It was 6 p.m. and we were sitting in metal folding chairs in a clean, well-lighted conference room. There was a plate of cookies in the back beside the coffee machine. Some of them were the oatmeal kind with raisins, but others had real chocolate chips. The cookies were good. We ate them.
There was a fat girl at the table in front of me, taking notes in a green notebook. She wore jeans held up with a bungee cord. The fat girl kept looking over her shoulder at the cookies and finally she said:
"Are any of those chocolate chip?"
"Sure," I said. "Sure. Have a chocolate chip cookie."
She smiled and took a cookie and went back to taking her notes. We were friends then. Fat girls like chocolate chip cookies. You can count on that.
I asked her: "What's going on, then? Who are these people?"
The fat girl bit into her cookie and shook her head. "They're the government. Isn't that crazy? They're the whole government."
"You mean the county government?"
"The ones in the center are the county. The ones to the left are the city. The ones behind are the board of education. The ones to the right are the water board."
"Why the water board?" I asked.
"Why not the water board?" said the fat girl. She seemed to find that very funny. She kept laughing as she ate her chocolate chip cookie, spewing crumbs that landed like shrapnel on her notebook pages.
"Is the water board the government?" I asked. I didn't know the water board was the government. It's why I had asked the fat girl. I didn't know that.
"No." She frowned and I could tell she was thinking. "They didn't used to be. I think it's the lake."
"The lake is why they're the government?"
She tried to explain it to me. It was a long story and very sad. I couldn't follow it. It was all about the county convincing the water board to pay for a lake, so that everyone had gotten mad at the water board members and now they were the government, too. Before then they had just been the water board, and no one was mad at them. I was confused. It seemed to mean that if people were mad at you, you were the government. Meanwhile the fat girl kept spraying me with chocolate chip cookie crumbs so finally I said:
"I'll be damned."
"There are other boards that really are the government, and they're not here. What about the tax assessors?"
"I'll be damned."
"And how about the beer board?" she said. "It would be nice to have the beer board here, too."
"I'll be damned," I said again, but I thought it was true. If someone brought beer we wouldn't have to drink the coffee. The coffee was very bad. I didn't like the coffee. "I could use some beer," I said.
But there was no beer. We drank the coffee. It was black and bitter. I began to be bitter, too. The fat girl explained that all the other government boards had come together to decide how to make the county a better place, where children could play in peace and nobody would have to pay property taxes.
It was not interesting. I began to wish I had some whiskey.
A very big baby boy in very big diapers took the podium. All the government people looked at him. They looked as if they expected him to say something important. But he just danced around in his big diapers saying, "Wook at me! Wook at me!"
"Who is the big boy?" I said.
"Oh, that's the county's new state government rep, Molten Core," said the fat girl. "He is very young."
"Why are the school board members looking at him with such hatred?"
"He betrayed them. He betrayed their trust."
"He had their trust?" I shook my head. "He's in diapers."
She shrugged. "Yet they elected him. Isn't it crazy?"
"You bet it's crazy. I wouldn't trust him."
"Wook at me!" said Molten Core. "Wook at me!"
Finally his mother came and took him away to change his diapers. One of the county commissioners, Gobby Rolf, said the fat girl, leaned forward and told the mother: "You should have whipped him more when he was little, ma'am."
The other local officials began talking then about property taxes. Everyone was against property taxes. They all agreed on that.
But they did not agree about anything else. If one man said the answer was to open a bar and charge a tax on the whiskey, another said no: Whiskey was a bad thing.
It was not interesting. But when the officials argued the fat girl got very excited. I could see how hard she was trying to write down what they said in her notebook. Poor officials, I thought. Poor fat girl.
But I had begun to think about whiskey now. Whiskey is not a bad thing. Whiskey is a grand thing. It is a civilized thing. It makes you forget all the bad.
"Wait a minute," said the fat girl. "Where are you going?"
"I'm going to get some whiskey."
"But I was counting on you to report on the meeting."
"It's no good," I told her. I shook my head. "It's no damn good."
Editor's note: Ernie H. finished the evening by drinking a bottle of whiskey and shooting himself. Fortunately, The Planet was able to find a replacement writer to complete the story: Charlene "The Small-Town Snoop" Haney. Read Charlene's account in the next installment of this APRIL 1 edition of The Planet!