Perks, I’m here to tell you, if you play your cards right. Don’t see many perks coming from the names Alma Spode and  Richard M. Nixon. Old Rutherford is correctamundo about one thing though: the name we pick needs to be one that Weeders can give a thumbs up to now and tomorrow. Since Weed is short on gypsy fortunetellers, coming up with a name that will deliver perks from here to eternity will be tough sledding. But hey, how about selling naming rights every two or three years? If one name no longer fits and pays the bill, sell the rights to someone else.  I just met a dude named Mickey Bitsko who’ll probably pay beaucoup bucks to name the bocce ball courts after Ralph Waite. Yeah, I know: Who’s Ralph Waite? I say: "Who cares as long as Weed gets Bitsko’s Benjamins?"  To quote Thomas Jefferson: "The pursuit of happiness begins with moolah, baby!"

Debbie Waddell: Thomas Jefferson said that?

Fiona Polk-Finkle: Probably, sadly, yes. But not the Thomas Jefferson you think. I have here a printout of Mr. Carlson’s Guinness world record, and in the Nineties he was named Thomas Jefferson after he was David Niven, Jr. and before he became Charlie Chan.

Debbie Waddell: You were Charlie Chan?

Off-camera came snorts and groans followed by a young woman saying, “Who’s Charlie Chan?”

Sol Pine: Could we please proceed, Ms. Waddell?

Debbie Waddell: Sorry folks. Next is Margo—I mean, Ms. Butkus. How do you feel about naming the bocce ball courts?

Margo Butkus: The idea of naming rights is compelling. But I shouldn’t dwell on individuals as sponsors. We should do as professional sports stadiums and arenas do—go after company sponsors. After all, that’s where the most money is.  I speak even of companies in and around Weed. People standing to my left suggest to me two possibilities—the Polk’s Pickles Bocce Ball Courts and the Pine’s Goat Cheese Bocce Ball Courts. Anyway, that’s what I think.

Debbie Waddell: Thank you, Margo. You’re next, Mr. Romero. Oh—don’t tell me. You’d like the courts named for Desi Arnaz.

Raoul Romero: ¡Maldita sea esa Mona en movimiento! What Mona Odle quoted me about Desi was out of context. So I say to you now: No, the bocce ball courts should not be named for any Latino because bocce ball is a sport of the Italianos. To name the bocce ball courts after Desi would be like Madrid naming its Las Ventas bullring after Chef Boyardee. Weed Italianos say Weed’s greatest bocce ball player ever is Luigi Bonanno. That’s who the bocce courts should be named for. You say: "Yes, but Raoul, what about naming it for Polk’s Pickles because they will pay the city?”  And I say, "I’m not campaigning to make money for the city. I’m campaigning to win votes!" Vote for me, Italianos!

“Molto bene!” yelled a man off-camera, then one pair of hands clapped.

Debbie Waddell: Thank you, Raoul. The bocce is in your court now, Ms. Polk Finkle. Ha!

A chorus of groans came from off-camera.

Fiona Polk-Finkle: Thank you, Deborah. I must concur with Mr. Romero that bocce ball is too ethnically charged to complement any name not Italian. In which case, the bocce ball courts seem destined to celebrate our Italian American community while we who are not Italian American are asked to foot most the bill for the facility’s operations. Now, it’s been suggested tonight that my family’s business might sponsor the courts. Knowing Father, he would say there’s little commercial value in attaching the Polk’s Pickles name to an Italian venue. Of course, if we were talking about a baseball field, Father would, I’m sure, not hesitate to open his checkbook. But then, baseball is an American game, which is to say, it is played by everyone. It follows then that if a paying sponsor is a priority, we are less likely to find a company whose name is ethnically compatible with bocce ball than we are a new name for bocce ball compatible with all ethnicities. Off hand, I would propose something like homo sapiens ball. Change the sport’s name, ladies and gentlemen, and the sponsors will come.

Off-camera someone cried, “Mamma mia!” and hissed. Whether in response to Fiona or the heckler or both, two pairs of hands clapped.

Debbie Waddell: Time now for Sol Pine to opine. Ha!

Sol Pine: Fiona, could I please look at your printout about Tucker? . . . Thank you . . . Hmmm. If it’s ethnic universality we’re looking for, maybe we should name the bocce ball courts after Tucker Carlson, Sr. here. Not merely after his current name, but also after all 54 names in his past. Reading this list, I doubt anyone would make it to the final words bocce ball courts. In any event, Italian Americans should be happy with his former monikers Perry Como, Jr. and Enrico Fermi III. But what about our Asian Americans? Can’t count Charlie Chan because he was fictional, not to mention played by two Swedes in the movies . . . Ah, here we go: Chiang Kai-shek! Not Asian American, but an Asian American ally . . .  Oops! No names of black people.

Fiona Polk-Finkle: Or women!

Sol Pine: Or women. Yes, well . . . I apologize for the sarcasm everyone. If I’m sarcastic it’s because we’re all overthinking this. I ask you: What company not only has ample money to sponsor the bocce ball courts, but is a company with which the City of Weed has leverage? Answer: the company filming the series "Weed" and filming this very debate—Game Changer Productions . . . See, Eddie knows. No need to hide behind your cameraman, Eddie. Enough said—for now.

Debbie Waddell: Things are not looking up for Alma Spode, are they? I mean— Oh dear! I wasn’t referring to Heaven! Just her name on the bocce ball courts.

Mary Vivian Adams: I’m sure, Debbie, that dear Alma is receiving her Heavenly reward.

Debbie Waddell: Next is Mary Vivian Adams, ladies and gentlemen.

Mary Vivian Adams: Hello everyone. Thank you for this opportunity. To be frank, finding a paying sponsor for our bocce ball courts would be a low priority for me as your mayor. I say this first because the money we might receive would not be free and clear. Not only would the city need to change the facility’s signage, but the name as it appears on various maps—online and paper—as well as the city’s website and informational publications. After all, what would be the point of anyone sponsoring the thing if not for this publicity? Of course, Mr. Pine would argue that we’re assured a healthy profit by targeting the deep pockets of Game Changer Productions. I, on the other hand, am of the mind that this profit would be slight when compared to the revenue Weed would receive after astutely negotiating terms for Game Changer filming in our town. Such would be my priority as mayor. I realize some in town have signed contracts to appear in Game Changer’s reality series. Fine. But these contracts do not cover the value of filming in our homes, businesses, public places and streets, as well as filming pedestrians and other citizens who would be tantamount to uncredited extras.  And as we saw with the Bah Bah Stampede, filming anything should require a considerable police presence. For these reasons and more, I am convinced our city is entitled to gross points, which is Hollywood-speak for a percentage of the production’s gross profits. And this opens the door to a myriad of issues to be negotiated, such as revenue from domestic and foreign distribution rights, rebroadcast residuals, streaming and video-on-demand rights, product placement, sales of DVDs, merchandising sales, copyright permissions for accounts and descriptions, and so on. Such revenue would not only fill the city’s coffers but enable us to send to all our adult citizens one or more juicy paychecks.

Debbie Waddell: To quote Mona Odle: "Yoicks!" Well, in light of what's been said, what's left to be said other than: "Don't take this personally, Alma. Everyone loved you and your sticky buns." Okay. Beginning with Ms. Adams, we will now reverse the order of the candidates in answering our second question. This question comes to us from Kiley Thompson, who writes: “Jasper Jones, our chief of police, told Weed News he’ll retire at the end of the year. If things go as they have forever in our sexist police force, his job will go to his male deputy chief. Are you willing to end this horrible systemic discrimination by instead conducting a statewide search to hire a qualified woman as Weed’s  next police chief?”

Mary Vivian Adams: Kiley, I feel your pain. As your mayor I’ll be committed to stamping out sexism and racism wherever it’s found in our city government. To that end, Kiley, I promise our next police chief will be drawn from the many highly qualified women in law enforcement around the state. Weed, as I’ve said, is transitioning to a new era as a result of a reality TV series. Our next police chief must be a woman with extensive experience in crowd control and other policing challenges that Weed’s police department has never faced. Believe me, my fellow citizens, we cannot afford one speck of sexism or racism to be seen under the microscope of reality TV.

Debbie Waddell: Hurrah for Hollywood, hey ladies? What about you, Sol Pine? I know you like the ladies.

A loud snort came from off-camera.

Sol Pine: I firmly agree that our police force needs to include both women and minorities. Any system of government that embodies sexism and racism should not be tolerated. On the other hand, I also subscribe to a principle of policing advocated by minorities—that the best police forces are those whose officers live in the communities they serve. Deputy Chief Fred Applewhite has lived in our town some 40 years and spent 15 of those as a police officer. Here’s a man with an unblemished record—a man who knows practically everyone in town by their first name.  He also knows who among us are strangers—a number that has ballooned with this TV show business? I want my police chief to know who these strangers are and which may pose a threat to me, my family and my friends. If we pass over Fred Applewhite for chief, we will be saying to Fred and the other officers in our police force: "No thank you for your service." Yes, let’s add a woman to the police force, but not start her at the top. Becoming a trusted part of our community takes years.  If a woman or minority wishes to be our police chief, then that person should work their way up as every police chief of Weed has done for 100 years.

A woman off-camera yelled, “Don’t like your women on top, eh Sol?"

Debbie Waddell: Oh dear! Who said that?

Rutherford B. Hayes IV: The PBS camerawoman!

Debbie Waddell: Young woman, keep making outbursts like that and you’ll never cover important news!

Rutherford B. Hayes IV: Again.

Debbie Waddell: What?

Rutherford B. Hayes IV: You’ll never cover important news again.

Sol Pine: Could we please get on with this!

Debbie Waddell: Fiona, what do you think?

Fiona Polk-Finkle: Everyone is sexist. Everyone is racist.

Mary Vivian Adams: I beg your pardon!

Fiona Polk-Finkle: Beg all you want. The fact is that’s the way human beings are wired. For instance, when I was a girl, women were up in arms about all local TV newscasters being white men. That changed with the rule: If you have two co-anchors—which most local news shows do—one has to be a woman. Fast forward to now and what do you see? If co-anchors aren’t both women, one is a black man. Not to mention the vast majority of TV reporters today are women with second place going to minority men. So do you hear women objecting that this is sexist? No, of course not. At work is how we humans perceive our identities. My grandfather liked to say, ‘We are what we ain’t.’ I know I am a woman because I am not a man. I know I am white because I am not black. And what I am I favor over what I am not. Me first—that’s the first law of survival of the fittest. People who—

An explosion like a rifle shot rang out! The TV picture shimmied. People near and far blurred across the screen. A man roared above screams and yells: “It came from outside! Lock the doors!” “Police! Call the police!” a woman’s voice yelled. Then Mary Vivian cried: “It’s January 6 all over again!” Now no one could be seen on camera save for Sol Pine, who stood hunched over his podium with a frozen pained expression. Then the screen went blank.

“Oh my God!” Jane cried. “What should we do?”

“What can we do?” I said.

Jane took up her I-Phone and said: “I’ll call your sister.”

“No! She could be hiding from a shooter.”

“We just can’t sit here! I know—I’ll call the Weed police.”

“Fine.” I thought: You and a thousand other people. Then I said: “I’ll go see if any of our TV stations know anything. Although right now we probably know more than they do.”

I went into the family room, turned on the television and flipped back and forth between two local news programs. Nothing. I tried CNN. Nothing.

Jane entered. “The police put me on hold. Do you believe it? Then I got a call from Susan. I took it. She knows no more than we do. Anything on TV?”

“No.”

Jane now answered a call from Eddie’s wife, Leslie. The day before Leslie had returned to Sacramento from Maui, where she had extended her visit with her sister after learning Eddie was greenlit to film in Weed. The two women spoke briefly.

“Leslie tried calling Eddie but no answer,” Jane said. “I told her I’d call Ashley.”

“Why?”

“Because Mary Vivian would probably call her daughter first.”

“I thought the two weren't speaking to each other.”

“Oh, that ended a few weeks ago.”

“Really! Did Ashley tell her that the genealogist was a quack and she’s not related to Jesus Christ?”

“Mary Vivian took it much like Ashley did. She told Ashley the burden of it all was becoming too much.”

I said sarcastically: “Thanks for not mentioning that.”

Jane called Ashley and Ashley answered.

Jane said: “Ashley, it’s Aunt Jane . . . You have! Is she all right? . . . What? Oh my God! You’re kidding! . . . ”

Jane seemed to deflate. She said: “Just a second,” then looked at me and said: “Ashley just talked to Mary Vivian. She said there was no gunshot. Clay Poole drove into the Town Hall parking lot and his 1957 DeSoto backfired . . .”

Jane listened to her phone a moment, then added: “Mary Vivian is convinced Eddie paid Clay Poole to drive there."




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