I was walking into the bathroom at El Paso's soon-to-be-no-more City Hall when I bumped into him. I was there to pay my Excessive Oxygen Use fee. He was dressed in gray coveralls and busy cleaning the mirror over the sink with some paper towels. He held a plastic spray bottle with a clear blue liquid in his hand.
"I work here," he answered, and then vigorously went to work cleaning the sink using the same supplies. "Got to get this place all spiffied up for the demolition."
He was talking about the upcoming demolition of our perfectly good City Hall, and I guess he was cleaning up the way my wife cleans our house before the maid comes.
I couldn't argue with what he said (Well, I could, but what would be the point?), so I took the opportunity to ask him instead about the hike in city fees that are being considered. Personally, the last thing I think this city wants to do is squeeze blood from a rock, especially the rocks coming in from out of town to spend their money. I don't think we should price ourselves out of tourism, but what do I know? I just earn the money, and somebody else spends it. Just like in all of my five marriages.
"Well, it's like this," he began, putting away the paper towels and picking up a scouring brush for the toilet. He gave the bowl a few healthy squirts with the same blue liquid, and enthusiastically began scrubbing. "The city's so broke we can't even afford to pay attention, so we're looking for additional ways to increase revenue. In fact, I'm glad you're here. Let me run a few ideas by you."
"We don't say 'shoot' anymore. Now we say 'shinola,' as in 'you don't the difference between.' It's a requirement of Obama's Anti-Bullying Legislation."
"WTF?" is what I thought.
"Of course, Mr. Mayor," is what I said.
He put down his supplies, picked up a broom, and briskly started sweeping the floor.
"You know and I know," he said, with a wink, "that when we talk about fees, what we're really talking about are taxes. Just like when the President talks about investing in America and the rich paying their fair share, he's also talking about raising taxes. So let me know what you think about our using the following words in lieu of the word 'fees.' How about 'compelled contributions'? Or 'minimum due donations'?"
"It still sounds like taxes to me."
"It's like Shakespeare said, 'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.'"
"Well," Mayor Cook said, huffily, "who are you going to believe? Me, or your friend Shakespeare?"
Done sweeping, he got the mop and energetically began mopping the floor.
"Well then," he continued, "in that case the only thing we can do is come up with more 'fees.' What do you think about these: a fee for grown men who wear their pajama bottoms as pants? A fee for wearing your pantaloons below your hindquarters? A fee for thinking about Sarah Palin while you're busy getting jiggy with your wife?"
He was done mopping, and we stood by the bathroom door.
"So..." he said, "what do you think?"
"You know me, Mr. Mayor," I told him, honestly, "I think raising taxes in this economy will only make things worse."
"No, I mean, the bathroom. What do you think of the bathroom?"
I looked at the bathroom, and then I looked at him.
"It looks good, Mr. Mayor. You did a good job."
"Thanks," he said.
He was genuinely proud.