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Mayor of the Universe

Mayor of the Universe: A Novel

Lorna Landvik
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Mayor of the Universe
    Book Description:

    A mild-mannered actuary, Fletcher Weschel lives at the crossroads of Bland and Humdrum-or so he thinks until a cosmic contest catapults him into the fantasy world he made up as a boy. Suddenly his childhood bedroom is aswarm with aliens, all bent on discovering the human who best personifies their mission-in this case, the deeply serious pursuit of fun.

    Ejected from the boring comfort of his office chair, Fletcher finds himself astride the bare back of a horse, in front of a safe (that he happens to be cracking), and then . . . in the cabin of a weight-loss camp for kids? Apparently adventures come in all shapes and sizes, and it's up to Fletcher to make the most of these, conducted by his alien guide, Tandala, who takes on the corporeal form of a big-boned Jamaican and tends to get distracted by Earth's many surprising pleasures (garlic! libraries! love!).

    But even fantasies can have consequences, and as Fletcher struggles through them, he is cheered and assisted by Wanda Plum, a plucky second-grade teacher who helps him realize what his ultimate role really is on this highly mysterious, infinitely marvelous pale-blue dot in a vast universe. Though its cast includes aliens, this charmed and charming book is quintessential Lorna Landvik-less about outer space than about the crowded, complex inner space of the human heart.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4330-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Prologue
    (pp. 1-2)

    In the desolation of a South Dakota field whose shorn wheat stubble poked through a lather of new snow, a boy in a maroon corduroy jacket danced. A bitter wind snatched at the music playing on the transistor radio held in his mittened hand, but still the boy shook his shoulders and swiveled his hips, a trillion stars his nightclub ceiling, the full moon his spotlight.

    “Ladies, ladies, please, no fighting,” he said, his boots raising tiny white clouds. “You’ll all get your chance.”

    With studied cool, he flicked up his matted fake shearling collar and jumped into the air,...

  3. Part I

    • 1
      (pp. 5-16)

      For as long as his trialPopular Mechanicssubscription lasted, Wendell Weschel, or WW as he insisted he be called, fancied himself an up-and-coming Alexander Graham Bell or Thomas Edison. He was certain that in him there was a creation as monumental as the telephone or the light bulb, but after a year of tinkering with transmitters, duct tape, and linseed oil, he gave up his dream of patent numbers and a fortune in royalties, complaining, “All the good stuff’s been invented!”

      WW was a man going places, the only trouble being he wasn’t sure in what direction.

      He provided...

    • 2
      (pp. 17-30)

      “That couple from Vermillion wants to see the house at night,” said Olive. “If they love it as much in the p.m. as they love it in the a.m., I’ve got a sale!” She dragged the coral lipstick around her mouth and pursed her lips at Fletcher. The air was charged with her peppery scent; she mixed Old Spice with Jean Naté to make what she called her Eau de Take Me Seriously cologne.

      “There’s a pot pie in the oven,” she said, patting her helmet of hair as she limboed slightly to check her reflection in the gilt-framed hall...

    • 3
      (pp. 31-52)

      Fletcher went away to college, to the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks, but it was not the liberating experience it can be for other adventurous students. His roommate, a sullen boy from Minot, subsisted on a protein diet of peanuts in the shell and considered the wastebasket too bourgeois to bother with, resulting in a floor that was as littered as a shoreline after high tide.

      His roommate’s breath, farts, and sweat smelled of peanuts, and the gag reflex was one that was visited on Fletcher every time he opened the dorm room door.

      “Geez,” Flecher would complain,...

    • 4
      (pp. 53-71)

      He was in the middle of a dream featuring Cindy Dahlberg. A contestant in the first beauty contest of the civilized world, Cindy was playing the marimba in the middle of the Coliseum, wearing only a few well-placed Roman numerals. Her audience, men who looked like Peter Ustinov inSpartacus, sipped wine from goatskin pouches and bribed judges with their filthy lucre. Cindy was a crowd favorite, especially when the lively rhythm she played unhinged the X covering her left breast. Fletcher’s unconscious mind was a pancake, pleasure pouring over it like warm syrup.

      To be rudely awakened by thin...

    • 5
      (pp. 72-86)

      Fletcher felt jittery as he got off the elevator on the third floor and stepped into the small maze of cubicles in which Mid Summit American Life had situated its Upper Midwest office. Had he been a coffee drinker, he would have attributed his nervousness to one too many milligrams of caffeine, but Fletcher drank nothing but grapefruit juice in the mornings, with the exception of V-8 on the weekends.

      “Well, look at you,” said Cindy Dahlberg as he skittered by her desk. “You look like something the cat brought in.”

      Fletcher smiled weakly and gave what he thought was...

  4. Part II

    • 6
      (pp. 89-104)

      If Fletcher hadn’t been wearing chaps, his landing on the scrubby ground of the high desert might have hurt a little more than it did.

      In all that there was for his mind to process—the soreness of his right hip, the smell of hot dogs, the lilting notes of calliope music—the thought that asserted itself first was,I’m wearing chaps!

      As he stood, brushing the dirt off his black leather–covered thighs, he saw he was no longer wearing his brown crepe-soled oxfords.

      I’m wearing black-and-white cowboy boots!

      “Hip!” The word was punctuated by a clap on Fletcher’s...

    • 7
      (pp. 105-120)

      “That’s it! That’s it, Stretch!” cried the older cowboy, slapping his thigh with his hand.

      Why, Curly’s got hair, thought Fletcher, and while there wasn’t a lot of it, it was curly.Well, wavy, but nobody calls a cowboy “Wavy.”It was his last conscious thought as Fletcher, and when he shouted, “Ride her, Stretch, ride her!” he was twenty-one-year-old Hip Galloway and had never been anybody but.

      After executing a handstand on the back of a gray dappled paint, a younger version of the tall, slim cowboy that was Stretch laughed as he kicked his legs back and then...

    • 8
      (pp. 121-138)

      After a week so heavy with heat that every living thing, from flora to fauna, was limp with it, the skies had filled and unleashed a morning’s worth of rain, promising a clean, fresh evening for the big party.

      It wasn’t one of his fancy, raise-a-zillion-dollars affairs; this was the annual Fourth of July celebration, put on to show his employees, friends, and neighbors what a good guy Jake Arnett was.

      It was easy for Stretch to feel benevolent toward his boss while cruising by the long table set out in the yard, laden as it was with all manner...

    • 9
      (pp. 139-154)

      The morning of Cowboys for Kids dawned pink and pretty, and Curly, sitting on his sister’s porch watching the sunrise, wondered if he had been a fool to believe Stretch would come. It was true that in rating Stretch’s personality there may be more marks in the debit column than in the assets, but historically he’d been a man of his word. Anytime Rita’s phone rang, he’d look at his sister hopefully; anytime the postman brought out the mail, he’d watch her sift through it, but there was never word from Stretch.

      “You all right?’” said Hip, nudging open the...

    • 10
      (pp. 155-162)

      The chair on which Fletcher skidded forward was meant for bodies half his size. So was the desk, which broke his momentum.

      “Holy moly,” he muttered, and feeling a literal need to hold on to his hat, he did so. “Holy moly,” he reiterated, looking around the classroom.

      ABCs marched along the upper rim of the blackboard, in capital and small letters. On one side of the door, construction paper balloons with children’s names on them—Katie! Matt! Bryan!—floated on a Helpers chart; from the position of Katie’s balloon, it appeared she was one helpful girl. On the other...

  5. Part III

    • 11
      (pp. 165-179)

      “B-5. B-5.”

      “Oh darn!”

      “Did he say B-5 or G-5?”

      “Melvina, can you spot me a dollar?”

      As he felt himself settle in the leather wingback chair, the phrase “faster than a speeding bullet” from theSupermantelevision series came into Fletcher’s head.

      No, a speeding bullet’s a snail compared to the rate I just moved.

      And unlike Superman, Fletcher didn’t have to bother with finding a phone booth to change clothes in; looking down, he saw that in his rapid transit, he had shed his cowboy getup and was now wearing a sports coat and linen trousers. This clothing...

    • 12
      (pp. 180-198)

      Deke Drake had been raised by his Aunt Edna, who took him in after his parents died in separate freak accidents—his father first after falling down the stairs of a New York speakeasy and his mother two months later from an infected blister she’d gotten while playing tennis.

      His widowed aunt did not hesitate to claim him, taking the six-year-old to her palatial home in Palm Springs, Florida, and it was her kindness as well as the home’s proximity to the vastly engrossing ocean that went a long way in patching the little boy’s holes of grief and confusion....

    • 13
      (pp. 199-216)

      “Oh, my God.” In his cupped hands, Fletcher caught the words as they came out of his mouth, and to him it was almost as if he had vomited, so bitter and acrid was the taste in his mouth.

      “Oh, Fletcher,” said Tandala, and when her hand pressed against his back, Fletcher felt himself sag.

      “Tandy,” he whispered, “why did you make me go through all of that?”

      The alien, in her housemaid dress, tsked. “I am so sorry, Fletcher, but you assume I have more power than I do. I just give you the ticket to your story—I...

    • 14
      (pp. 217-224)

      In the zamoosh, the debonair facade of Deke Drake remained, but it was definitely Fletcher who slammed into the small classroom chair. He sat for a moment until the sensation of swirling stopped, and then with a small groan he stood up, took a deep breath, and brushed off the sleeves of his dinner jacket.

      “So it’s back to the pinnacle of higher learning,” he said, looking at the ABCs above the blackboard, the balloon chart near the door. He stretched to the left (it had been a particularly rough zamoosh) and stretched to the right. He watched as the...

  6. PART IV

    • 15
      (pp. 227-247)

      Fletcher plunged into water and a minute later bobbed up, gasping for air from both the shock of the cold and the shock of his new circumstances. To go from bathing in the delightful attentions of Miss Plum to this plummet into glacial waters was the most jarring—and unwelcomed—zamoosh thus far.

      “What’s the big idea?” he sputtered, assuming Tandala was near enough to respond, but before he could see or hear her, he was yanked out of the water with such force that he cried out.

      Fletcher had never tried LSD, but he imagined that what his mind...

    • 16
      (pp. 248-258)

      Another Eureka Flash for Lucille DuBarry had occurred several years ago while she was getting her hair done.

      “So how’s the battle of the bulge going over there?” asked Ruby, squishing her Pall Mall in a sand-filled ashtray before she began Lucille’s shampoo.

      Ruby didn’t actually smoke while she worked on clients, only before and after. Lucille wasn’t about to complain; since the Classy Coif was the only beauty salon in town and Ruby was its proprietor, her choices were somewhat limited. Besides, no one could tame Lucille’s frizzy mane the way Ruby could.

      “The girls are fairly easy,” explained...

    • 17
      (pp. 259-274)

      A few clouds had started forming in the summer sky, but it was still hot as the boys headed toward 6 on the map—the camp’s laundry facilities.

      “I sure hope that old hag isn’t there,” said Rocky. Each boy had to bag his dirty laundry and deliver it on assigned days to Gertl, a small, wiry woman from Albania whose nearly toothless grin and unfamiliarity with the English language frightened the younger campers and embarrassed the older ones.

      “Where your dirt stuff?” said Shark, imitating the woman’s signature phrase. “Give to me dirt stuff!”

      Rocky allowed himself a little...

  7. Part V

    • 18
      (pp. 277-288)

      It was such a light drizzle that it appeared the rain didn’t fall to the ground as much as it shimmied in space. Miss Plum had the lights on; she thought there was almost nothing cozier than a classroom lit up against darkening, rainy skies. The weatherman had promised a snowy holiday but for now it was still above freezing.

      Humming “Turkey in the Straw,” one of the songs the children had sung in that morning’s all-school Thanksgiving pageant, she chuckled to herself, thinking of little Raymond Erk, who played the very important part of the vegetable that had brought...

    • 19
      (pp. 289-298)

      The first sound Wanda became aware of was the low roar of ocean waves.

      “Fletcher!” she whispered, after plunking down on something that felt like sand. They were in such deep darkness that the only way she knew she was with Fletcher was that she felt his hand in hers. “Fletcher, I think we’re at the ocean!”

      “You’re right,” came Charmat’s voice. “I am receiving the coordinates as approximately eighteen degrees, fifteen minutes, zero seconds south, and thirty-five degrees, zero minutes, and zero seconds east. Putting us in Mozambique.”

      “Mozambique,” said Fletcher the geography buff. “Then that must be the...

    • 20
      (pp. 299-310)

      There was no way Wanda Plum could take in all that she experienced, but hers was such a sensible nature that she offered herself the same counsel she gave her students: you can only do what you can do.

      I’m not an astrophysicist, after all; I’m a second grade teacher and I will call on all my skills as such!

      Don’t make room for fear now—it is an unwelcome guest that demands attention you can’t spare!

      This is the opportunity of a lifetime!

      These and dozens of affirmations rang through her head as Charmat whisked her into the vortex...

    • 21
      (pp. 311-328)

      The Tuesday after Thanksgiving they were married in the Aberdeen City Hall during Wanda’s lunch break.

      “So where should we go on our honeymoon?” asked Fletcher, driving his bride back to school in her VW.

      “As if I need one after Mozambique and outer space.”

      They laughed, something they found they did a lot together.

      When Miss Plum brought her new husband in for Show and Tell, Katie Charbonneau asked her what was so funny.

      “What do you mean, Katie?” asked Miss Plum, who stood in front of the class holding Fletcher’s hand.

      “Well, you two keep laughing.”

      “We do?”...

    • 22
      (pp. 329-338)

      Driving into Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve was like being on a carnival ride for which you hadn’t made the height requirement but had been strapped into anyway.

      “Holy Mary mother of God,” Fletcher muttered under his breath, feeling engulfed in the swarming traffic.

      For their big road trip, they had consigned Wanda’s VW Beetle to Fletcher’s garage and taken his old Monte Carlo, for which Fletcher was glad. Surely, in the car crash that seemed inevitable, they had a better chance of surviving it.

      “You’re doing fine,” said Wanda, whose right foot was pressing against an imaginary brake...

    • 23
      (pp. 339-348)

      Sometimes we turn the page faster than we should.

      That was the thought that ran through Wanda Plum-Weschel’s head as she sat in the teacher’s lounge, casually leafing through a copy ofMinnesota Monthlysomeone had contributed to the magazine pile.

      Uninterested in the ads for cosmetic dentistry and spa weekends available in her neighboring state, she was about to jettison the magazine in favor ofRedbookwhen she flipped back two pages to more carefully study an image her conscious mind had barely registered. It was a photograph of a woman and an announcement under it that read: “Hear...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 349-354)

    Decades have passed since aliens dropped into Fletcher’s bedroom on a cold and windy November night. The Lodges that make up the communities in outer space and beyond had great expectations for the inhabitants of the planet Earth, but unfortunately, they have come to realize that evolution does not always move in a forward motion.

    There was much argument and no consensus as to who should assume the title of Mayor of the Universe. Many Lodge members wondered why it was that the UHC thought this officeholder would be found on Earth; oh sure, humans had managed to retain archaic...

  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 355-356)
  10. Questions for Book Clubs Reading Mayor of the Universe
    (pp. 357-359)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 360-360)