On the Last Booth: An Axton Village Story

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this meeting of the Axton Village City Council will come to order.”

With those words, Paxton Cobbler VI opened the city council meeting. As the scion of Axton Village’s most prominent family, many in the village felt it right and proper that he should oversee the important work of the city council. And it was a heavy burden. In addition to overseeing the town’s international frisbee competition, the council oversaw day to day operations of the village government; created, amended, and ignored annual budgets; and selected the pancake flavor of the month for all local truck stops.

“For this special session of the city council, the standard weekly agenda has been tabled.”

“Objection!” shouted Wendy Sizemore, Axton Village’s most senior council member and recent loser to Cobbler for the chair position in a run-off election held at the Axton Village roller rink, “Skate, Bait, and Tackle.” Wendy’s animosity over the loss dripped in her words. “I move to strike the unlawful opening statement and resume regular business.”

“Councilwoman Sizemore, there is nothing to object to. I am simply explaining the purpose for tonight’s meeting,” Chairman Cobbler patiently explained.

“I object to the disrespectful tone the Chair is demonstrating, and I move for a vote of no confidence,” Sizemore retorted, straightening her puppy dog broach as she smiled widely.

Exasperated, Chairman Cobbler replied, “Councilwoman Sizemore, this is the fifth meeting in a row you have called for a vote of no confidence, and this will be the fifth meeting in a row that I remind you that we have no such parliamentary procedure in our bylaws.”

“I object to the bylaws, and, on behalf of the good people of Axton Village, on behalf of the good and decent people of Axton Village, I move for a vote of no confidence.”  Pausing as she finished, the Councilwoman held her chin high for dramatic effect, which when combined with her angular cheekbones and impossibly tall hair-do, somewhat diminished her air of complete incompetence. It was a bold move, sure to make the headlines of the newspaper and capture the imagination of Axton Village’s more gullible residents, which, all would admit, was most of them.

“Thank you, Councilwoman Sizemore,” Chairman Cobbler uttered, wondering why he needed a run-off election at a roller rink to defeat her. “Your objections will be noted in the record we are not making tonight.”  Wendy Sizemore smiled smugly, scribbling a note on her monogrammed puppy dog stationary.

“Members of the Council, Village residents, and guests, we hold this special meeting of the Axton Village City Council for an important reason. As you all know, next month we will celebrate the 75th annual Tool Days, Axton Village’s yearly celebration of all that is great about our town. Started three-quarters of a century ago by my great-grandfather, Paxton Cobbler III, to celebrate all the great tools in Axton Village, the celebration has grown from guys displaying their hammers and wrenches and screwdrivers in a park downtown, to the wonderful, family-friendly celebration it is today, with live music, games, races, and booth after booth of fantastic food and products from local vendors and charities.”

“And free massages. Don’t forget the massages,” interjected Councilman Craig Kuhlmann.  After flunking out of medical, physical therapy, nursing, and chiropractic schools, Craig Kuhlmann opened his own massage parlor, “Shakies.” With three locations around town, Shakies was the most popular spot in Axton Village to unwind, relax, and, possibly, talk to someone practicing medicine without a license. To increase business, Councilman Kuhlmann began giving free massages at the 70th annual Tool Days.

“That’s right, Councilman Kuhlmann, my apologies,” replied Chairman Cobbler.

Councilwoman Regina Flatz blushed, as she thought about Shakies. At the 71st Tool Days, she had received one of Councilman Kuhlmann’s patented reflexology massages for her feet. It was an intense emotional experience. She couldn’t walk for two days, but, two months later, divorced her husband.

“Last month, the Council approved all of the booth assignments for local vendors and charities,” Chairman Cobbler continued, “or so we thought. As it turns out, we left one booth spot unassigned.”

“Incompetence,” Councilwoman Sizemore uttered underneath her breath, but loud enough for local journalist Trevor Hoffman to hear and note in his article in the Axton Village Proclaimer the following day, “The Last Booth Down to the Last Vote”

“We are holding this special meeting tonight to assign the last booth. We have two competing residents. The Council will allow each resident five minutes to address the Council, explaining why their booth most comports with the values of Axton Village Tool Days: Friendship, Fun, and Flathead Screwdrivers. After each presentation, the Council will have up to five minutes to question the resident. After each presentation and question and answer session, the Council will vote, and the resident receiving the most votes will receive the last booth. No other business will be conducted. Are there any questions?”

Councilwoman Flatz was still blushing, fanning herself, and wondering if she had renewed her annual pass to Shakies.

“Seeing none,” Chairman Cobbler directed, “I invite the first resident to the podium, Mr. Blaine Blinzon.

Blinzon walked slowly and stiffly to the podium. A plastic surgery addict, his problem was plain for all to see. He had achieved his desired look of a living, breathing Ken doll. It was unclear, however, if the majority of Blaine’s body parts were original or “enhanced.” At any rate, he moved rigidly, but, as difficult as it was, he did not sweat. Well, could not sweat. He had his sweat glands removed years ago to allow for more taut facial skin. The result was a forehead you could carve vegetables on.

“Hewo, my nam is Blaine Blinzon. I am the presiden and CEO of Blaine’s Organic Foodz. We baleave that natural is always better than artafishal.”  Council members Cobbler, Sizemore, and Kuhlmann stared with not insignificant interest in the ability of Blaine’s facial skin to move enough to form words with a degree of accuracy. Councilwoman Flatz continued to stare at Councilman Kuhlmann. “We baleave nature does not make miststeaks. We want to spread this messidge (and our all natural jams and jellies) at Tewl Days. We have been a part of this khamunity for tin yurrs, and support many lokhal causes. We employ thurty lokhal residens, We wheel donate halve of our prophets from Tewl Days to the lokhal liberry. Thank you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Blinzon. You’re looking as relaxed as ever,” Chairman Cobbler warmly noted. We will now entertain any questions from the Council. The Chair recognizes Councilwoman Sizemore.”

“Mr. Blinzon, I just happened to notice that the Axton Village Proclaimer is here. Two years ago, an exposé in that publication accused Blaine’s Organic Foodz of funneling profits to a Japanese whaling vessel and using whale blubber to make some of your organic shampoos and makeups.” Blaine Blinzon’s impossibly tight lips got impossibly tighter. He could not sweat, luckily. “So, Mr. Blinzon,” Councilwoman Sizemore pressed on, “what I and my constituents want to know,” darting glances at journalist Hoffman, “what I and my constituents need to know is…can we get that amazing lip gloss in a watermelon flavor?”

“Yuz! Next year, we are releaseen three new flavurz: watermelon, Snickers, and Kit Kat! All natural. 100 persent from nature. Nuthin but the bezt!” Blinzon answered, relieved he did not have to reveal that some of the blubber had been used to give him the ankles of his dreams.

Councilman Kuhlmann turned on his microphone, “Thank you Mr. Blinzon. I am impressed by your company’s promise to share half of the profits with the Axton Village Library, if you are selected for the last booth. As you know, last year, I donated an entire collection of books on massage to the library, and I am proud to announce tonight that library data proves that Axton Village teenagers check out and read more books on massage than any other teenagers in the tristate area.”

“Thank you, Councilman Kuhlmann.” Chairman Cobbler, seeing no other questions or comments, thanked Mr. Blinzon for his presentation and invited the second candidate for the last remaining Tool Days booth to come forward.

Trina Van Selbing strode to the podium with an other-worldly confidence. Not only confident, her stride was powerful — propelled by thick legs and a mighty, orbicular derrière. In order to offset the impressive gravitational forces at play, her bosom was equally bountiful, accentuated by a striped dress that, when in motion, sent lines of color exploding in myriad directions. “Praise Jesus,” she began, “I want to praise Jesus and Jehovah for bringing me here tonight. I know his hand and authority are guiding me right now, anointing me with the spirit. Bless all of you!” The Council was spellbound by her invocations, and, as for Councilman Kuhlmann, he was spellbound by Trina Van Selbing’s dress.

“That’s very kind,” Chairman Cobbler remarked, “tell us about your booth.”

“I come this evening as the appointed and anointed emissary from the Second Word of God Church. Praise be. After months of singing spiritual songs, talking in tongues, and making a joyful noise, hallelujah!!, I am here, here with Jesus, here and now, hear me be here, praise!, to tell this mighty Council, this triumphant group, this almighty assemblage, this keeper of the Peace, that the disciples of the Second Word of God Church are prepared to maintain a prayer booth at next month’s Axton Village Tool Days. Mmmmm, God is good! God is good! Whew! Jesus! Jesus Lord! Jesus down in my soul! Yes, sweet Jesus!”

Councilwoman Sizemore sat dumbfounded at Ms. Van Selbing’s obvious, clear, deep connection with the Almighty. Chairman Cobbler did not know what to say. Councilman Kuhlmann had heard some of his massage clients make similar noises, but the circumstances seemed very different. Councilwoman Flatz, feeling somewhat guilty at her earlier focus on her annual pass at Shakies, gathered herself long enough to ask, “So, how would this prayer booth work?”

“Thank you Jesus for this opportunity to witness. Praise be!” Trina Van Selbing began. “At the Second Word of God Church, we know the people of Axton Village are hurting. Not physically. Not mentally. But spiritually. There is an aching need in this town.” Councilwoman Flatz began to blush again. “There is a need for Jesus. Thank you Jesus! Blessed be all who follow you! The disciples of our church with the closest connection, the strongest connection, the most anointed connection to the Almighty will be on hand at Tool Days to help the needy, the poor, the sick, the wretched, the lonely, all of Axton Village. God is good! Good is God! Praise be! Anyone at Tool Days can come to our booth to pray with us, to sing with us, to be anointed by us.”

“So,” Chairman Cobbler began slowly, “at Tool Days, our values are Friendship, Fun, and Flathead Screwdrivers. Can you explain to the Council how your booth would best represent those values?”

“Praise be! A booth for the Second Word of God church would be all those things, Jesus is good! Mmmm, thank you Jesus! We are all those things because they are good, and all good things come from Jesus. Hallelujah! Praise be!”

“Okay. Well, I know I can speak for the Council when I say that your presentation was very energetic,” Chairman Cobbler said diplomatically. Does anyone on the Council have any other questions for Ms. Van Selbing?”

“Ms. Van Selbing,” Councilwoman Sizemore began, “there have been rumors for some years now that your church engages in the ritualistic handling of snakes. Is that true, and, if so, would you be handling snakes at your prayer booth at Tool Days?”

A hush fell over the room. The Council exchanged glances; the local residents gathered in the gallery were simultaneously shocked at Councilwoman Sizemore’s revelation and eager for the reply, and journalist Trevor Hoffman readied his pen and tape recorder, sensing the blockbuster news story of the year. For her part, Ms. Trina Van Selbing was taken aback and took a moment to compose herself, praying to Jesus softly underneath her breath.

“Councilwoman Sizemore, we are empowered, embraced, and emboldened with the love of Jesus. Jesus knows no limits, knows no fears, knows no boundaries. And his strength fills our entire bodies,” she responded, rubbing her hands gently over her generous striped dress in a subtle gesture of the Almighty’s power to fill even that body. “But to answer your question, the snakes are fake.”

An audible gasp went up from the crowd. Trevor Hoffman wrote furiously.

Sensing that the meeting was about to take a turn, if it had not already, Chairman Cobbler spoke up. “Thank you, mam. I see that our time for questions and answers has elapsed. You can take your seat.”

“Praise be.”

“This Council has heard two interesting, challenging, and, if I may say so, uniquely amazing presentations tonight. It is clear that either choice would make for an excellent final addition to Tool Days. As Chairman, I will begin the voting by announcing that I believe the final booth should be given to the Second Word of God Church.”

“Hallelujah!”

“Mam, please. As I was saying, while both booths would be wonderful, the Second Word of God Church would bring something different and never before seen at Tool Days. That’s why I think the booth should go to them. Councilwoman Sizemore?”

“My vote,” she broadcast triumphantly, pausing for dramatic effect, “goes to Blaine’s Organic Foodz. I believe in nature, in honesty, in wholeness. Our town needs more of that.” Councilwoman Sizemore cast her eyes in the direction of Chairman Cobbler. “Blaine’s Organic Foodz would be the best addition to Tool Days.” She could almost taste the watermelon lip gloss.

Chairman Cobbler looked to the next Council member, Craig Kuhlmann, “Councilman Kuhlmann, your vote?”

“Well, as you note Chair, we have two excellent options, but, at the end of the day, I agree with you that the Second Word of God provides some diversity to Tool Days. My vote is with them.” Councilman Kuhlmann turned off his microphone, leaned back, and began counting all the new memberships he’d enjoy at Shakies by virtue of his vote. Praise be.

“Chairwoman Flatz?”

“I vote for Blaine’s Organic Foodz,” she announced. She, too, had heard the loud, praiseful voices at Shakies. She new the real from the fake, and, thus, she voted for Blaine’s.

Trevor Hoffman looked up from his notepad, sensing more history was about to be made as Chairman Cobbler began.

“Ladies and gentleman, thus far, we have a 2-2 tie. Accordingly, the deciding vote will be cast by our fifth Council member.”

Everyone in the room turned in unison to the end of the Council table. There, smiling sweetly and swinging her legs in big loops inside her sun dress was Little Susie Prikster. As the Axton Village Youth Council Member, Susie had only taken over the post two meetings before when, for mysterious and unknown reasons, 16 year old Bennie McCusker had fallen off his bike, breaking both arms and a hip. The lone witness had been the ray of sunshine herself, Little Susie Prikster. Bennie was still in a coma. Selflessly, wonderfully, Little Susie volunteered to take his spot on the Council on a temporary basis. Seeing no harm in it, Chairman Cobbler had agreed, sensing a sweet photo-op.

“Susie, have you listened to the presentations? Do you understand why we have to pick someone to take the last booth spot for Tool Days?” Chairman Cobbler spoke slowly and softly, thinking how sorry he felt for this poor sweet girl. What a terrible pressure for such a young, innocent thing.

“Yes, Chairman Cobbler, I did listen. I listened really well. Super well,” Susie replied, still swinging her legs.

“That’s good, Susie. Now, who would you choose to be at Tool Days, Blaine’s Organic Foodz or the prayer booth from the church?”

“Well, my mommy is always talking about how good we are supposed to be, and I listen Chairman Cobbler. I listen really well. I pray every night, and I try to be a good little girl. But some people are mean, and, so, I think a prayer booth would be a good thing at Tool Days.”

Blaine Blinzon wanted to cry, but, of course, with his tear ducts removed to add volume to his cheek bones, he could not.

“Thank you Susie. I think you made a fair choice. Ladies and gentlemen, the vote is 3-2, and the last booth at Tool Days will be awarded to the Second Word of God Church. Thank you all for your time and attention. This meeting is now adjourned.”

And, with that, Chairman Cobbler and the other adult Council members rose to thank and congratulate Little Susie Prikster on her wonderful job and brave vote. Blaine Blinzon hobbled out of the room, and Trina Van Selbing sat in her chair, swayed slightly, palms turned up to heaven, praying a prayer of thanks. Trevor Hoffman wrote furiously, sensing multiple awards for writing about the Axton Village City Council meeting where the tie-breaking vote was cast by a little angel.

Little Susie Prikster sat, smiling, batting her big eyes as everyone told her what a smart, pretty, helpful, kind, and fair little girl she had been. The nine year old, with her hands buried deep in her sundress, clutched two plastic snakes.

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