Fame Comes To Minnow Falls

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
When a contest is held to make one small town famous for a month, little Minnow Falls is sure they are up to the task and unlike so many reality stars, they feel they have no flaws to hide. They are about to undergo what many celebrities go through when they become famous.

Submitted: November 21, 2015

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Submitted: November 21, 2015

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Fame Comes to Minnow Falls

 

 

by Chris Chabot

 

 

It was the grandest plan ever conceived by the Bookers Clearinghouse Corporation.  Bookers CEO Horace Crocker had been watching another episode of “Dumb Buddies at Shoemart”, when he had an epiphany.  Fame was something everyone craved in America.  People were willing to undergo the most humiliating contests to achieve it.  Why limit celebrity to just ten people trying to survive on an island or in a house?  Why not make an entire town famous?  Let them ALL try to survive.

Mayor Piper spotted the ad for the contest on page 67 of Readers Digest while sitting in his bathroom. “Does your town want to be famous?  Prove it with your essay on why your town deserves it in 500 words or less.”  It seemed the answer to his dreams.  He had watched all those famous people on the entertainment shows each night, wondering why that couldn’t be him or his town.  This was what the town needed.  Minnow Falls had once been an economic powerhouse.  It had been the focal point of all neighboring towns until the hard times hit.

There was the closing of the Paper Mill that threw 287 people out of work.  Next, the General Mills plant which made oats for horses closed its barn doors cutting another 382.  The final blow was the factory deal falling through with Zing computers which had promised over 500 jobs.  Times were tough and there was no bright light on the horizon. 

The only option now was a giant Clickmart promising 800 jobs, but all part-time at seven dollars an hour.  Clickmart was famous for the number of homeless people they hired (many who were not homeless when they started there).  They promised to build not only a super store, but a series of dormitories behind it for workers to live so they wouldn’t have to bother with rent or utilities.  If it would work in Guatemala, it would work here, they proclaimed.

 

Even the sports teams were struggling.  For decades the Minnow Falls Fighting Salmon had been the pride of all Molar County, but no more.  Four losing seasons in a row had sapped their spirit and now they couldn’t even win a game.  After the players got sick with food poisoning, the Fighting Salmon became known as the Fighting Salmonella.  Maybe this contest could restore the pride of the “silver and speckled”.

Mayor Piper sat at his desk in his home office (sharing his space with a washer, dryer, ironing board and kitty litter box) and wrote the essay that night, calling on all his skills he had learned in Mrs. Campy’s English Class at Gingiva Community College.

This cramped little room was supposed to be his creative genius room.  It had instead become a repository for dirty clothes, wayward cats and his wife when she needed peace and quiet in the afternoon.  It got so his wife needed so much peace and quiet that in the morning he showered and changed in the downstairs bathroom.  Maybe this would awaken and reinvigorate her.

He mailed his tale of woe off to the company, dropping it in the lone mail box outside Vilmo Johaanson’s restaurant.  Vilmo had been a plumber in the Ukraine, when he had a revelation, threw down his tools, came to America and founded the only restaurant in Minnow Falls.  No one had the heart to tell him the syntax was all messed up when it came to the name of his business, but he used the three words in the revelation that had hit him while plumbing:  “Eat, Steak, Place”.  They also didn’t have the heart to tell him there was no such thing as a “baked poto.”  His food all had a faint scent of Clorox, but his sinks were never clogged. 

Four weeks later, Bookers Clearinghouse called.  Mayor Piper’s prayers were answered.  Minnow Falls, Wisconsin; population 1,612 had edged out Gaston, Indiana and Bucksport, Maine.  It would be famous for ten days starting at eight o’clock on the morning of September 6th.Mayor Piper flew to Chicago with a document containing the signature of almost every Minnow Falls individual over the age of five years old.  Even cranky Janitor Zukor agreed to sign it.  Of course, the two thousand dollar bonus for every person who signed was a big help.  If the ratings held up, each person would get a percentage of the profits, which was rumored to total over $25,000 dollars.  That was big spending at the Moorwagga Galleria in downtown Minnow Falls.

All the top celebrities eagerly looked forward to a break from the paparazzi.  They would be completely ignored for ten days.  Jennifer Lopez could walk down any street to window shop and not be bothered.  Julia Roberts could catch a movie without photographers pestering her.  Word was Bruce Willis was even flying in from Idaho to see for himself if this was true.

The only person in Minnow Falls who had not signed the document was the school secretary, Ms. Virta.  This surprised Mayor Piper because she had lived in Los Angeles in her twenties.  He thought she should know better and would realize more than anyone what fame could mean.  Instead, every time she passed the mayor, she said “You don’t know what you’re getting into.”

On the night of September 5th, an army of photographers, reporters, gossip columnists and entertainment critics gathered outside Minnow Falls in large tents that included cots provided by the Molar County armory.  The entire staff of the Today show was there, broadcasting from the tiny town. 

It was on that night that the local town council began getting cold feet.  Councilman Wooly Peterson, proud proprietor of Peterson’s Hardware stood and spoke first, nervously clearing his throat.  “Ms. Virta’s been saying how she worked for a PR firm in Los Angeles and that we don’t know what we are getting into.  There were a couple of things we’ve been thinking about.  I mean the media people can be quite determined in digging out stories.  They are going to investigate every single thing we have ever done.  Like the time I went to Chicago for that hardware convention and got a little carried away.”

“Wooly, how are they going to find out about things like that?” Mayor Piper snorted.“We made a deal with everyone.  No one rats on anyone about past stories.  Besides, so what if you got a little drunk and shoved some people over snide remarks made about our football team.  That was five years ago.”

“If we withdraw, can we give the money back?” Councilman Peterson pressed on.  He was still quite nervous.

“No!” Mayor Piper responded.  “Wooly, your son Tommy is going to get the greatest exposure from this.  Instead of going to Gingiva Community College and majoring in dental hygiene, he could go to the University of Wisconsin and major in medicine!”

Mayor Piper burst in to the Wisconsin fight song.  Half the council quickly stood at attention.  Councilman Peterson’s son Tommy was the star running back on the high school football team.  Not one college scout had shown up to watch him rack up incredible yardage against the Watersmeet Waterpics, the Painesdale Silver Fillings and the Ironwood Incisors. 

Mayor Piper continued, “With his skills, he could surpass Jocko Ramsey’s records set over twenty years ago.”

“That’s another thing,” Councilman Peterson said, “Jocko Ramsey.  What about him?”

Jocko had gone on to play second string offensive line for the Wisconsin Badgers and had a tryout with the Green Bay Packers.  He had been a walk-on and lasted two days.  He came back and worked for General Mills for a year before falling off a tram and landing on his head.  He was never the same.  Months later, he was fired for repeatedly eating horse oats in front of horrified co-workers.

“Tastes just like chicken,” he said while being led off by security.  He was given six weeks pay, four bags of oats and some coupons.

“What’s the worst he can do?  Eat a bag of oats in front of the cameras?”  Mayor Piper pointed out, “We are a good town.  I don’t know of anyone here who shouldn’t become famous for a while.” 

“People can change,” Councilman Peterson said, tapping the table to make his point.  “It can go to their heads - all that fame and fortune.  You’ve seen what it’s done to them people on TV.  Taking drugs, robbing stores.  They could rob my store.”

“Those are unstable people to begin with,” Mayor Piper said, trying to reason with him.“Why do you think they leave their cozy little towns and go there: because they’ve failed miserably in their own village.  All we have to do is behave for ten days.  If you feel like a drink, grab a soda.  If you spot a pretty reporter, look down at the ground.”

In the end it was money that quieted the council.  Mayor Piper was relieved.  He himself had gone through a mental list anything bad he might have done.  All he could come up with was shoving Harry Hillstone off a raft into Lake Enamel.  That was back in junior high.  Harry had survived by dog-paddling back to shore and became the school’s French teacher.

The birds began chirping about six in the morning as the sun rose over Minnow Falls.  By eight, the school kids would be stopping to talk to reporters.  The country would get to see small town kids dealing with grades or working up the nerve to ask someone to a dance.  He had watched as his lovely daughter Amanda was now asked out by nervous classmates.  With a smile, he saw her turn them all down.  She passed up dates to stay after school editing the Staff Infection.  It was the school newspaper he had edited 25 years before with Mr. Hillstone beside him and now Mr. Hillstone was overseeing it.  Some things never changed, he thought. 

It was eight o’clock, show time.  Most of the Minnow Falls students were already there.  A few of the reporters were walking among them asking about hopes for the football team which had its first game the coming Saturday.

Mayor Piper watched the proceedings from Principal Victoria’s office.  Principal Victoria normally wore outfits that subtly showed off her fine mid-forties figure, but today she looked as if about to address a seminar on Internet Firewalls.

“Well, twenty minutes and so far no problems.”  Principal Victoria offered cautiously.

“It’s going great,” Mayor Piper beamed.  “Evanson’s Clothing store made a record profit in the last two weeks.  Peterson’s Hardware sold all their school supplies.  All our businesses are booming from this.”

“Look at those kids,” Principal Victoria warned him, “They have no idea that one dumb statement about their parents will end up on today’s entertainment shows.  Some of the reporters are at the library getting a historical view.  They are searching every archive and picture file to see if they can find anything from anyone‘s past.”  Principal Victoria buttoned her suit jacket a little tighter.

“Tame stuff.”  Mayor Piper said, “They can pour through everything they like.  Where is Mr. Birbic?  I thought he’d be out there talking to the kids in the morning and greeting the press.”

“He’s in the restroom.  He reads the morning paper there before school.”

Mayor Piper chuckled, thinking that would make a fun story for the reporters.

Sure enough, the reports on the first day were quite tame - several articles on the town and introductory pieces on the students and teachers.  They had a wonderful piece on Tommy Peterson and his sports history and another terrific piece on Mayor Piper’s daughter Amanda.  One reporter had singled out Amanda’s shirt and the stitching designs she had done on her own as well as her fluency in French.  It seemed the cameras were a bit more interested in Amanda’s figure than Mayor Piper wanted them to be, but he figured it could lead to all sorts of things for Amanda - anything from modeling to running her own design company or owning a shop in the Galleria.

On Saturday, the Fighting Salmon restored the roar before a large crowd, pulverizing the Painesdale Silver Fillings 44 to 14.  Tommy Peterson ran up 220 yards and scored three touchdowns.  The pep squad had put up a colorful banner supporting the salmon with “Restore the Gulp!”

The following Monday was the first bad story, but it was a tiny one.  It seemed the town of Minnow Falls was discovered by a dentist named Doctor A.K. Moorwagga who originally named the town “Toothskank”.  A dentist from Boston, he had traveled here one hundred years earlier to bring dental hygiene to this pagan land.  In his office hung a sign posting the warnings of the Apostle Mark as he remembered it:  “What shall it profit a man if he gaineth the whole world and loseth his own teeth.”  He had written to a coworker: “This area is infested with miners and loggers who never take care of their teeth.  They are suffering greatly from toothskank.”  Three years later, an indentured-clerk renamed the town Minnow Falls, but kept the name Molar County.

The next several days went smoothly with gentle pieces on kids and crushes, none mentioning Amanda.  Mayor Piper was in seventh heaven.  It was on Tuesday that a small group of executives from Bookers Clearinghouse came to call on him.

“Concerned?  Why?” Mayor Piper asked.  “Everyone is happy.  The stories coming out are great.  Even the team is doing well.”

“Yes, but we have got to kick this up a notch,” the executives countered.  We need to find some exciting stories that will get viewers interested.  Is there anyone prone to faults?  Is there someone who had some kind of problem we can deal with and solve?  We need to get them to open up about their life.If this keeps up we won’t get the viewership we are hoping for and the townspeople won’t get the money they were hoping for.  We have a slew of writers standing by to help out, but we might have to end this.” 

Mayor Piper had sudden visions of the town’s money going down the drain.  “Well...  I’d hate to take advantage of anyone.  I mean it would be unfair for someone to see themselves exposed when they didn’t want to participate in that.”

“We were thinking of a one-on-one kind of thing where one of our interviewers would sit down and talk about that person’s problems and how they dealt with them.  It’s about people overcoming adversity.”

Mayor Piper began to crack.  “Well...  There’s talk that the school janitor Abbot Zukor had some problems years ago.  He had a really tough upbringing.  He might be interesting material.  Jocko Ramsey over at the hospital was a big football star with lots of promise until things went wrong.  He also had problems at his previous work place.”

Sure enough, the next night one of the networks had an interview with Abbot Zukor.  Janitor Zukor told his life story about serving in Vietnam as a payroll master 30 miles north of Saigon, flying to various base camps around the country.

The story was going along fine until the woman interviewing him leaned closer and touched his knee as she started to get personal. 

“You would think with all this going on around you, it would drive anyone in their right mind to take a drink or two.”

Janitor Zukor paused and looked at her, “I’ve been sober for fourteen years now.  I haven’t touched a drop.”

”But still,” she pressured.  “It must have been difficult.  There must have been times when you just wanted to drown yourself in alcohol to shut out the noise and bullets and screaming.  To come back home only to have dreams of being back there and hiding again, scared, naked, huddled against a brick wall knowing full well Charlie was crawling through the perimeter and getting closer in the still of the night with no sign of your buddies or your commanding CO.”

“What in the hell are you talking about, woman?  I was in finance, not infantry.  I just delivered payrolls to the various units!” Zukor spat, “Look, I know you want me to tell you some horror story about waking up naked in a park all bloody and seeing the morning papers saying two housewives’ bodies were found next to a slaughtered lamb.  Well that never happened.  If that’s the kind of stuff you want, go ask the math teacher, Mr. Johnson, why he had porno tapes in his desk last year.  Go ask the history teacher Mr. O’Grady why he’s always taking photographs of the cheerleaders.  He sold the pictures to Vice Principal Birbic.”

Mayor Piper watched in horror as the revelations unfolded.  He thought the top of his head was going to spin off.  He was trying to figure out what to do, when the phone rang. 

He had lifted the received a few inches off the cradle when he distinctly heard a loud male voice yelling “. . .stupid sonuvabitch is doing?”  It was Wooly Peterson.

“Wooly.  The show isn’t even over yet.  Wait until there’s a commercial.”

“Why?  Wanna see who else he can name?  He’s a damned spy and you have to fire him!” Peterson was still yelling.

“I can’t fire him!  He doesn’t work for me.  He works for Principal Victoria.”

“Oh, I can’t wait to see what he says about her.  She’s probably a former stripper who sobered up, ditched her biker boyfriend when he went to jail and became the principal of our goddamned school!” Peterson yelled, slamming the phone down with a loud click.

Mayor Piper went to bed that night shaken, but relieved.  It had nothing to do with him.  After all, Zukor had volunteered to be interviewed on the show.  He had been the one naming everyone.  And each person had done something stupid as well.  Who in their right mind would bring porno tapes to school?  Who in their right mind would take pictures of high school cheerleaders on their decks?  And the Vice Principal!  Who in their right mind would buy...The thought of it gave Mayor Piper a splitting headache.  Thank goodness his wife had gone to bed an hour earlier and his daughter had been out.  They would have panicked. 

The next morning, the mood had shifted.  Mayor Piper solemnly ate his breakfast while his wife drank coffee wearing sunglasses.

“Where’s Amanda?” he asked her.

“Still in bed.  She got in at two in the morning.” his wife said.

“What?” Mayor Piper shouted.

“Shhhhh,” his wife said, rubbing her temples and whispering, “Keep your voice down.”

Mayor Piper’s daughter came down in her pajamas.  “My alarm didn’t go off.”

“You got in at two in the morning?” He thundered.

“Shhhh” his wife hissed at him again.

“Honey, she’s awake” the mayor said, staring at Amanda.

“I was studying French.  We have a test Friday.”

“Okay.  They already did a piece on your fashion skills.  I want to see them do more pieces on you.”

“I’ll try to come up with something,” she said, pouring a cup of coffee.

As his daughter went back upstairs, Mayor Piper tried to figure out what to do.  His main job now was damage control.  And the main damage was going to come from Jocko Ramsey.

“Wait?  Why am I going to Chicago?” a confused Jocko asked as he tried to hold on to his small silver and speckled suitcase while being forcibly shoved onto a Greyhound bus. 

“Top secret research for the town council,” Councilman Peterson and Mayor Piper said, shoving him harder.  “Check out every restaurant in town and put it on our town council credit card.  It will cover everything.  Enjoy your trip.”

As they pushed him toward the bus, his suitcase split open revealing nothing, but several dozen pair of underwear, a toothbrush and a bag of oats.

“Get him on the goddamn bus!” Peterson screamed as he pushed the resistant Jocko on. 

As the bus departed, the mayor and the councilman collapsed on a bus bench.

“We’re doomed.  This has turned into a nightmare.”  Councilman Peterson said wiping his face and burying it in his hands.

“Why are we doomed?” the mayor asked, “We didn’t do anything wrong.  So what if a few people are going to pay for their mistakes.  This will all blow over in a few weeks.”

Peterson sank lower on the bench and handed the mayor a copy of a tabloid newspaper.  Mayor Piper looked at the cover.

“Turn to page thirteen at the top.” Peterson said.

Mayor Piper nervously turned the paper to page thirteen.  There was a picture of a very large, busty woman with the title “Exotic dancer’s Sareena’s wild night with Minnow Falls resident.”  Mayor Piper gasped.  “Peterson!  Why is there a picture of you here?”

Peterson just shrank down on the bench as the mayor continued to read.

Mayor Piper reeled at what he read.  “She came to your hotel room to dance?  You mean she followed you?”

“Yeah, after I kind of tipped her well and told her where I was staying.”

“You invited her?” Mayor Piper asked and then caught himself.  “Wait a minute!  How would she remember you all those years ago?” 

“I kind of gave her my business card,” he admitted, sinking down deeper.

Mayor Piper stood up in furious righteousness, “You gave her your business card?  What, just in case she went into retail?”

“I thought it was the courteous thing to do?” he answered.

“The courteous thing to do was to tell her your name was Sam from Oklahoma and get the hell out of there.”

“I’m told she’s on Howard Stern today.  She goes on after the adult film star from all those videos Mr. Johnson kept in his desk.”

Mayor Piper raced for his car and pulled away with his tires squealing.  This was all going wrong.  He drove around the town trying to think, but the site of television vans and news trucks in every driveway was too much for him.Reporters were running around chasing after people, screaming.  It was like something out of horror movie except instead of zombies looking for the flesh of the living it was gossip columnists.

He clicked on the radio and turned from station to station trying to find music, but there was only news about his town:  the pharmacist talking about the fifteen senior boys and one teacher that bought condoms a week before prom night, the plumber talking about the kinds of things he found plugging people’s drains, the bartender bragging about people who drank too much, the liquor store owner revealing who was buying adult magazines and hiding them.  Not only were people in his town giving up gossip about each other, but people from everyone’s past were calling in.

He listened in horror as the callers started revealing information from the safety of their own homes far from Minnow Falls.  “Yeah, I once worked at Councilman Peterson’s store and he would look at adult stuff online on the company computer during lunch.  I mean it’s his store and all, but I thought it was weird.”  “Hello, I went to college with that high school principal and she once got drunk and danced on the table tops.”  “I once saw a teacher and a student making out at a band festival.”  This was followed with a promo promising an exclusive story about the mayor once trying to kill someone.  Mayor Piper was floored.  He never tried to kill anyone in his life!  What was happening?

It was afternoon by the time Mayor Piper worked up the nerve to go to the high school.  He could see the school parking lot crammed with reporters sitting on lawn chairs sipping water bottles, waiting for school to let out.  He sat in his car for a moment to compose himself before walking in to Principal Victoria’s office.

“She’s not here,” Ms. Virta said.  “She’s on sabbatical for a while.  Did you watch this morning’s news?”

Mayor Piper shook his head.

“It’s been quite a morning.  Principal Victoria’s ex-boyfriend from years ago posted some pictures he took of her on the Internet.  Wow!”

“I take it they are not the kind of pictures you would show your daughter.” Mayor Piper sighed.

“They might show them to yours.  TMZ broke a story about your daughter and the French teacher, Mr. Hillstone, having an affair for the past two years.  Six students confirmed it and CNN aired a picture of them on Mackinac Island during her birthday this summer,” she revealed, waiting to see his reaction.

“That’s impossible.  My daughter was at band camp in Milwaukee.  We celebrated her eighteenth birthday the day before.” he roared.

“The band was in Milwaukee.  However, your daughter was celebrating her birthday on Mackinac Island.  There’s a picture of them sitting in a chair together at that famous hotel up there.  They registered as Mr. and Mrs. Louvre.  MSNBC had a close-up of the register.”

“I’ll kill him!  I’ll kill him right now,” he screamed and started for the door.

“Too late.  Mr. Hillstone and Amanda are on their way to New York to do Good Morning America.  Something about you shoving him into a lake and trying to drown him.”

Mayor Piper dropped to his knees while holding his head.

“Look at it this way,” Ms. Virta said, enjoying his reaction, “They say she’s going to be bigger than Amy Fisher and she didn’t have to shoot anyone to do it.  Oh, look, your wife is on the Today Show!”

Mayor Piper looked up and saw his wife on TV, sitting in a chair being interviewed.  A big tear was streaking down her face.  Ms. Virta turned up the television and they both listened.

“Six months ago it took a turn for the worse and I found myself drinking anything with alcohol in it.  Scope.  Listerine.  Old typewriter cleaning fluid.  I didn’t realize the effect it was having on anyone.”

Mayor Piper slumped down in a chair as every ounce of promising air ebbed out of him.  “I don’t get it.  I don’t remember doing a single wrong thing.”

“You obviously don’t know the rules.” Ms. Virta said to him as she pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to him, “I kept this when I worked at a PR firm in Los Angeles.”

He turned it over and read it.  “When in the media spotlight, these rules must be followed to the letter:

1.  You must never do anything dumb. 

2.  Your family must never do anything dumb. 

3.  Your friends must never do anything dumb.

4.  Anyone who works with you or for you must never do anything dumb. 

5.  People who come in contact with you regularly must never do anything dumb. 6.  People who are in any photographs with you must never do anything dumb. 

7.  This covers all actions past, present and future regarding doing anything dumb.

He couldn’t believe it.  Here he had tried to live a decent life and keep his nose clean.  It never occurred to him that it didn’t matter.  Everybody that knew anybody at any time in their life was coming forward to get their fifteen minutes of fame.  The town was sinking into a sea of gossipy mud.

“I might as well have joined Wooly Peterson with that stripper in Chicago.” he moaned.

“According to a digitally altered picture on the Internet, you did.” Ms. Virta replied.

Mayor Piper staggered out to the parking lot and practically knocked over an eager Horace Crocker from Bookers Clearinghouse.

“Mayor Piper!  My God.  Every person in this town is going to make far more money than we ever dreamed of.  By the time this is over, each person will make almost two hundred thousand dollars in profits.  Isn’t this amazing?  Isn’t this wonderful?  All this in just ten days!”

“That’s right,” Mayor Piper said, spotting a light at the end of the tunnel, “It all ends tomorrow.  Tomorrow is ten days?  Am I right?  It’s over tomorrow.”

“Oh, no,” Horace Crocker boomed, “This is just the beginning.  They were about to pull the plug last week, but this . . .this is just too much to ask for.  This is the greatest hit in the history of television and it’s real!  No writers!  No actors!  No potential strikes or work stoppages!  It’s incredible.  They want to cover this forever.”

“No!  It was just for ten days! After tomorrow, they go home.” Mayor Piper demanded.  He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“Didn’t you read the fine print when you signed?  If it was a big hit,  it could continue.”

“But the celebrities.  The real celebrities.” Mayor Piper answered meekly, “They must be getting tired of not getting any coverage.  You can’t tell me they are still enjoying running around town without anyone writing about them.”

“No,” Horace Crocker said, slapping him on the back, “They’re all at home watching you!”

 

THE END


© Copyright 2020 Chabot1977. All rights reserved.

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