Teaser 342: The Beginning of A Zero and The One

I gave my main character the name Odur Mann. Some picked up the vague reference to Nietzsche's overman. Others, to my amusement, suggested the given name was odorous. It smelled, suspiciously, too. I liked it. Often in interviews I would refer to its smell, that A Zero and The One possessed a pungency which could overwhelm. Of course it smells. I gave him the nickname Odie, a reference to the dog from Garfield with the purely incessant and innocent enthusiasm of one who knows nothing and is unable to learn. That I crafted a story with a character who was very nearly the complete opposite of Odie set the stage.

Odie, in his memoir, provides few clues concerning his childhood, adolescence, or as a young man, only brief flashbacks, and spends little time explaining his family, though it's clear that, while he bears no resentment to any family member, he has little interaction with any. Divorced from the wife who bore him two daughters—write what you know—and assigning most of the blame on himself, Odie picks up from this disparaging time in his life, when the story begins at the annual Christmas party arranged by the owner of the small computer firm where Odie labored. While this one was like others in the past, there was one significant change. Instead of one employee of the year, the owner had decided to declare this year there were six employees of the year, one of whom was Odie. Never having received the honor previously and now having to share it with five others, Odie accepts the award graciously, then delivers the most impressive speech, one which emphasized two points: honor cannot be bestowed on one for it must be earned by the behaviors and actions of that one and the greatest achievement one can attain is to act in concert, in cooperation, with others, all others, for such an accomplishment reaches greatness in a manner no other can reach.

I knew any reader even vaguely familiar with me would know exactly where this seemed to be going within ten pages but this was only the beginning. The small computer firm was located in a medium-sized city in the midwest, and unnamed, with its election year approaching, the elections of alderpersons, mayor, police chief and the like, and many fellow employees, based on the speech Odie delivered at the Christmas party with an unmistakably heart-felt aspect, urged him to seek the mayor's office, even though Odie had no city recognition of any substance. As Mary Ann persuaded him—another reference which I used throughout the story since I borrowed almost every character's name from the television show Gilligan's Island—when she first suggests he should run, “You have this amazing ability, Odie. No matter what the subject I know you can compose a speech to capture all of its essence and then deliver the speech like no one else. Plus, no one cares like you do. You care about everyone, even, maybe especially, the least among us, and last, no one can push you around. You push back, enough that everyone stops pushing you completely.”

The incumbent mayor, seeking re-election, is a proud conservative and often uses the term to describe himself, “a card-carrying conservative.” Unfortunately, during his recent term in office a large amount of conflict, confrontation and scandalous behavior has emerged from his administration and the incumbent has spent a considerable amount of time in the last eighteen months defending himself and his office, but this medium-sized city had been leaning toward the conservative side for years and the incumbent mayor was expected to retain his post. Until, he took the fateful step—having dodged it for months despite the increasing criticism that he is afraid to debate the other candidates—and agreed to a debate held in a theater of the local university. It was fateful because Odie delivered the response to a question which he flipped around, leading to his election victory.

“You asked me what I would do should there be some complaint about my office failing to provide services throughout the city and especially in those neglected and downtrodden areas, but you have failed to ask the most important question. What would I do if someone in my office was suspected of unfair or illegal behavior, because this is the matter you are trying to address? I will promise you this: I will never overreact, not to the accuser nor to the accused. Instead, I will make every effort to get to the bottom of the accusation, and this includes the accuser, too. Should I discover one under my supervision has lied to me they will be at the unemployment office in minutes, for I will never tolerate a liar in my office. Should I discover one did not perform equitably, fairly, and with complete integrity, I will discipline this employee and provide them counsel so they can perform their duties in an equitable and fair manner and with complete integrity, but I will not fire them unless it becomes certain to me there is no counsel of consequence. Last, should I discover any subordinate has failed to serve those of the least among us in their capacity and requirement to do so, I will have a long, perhaps even angry discussion with this employee and his or her supervisor so it never happens again, because, while I will not call myself a Christian, I find it exemplary to try to model my life and all of its actions with that of Christ. I've read the Bible. It's the same book all Christians have read or should have read, and I remember what Christ advised: the greatest in the kingdom of heaven would be the meekest, the least of us here on Earth, and that judgment comes from the One, stating, thus, the least among us here and now are the greatest to come. So look at yourself and your actions, should you claim to be a Christian. Have you treated the least among you as though they were the greatest?”

The election was close but the third candidate, as the pundits claimed, probably took enough votes from the incumbent to allow Odie to collect the votes to secure the election outright. The only other promise Odie made during the campaign was to make his office accessible, to listen to and respond to questions, concerns and improvements from all the city's constituents. Odie met his promises. He was accessible, even meeting a thirteen-year-old girl who, urged by her parents, complained about activity around her neighborhood in the evening and it was soon vanquished, the city's attorney lost his top deputy—caught in a lie by the mayor—and was immediately dismissed, after which the attorney was advised by the mayor to pick more suitable candidates for employment in the future or the mayor would find an attorney who could do so, and several city employees, along with each supervisor, were called to the mayor's office to explain some circumstance, all quiet until after said meeting. Reasonable requests from citizens which couldn't be met by the mayor due to budget or responsibility constraints, instead resulted in the mayor suggesting, helping to organize rallies, and appearing at such to help raise awareness and funds to at least try to meet the needs expressed. Odie made enemies of which there was no doubt, some fairly powerful and influential, but he rode along on a wave of popularity which convinced him to run for the state Senate, where he defeated the twelve-year conservative incumbent, and the race wasn't even close.

Though he ran mostly on his accomplishments as mayor, claiming anyone could reasonably ascertain his goals, objectives and beliefs, he made one promise. Early in the campaign Odie pledged that, if elected, he would never meet with a paid lobbyist personally. He would never close his office to any who wished to raise their issues but all paid lobbyists would meet with staff members only. He further proclaimed this promise was, perhaps, the easiest for him to make, since every lobbyist had to register with the state as a lobbyist. Should he discover some lobbyist managed to skirt the lobbyist registration and meet with him personally, he would have the lobbyist charged under the fullest extent of the law and punished with no mercy, because he would make his office and his time accessible to those he served. “As a state senator I will not serve paid lobbyists. I serve the electorate in my voting jurisdiction, as should every state senator, as should every elected representative anywhere in the United States of America. For what are you as an elected representative? One who serves all who reside in your representative boundary or merely a shill for those who can pay you enough money to spew their garbage and filth? For isn't this the essence of explanation, for one who serves those who can pay enough and ignores those who cannot?”

On election night, once the incumbent conceded defeat, Odie took a phone call, ostensibly from the leading state senator of his party—for Odie ran as a Democrat instead of an Independent even though he advised all Democratic party consultants some of his positions were contrary to the party's positions but he would ultimately, and did, explain his positions to the satisfaction of most Democrats—and the senate leader expressed his astonishment that Odie's position on gun control, for example, hadn't alienated most Democrats. “Is this your way of congratulating me, sir?”

The senate leader guffawed. “Oh, hell, no, Odie! Not in the slightest! Your eloquent speech about Jefferson, the undisputed father of our party, and his contention we should probably have a revolution every twenty years, combined with unintended consequences of gun control, which could possibly lead to a police state, no son! You are the hit of the Democratic party! Woe to anyone, on any side, who should dare to stand in your way...which brings me to my point in calling you, and, by the way, congratulations on your victory, though I never expected less...When you come to the capitol to take your seat in our fine chamber, take some time to meet with me. I can provide you advice on how to proceed but I would never demand it, nor do I think I will ever have to. Instead, let me put members of my staff at your disposal, to guide you in your duties, and, most importantly, to help you conceive and draft bills. That is what a state senator, for his constituents, should always do: craft the laws which benefit those you serve...You see, Odie, you and I are not so far apart. Our job is to serve our electorate and you certainly have that down pat.”

Flash forward five years later and Odie is fine-tuning his speech before a presidential campaign rally in Dayton, Ohio. He rose to national attention when the speech he delivered in defense of his rape victims' compensation bill for the state legislature to consider had been recorded and posted on YouTube. The bill, passed in both chambers, required asset seizure of convicted rapists for the purpose of rape counseling and any other reasonable trauma consideration for all rape victims, and included provision of child support for any child of a rape victim should the victim seek to take the baby to term and regardless of whether the victim keeps the child or gives it up for adoption. It was the first bill of its kind to pass into state law anywhere in the country and it helped launch Odie's national political regard. On the outside stage of the large rally Odie's chief of staff, his long-time friend who organized and ran his first successful campaign for the state senate, takes two steps toward Odie to remind him of a subject he should not fail to include when a single shot rings out. The bullet from this shot strikes his chief of staff in the back, straight through the heart and he immediately falls dead on the stage. The speech, obviously, is never delivered.

Days later, as Odie considers what to do and where to go, he receives a call from his ex-wife. His youngest daughter, who never seemed able to determine the worthy life-sharing candidates from the unworthy, is dead, having been beaten to death during some simmering and incessant disagreement. This I wrote, since I distinguished sections of the book by titled chapters, in the chapter titled Fatalities. I concluded the chapter with Odie's formal withdrawal from the presidential campaign.

- Just Desserts, Segment Forty-ThreeFatalities” by Gregory R. Schussele, © 2021

contact me, as always: schussprose@gmail.com