My Mostly Happy Life: Autobiography of a Climbing Tree

Updated 1 year ago By Shelly Reuben
My Mostly Happy Life: Autobiography of a Climbing Tree

Chapter 33 – Dodging the Press and Hugging a Pillow

 Illustrations by Ruth McGraw

After two weeks of attention-grabbing stories about the aftermath of a mid-air collision, journalists of all types seemed to be facing a lackluster summer. So when word got out that there had been a street fight between our acting mayor and two cretins on Lispenard Street, the media rejoiced at a sudden cornucopia of breaking news.

Reporters reported, broadcasters broadcast, and headlines blared. 

GOLDEN GLOVES MAYOR KAYOS NAZI THUGS.   HERO MAYOR SENDS TWO DOWN FOR THE COUNT.   FIRST DATE COUPLE: "HURWITZ IS SUPERMAN!"

In every print edition, regardless of the source, the name of the mugged woman, which was Jacqueline, was misspelled as Jacquelyn, and even on the Internet, Mr. and Mrs. Constantini’s deceased son was mistakenly referred to as Hugo instead of Aldo.

But journalists got the sequence of events in the fight correct, since every major news bureau was given a copy of the cub reporter’s video.

The biggest surprise about the news coverage, however, was the lack of backlash.

Instead of pressure groups attacking the acting mayor’s “use of lethal physical force” (Mike’s fists) against “badly brought up youngsters who’d never had a break” (street thugs and neo-Nazis), they kept their mouths shut.

Not because the media sympathized with the victims. They never sympathize with victims.

But because they thought it would be politically disadvantageous to associate themselves with men wearing swastika tattoos.

Even so, the Fourth Estate was disinclined to give Michael Moses Hurwitz a complete pass because, to reporters, our pugilistic acting mayor was not only a story, he was a great story – better yet than two jet liners colliding over a city street.

News teams followed him to work, bribed his co-workers to spy on him, and accosted him in the men’s room at City Hall.

They photographed him entering, leaving, and riding on the subway.

They climbed the fire escape outside his apartment building and took pictures of his family through their living room window.

They located the gym where he had trained as a child, and they ambushed his old trainer.

They interviewed the boy Mike had defeated twenty-five years ago when he won the Golden Gloves Championship. They even sent a reporter to his agricultural alma mater and photographed his old classrooms and dorm.

By Tuesday afternoon, the day after the mugging, Mike had barricaded himself behind his office door and stopped answering his telephone.

On Wednesday, Mike did not go to City Hall at all, but worked out of his apartment.

Of the several calls he missed over those two days, only two were important, and they were from people who never called back.

One was a fourteen-year-old high school student named Timothy Wong.

The other was Alonso Hannah, the groundskeeper and original arborist at the Samuel Swerling Park.

Although Mike Hurwitz was annoyed by the attention he was receiving, his annoyance did not rise to the level of anger until three days after the mugging on Lispenard Street, when he learned that a news crew had traced Chrysanthos Angelopoulos to the rehabilitation facility where he was recuperating from open heart surgery.

At that stage in his recovery, Mayor Chris Angel’s physician had instructed him to do just three things.

One: Cough.

Two: Not laugh.

Three: Hug a pillow when he did cough or laugh, in order to prevent the stitches in his incision from pulling apart.

The same day that reporters tracked down the mayor at his rehab, Mike Hurwitz snuck through the back door of the facility and sauntered into his room.

“Hi, Boss,” he said, seeing his friend looking pale, weak and shrunken in the hospital bed.

Chris Angel looked up. He smiled. As he smiled, his gaunt cheeks expanded like hot air balloons, his skin took on color, and his eyes sparkled with new life.

“Hey,” the mayor said.

“Hey back to you,” Mike said. “When the hell are you coming home?”

Clutching his pillow to his chest, the mayor coughed. Then he said, “Tomorrow if it were up to me.”

“If it isn’t?”

“A week…give or take.”

“How do you feel?”

“Great. Get me a pair of extra-large pantyhose, and I’ll do high kicks at Rockefeller Center with the Rockettes.”

Mike laughed.

“Don’t laugh,” Chris Angel warned. “If you laugh, I laugh, and when I laugh, it hurts.”

Mike sat on the edge of the mayor’s bed, sighed, and asked, “How do I get them off my back?”

“Who?”

“The press.”

“Aah,” the media-savvy mayor nodded.

“They won’t leave me alone,” Mike complained. “They won’t leave your…my…our office staff alone. And I heard this morning they’re bothering you here, too.”

The mayor blew out his lips in a pooh-poohing manner. “Don’t you worry about me. I can handle the press.”

“That’s not the point. You shouldn’t have to be handling them or anything else. All you should be doing now is flirting with nurses and coughing into your pillow.”

“I’m ambidextrous. I can do all three at once.”

Mike said morosely, “So they really were here?”

“Two reporters, two cameramen, and a partridge in a pear tree.”

“When?”

“A little before noon.”

“What happened?”

“I combed my hair, curled my mustache…”

“You don’t have a mustache.”

“… and answered their questions.”

“About…?” Mike asked, dreading the answer.

“You, of course.”

Mike dropped his head into his hands.

The mayor continued jauntily, “I told them that you could have been a middleweight champion if you hadn’t given up a promising boxing career to grow periwinkles and asparagus fern.”

Mike groaned.

“I added that you have a Superman complex and can never pass up a damsel in distress.”

Mike raised his head and entreated, “Please tell me that you’re lying.”

The mayor laughed.

“Okay. So I’m lying.” Then he rasped out, “Pillow! Pillow!”

Mike gave him his pillow

 

Chris Angel clutched it to his chest, finished laughing, and tossed it aside. He went on, “What I really told them was that you’re a great parks commissioner, an admirable family man, and a good friend, and that it goes against your grain to ignore innocent people being attacked by psychotic goons on public streets.”

He pointed to a pitcher.

“Water,” he croaked.

Mike refilled the mayor’s glass.

He drank, cleared his throat, and said, “Listen to me, Mike.”

“I’m listening.”

“The press is like the popular girl at a party. She’s only interested in you when you aren’t interested in her. It’s a conquest sort of a thing. Once she’s got you, she doesn’t want you anymore. See?”

Mike frowned. “No. That’s too esoteric for me.”

Mayor Angel rolled his eyes. “Mikey, my boy. As a politician, you have the instincts of a brick.”

The mayor’s old friend shrugged. “You’re the politician, Chris. I’m just a guy who works for the parks department, temporarily doing your job.”

“I know, Buddy. I know. And you’re hating every minute of it.”

Mike Hurwitz paused thoughtfully. Then he said, “Actually, I’m not. I hate the suffering I’ve seen over the past few weeks, but I was glad to be in a position where I could help. I’ve met some good people doing good things, and it’s been a privilege to work with them.”

“Cops? Firemen?”

“And doctors. Nurses. Family members of the crash victims. Ambulance drivers. Sanitation workers. A lot of good people.”

“But not the press.”

Mike shrugged again. “I believe in a free press.”

“But?”

“But not on my fire escape taking pictures of my kids.”

“Right. Which means we’ve got to get you out of this mess.”

“I agree. How?”

“By examining the operating principal behind the popular girl at the party.”

Mike said nothing.

Mayor Angel jabbed him roughly in the knee. “Pay attention.”

Mike tried to look attentive.

The mayor continued, “Our party girl, as I said before, is only interested in conquest.”

“Okay.”

“Once she has attained her objective, she loses interest.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Now tell me why I should care?”

“Because tomorrow at ten o’clock in the morning, you are giving a press conference.”

“I am?”

“You are.”

“Why?”

“To get them off your back.”

“The press?”

“Yep. Just like the party girl. Give them what they want, and they’ll leave you alone.”

Mike contemplated this for a few seconds. Then he asked, “What am I going to say at this hypothetical press conference?”

“Aah. Now that’s an interesting question. I have a plan.”

“Let’s hear it.”

“My plan was inspired by your hero.”

Mike grunted. “I am a contemporary American male. I don’t have a hero.”

“Oh, yes you do. Your hero is your uncle, Sgt. Moses Hurwitz, the guy who got all those medals during World War II.”

“He’s my great uncle, not my uncle.”

“Don’t quibble.”

“What do you know about my Great Uncle Moe?”

“Everything.”

“How? I never discussed him with you.”

“When we were kids, you had pictures of him plastered all over your bedroom.”

“You saw the pictures?”

“Of course, Mikey. I’m not blind. I had a favorite, too. The one of him standing next to a tank named Geraldine and glaring into the camera. That’s not something a boy is likely to forget.”

Mike Hurwitz stared at his best friend.

“I never knew you noticed.”

Mayor Angel chuckled. “Yeah. Sure. Like I never noticed that you look exactly like him. A twin. A doppelganger. Two peas in a pod.”

Mike frowned and shook his head. “I don’t get how there can be a connection between my uncle and the press.”

“Aah,” the mayor said again. “Pull your chair closer to Uncle Chris, and he’ll tell you a story.”

“I’m listening.”

“I looked up Moe on the Internet.”

“Okay. And…?”

“There’s been a whole lot written about Sgt. Moses Hurwitz of the Canadian Grenadier Guards.”

“And…?”

“Do you know what he said to his commanding officer when his CO told him that he’d been awarded the Military Medal?”

“Refresh my memory.”

“Sgt. Hurwitz said, and I quote, ‘Well, Sir, I’m mighty glad because the boys will know that their work has been appreciated. They’re pretty smart, and they’ll know this medal is for them and not for me’.”

“He said that?”

“Don’t bullshit me, Mike. You know exactly what he said. You worship the guy. Always have. Always will. So we’re going to take a page out of his book and copy Moe’s modus operandi.”

“Which was what?”

“To deflect praise.”

Mike inhaled deeply, exhaled dispiritedly, and asked, “And how am I supposed to do that? On the night of the mugging, I was the only one there. Who do I deflect praise to?”

Mayor Angel grinned.

“Mikey, Mikey, Mikey,” he said tenderly. “You are going to thank fire fighters, cops, emergency medical technicians, HAZMAT drivers, doctors, nurses, rescue crews, helicopter pilots, and rescue dogs.”

Mike cocked his head. “What do HAZMAT drivers have to do with a mugging on Lispenard Street?”

“Nothing. But that’s how you deflect praise.”

Mike’s eyes widened.

“Your uncle did it, and you can do it, too. We’ll rehearse. I’m a reporter. Are you ready?”

“I thought you were a Rockette.”

The mayor started to laugh. “Pillow,” he gasped. “Give me my pillow.”

Mike gave him the pillow. Again, he held it to his chest until his laughter expired. Again, he flung it aside. He said, “The next time I get a best friend, he isn’t going to be funny.”

“Sorry.”

“Bah,” the mayor chuckled. “You’re not sorry, and we still have to rehearse. Right?”

“You’re the boss.”

“No. I’m a reporter. I move right up close to you, because I’m also a pushy guy and I don’t respect anybody’s personal space. I say, ‘Hey, Mike. How did it feel to grind two neo-Nazi bastards to a pulp?’ and you answer…are you paying attention?”

“Yes.”

“You say, ‘I have nothing but the utmost respect for the emergency service workers who responded to the terrible mid-air collision over our great city.’” Mayor Angel grinned proudly. “See?”

Mike shook his head

 

“Absolutely not.”

Again, his best friend rolled his eyes. He shouted, “YOU’RE NOT PAYING ATTENTION!”

Then he smiled indulgently and added softly, “Let’s try again. I’m a reporter.”

“Still?”

“Don’t start. As a reporter, I say, ‘In the Golden Gloves boxing tournaments, aren’t there rules that you’re supposed to follow? Even when you’re fighting on the street, isn’t it forbidden to hit a guy below the belt?’ And you respond?”

“Do I have to respond?”

“Yes. You remain calm, assume a benign facial expression, and state, ‘My sympathy is always with the victims and their families. Whether they are assaulted on a street or damaged in an airplane collision, all city employees are trained, not only to provide services, but also to…”

Mayor Chris Angel coached Acting Mayor Mike Hurwitz for another two hours. Over those two hours, the mayor requested his pillow four more times, twice to laugh and twice to cough. They did not stop rehearsing until Mike, if not letter perfect, had at least learned how to give a good answer to a question that had not been asked.

“Politics 101,” the mayor explained.

The following morning, it was Friday, Michael Moses Hurwitz surrendered to the whim and whimsy of the most popular girl at the dance. Or, rather, to the press.

They asked.

He answered.

They videotaped, made notes, took pictures, made recordings, and immortalized every word that he said.

They continued this routine on Saturday.

And Sunday.

The more accessible he became, the less interest they took. Each day, fewer and fewer reporters showed up, and each day fewer and fewer questions were asked.

Until, just had the mayor had predicted, the press got bored and stayed away.

But by then it was already Monday, July 13.

And by Monday, it was almost too late.

 

Copyright © 2017, Shelly Reuben

Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her work, visit www.shellyreuben.com

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