The scene: As the curtain rises, we see two empty podiums, in front of the humble 60-room mansion that serves as the village hall of the remote village of Chelm. A few reporters walk on stage, taking their seats in front of the podiums, and finally, the Mayor of Chelm’s press secretary, Benito Bugiardo, walks on stage with a wizened old man, 92 if he’s a day, Dr. Paco Balmalocha, the village medical czar. They reach the podiums, and fiddle with the microphones nervously for a minute or two.
After what seems like an eternity, an aide hurries out of the building, first measures to ensure that the podiums are exactly six feet apart, and then replaces the AA batteries in the two microphones. His task complete, he leaves. The spotlight hits the press secretary and the medical czar, and we begin.
Press Secretary Bugiardo: Good morning, everyone! Isn’t it a beautiful day? I trust you’ve all heard the rumors, so we’re here to confirm the details. We’ve all come to depend so much on Dr. Balmalocha over the past few years, a lot of us have wondered what we’d ever do without him, but it looks like we’re about to find out. Dr. Balmalocha?
Dr. Balmalocha: Thank you for coming to see me off, everyone! We’ve become close friends over the years, but it’s time for that close relationship to end. I am indeed here to announce my retirement.
Mr. Smith, of the Chelm Bugle: When are you leaving?
Dr. Balmalocha: I’ve decided to retire sometime in the next six months.
Mr. Smith: That’s not much of an announcement, sir. When exactly will you be vacating your office?
Dr. Balmalocha: Well, I was thinking Christmas might be nice.
Mr. Smith: With you gone? Then, yes sir, Christmas might be nice, at that…
Dr. Balmalocha: So, I was thinking of somewhere around the middle of December.
Miss Jones, of the Chelm Herald: Why wait so long?
Dr. Balmalocha: Well, you know, I have to pack up my office…
Miss Jones: My readers would be glad to pitch in and help out.
Mr. Smith: So would mine.
Suzie Johnson, of the Chelm High School student newspaper, the Chelm High Times: My readers won’t want to miss out on this… might there be service hours involved?
Dr. Balmalocha: Now, now. I really can’t leave before December. I have meetings to chair, and committee reports to wrap up, you know. It’s not just about cleaning out an office.
Mr. Smith: Then why did you call this press conference?
Dr. Balmalocha: Well, to announce it! It’s newsworthy, isn’t it?
Miss Smith: Frankly, at your age, saying you plan to stay at your desk another four months isn’t a news item, it’s a signal to the oddsmakers to start a new bet.
Dr. Balmalocha: Oddsmakers? Is there gambling going on?
P.S. Bugiardo: Not here in Chelm! Not since the Biltmore Garage closed down.
Miss Smith: My point is that you’re not only well past most organizations’ mandatory retirement age, you’re well past Chelm’s life expectancy, sir. What do you have to say to my readers about why you’re still hanging on?
Dr. Balmalocha: I couldn’t just disappear from the airwaves all of a sudden! The good people of Chelm have gotten used to seeing my smiling face on their television every day!
Mr. Smith: They’d manage.
Dr. Balmalocha: You members of the press have gotten used to my daily briefings…
Suzie Johnson: We’d manage.
Dr. Balmalocha: And my village staff has grown used to issuing notices, detailing my protocols and pronouncements.
Miss Jones: The paper vendors will manage.
Mr. Smith: Not so sure about the ink vendors.
Dr. Balmalocha: So that’s really all I had to say today, just to let you know I’ll be leaving in a few months.
Mr. Smith: If you don’t die of natural causes first.
Dr. Balmalocha: That’s not funny.
Miss Jones: Come on, Dr. Balmalocha. Why are you really sticking around so long? Are you staying to qualify for some kind of a pension bump?
Dr. Balmalocha: No, I’m quite satisfied with my current pension level.
Mr. Smith: I should expect so. In retirement, you’ll be paid more than seven times the average salary of my paper’s readers.
P.S. Bugiardo: That’s not true!
Mr. Smith: No, actually, our finance department looked it up and ran the numbers. Even in retirement, you’ll be better paid than practically everybody who watched you on TV all this time.
Dr. Balmalocha: Well, I’ve been in this role a long time; I have seniority…
Miss Jones: You’d have seniority over Methuselah.
Mr. Chanel, of local television station 32: Is it true that you’re staying in the office to collect the next cycle of patent royalty checks?
Dr. Balmalocha: Why, I hardly make anything on my patents.
Mr. Chanel: Press Secretary Bugiardo, how long has the administration known that Dr. Balmalocha collects royalties on patents that are held by the village of Chelm?
P.S. Bugiardo: Now wait a minute, that’s not true.
Mr. Chanel: What’s not true, sir? That he collects royalties on village patents or that the administration knows about it?
P.S. Bugiardo: Uhh… the village knows exactly what patents it holds, and, uhh, who gets the royalties for them.
Mr. Chanel: Was this part of the deal all along? Did Dr. Balmalocha get this additional income all the time he has been employed by the village?
P.S. Bugiardo: Actually, umm, nobody knows… there’s nobody else in village government who was here when Dr. Balmalocha was hired.
Mr. Smith: I’ve been meaning to ask about that myself. I did some research in our records at the paper, and there’s no account of Dr. Balmalocha ever starting to work at the village. He’s just, always been there. As long as our paper has been around.
Miss Jones: You know, come to think of it, I never really thought about it, but in my other research about the village, as far as I can tell, Dr. Balmalocha has worked for the village as long as the village of Chelm has been here. Did your father work for the village too, Dr. Balmalocha?
Dr. Balmalocha: Oh, umm, yes, right, that’s it! My father. Yes. Dad worked for the village too. Yeah, that’s it. That’s the ticket!
Miss Jones: Strange I never stumbled on a story about his retirement and you taking over for him. Would’ve been an appealing feature…
Dr. Balmalocha: Oh, well, it wasn’t that high profile a role in those days.
Mr. Smith: And your grandfather? Did your grandfather work for the village too? And your great grandfather?
Dr. Balmalocha: Oh, yes, yes, that’s right. We’ve been the village medical officers virtually forever. It runs in the family. Umm, it’s in the blood, you might say.
Miss Jones: Strange that all the pictures of the Dr. Balmalochas in our files look like you, no matter how far back in the records we search…
Dr. Balmalocha: Oh, well, ahh, hmm… I have been told there’s a distinct family similarity…
Suzie Johnson: Is there any truth to the rumor that you weren’t planning on retiring until the village issued that complete repudiation of all the guidance you’ve given over the past few years?
Dr. Balmalocha: That’s not true!
Mr. Smith: Only because your guidance has been on so many sides that at least some of it had to be right, once in a while.
Dr. Balmalocha: We’ve done our best to be as close to the conventional wisdom as we possibly could.
Suzie Johnson: You closed our schools. My readers were robbed of a year of education. You closed our shopping center and our restaurants; my readers were robbed of a year of part time jobs.
Dr. Balmalocha: Well, now, you know, that’s all water under the bridge now… long time ago…
Suzie Johnson: You closed our factories and our entertainment venues. Our parents lost their jobs!
Dr. Balmalocha: Now, technically, umm, that’s not a question. I don’t really have to say, umm..
Mr. Smith: Is it true that you only decided to retire when the polls indicated that the village would probably be changing political leadership in December, and you don’t want to be investigated by the new administration?
P.S. Bugiardo: Now, there you go, jumping to conclusions again, Smith! Why, no poll can really predict the future; they may try their best, but you have no way of knowing…
Dr. Balmalocha: I have every confidence that I’ll get along just fine with the new admistration, actually. Why, I’ve known some of them since they were little.
Miss Jones: Is it true that you’ve hired lawyers in town to be prepared for eventual, criminal prosecutions?
Dr. Balmalocha: No! I mean, I don’t think… no, I have no expectation of any such thing!
Suzie Johnson: I wonder. If students sue you for illegally shutting down our school, would that be a class action?
Mr. Chanel: If they try to file the case for shutting down the shopping mall and entertainment venues in another jurisdiction, would that be venue shopping?
Miss Jones: Tell the truth, sir… is it true that you have your lawyers, even now, preparing a defense against eventual prosecution?
Dr. Balmalocha: No! Absolutely not!
Miss Jones: Well, then what DO you have your lawyers working on?
Dr. Balmalocha: Well, if you must know, I have them looking for a good retirement community for me.
Mr. Smith: Somewhere in a country that has no extradition treaty with the United States, I assume?
P.S. Bugiardo: Well, aahh, that’s all we have time for today… Umm, thank you for your time, everyone… Ah, see you next time….
John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance trainer and transportation manager, writer, and actor. A one-time county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he has been writing regularly for Illinois Review since 2009.
A collection of John’s Illinois Review articles about vote fraud, The Tales of Little Pavel, and his 2021 political satires about current events, Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volumes One and Two, are available, in either paperback or eBook, only on Amazon.
For those unfamiliar with the name, the Village of Chelm is an imaginary place in Jewish folklore, often known as “the city of fools” where everyone thinks themselves to be geniuses, but none actually are. We have respectfully borrowed the name for our imagined town, somewhere in the United States, though in this version, there are actually a few sensible people in the town, such as the reporters representing the mainstream media. This is fiction, remember. No actual similarity with any real-life persons or places is intended or implied.
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