In 2002, real-life mayor of Providence, Rhode Island, Vincent "Buddy" Cianci was convicted of extortion. This is the story of Don "Pally" Dimaio, mayor of La Plata, as his corrupt administration spirals out of control. The novel toggles between satiric adaptations of the language of Cervantes and a narrative of an American mayor’s quixotic -decline.
Robert Arellano teaches creative writing at Brown University. He is the author of Fast Eddie (Akashic, 2002), and his short fiction has appeared in the Kenyon Review and Jane. As an indie musician,Arellano has played with Will Oldham and Nick Cave.
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BRAUTWAY, SATURDAY, 7:00 PM
Sanchez muscles through traffic to Noel's on the West Side. At the academy, his bicep was the biggest in the class. "Dong forgay to cling up joo face, jorona."
"Eat shit, bean-eater."
The car crawls up on the curb and I see through the window Cantare is already working the room. "Brautway Business Association" reads the itinerary. "Mid-tier contributors, ten minutes." I won't even give them that. Hank has already done the groundwork and this crowd is more motivated by aloof Dimaio. Such is the big-town businessman's small-time ego. Give them too much attention and they're liable to hold back in the final drive. Keep them begging for scraps like new sidewalks and the contributions come pouring in.
I pull the mirror out of the seatback pocket to clean up my face and adjust the rug. I reflect on the arm rest. I decide I'll wait for Cantare and take a swallow of cognac from my flask instead. I stub out my cigarette, Sanchez opens the door, and tonguetied Tommy Fritos extends a sweaty hand from the curb. "Hey! Mayor!"
"How are you, Tommy?"
"Fine. Nice you come to our shindig, Mayor. Da BBA connibyoo fie tousand today."
"That's terrific, Tommy. It's a very important campaign and this fundraiser is a great kickoff."
Fritos, a Portaguee who's bought himself out of a couple of back-tax scraps via Cantare, shadows me to the entrance. "Always funraise, Pally! You just win, now you funraise again!"
"Can't start too early getting ready for the next race. I'm going to be the longest-serving mayor in the history of La Plata. And what's good for the city is good for you, Tommy."
"I no complain, Mayor." He stops in the doorway. "I just hope you put inna good word for me onna schools lease." Son of a bitch cod-eater, always fishing for favors. Fritos has no sense of finesse. Seen too many movies about Godzilla and gangsters.
"Excuse me, Tommy. Don't you think it's time we went inside so I can address our guests?" I push past him into the restaurant and a hundred or so local businessmen all quit working on their hundred-dollar rubber chickens to give up the standing applause. Sanchez has pulled the portable podium out of the trunk of the car and set it up in front of the bar. The seal of the city is stained with a splotch of ketchup, a leftover from this afternoon's Mount Govern neighborhood picnic. Cantare hands me a B&D on the rocks.
"Thank you for coming. I'm especially grateful for your generous contributions to Pals of Pally. Many of you have met my campaign treasurer and director of administration, Hank Cantare. You're the ones feeling for your wallets. Heh heh."
Here's what my speech would sound like if the gathered shitforbrains had a subliminal interpreter:
"Brautway is not just a beautiful street with a rich history in our fair city. Brautway is not just a desolate strip amputated from the heart of the city when they built the interstate. It's a vital commercial- residential neighborhood of hard-working businessmen such as yourselves supplying much-needed goods and services to a diverse mix of decent citizens. It's a burnt-out industrial zone of vultures who prey on the miscreants of mongrel races forced together by poverty. For your industry and civic pride, I salute you. For sticking it to them with inferior product at exorbitant mark-ups, here's a one-finger salute. We're all in this together. Except you do it for chump change compared to most of the rackets I might deem worthwhile. I look forward to leading the progress of the Brautway neighborhood. I look the other way while your buildings crumble and residents become ever more desperate. Now if you'll pardon me, I have to attend the wake of a retired police officer, one of La Plata's finest. Excuse me while I use your campaign contributions to go powder my nose. And don't forget to tell the wife to pick up a jar of Dimaio's Own Mayonnaise at the market — all profits go to charity. My favorite charity."
The suckers eat it up. Applause, firm handshakes around the front five tables while I pull Cantare toward the exit. Have to use every opportunity to plan the campaign, so I'm taking my director of administration along for a car conference. At the door, Fritos hands me one of those putrid Lisbon cigars he's always pushing on people. I slip the stinker in my breast pocket, giving the hanky a squeeze to absorb the chourice grease. Sanchez opens the car door and I shove Cantare in back, climbing in behind. Sanchez gets in front, auto-lock goes ka-thunk, and in two seconds we've left the BBA in the dust.
"Whey nex, jorona?"
Itinerary reads, "Taxidermists Convention, Natural History Museum."
"Take us to William Rogers Park."
Cantare says, "Whatcha got, boss?" I open the armrest compartment and pull out a twenty-dollar bill twisted into a fat pony pack. Cantare gently works open the triple fold, dips his fingertip in the dust, and rubs a little on his gum. The effect makes Cantare's jaw drop better than if I showed him a check for ten grand made out to the campaign and signed Steinem. "Mother of God! Is there more?"
"Try it. Make sure you like it."
"Oh, I like, all right!"
I pull out the mirror and pour a little pile. Sanchez is running reds, swerving over the double yellow. "Easy on the curves, pen-day-ho!"
"Careful with that, Pally," Cantare says. "You might lose some in the crack between the plastic and the glass."
"Don't be a Jew, Hank. There's always more where this came from."
I hand Cantare the mirror and a credit card from my clip. Hank starts chopping, taking his time. He gets as much pleasure out of the prep as from the effect. Of all the close associates I know I can collar for an impromptu strategy meeting, Hank Cantare is by far my favorite. Whether fundraising or hell-raising, he always does a thorough job.
Finally, two sets of five long, fine lines span the face of the mirror: bass and treble clef waiting for the music. Cantare flicks a C note from his clip, rolls it up tight and offers it to me. "Jorona?"
"You go ahead. I want to watch your expression."
I hold the mirror under Cantare's nose. He leans forward and pinches one nostril, sticks the rolled bill in the other, and huffs up a line. Hank barely pauses before attacking another and another and another, each time swiftly switching pinch and straw. Four deep snorts before he tosses his head back. Cantare's skull lolls against the headrest while his body melts over leather upholstery. Hank manages a moan: "Fuck."
"Not so shabby, right?"
Cantare tilts his head forward. His chin drops to his chest. Eyes like Greek olives dilate in adoration. "Black baby Jesus!"
"Okay, now can you pull your shit together enough to hold onto this?" When I pass Cantare the mirror he snaps to, grabbing the handle.
I travel a lot around this town, sometimes ten or twelve events a day, so the best place for recreation is the backseat. Everywhere I go, people know me the moment I walk in the door, and even in the john folks spot the shoes. When the mayor's wingtips poke out under the door of a stall, it doesn't take much imagination for a journalist with his dick in his hand glancing over his shoulder from the urinal to think he detects fairy dust on the leather toes. Posting Sanchez at the door of course just arouses suspicion. Sometimes at a fundraiser in somebody's home, where it's one-at-a-time and lock-the-door, I can straddle the throne and lay out a few lines on the porcelain top of the tank, as long as there aren't too many knick-knacks to push out of the way, but even there you can't be sure the next guy's not some muckraking freak who'll take swab samples and conduct residue tests. Believe me, they're out there. So I do it in the car, La Plata's most famous sedan, numero uno on the plate, behind blacked-out windows, with the oval mirror I use to straighten my hair. Flask in the side pocket to take the edge off. Q-tips in the armrest to pluck out bloody boogers and shove them in with the butts in the ashtray Sanchez empties at anonymous gas stations. Besides my house, the backseat is the only place I can be alone.
Cantare, clutching the mirror in a corpse-stiff grip, says, "Fritos can come up with five for that schools lease."
"Five, huh?" It takes me a few extra breaths thanks to the asthma and forty-some years of smoking, but I manage to put away four lines like Hank's. "You tell Fritos ten or he can kiss my ass."
Cantare squints at me through the coke-glazed haze. "Ten grand?"
We're on Maplewood Ave. when I lift off. In the window of Donut Donkey, a poster of a Dusted Cruller reads: "Enjoy the Fresh Powder." Hell yes! "No, ten donuts, cruller-dick." Cantare starts laughing his ass off, his whole body shaking. I steady the mirror. "Don't spill that, you son of a bitch!" Two lines left.
I light up a cigarette and Sanchez pulls into the park. "Jorona, joo Juan I shoo go stray to de moosayum?"
"No! Hell no! First the zoo, then the museum. Go the long way, take the loop road."
"Zo? Zo's close, jorona. Pass dark."
"Shut up and drive."
High as satellites and flying right here on the ground, the hammer hits. Sanchez sails us through the schizophrenic cyclorama that is William Rogers Park while Cantare and I bounce around in the backseat. We're clawing at armrests, faces pressed against the tinted windows, gawking at the historic shacks and bronze statues and taking turns describing them as they come alive. Betsy Rogers's cottage: That's the house where Dahmer lives. He's hacked up some kids to eat and is burying their bones out by the carousel. The pilgrim and the squaw: It's bloody Goldman holding butchered Nicole. O. J. has stalked off in the bushes wearing one iron glove. Poseidon with his trident: Geronimo holding the spear that stuck a thousand Texas Rangers. The Japanese garden is Hiroshima about to blow. The marble band shell is the Coliseum awash in Christian blood. Abe Lincoln looks so rigid because he's paralyzed, a fresh bullet in his spine.
"Goddamnit, Sanchez! Pull in here!"
Sanchez turns into the zoo parking lot and we coast across the painted grid. The lines are reminders, not just of the two on the mirror, but of the hill in the bill. There's a lot more left.
"Pull over near the ticket booths and get the watchman to call the zookeeper."
"Okay, jorona. Bah dong forgay to cling up joo face."
"Fuck you," I say.
"Yeah, fuck off," adds Cantare.
I grab Cantare's tie, wrap it up in my fist, and choke it tight against his throat, my heart pounding to get out of my chest. "Fuck you, Hank! I'm the only one who tells Sanchez fuck you!"
Cantare is sweating. "What the fuck, boss? I didn't mean nothing. Besides, I didn't say fuck you, I just told him to fuck off."
"Don't what-the-fuck me! I'm the only guy says fuck you or fuck off. And fuck off is a lot more serious than fuck you. I reserve fuck off for times when I'm really pissed, like I'm about to be with you if you don't shut the fuck up."
"What's the fucking difference between fuck you and fuck off?"
"Fuck you means fuck you. But fuck off means fuck you and on top of that go fuck yourself: Fuck off. I don't say fuck off to my friends and Sanchez is my fucking friend. For you to say fuck off to my friend is even worse than saying fuck you to me." I've got the knot of Cantare's tie in one hand. The other hand is holding the cigarette and Hank's wild eyes are fixed on the burning tip. It's quiet. I don't know how much time has passed since I finished shouting but I know it's been less than a second. The car is silent except for engine idling and heater blowing. There's condensation on the windows. Outside it's dark and cold, and here in the backseat I'm grinding my teeth while feeling the back of my throat delightfully rot away and I feel great. Hank's got both hands on the handle of the mirror like an altar boy holding a crumb catcher and I have to laugh. It hits Cantare at the same time. He starts cracking up, tears in his eyes. "Watch it, Hank! You'll spill it."
By the time we start settling down, Sanchez has his big arm on the seatback and a weary look in his eyes. "Jorona, joo Juan I shoo tell de gar to gay de zokipper, oh no?"
Cantare apes, "Jorona, joo Juan I shoo tell de gar to gay de zokipper, oh no!" More uproar. Fat tears spring from Cantare's eyes and mine. My cheeks hurt and I can hardly catch my breath.
Sanchez glares back at us, double-chin drooping across his massive shoulder. "Because ees standing outsie de weendo, jorona."
There's the guard, all right, a tree of a geek perched patiently at the driver's door. He knows my car. Everybody in La Plata does. But I can't be bothered by this looming loser of a rent-a-cop. I take a pull from the flask and enjoy a few more puffs of menthol before stubbing the butt and leveling my eyes on Sanchez. "Don't patronize me, ee-ho day poo- tah! Get that rent-a-pig to tell the mayor the zookeeper's here. I mean — you know what I mean!"
Sanchez powers his window down a crack and speaks to the watchman while Cantare holds the mirror and examines his reflection intensely. The guard trots off. "Zokipper coming, jorona. Shoobee jussa mini."
"What do you want to do with this?" Cantare says, meaning the last two lines. They're a little crookeder than the first eight we snorted but still full of velvety goodness.
"What do you call that?"
Another thing I love about Cantare, he gets hit with his little poetic fits. "That," says Hank, eyes sparkling, caps gleaming, "is what is known as Vanna's panty hose."
Cantare and I each go up one of Mrs. White's stockings. Our noses meet at the crotch.
"You hold onto the rest, Hank." Cantare expertly folds the bill back up and Sanchez opens the door. I get out of the car and Hank follows me to the gate. A beam of light comes bobbing down the path from the Plains of Africa and I wipe my nose on my sleeve just in time to greet the third-shift zookeeper. "Hello, Andy!"
"Good evening, Mayor. Back again to visit our new arrival?"
"Yup. I'd like to introduce him to a friend of mine. This is Hank Cantare, my director of administration."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Cantare."
"Pleased to meet you. Call me Hank."
Andy unlatches the gate, pointing the flashlight at our feet. Cantare and I follow him back up the path. "I think our new boy could teach Hank something about fundraising, Andy."
"I bet you're right, Mayor."
Cantare starts pulling it together. "It's an important job you've got here, Andy, taking care of all the animals. How many are there in all?"
"About 700 hundred of more than 200 species of mammal — ten different kinds of primate, for instance — but when you count the birds, amphibians, and captive insects, the number of occupants gets into the tens of thousands."
"Of course, I'm just one of a dozen keepers. I'm only here five nights from 9 until 6. You two are in charge of the real zoo." Cantare and I both oblige with a heh heh. "I'll run ahead and wake the baby, make sure mom's docile. You know the way, Mayor?"
"You bet, Andy."
"Here, take the flashlight."
"Hank and I will be right behind you. We'll try not to disturb any of the sleeping creatures." Andy scampers away.
Cantare says, "How do you do it, Pally, remembering everybody's names?"
"I told you before. It's mnemonics. Makes people happy."
"But everybody? I mean, for Christ's sake, the night zookeeper!"
"'Animal Andy.' How many favors big and small have you gotten simply for remembering someone's name?" I snap off the flashlight to soak in the night. Cantare rests a hand on my shoulder. "Eyes adjusting okay, Hank?"
"Can't see a goddamn thing."
We continue up the dark path. The rush of the nearby highway is drowned in the prehistoric music of La Plata wetlands: invisible crickets at their racket and murmuring toads who want to snack on those crackling wings. Our footfall, heavier than the soft-shoed zookeeper's, sends gobs of croaking monsters plop-plopping into the pond for refuge. This triggers the slumbering ducks, who shoosh from their beds in the reeds. Cantare says, "It sounds like summer here."
"Marsh country. It's like this year round. It used to be this way all over this part of the world before the cities came along."
The Arctic Ocean window looms midnight blue as we pass. Something blooms darkly in the glass for a second, spins, and disappears. The sea lion swims laps in this tank all night, making up fifty yards at a stretch for the million miles he'd migrate in his lifetime. I lead Cantare to the adjacent aquarium. He steps warily around the edge, staring into the dark depths. "What's it going to be, Pally? Barracuda? Shark?"
"Shut up. You'll see."
Andy has successfully coaxed the pup onto the poolside platform while his sedated mother hibernates in the den. I flip the switch in the wall of fake rock, bathing the baby in cool, electric moonlight. "My God!" says Hank, "he's a living teddy!"
"Hm," Andy says, "but he's already got the strength to rip a man's finger off. In a few months it will be an arm. Then we'll have to give him a shot before handling just like we do his mom."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Don Dimaio of La Plata"
Copyright © 2004 Robert Arellano.
Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
BRAUTWAY, SATURDAY, 7:00 PM,
I-69, SATURDAY, 9:00 PM,
MOUNT GOVERN, SATURDAY, 9:30 PM,
POTENCY STREET, SATURDAY, 10:15 PM,
SOUTH MEAN STREET, SATURDAY, 10:45 PM,
WONCHASUCKIT RIVER, SUNDAY, 2:30 AM,
POTENCY STREET, SUNDAY, 3:00 AM,
POTENCY STREET, SUNDAY, 10:00 AM,
MACNAMARA PLAZA, SUNDAY, 1:15 PM,
CRAMPTON, SUNDAY, 4:20 PM,
DONNY DOES COLONICS,
CHANNEL 8, SUNDAY, 6:00 PM,
EDEN STREET, SUNDAY, 9:00 PM,
YOUNG DON SNIVELER,
POTENCY STREET, MONDAY, 10:45 AM,
MT. MACREL, MONDAY, 12:00 PM,
EUCALYPTUS STREET, MONDAY, 5:30 PM,
EUCALYPTUS STREET, MONDAY, 6:00 PM,
MASHPOTATO NATION, MONDAY, 8:30 PM,
MASHPOTATO NATION, MONDAY, 9:15 PM,
MASHPOTATO NATION, MONDAY, 9:30 PM,
FANTASY AVENUE, MONDAY, 11:00 PM,
MASHPOTATO NATION, TUESDAY, 8:00 AM,
MACNAMARA PLAZA, TUESDAY, 11:00 AM,
LAPDAN, TUESDAY, 10:00 PM,
BELFRY STREET, WEDNESDAY, 5:00 PM,
PROFIT STREET, WEDNESDAY, 6:00 PM,
POTENCY STREET, THURSDAY, 10:00 AM,
MACNAMARA PLAZA, THURSDAY, 3:00 PM,
ASTRAL PLANE, THURSDAY, 8:15 PM,
ASTRAL PLANE, THURSDAY, 8:20 PM,
POTENCY STREET, THURSDAY, 9:00 PM,
POTENCY STREET, FRIDAY, 10:30 AM,
EUCALYPTUS STREET, FRIDAY, 11:30 AM,
ROGUES ON THE RAWBUCKET, FRIDAY, 8:00 PM,
POTENCY STREET, FRIDAY, 10:00 PM,
ASTRAL PLANE, FRIDAY, 10:45 PM,
POTENCY STREET, SATURDAY, 10:55 AM,
WONCHASUCKIT RIVER, SATURDAY, 3:00 PM,
CRAFTY BEAVER, SATURDAY, 5:15 PM,
EDEN STREET, SATURDAY, 6:00 PM,
MT. MACREL, SATURDAY, 7:00 PM,