I was sure that the missing article from Volume U-V was USSR. It only made sense now that I knew the USSR had built the dome over Seahaven Island.
And I thought I knew how to check:
The USSR posted agents to monitor the use of their dome… There was a small community of Russians in Seahaven… There was a small community of Germans in Seahaven… Did Germany also post agents to monitor something?
I needed to know what I was dealing with.
So I abandoned alphabetical order and went to the references that might be for Germany. Volume 8: pages 224, 255, and 330.
“Philip Glass is a prolific composer and pianist. Though his work spans the years from 1964 to the present, he is most well known for his work on … and for his composition of the score for The Truman Show, which is filmed in Seahaven Island, Florida, where Glass lives.”
It turned out Philip Glass was famous even outside of Seahaven Island.
Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.
And he won an award for writing music to accompany my life. It really was a television show.
“Michael Graves is a world-renowned architect whose portfolio includes the Ministry of Culture building in The Hague, several designs for The Walt Disney Company, and two New Urbanist buildings in Seahaven Island, Florida, the site of The Truman Show.”
The article on Germany did not list me or Seahaven Island. So that test failed.
I realized there was an easier way to see if the reference from The Truman Show to the U-V volume was the USSR article. I checked the Reference Index again to see if I could figure out what page in U-V had the USSR article. If that was the same page…
It wasn’t the same page. The mystery article was on an earlier page. The only page where USSR and The Truman Show coincided was the Carbon Concrete article. The USSR was not the article from the U-V volume.
The Truman Show and the USSR were not important enough for each other, at least from an encyclopedia’s point of view.
I had made a mistake. I had been thinking of these articles as things which were important for The Truman Show. But it was just the opposite. The Truman Show was important for the things in these articles.
I looked up and around the warehouse while I re-estimated the value of the encyclopedia. I was still sitting in the forklift, its forks poised to tip over the shelves and cause havoc at the flip of a switch. It seemed less and less likely that I would have a use for it. Nobody was coming.
I decided the encyclopedia was still valuable. I would just need all the articles together to paint the picture for me. So I started over, reading just the titles, seeking a pattern.
Enclaves and Exclaves
Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score
Martinez, Governor Bob
Neighborhood Electric Vehicle
[An unknown article from the missing S volume.]
Seahaven Island, Florida, in the missing S volume.
The Truman Show, in the missing T volume.
[An unknown article from the missing U-V volume.]
The Walt Disney Company
Several titles caught my eye. But Zoo Hypothesis was the funniest and most horrific, and it summed up my state of mind since the night I had won the election.
There are little things that are wrong with Seahaven Island, Florida. For instance, the mayor’s office was built with no emergency exit. I knew this because when I was 21, after Linda Groupon was fired from her job as a police officer, after I was released from my night in jail, and after I completed 30 hours of community service to get the charges of public nuisance expunged from my record, I started staking out Mayor Harrison Snyder. I was going to get Linda’s job back. I owed it to her.
At first I tried to get appointments with him, but his secretary always said he was busy. After a few of these rebuffs, I got the feeling he was avoiding me. Especially because his billboards advertised him as “The Mayor you can call at home”. I guessed that he had heard what I wanted to talk about and was not interested.
The truth I realized later was that They wanted me to drop the whole thing. My mother said as much one night.
“Truman, I know you’ve been trying to talk to the mayor, but you have to realize he’s a busy man. And everything is fine here. You paid your debt to society. Let’s just move on and leave all that messy business behind us,” she said at dinner.
I wasn’t going to though. Linda had told me I had power. I could get what I wanted. And she was right. I had stolen a car and been let off the hook. I was special somehow.
So when I began to stake out the mayor I walked all the way around the building. It was a beautiful building in a post-modernist style, clearly a precedent for the rest of downtown, though only the post office really matched it.
City Hall took up a small block, and still it had no emergency exit. All foot traffic had to go through the big glass doors at the front. I imagined this must break some kind of zoning law. I didn’t let it trouble me since it meant that I could watch just the one exit.
“Another Pepsi, Truman? Delicious. Refreshing. Pepsi!” said the server behind the counter at the corner drugstore where I was sitting and keeping my eye on City Hall. She repeated the Pepsi slogan every time and she always managed to give it an enthusiastic kick.
“No thanks, Whitley,” I responded dryly.
Whitley Birchbox had moved to town from Michigan when I was thirteen and was now a fixture at the lunch counter. When she first arrived, she was fresh out of college and really excited to be in Seahaven Island. She talked about it with a sort of reverence. Her father had been an executive at Ford, and they had been to places like Paris, but she always talked like Seahaven Island was the best place in the world.
She didn’t know this, but her gushing over Seahaven Island really made me feel better about being stuck there. Especially after the one time I tried to leave and failed.
“Whitley, do you ever notice the mayor?” I asked, interrupting an energetic story she was telling me about seagulls swarming her while she took her dog for a walk.
“Mayor Snyder? Sure, I’ve seen him coming and going from City Hall. He eats here sometimes,” she answered.
“When does he leave work?” I asked.
“I don’t know exactly. I guess it’s the usual rush at five o’clock. His driver always picks him up in his Lincoln,” she said.
I had seen that Lincoln and that driver dropping the Mayor off in the morning. I had not been able to catch up to him, and he had not come out for lunch. So I was going to catch him as soon as his car returned to pick him up.
But it didn’t come. Families came and went, buying after-dinner ice cream. Streetlights came on.
“Is there anything I can get for you before I close up?” asked Whitley when 7:30 finally chimed. All the lights in City Hall had been switched off twenty minutes earlier when the last civil servant had locked up for the night.
The Mayor never came out.
“No thanks, Whitley.”
Did I miss him? I hadn’t dozed off. I didn’t even bring a book to read. The only distraction I had was my bladder, which I steadfastly ignored. How could it have happened?
I walked out and crossed the street to the sidewalk in front of City Hall. The windows were sealed shut and too high up to see into. Was the mayor still in there?
I made a full circuit of the building and when I came to the front again I saw Whitley stepping out of the drugstore with her purse in hand. A cold wind started to blow in from the direction of the Gulf.
“They say you can’t fight City Hall, Truman,” she called to me with a conciliatory smile. “Goodnight.” And she started to walk away.
“Hey Whitley, wait,” I called after her.
She turned back to me.
How do you flush out a mayor who doesn’t want to be found?
“Can you help me? I need you to call the mayor,” I said when I got close.
“You can call him yourself, you know,” she said. “His number is on most of his billboards.”
“Yeah, but he’s avoiding me. Besides, I need you to pretend to be a reporter,” I said.
“I dunno Truman, it sounds risky. I don’t wanna wind up like–” and she stopped short with her mouth open. That’s when I noticed she’d been looking around ever since I stopped her.
“Like… who?” I asked. “Like Linda Groupon?” Her behavior didn’t make sense, the mayor couldn’t fire her. But it was the only explanation. How powerful was he?
“Oh…” She shook out her hands, “I’m freaking out. Just like the time with those seagulls. I love it here. I don’t want to leave. Don’t make me leave.”
“Whitley, settle down. If you help me out, you’re on my side.” I hadn’t really thought of it as us against him until that moment. “You, me, and Officer Groupon. And we’re going to win. Because…” Because what?
Because I’m special and I don’t know why? Because my dad told me ominous stuff one time in the back of a grocery store?
I needed something that would cement her to my side.
“Because we’re the good guys. Because we’re on the side of right.”
She relaxed by about half. She looked up at me. For the first time I noticed I was taller than her. She was always a grown-up before.
“This will be easy, Whitley. I just need you to ask the mayor a simple question. And when we win, everything will be right again. It’ll be the Seahaven Island you always told me was the best place in the world,” I said.
She looked at me for a hard moment. She wasn’t an idiot. She knew the risks better than I did. But I had never met anyone more in love with Seahaven Island as an idea.
“Yes, ok, let’s do it.”
“Good, but first I really have to use the restroom.”
This is how it must have gone.
At a big mansion on the beach, the phone rang. This was not unusual. Constituents never actually called Mayor Harrison Snyder, despite his platform of availability. He didn’t wield any actual power. But his friends called him.
Today however, Truman was trying to get a hold of the mayor, and since the mayor knew he couldn’t do anything about Truman’s problem, he was avoiding him every way he knew how. After he had arrived at the office, he had left through the Disney tunnels and not come back. He trusted that Truman would simply be mystified.
He waited for his wife, Charlotte, to answer the phone.
“Hello, Snyder residence.”
Tinny voice sounds from the receiver.
“How are you this evening? I thought I knew all the reporters at the Courier. You must be new. And my, you’re working late hours.” It was only 8 PM, but news isn’t fast on Seahaven Island. Or anyway, fast news doesn’t need a newspaper.
“I suppose so. How can I help you?”
“To get my take on… a new mayoral candidate?” This was simply stupefying to Charlotte. Harrison Snyder and Maurine Cabot had been trading the mayorship back and forth since the city was founded in 1997. The phrase “a new candidate” had never been said before.
But for Snyder, it sounded like trouble. Were they firing him? What the hell was going on? Why wasn’t he told this during his weekly phone call?
He knew one thing. He wasn’t going to be more collateral damage from the fiasco that got all those writers canned along with Linda Groupon.
Harrison stomped over to the phone and pulled it from Charlotte’s white knuckles.
“This is Snyder. Just what’s going on in that monkey house they call a writer’s room?”
He heard little noises as Whitley handed the payphone handset to me.
“Mayor Snyder. This is Truman Burbank. I’d like to talk to you about Officer Linda Groupon.”
God damn it!
Snyder couldn’t just hang up now. He was live on The Truman Show and had to play along.
“Ah, Truman. I know your mother. I don’t believe we’ve crossed paths since you worked at McDermot Green, young man,” he tried to smile believably and started scrambling through his memories of training with those Chicago improv folks. How was he supposed to play this? He could feel his job on the line. He might even get kicked out of town.
“I’ve been trying to get a meeting with you for a few days, Mr. Snyder. You’re a very busy man.”
Why didn’t the production team call to warn him Truman was calling? The whole town was falling apart. Too many heads had rolled in the wake of Truman’s Rampage, as folks called it, and now there was not nearly enough direction.
“Yes, and I can always find time for… a young up-and-coming star of our city. Why don’t you come by tomorrow morning and we’ll talk about whatever you need. My door is always open.”
Snyder put a hand to his forehead in preparation to fake an illness.
“Well, Mr. Snyder, I really don’t want to be sent away by your secretary again. I’d like to talk to you now. Linda Groupon was an outstanding, decorated officer who served the Seahaven Island Police Department for twelve years. She was unfairly blamed for my mistakes and I think she should– No, I insist that she be reinstated and… and absolved of all wrong-doing. I’ll do whatever it takes. I’ll do more community service. I’ll stop helping the police department if you want. Anything! I mean… I– I won’t let this matter settle, sir.”
Balderdash! Snyder was between a rock and a hard place. He couldn’t let Truman keep talking like that. He had no power to grant his demands. He couldn’t even get him to wait until tomorrow so the lead showrunner could decide what should happen.
“I can’t help you, kid,” and the phone slipped out of his sweaty palm back onto the hook. He waited a minute to be sure the camera had cut away before he poured himself a stiff drink and thought about his resumé.
I threw the handset back onto the hook and cursed, “Shit”. He had just hung up on me. Where was my power?
“It didn’t work, did it?” Whitley was still there with me. “We didn’t win.”
I looked at her. She had tensed up again.
I cleared my throat. “Not yet. But we’re not out. Winning is sweetest when it seems like we could lose.” I sat down on the curb to think.
“I thought you were actually going to tell him you were running for mayor,” she said, sitting down next to me, awkwardly in her waitress skirt.
“That was just a ruse to get him to answer the phone. There’s nothing a mayor fears more than competition. He couldn’t resist.” I shook my head.
I didn’t come up with the tactic alone. Before she was fired, Linda said I could do anything. She said I could be mayor if I wanted to.
I didn’t want to. Did I? Maybe I needed to.
“What are you gonna do now, Truman?” asked Whitley expectantly. She should have been tired from working all day, but the thrill of our fight for justice wouldn’t let her rest. And she didn’t mind the set back. She was just right for what I needed.
“I promised myself I’d do whatever it takes. We have to make good on our threat,” I said.
“You mean…” She hesitated, but the edge of her voice was excitement.
“Whitley, I don’t know anybody who loves this town more than you. Will you be my campaign manager?”
Politics is the mind-killer. That’s what Yudkowsky says in The Sequences, a book my father gave me about rationality. The Sequences covers a range of topics about how best to make decisions and win at whatever you try. And The Sequences was a Secret.
Why? At the time I ran for mayor, I thought it was because my father had been mentally unwell. He had me swear a few oaths and they really didn’t make sense. One was to keep quiet about this book. Another was to remember that “the map is not the territory”, a useful rationality concept, but I just couldn’t see how it had to be a big Secret.
Still, The Sequences became a guide for me and I did keep it secret. I told myself this was an abundance of caution, but mostly it was sentimentality. I missed my dad, who had been the major figure in my life until I was ten.
“Politics is the mind-killer” is a warning about the way politics affects judgement. But it is also advice. This morning I was going to enter into politics and I had to mind-kill more than fifty percent of 3,560 minds.
“We’re the good guys, and the good guys always win,” I told my bathroom mirror, but the face there wasn’t convinced.
The doorbell rang. By the time I got downstairs, Mom had already answered the door and was staring daggers at Whitley. Mom did not like my plan.
“Truman,” she had said at breakfast, “why can’t you let it go. You’ve got so much going on in your life, where are you going to find the time to run for mayor? And you’re too young. This is a circus sideshow.”
But I had not been swayed. Linda’s voice echoed louder in my ear, “You don’t know how much power you have.” I was going to find out.
Whitley averted her eyes while she walked past my mom. I led her to the dining room where I had laid out donuts and orange juice and we got down to business.
“The first thing every campaign needs,” said Whitley, “is a slogan. Something to hook the voters. Luckily, you’re already very popular.”
“That’s the first thing we need? What about considering our demographics? And fundraising… and registering with the election office. We only have five months until the election,” I pointed out.
“No. With only five months, everything we do should be focussed on your strength. Truman Burbank is running for mayor of Seahaven Island. You have to leverage your popularity. It’s the main thing about you. Trust me, I know this town. That’s why you picked me,” she insisted. “I’ll take care of the other stuff.”
I put down a donut I hadn’t bitten into yet and looked out the window at the sunny backyard. I was popular. I had never really noticed it before. The hypothesis that I would win grew a fair bit.
“Ok, let’s start with slogans,” I agreed. “Mostly because it’s the easiest thing to test scientifically.”
“Ok, great. So I was thinking,” said Whitley, “everyone knows about your catch phrase. So that’s already a brand we can use.”
“You mean, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight?”
“Gah, I love it!” Whitley was writing it down on a legal pad. “When we go out canvassing later, you’ve got to say it to every person we meet. They’ll eat it up. Oh my god, this is exciting.”
“Alright, another one,” I said, “ ‘You can Trust Truman’.”
Whitley wrote it on the pad. After a couple minutes we added:
“Burbank: Promises you can take to the bank.”
“The Tru-man for the Job.”
“Believe in Seahaven.”
“Tru-man is an Island.”
“Truman: The authentic man.”
The last one made me nervous, because it reminded me of the words my father had inscribed in The Sequences: “For my son Truman, the most authentic person I know”. It felt like betraying him.
“You don’t like that one?” Whitley asked when she saw my face.
“No, it’s good. Anything for science, right?”
I intended to win.
It was unusually hot in Seahaven Island that day. 77°F in the shade, no breeze.
I intended to talk to everyone on the island, man, woman, and child. Given five months, if I walked door to door every day for just four hours, I would need to talk to 5.9 people per hour. It wasn’t a lot of time. And I wanted to visit everyone at least twice.
We started two blocks away from my house.
“Good morning, Mrs. Hobbylobby.”
Jeanette Hobbylobby was about 45, mother of three, and standing at her door ready to become my first convert after Whitley.
“Well, Truman, what a surprise,” she glanced over my shoulder nervously, but I didn’t see what at. Whitley was behind me on the other side. She was dressed in a professional skirt and top with flats. She held a clipboard to note addresses and the data for our slogans. I was in a light-fabric suit, perfect for June.
“Good morning, ma’am. I wanted to let you know that I’m running for mayor, and I wanted to see if I can count on your vote. Tru-man is an Island.” I gave the slogan that we had pre-selected, chosen by fair die roll.
Mrs. Hobbylobby had a big smile on her face, which got a bit more quizzical. “I’m sorry, what was that last part?”
“Um, Tru-man is an island, ma’am. It’s a slogan we’re…” I glanced at Whitley, “trying out. You know that saying, ‘No man is an island’. And seeing as how we live on an island… and my name is Truman…” There was a pause.
“Oh, yes, and… you’re… certainly dressed for the part of mayor. You know, I always vote for Maurine Cabot,” the smile never left her face, but it was getting more nervous and weary.
I leaned my arm up against the door frame and slipped, “Whoops!”
“Oh!” she started. I hadn’t given any thought to the goof. It just came to me.
“Ma’am, Maurine Cabot has been an excellent mayor in the past.” The agree. Now how to follow through… “And she would probably be a good choice. But… I am an island. A force of nature. I mean, a force of nature could not. Force me, that is. Maurine Cabot has experience, but what does she not have?”
“Yes… and. I don’t know,” she faltered.
“That’s what I’m going to show you. Exactly what Maurine Cabot cannot offer.” I took a step back and half-fell half-stepped off the porch. I righted myself and said, “You can count on me, Mrs. Hobbylobby. Tru-man is an Island.”
“I’ll be seeing you again,” I flashed a smile. “I’ll win your vote.”
As I turned to leave, I caught Whitley’s look, her mouth set tight and her eyebrows high, insistent. I turned back to Mrs. Hobbylobby.
“Oh! And in case I don’t see you,” and Mrs. Hobbylobby smiled for real because she knew what to expect now, “good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight!”
“I thought I recovered from that pretty well,” I said when we had ducked around a corner.
“That was a flat out train wreck, Truman,” said Whitley. “You talked over her. You probably convinced her to vote for Cabot. And what was with all the slipping and tripping? Do you do that on purpose?” Her same energy was still there, but now it was frightening.
“I thought I brought her around at the end,” I insisted.
“Is she going to vote for you?” She pointed back toward Mrs. Hobbylobby’s house. She looked at me the same way my mom had looked at her.
I wanted to say something about shifting the voting probabilities and how Rome wasn’t built in a day. But I had to sigh, “No. No she isn’t.” That was all that counted.
Whitley took a deep breath. “Ok, your motto now, your internal motto,” she said sternly, “is Always Be Closing. A. B. C. I know you haven’t seen Glenngary Glen Ross, but that’s the phrase you need. Everything you say needs to be aimed at getting that vote. No compliments to your opponents. Talk about you. And what you can do for her. And no slapstick stuff. You can be a lot of things, but people have to believe you’re competent.”
“Always Be Closing.” I internalized it. She was right, I had never seen that cultural touchstone, whatever it was. I guessed that showed my ignorance of politics. I wondered if she was rethinking the whole venture but she pulled out the die again.
She rolled it on the clipboard. It revealed a two.
“Ok, I’m ready to say that ‘Tru-man is an Island’ is already a dead-end. Do you want to keep it?” she asked.
“Don’t cross it off yet. It’s the only data point we have.”
She nodded. “Ok, the next one is ‘Burbank: Promises you can take to the bank.’ Are you ready?”
“Let’s take it to the bank.” Oof.
The next house was not quite as bad. I did not goof, even once. But I fell flat anyway.
“… ‘Burbank: Promises you can take to the bank’.”
“Oh, what kind of promises?”
“I… well, what… do you need?” Don’t goof, don’t goof.
“I don’t think you’ve thought this through, Truman…”
“Mr. Jetblue, you’re going to see it my way soon. You have a good morning. And in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight!”
When we were out of sight, I turned to Whitley.
“He’s right,” we said in unison.
“I haven’t thought this through,” I said.
“That’s ok.” She jotted something on her clipboard and said, “Remember we’re just starting. You’ll be back and by then you’ll know just what to say. You always figure it out.”
I always figure it out… But she had taken away one of my best tools. Goofing and agreeing was kind of my whole bag of tricks. Though, come to think of it, I had learned a new one during my crime spree.
It was a good one too.
“Ok, you’re right. I can do this. I’ll think of what to say,” I said.
“Wait, though. You still talked over him too much. What if you try listening,” Whitley said, noting down what she was saying. The margins of her paper were getting scribbley.
“I listened. I answered him.”
“No, acting is reacting. You listened just so you could respond with something about you. Which is good, your campaign is about you. But it’s also about them. It’s about this town.” She looked at my stumped face.
“Truman, you know nobody lives here who didn’t choose to. This town was only opened the year before you were born. Other than the kids your age, half of whom are away at college, every voter is here because they like the idea of Seahaven Island,” she said. “It’s not just me.”
“Ok, I think I hear you,” I said. “What if I was the idea of Seahaven Island?” I wasn’t sure what that would mean, but it sounded right. Political. Mind-dead?
“ ‘Truman is Seahaven Island’. It’s kind of on the nose. Actually it’s very good.” She crossed off “Tru-man is an Island” and wrote that instead. “I have an idea for how you can listen more. I want you to ask the next person a question.”
“Ok, I’m ready,” I responded.
“What are you going to ask?”
“I thought you were going to tell me.”
“N– no, I want you to ask one.” She shook her head. “Just ask any question.”
“Oh! Ok, I’ve got one.” Now I could kill some minds. “ ‘Mayors Cabot and Snyder have been running this town for 22 years. Do you have any idea what their approval rating is?’ ” Priming! I had thought of it the night before.
Whitley just stared at me. “What?”
“It’s priming. It’s a psychological trick where you influence someone’s response to a question by preceding it with something that sounds close to the answer you want. It works best when they have no idea about the right answer.” I learned it from The Sequences, but it was well known in psychology.
“No, Truman,” she sighed. “Nobody cares about that. I mean, sure it reminds people that you’re nerdy, and they all think that’s adorable. But you’re talking up your competition again. Think of something else.”
“Oh… Are you sure?” Her face said she was. “Well, how about, ‘Have you noticed something isn’t right with this town?’ ”
She raised her eyebrows at me. “Have you?”
“What? No, it just sounds political. Subtle.” Mind-killery? “Though, since you ask, there have been a lot of murders–”
“Nevermind. That’s a great question.” She rolled the die. 4. “ ‘Believe in Seahaven’.”
“Ok. But before we go, give me a minute to think alone.”
When she turned away, I started on my new trick. Who could I pretend to be? Not Bill Murray this time. He was confident but in a chaotic way. He did not inspire confidence.
I tried to think of someone who seemed perfectly competent. A model of competence who others could look up to, who could be in charge.
“I’ve got it.”
“You know, you’re right, something isn’t right with this town,” said Karl Thegeneral. He was short, tanned like a fisherman, with white stubble, and I thought I remembered he was over 70. “I don’t think it’s a secret. And it’s not a big thing… Honestly, no, there’s no big deal thing wrong with this town. I haven’t seen my brother in a while. Uh, because it’s far, you know. But I can visit him whenever I want. Uh… what were you saying?”
I had asked Mr. Thegeneral the big Question and it had really gotten him talking. But what was he saying? He seemed ready to say something and then didn’t say it, and then finally he sort of said it. Ok, talk about that.
“Your brother lives far away? What’s his name?”
“Bill. Yeah he lives out on the Oregon coast. The fires came and he moved there and I moved here. No fires there yet. Polar vortex is not too bad either.”
I hadn’t heard about either of those things. What now…? Always Be Closing. Ok…
“It’s too bad there’s not some sort of program in place to get people down to Florida who don’t have the means to make it. Folks like your brother, Bill Thegeneral.”
While I talked Karl looked at me for a moment like I was as stupid as a dog in a tree. Then it got worse when I finished.
“It’s not money keeping him away,” Karl protested. But he gave it a thought.
I held my tongue to listen. But when he didn’t go on, I asked, “What is keeping him away?”
He looked at me hard in the eyes for a few heart beats. Then he huffed.
“You said ‘Believe in Seahaven’. Well, I do. I just…” He took a deep breath and let it out. “You would really look for a way to let my brother come here?”
I called to mind the competent person I was pretending to be. I held his gaze and said, “Absolutely, Karl. You know me.”
He rubbed his stubbly chin and somehow that broke the moment.
“Kid, I do wish you could win. It might make a big difference around here. I can’t promise anything. Good luck to you.” And he started to close the door.
“I’m glad to hear you say that, Karl.” He stopped and looked at me again. “Because I’m going to come back. And by then you’ll believe in me. Just like I ‘Believe in Seahaven.’ ”
He didn’t say anything, but I saw a little smile. I returned it.
“Have a good morning. And in case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight.”
When he shut the door, his smile was bigger.
And when I turned to Whitley, hers was too.
The die kept rolling.
Henry and Megan Petscom. 6. NO.
Sheila Napster. 2. I WISH I COULD.
Evan Cortez. 6. NO.
The Dyson Family. 5. NO.
Michelle and Paul Imax. 1. NO.
Karen Motorola. 3. I WISH I COULD.
Horace Java. 4. NO.
Chad and Mary Shipworks. 6. NO.
Cole Thompson. 4. NO.
Shauna Digimind. 1. NO.
Wesley and Valentine Morgenstern. 4. NO.
We went back to our base of operations, my mother’s house, and went over the numbers.
Each house represented a single independent test. Out of 14 houses, I hadn’t gotten a single YES. But we got three I WISH I COULDs. For now, we were calling those wins. It wasn’t enough to pin down a slogan though. We needed to keep at it.
We had reached 21 people in three hours, 7.0 per hour. But with the overhead of our morning meeting it was 21 in 4 hours, only 5.25. We were going to have to get better at this to reach our minimum goal of 5.9 per hour.
Whitley said she wanted to leave to take care of filing the paperwork and pulling stats on past elections right away. But before she left, my mother came in. Her arms folded, she simply said, “You’ll never win this town unless you can get the support of folks out on the beach.”
She spoke with such authority. There was no reason to doubt it either. The beach folks were rich and influential.
The trouble was that some people had houses that backed up to the beach and some people had houses that faced the beach across a street. I could deal with the first set. Maybe their support would be enough. But I intended to reach every single person. If I had to walk to a house that faced the beach, I would have to face the beach. And the ocean. And the waves that would clutch at me.
Whitley made an audible gulp. “Truman, I can canvas on the beach instead of you.”
I looked at her for a moment. Then at my mother.
“No… you can’t, Whitley. I have to go,” I said hoarsely. “They’ll want to meet me.”
“Well, maybe I can go to them and invite them here,” she suggested.
It took me a moment to hear this. I was reliving the recent car crash, and my father’s drowning, and even the one time I tried and failed to cross the bridge. But I did look at Whitley. And when she came into focus I realized she knew about me.
How did she know?
“Do… do you know that I’m afraid of…” I had never told anyone. I couldn’t even say it. It was easier just to never ever say it out loud.
Whitley’s face went slack. So I looked over at my mother. She had an expectant look on her face. She was leaning against the hutch in a loose fitting polyester jumpsuit, available from Macy’s.
“Who else knows?” I demanded.
My mother took her time.
“Everyone knows what happened to you on that boat. Surely some people have pieced it together. The fact that you never go to the beach.” Her eyes pierced through mine.
A tense moment passed between us.
Whitley stood up. She shook out her hands nervously. “Truman, I have to go to work. I’ll see you at the same time tomorrow with all the information I can get.” Then she started to walk out. But she stopped, clasped her hands together so they’d stop fidgeting and turned back. “And Truman, we don’t have to figure everything out today.”
Then she was out the door and I was alone with my mother.
She regarded me for another moment, like a tiger watching its prey.
“Truman, this is all wrong,” she finally broke the silence.
I hesitated then said, “This is what I’m doing, Mom.”
“You shouldn’t be out there getting involved in government. You have a career path. You’re going to start an exciting career in the culinary arts. You’ve been in school for three years. People adore the culinary arts. There’s a whole channel about it on TV.” She remained leaning against the hutch.
“We don’t get that channel. And it doesn’t matter. I can be a chef and the mayor. The Chef Mayor. It’s a gimmick,” I said this in a flat voice, the closest thing I could get to firm and calm. My mother was not moving, but I felt like she was circling me. “And that doesn’t matter either. This is what I’m doing.”
“Truman, how big is this island?” she asked.
“Two square miles,” I answered.
“And how many terms have the other candidates won already?” she asked.
“Six between them. Three each,” I answered.
“And what do you think the chances are for an independent candidate in a town like this?” she asked.
I imagined they were very low. But I was going to defy the odds. “This is what I’m doing, Mom.”
My mother tried something different. She looked away. “It’s boring, Truman.” She fiddled with a chachki she picked up from the hutch, a sailboat. “If you really insist on jumping into the adult world…” This pause was for dramatic effect. “If that’s what you want, then you should be looking for a wife.”
That did take me by surprise.
She stood up straight and stamped her foot. “I need grandchildren, Truman! I’m in my fifties, I won’t be around forever. You can run around town with Whitley Birchbox, and I know she’s a few years older than you, but please tell me it’s all because you are falling in love.” Love was a rare word on my mother’s lips. And she had never talked about grandchildren. It sounded wrong.
“No, Mom, that’s not what we’re doing.” She had me out of sorts, but she thought she had piqued my interest.
“Then who, Truman? A man your age should have brought home a girl or two by now. I know you’ve met many eligible bachelorettes. Where is it all leading?” Her eyes, once daggers, now pleaded with me.
The subject of women was touchy to me. I was attracted to women. I had been on dates. Somehow they never worked. Something was always wrong. Women were always either too eager or too nervous. Something was always fake. Dates turned ordinary women into caricatures of themselves. And for all I knew it was my fault. Maybe I was the fake one and they were suffering from some mirror effect.
My mother took my silent introspection as agreement.
“I will find you a nice girl. You can spend your time on that. And on starting your last year of college. And then working your way up from sous-chef in a good restaurant to head chef at your own restaurant. That’s your dream,” she said. Now she smiled, sat down at the table, and placed her hand over my own.
I frowned and said, “This is what I’m doing, Mom.”
Her smile gave way again to the piercing eyes and a frown. Then she stood up and left, leaving the sailboat chachki in front of me on the dining room table.
Exposure therapy works when a person meets with the trigger for their anxiety in a safe environment. If the thing which terrorizes the patient is the environment itself, then I reasoned that the event needed to be safe.
I didn’t have a truly safe event. I needed to canvas. Canvassing made me nervous. Canvassing made me nervous and the ocean terrified me.
On the other hand, I was getting better at canvassing. And success is a pleasant event.
After a few more days hitting regular neighborhoods, often in rain that gave way to sunlight and steamy streets, gathering slogan data, getting our voters-per-hour up to 5.5, I told Whitley it was time for us to canvas the rich folks. But just the houses that backed up to the beach.
The day was hot and muggy. June weighed on my shoulders like a wet blanket.
“Truman, I was wondering when you’d show up at my door,” said Philip Glass. He ushered us into his foyer where the air conditioning was winning the fight against the heat.
“Mr. Glass,” I shook his hand and smiled, and then Whitley did too. He was a big deal in town.
He led us through his open floor plan, past a full sized grand piano to his Florida room. A Florida room is like a living room, but the furniture is cheaper and the walls are all windows. The furniture in this room was probably not cheaper than the living room furniture, but it was made to mimic a cheaper style while retaining its class. And the windows all looked out onto the beach.
Glass had an attendant bring us both juice.
“I’ve heard what you’re up to. Go ahead, Truman. Give me your speech.” Philip Glass had moved to Florida from Maryland, and he was the only person I knew with that accent.
“Well, Mr. Glass, thank you for inviting us in without any notice. You’ve heard right. I’m running for mayor. I’m the right man for the job. We’re the good guys. I’ve been out for a few days spreading the message that ‘Truman is Seahaven Island’. But I’m not here to convince you. What I need is to know what you’ve seen.”
Glass sat through my introduction with his chin resting on his steepled finger tips, his elbows propped on the arms of the deep, comfortable chair he sat in. He thought for a moment. My prompt was developed to pique my target’s interest. It didn’t always work, but I always followed it with the Question.
He finally responded, “I see what you’re doing… What comes next?”
I froze. I could start talking and trip over my words, but instead I leaned on my mental model and took my time. While I thought, a smile crept over my face as if I knew exactly what Glass was thinking. I did not.
Always Be Closing. I decided to skip the Question. He was acting savvy. He knew something was up. The Question wouldn’t close him.
“The next part is where I ask you what’s wrong with this town. Then I listen to what you have to say, try to remember it, and tell you that we’re going to fix that,” I said, laying all my cards on the table.
“I see. And does that work?” He tilted his head just a little.
“We’ve gotten our positive reactions up from 21% to 28% this week.” I fudged the house numbers as if they were voter numbers.
He looked out at the ocean. I glanced at it and almost lost my composure. I looked back at Glass and remembered my technique. The person I was inside was confident and competent.
“Keep me updated on those numbers. Leave me your pamphlet and I’ll think about sending a check,” he said when he finally turned back to me.
Whitley quickly said, “We just ran out of pamphlets but I’ll make sure you get one tomorrow. And our weekly newsletter.”
I said, “Thank you, Mr. Glass,” and I looked at the ocean for half a second and revelled in the success.
Then we excused ourselves, “Thanks again, Mr. Glass. Good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight,” and left through the front door.
Whitley did an actual jump when we got outside.
We went down the line to the rest of the houses, each time adding “Philip Glass is very interested”. The next day we were able to report 32% positive reactions to Glass.
He sent the check.
In my experience, exposure therapy is not all it’s cracked up to be. In the end, I was only able to manage about five seconds watching ocean waves crack hammer-like against the shore before I would break into a cold sweat and go weak in the knees.
But with Whitley’s help and a fancy hat, I managed to look away from the ocean as I rushed from house to house on Gulf Boulevard where they all face the water. And when we got to each one, the owners invited us inside with smiles, even the ones who ended up giving me flat NOs.
We used the money from the first check to commission flyers with my face looking into the distance as if at the future. We weren’t sure about the slogan yet, so they just said “Truman”.
The day was almost pleasant when I went to put them up on poles and walls downtown. That’s where I happened upon my mother sitting at a sidewalk cafe called Starbucks.
“Hello, Truman,” she smiled at me over big round sunglasses.
“Hi, Mom, I thought you were at work,” I returned the smile. Mom worked off-island. She’d been commuting every weekday since I could remember. In the mornings when I was little I watched her drive away toward the bridge before Dad and I would head to the playground, the beach, the sailboat. And although she was the CEO, she didn’t bring work home with her. No sudden phone calls interrupting dinner or reams of papers to sign off on. She would say, “When I’m at home, my family is my only job.”
Lately, I had been doubting her dedication to that enterprise.
“I was meeting with another CEO in town. She just left. Have a seat, Truman. You can take a little break,” she insisted.
“Why, so you can try to talk me out of it again?” She hadn’t really said much to me since that first day of canvassing. I sat anyway.
She removed her sunglasses and looked at me coolly.
“What is it you’re trying to do, Truman?” A waiter brought her a lemonade and she held up two fingers so he’d bring another.
“I’m going to be mayor, Mom.” I crossed my arms. I had been thinking lately that Mom had known I was afraid of the ocean all this time, and she had done nothing to help. I’d never seen a therapist.
“Mmm… and when you’re mayor, what will you do?” She smiled with condescension but no malice. What was she thinking now?
“I will hire Linda Groupon again. This town needs her,” I said.
She took a moment. The waiter brought my lemonade. Neither of us drank a sip.
After a time she said, “Is that what people have been telling you?” She spoke like she knew they hadn’t.
“No. When I can get them to talk to me, they want to paint their houses whatever color they like without laws getting in the way,” I huffed. “They talk about which foods from back home aren’t the same in Florida. They talk about getting their families to visit. Did you know there’s a law about that?”
She nodded, not shedding an ounce of condescension. But it suited her. It always had.
“Yes. In a lot of ways Seahaven Island is a gated community. That’s why folks like it here. It’s honest and safe,” she assured me.
“And walkable and cozy. I know, Mom.” I’d heard it all in my canvassing.
“So is that what you’re going to do?” She combined condescension and innocence into a new kind of smile.
“I’m going to give them what they’re asking for, yes. I’ll let them paint their houses. I’ll open the gates wider for visitors. I don’t know what I can do about the food, but I’ll figure that out. And whatever else they need. I’ll listen. I’ll… I’ll be the honest and safe mayor for an honest and safe town.” By then I was sitting up straight and looking into the distance as if at the future, taking myself quite seriously.
“And walkable?” she asked.
“Will you let the town council walk all over you? And the governor? The PTA? The EPA? The UCA? Or will you stand up for those things you said, the way you’ve stood up to me?” Her expression was blank.
When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, I wonder if he felt like the moon’s expression was blank. There are things you do in life where– No, Truman. Always Be Closing.
“Yes. I will stand up,” I said. I doubted the Union for Climate Action would come calling on one little town. But the Environmental Protection Agency might. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”
She smiled again. Her new smile showed pride at the corners.
“I think…” Mom paused dramatically. “I think you are exactly what the people want.”
“You do?” I’d done it. I had won over my mother.
“Yes. Truman, I shouldn’t have tried to stop you. I think you can do this. And all the other things we talked about. And a dozen other things in your life,” she said.
“Really?” I finally relaxed in my chair. For the moment I forgot about the therapists she never took me to. She was proud of me.
“Really. You remind me of myself,” she said and picked up her drink.
That was ironic or perhaps exactly not-ironic, because the person I had been pretending to be for a week, so I could display leadership and confidence and competence, was Angela Burbank, my mom.
Always Be Closing!
“Oh, would you be interested in donating to our cause?”
She laughed. “Of course!” And I laughed, and we both sipped our lemonades.
After that, canvassing became much easier. In a few days we jumped from 35% WISH I COULDs to 49% YESes, not just by household but actual, individual voters.
I met everyone in town. The weather improved.
I met the German community, the Russian community, the retirement community, the service workers community, the arts community, three religious communities, the rescue workers community, the gay community, the black community. Some of them only had a handful of members, but I met them and we celebrated their unity.
Whitley and I enlisted more volunteers to assist us.
I didn’t mind-kill anyone, not really. Not on purpose. I stopped insisting that we were the good guys. We were just good guys. If minds were killed, that’s just politics and unavoidable.
Sure I had to debate both of the other candidates. There was talk that they’d form a coalition against me and just might squeeze out a victory. So the last few weeks were the most tense, as I slid back and forth across 50%. In the end they couldn’t come to an agreement. And anyway I was Seahaven Island, honest and safe. The two slogans we picked were “Truman is Seahaven Island” and “An honest and safe mayor for an honest and safe town”.
And at some point my perspective shifted from running for mayor to planning for mayorship. And I began to think about how Mayors Cabot and Snyder ran things.
And that led me to wonder once again how Snyder had gotten past me that night.
By election day, he and I were friendly rivals. But I didn’t trust him. Back when we started Whitley had even worried about winding up like Linda Groupon.
So I visited him in his office that morning, by appointment, so we could shake hands and say, “May the best candidate win.” Then I went back to Truman HQ to wait for the results.
After I won, and I wished the town “good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight” by television and radio, and all the festivities died down early in the morning, and my driver took me home, and I climbed out of my bedroom window, I went back to City Hall. The door opened freely because of the electrical tape I had sneaked into place over the strike plate.
All the lights were off and I hadn’t brought a flashlight because I didn’t want to get caught. I intended to be an honest and safe mayor. I had chosen that night because I figured no one would hassle me too much for breaking into an office that was almost mine.
Only the exit signs lit the lobby. Except for one other light shining under a door. Not the mayor’s door. I approached it and listened. I heard no voices, only a quiet machine noise as the light went out. Not instantly like a switch, but from right to left like a door closing.
For a minute all I could hear was my own heart, pounding out of my chest. Someone must be in there and they knew I was here and I knew they were here. I almost ran away, but I made up my mind and opened the door.
No one was there. By the light of the exit sign above the door, I could see it was just a copy machine room, almost a closet, with no exit but the door I was standing in.
A single page had fallen to the floor, and for a moment I thought the machine had somehow come to life, shined its light from right to left as it copied a page, and fallen dormant again. But the page wasn’t warm and neither was the machine.
I couldn’t read it in the dim light, so I just shoved it in my pocket.
Then I went to the mayor’s office. In the dim of the streetlights through the window I could see the floor was covered with obstacles. On closer inspection, they were tool bags and power tools. There were several holes in the wall and ceiling, high and low, all with wires hanging out of them. All except one. I looked closer at that one. A small video camera was nestled inside.
I quickly covered it with my palm. My eyes went wide. Had someone seen me?
I looked at the stuff all over the floor and grabbed a tool bag. When I held it up in the streetlamp light it read “Property of Seahaven Island Audio/Visual”.
None of that had been there in the morning. Why did we suddenly need cameras?
I stood in the dark for a moment, trying to figure out what to do. I wanted to know how Snyder escaped the building. But I had another mystery on my hands.
There was a chance the camera wasn’t on yet. It had only just been installed.
If it was on, I was already caught. But in case they hadn’t seen my face, I pulled another tool bag over and stacked them both. They weren’t quite tall enough, so I added a power drill I found nearby. I noticed that it was warm but I failed to update on that fact. Piled together they covered the camera lens.
In the short time I still had, I opened all of the mayor’s desk drawers, looking for anything suspicious. They were empty, except for a bottle of brandy, which was scandalous but not explanatory.
A flashlight beam hit the ceiling from outside. Shit, they saw me on the camera.
I ducked down. No one could see into these windows from ground level. When the light shifted away I sneaked a peek and saw Officer Bill Lowes looking up at the next window over. Then he pointed his light at the building across the street. His mannerisms said he was only curious. Maybe they hadn’t seen me after all. I could probably escape if I stayed calm.
I closed all the desk drawers quietly, then dashed back to the copy room. I hid there, leaving the door cracked just an inch, and peered at the glass doors at the front of the lobby.
Lowes waved his flashlight through them noncommittally, then moved on without even testing the door where I had left the tape. When he disappeared behind the corner store, I came out of hiding, crept out the door, and took the piece of electrical tape with me.
Fifteen minutes later I climbed back into my room, feeling more like a teenager than a mayor, and sat down at my writing desk with The Sequences. I was confused. I recognized that I was confused. When the book offered no help, I stood up and began to change into pajamas, lost in thought.
That’s when the page from the copy room fell out of my pocket. I picked it up again.
What I didn’t know was that They hadn’t only put cameras in City Hall. They had also put some in my bedroom. Secret ones. They were watching, but for whatever reason They didn’t care what was on that sheet of paper. Perhaps They’d forgotten where I had gotten it. Paper is paper and many people think it’s dull. They probably thought They had done enough by sending a police officer to poke around and scare me away.
Or maybe They weren’t watching because I was in my boxer shorts.
I didn’t know any of that yet. I was just lucky, because if They had known what was going on someone would have leaped in to distract me at that moment, boxer shorts or no.
When I opened the paper, the title said Disney Utilidor System™ Seahaven Island. Gray lines showed a map of the island, with street names and prominent landmarks. I was familiar with that. But it was the black lines that forced me to sit down in my chair again.
The black lines showed a system of tunnels that ran under the city. The tunnels connected to every house, every business, and City Hall, circled in blue pen. They were not water mains or storm drains. If there was any doubt, the map had restrooms clearly marked.
I thought of the exit sign over the copy room, where I had found the map, and of the light that disappeared from right to left. City Hall didn’t need an emergency exit on the outside. It had an escape tunnel in the copy room.
But not an obvious one. All I had seen was the copy machine.
The copy machine. The same kind of copy machine that was in the library. The one that looked a lot like an ordinary home clothes dryer. And a lot like an electrical whatever in the middle of the forest.
I looked at the map again. There was a tunnel leading to the forest.
The machines were masking the entrances to the tunnels.
And there was one in my house.
My first thought, after I locked my bedroom door, was that I needed to tell people. About the extensive tunnel system lurking under their homes. And the team of workers who must have left through the tunnels when I arrived at City Hall, dropping their map, spilling light from the open hatch under the copy room door.
My second thought, as I tucked the map into The Sequences, was that everyone already knew. There was an exit sign leading to the copy room for Christ’s sake. They knew exactly how to use it. They just thought I’d never notice. I almost didn’t. And if I did notice, they’d make up an excuse.
My third thought, as I shut off the light, was that maybe they thought I knew. Did both my parents just forget to tell me? “Son, if there’s ever a fire, and the door feels hot, head for the clothes dryer.”
My fourth thought was of Meryl when we were ten years old.
I lay there in bed replaying an old memory of her, in the forest, standing in front of the clothes dryer and lying to my face.
They all knew.
They knew about the tunnels. They knew I was afraid of the ocean. They knew I couldn’t leave the island.
And They did nothing to help me. It was Them. They were all in on it.
So much for an honest and safe town.
My father was right.
How stupid could I be?
1. The Discrete Conspiracy
Truman Burbank doesn't know he lives in a TV show. Can his father's secret book set him free?
2. Making Beliefs Pay Rent
A murder in town exposes a crack in 18 year-old Truman's world. Can he use what he has learned to find the killer?
3. The Map is Not The Territory
10 year-old Truman’s mother gets rid of his book. Can he save the last link he has to his father?
4. Inferential Distances
21-year-old Truman is sick of the chaos. But does that justify a life of crime?
5. Loss Aversion
11-year-old Truman seeks the meaning of his father’s last words. Will his obsession ruin his friendships?
6. Politics Is The Mind-Killer
21-year-old Truman takes his grievances to the mayor. Can he fight City Hall?
7. Rationalists Should Win
15-year-old Truman attempts to escape Seahaven Island for the first time. What will he learn from this failure?