After a long day getting processed into the Oakdale Minimal Security Federal Prison Club, the former mayor of the City That Care Forgot settled into a comfortable chair in the rec room and tried to relax.
The TV was on, and he quickly took command of the remote. The others didn’t seem to care; the years they’d spent in the facility had beaten them down into apathy.
The former mayor flipped through the channels, but it didn’t take long before he became frustrated. He glared at the remote as if the problem was its fault and then bellowed out to no one in particular, “All y’all got is basic cable in here?”
“No, we got an extra package,” another Oakdale guest replied. “We get Lifetime, Oprah Winfrey, some channel that sells cosmetics 24/7.”
The former mayor shook his head.
“That’s a women’s package,” he said. “Why would a women’s package be the only extra thing you’d have in an all-male prison?”
A deputy warden — or Club Life Facilitator, according to his title — tried to explain, while also trying to hide his embarrassment.
“We ordered that by mistake,” he said sheepishly.
The former mayor responded, “Well, why don’t you cancel the damn thing?”
“Have you ever tried to cancel something with the cable company?” the deputy warden asked.
The former mayor chuckled inside. He recalled those heady days when he used to lead a cable company’s local branch before he decided to sacrifice himself to public service. He recalled how awed he was when somebody came up with the idea of making it just about impossible to drop services.
You could add services until the cows came home. But try to drop something? Like trying to get Russia to give back Crimea.
Make it easy for them to get in; hard to get out. The idea had been inspired by the early days of casino gambling. Someone noticed that while there were numerous change-makers wheeling their little carts around the casino, happy to break your larger bills, it was different when you wanted to cash out.
If you wanted to change your chips or quarters back into regular folding money, you had to walk all the way over to the cashier’s window, past the slot machines beckoning with the promise of big payouts and the roulette and craps tables where winners who weren’t giving up were stacking their chips high.
The former mayor was assigned to work in the kitchen. His first day there, as he started to chop up ingredients for the evening meal, he noticed that all of the countertops were covered in cheap, ugly Formica. He got an idea.
“Y’all ought to get some granite,” he told the man in charge of the kitchen. “I can get you a good deal.”
At the dinner table, he saw everyone drinking out of plastic cups bearing the logo of a defunct New Orleans minor league hockey team.
“The team donated them to us when they went under,” someone explained. “You see, when the NBA team moved into the New Orleans Arena, the hockey team had no place to play.”
The former mayor angrily interrupted: “I KNOW the story already!”
After dinner, he went back to the rec room, where the other men were engrossed in a movie.
“What’s playing?” he asked.
“?‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,’?” someone answered. “Have you seen it?”
The former mayor flopped into a chair and sullenly held his head in his hands. He seemed to be near tears.
“It’s going to be a long 10 years,” he moaned.
Dennis Persica’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.