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Trouble in Paradise?

Once upon a time it was February in the city of Chicago, which was, unfortunately, still located in the sorry, scandal-ridden, cheapskate state of Ill-A-Noise, and things were starting to look really baaad for the surviving membersheep of the CTEwe.

It wasn’t just the ongoing difficulties with the totally inept IMPAAACT program; it wasn’t about the salary snafus or the dreaded disappearing sick days, or even the fact that personal days were also among the missing. It was the realization that, contrary to what the membersheep wanted to believe, the sky really WAS falling.

As the membersheep totals dwindled, the leadersheep of the CTEwe swindled.

They invented ridiculous lies about paper shortages, which they thought gave them permission to stop printing such ink-wasting documents as the treasurer’s report and the membersheep report. The unfortunate membersheep who served as Dull-a-Gates to the House meetings, assuming they could actually locate a legal paaarking place within the standard 6-block radius of Plumbers Hall, were thus rewarded with a handful of disparate papers — after they jumped through the various hoops of ID checks, fingerprint recognition devices, and retinal scans.

Unless, of course, they were retired or otherwise ineligible triple-dippers from the good old days, when no one dared question anything. They always strolled in with a wink and a nod and a list of items for action. (Translation: how to raise their hands or stand up to vote for what, and when, even though they had no elected right to do so.) They also had a knack for finding conveniently located paarking spaces with little orange cones just waiting for them. One of life’s many unsolved mysteries.

There was still no sign of anything resembling minutes of the meetings; all the Dull-a-Gates ever saw in print was an agenda, which, as tradition required, was read aloud to the assembled captive membersheep, as though they were incapable of reading it themselves. Even worse, it was broadcast in the unforgettable fingernails-on-the-chalkboard voice of Mercenary Mary, who had been promoted from whining Dull-a-Gate first-class to secretary of the CTEwe during the previous selection-elections.

So, as one of the most miserable midwest winters in recent history mercilessly marched on, the Big Baaad Bored of Education, under the less-than-astute leadership of Adenoidal Arne, announced that there would soon be an important announcement regarding a previous announcement about school closings. The membersheep waited with baaated breath. There were so many questions — which schools would be closed? What would happen to the teachers? Would they be fired or reassigned? What would the trusty old CTEwe do for them? Ah, yes. That was a GOOD question, but, unfortunately, it only merited a BAAAD answer.

As it turned out, the CTEwe was not doing much of anything on behalf of its dues-paying membersheep. There was an excellent reason for that, although it was such a long-term practice that there really was no need for an explanation. Tradition, tradition. Nevertheless, however. . .

Once upon a time the CTEwe leadersheep were very much enmeshed in a soap opera of their own creation, starring: Marilyn Mumbles, president-select; Teddy, the Obsequious Toady; Pammy Pottymouth, the so-called lobbyist formerly known as Pammy Pretty; Nasty Nick, big boss of the field drips, and assorted lesser luminaries. It became an all-consuming project, ultimately involving everyone who worked at the opulent riverfront offices of the CTEwe.

It began innocently enough, of course. Time to redecorate! At first, no one even noticed the subtle change in style. As time passed, however, it became increasingly evident that there was an extreme amount of gold everywhere: gold trim on the new leather chairs and sofas; gold trim on the new desks and computer tables and printer stands; ornate gold picture frames surrounding the portraits of former CTEwe leaders and important Chicago politicians. There were tapestries lining the corridors, featuring knights in armor slaying dragons, and depictions of medieval castles.

“What is going on here?” wondered Teddy, the Obsequious Toady, one early winter morning. “Didn’t we just redecorate two years ago? And what is this theme?”

“Our president gets what our president wants,” came the terse reply.

“But when are we going to have that meeting about Arne and the school closings? The conference room has been unavailable for weeks now, because of the paint fumes,” said Teddy, who was trying to be a responsible member of the CTEwe leadersheep team. “And what kind of paint are they using, anyway? We have all kinds of paint nowadays, and none of it has ‘fumes’,” he added. And then, once upon a time, Teddy did something really uncharacteristic. He walked over to the conference room and peeked inside.

Once upon a time, Teddy the Obsequious Toady was absolutely, totally, utterly speechless. He stood there with his mouth open for so long that some of the office staff rushed over to see if he was ill.

Since the door was still open, they got a glimpse of the interior as well. And, like him, simply stood there, gawking.

It was quite a sight. The entire room had been transformed, from a simple, utilitarian meeting space to a majestically draped, mirrored, gold-encrusted chamber, complete with a red carpet, leading to a raised dais and a giant peacock-style throne.

They looked at each other in wide-eyed amazement. “Do you think that’s the reason we didn’t get our 3-pound boxes of birthday Fannie May candy this year?” blurted an office worker, who, like the entire office staff, had always received an extra paid birthday holiday along with the beautiful bonus. Except for the dreadful Debbie years, when they got nothing.

Teddy said nothing. He simple strode off in the direction of his office. Once inside, he phoned Mumbles, also known as Marilyn, president of the CTEwe. She had been slated by the previous leadersheep as a consensus figurehead, someone they could all work with.

“Hi,” he began.

“Who is this?” came the self-important inquiry.

“It’s your vice-president,” he answered cheerfully.

“Who?”

“Marilyn, it’s Ted. What’s going on? I have a few issues about the upcoming meetings with —”

She interrupted him mid-snivel.

“I have important decisions to make right now, and I don’t need you bothering me about your silly little problems,” she snapped rudely.

“But we are still waiting on the contraact books,” he bleated unhappily, “and we really need to do something about the proposed school closings. If they keep on shutting down schools, they will keep on firing teachers, and we’re going to run out of people to pay all that dues money.”

Mumbles was beginning to stammer, a sure indication that she was losing control. “We don’t have all the information for the contraact books just yet —”

“You mean it’s true? There was no one there to transcribe the final resolution of our demands? No record of all that work? How could you let that happen? I was at one measly little conference in Arubaaa, and you forgot the most important item in my memo?”

There was a pause. For a moment Teddy thought he might have been disconnected. But no. She was baack on the line. “Precisely to whom do you think you are speaking?” she demanded. “I am the president of the CTEwe, and I will decide what to do. Got it?”

“But—”

“But nothing. You are totally out of line with your ridiculous little issues. If I need your opinion I will certainly let you know. In the meantime, there are two things for you to do. First, draft a memo about the dues going up another twenty percent. That should hold us until we can organize all those teachers in the chaarter schools. Blame it on the IFT, or the AFT. I don’t care. And then, go and get the baallots ready for the next CTEwe election. You ARE good at that.”

Teddy just sat there for a moment, speechless for the second time in an hour.

Mumbles sat smugly at her desk, too, admiring the ornate gold trim and all her favorite knick-knacks, including the newly gilded old paperweight, which bore the inscription “Blame it on Debbie”. She was comparing it to the new paperweight, which said “Blame it on PeopleSoft”, and trying to decide which one should go where.

And then it was time to complete the bathroom renovations. Even thought the Merchandise Maaart did have washroom facilities on all floors, the CTEwe maintained several privately located conveniences for the use of the office staff and the field drips.

The other officers had access to separate washrooms as well. There was also a fairly new comfort complex, complete with shower and steam room, located near the office of the president.

Madame Mumbles had cleared her calendar for the morning, the better to choose new gold fixtures, marble, granite and tile for the presidential lavatory suite. Pammy Pottymouth, aka Pammy Pretty, had just popped in to the presidential office to help with the choices, as she had always done in the past.

Marilyn looked up from her catalog collection. “What do YOU want?” she demanded in a snotty tone.

“I’m here to help with the decorating. I always—”

“Not any more,” said Marilyn, meanly. “I want what I want, and I don’t need your help.”

“But—”

“Forget it. I am the president, and you are supposed to be doing something somewhere, aren’t you? Oh, right. You’re supposed to be in Sssspringfield. Why are you still here?”

Pammy was crushed, and, like Teddy and the others, speechless.

“Oh, and on your way out, send in my secretarial team. I have prepared a memo,” she concluded in an imperious tone that had not been heard in Chicago since the reign of Ruth Love.

And then, once upon a time, Marilyn began to mumble in earnest. For this event she had managed to have two stenographers, a secretary and state-of-the-art recording devices at the ready.

First came the Proclamation of Presidential Royalty, a three-page memo addressed to “All Chicago Teachers Union Officer[sic], Administrators, Staff”, regarding “Changes in Day-to-Day Operations of Administrative Office”, and outlining all the responsibilities and duties of President of the CTEwe, which hinted, without any pretense of subtlety, that certain other equally selected-elected officers would soon be rendered powerless for all practical purposes. There was also a curious little clause concerning “increased staff moral[sic]”, which was open to many interpretations.

The purpose of this memo was twofold: first, it cut poor Teddy off at the knees, taking away almost all of his previous responsibilities as vice-president, reinforcing the imperial new nature of the presidency.

Second, it introduced the newly-established position of CTEwe Chief of Staaaff, something borrowed from the IFT, to which Mumbles appointed a non-CTEwe member instead of one of her many minions.

But then, once upon a time, Mumbles did the worst thing any CTEwe leader in recent history had done.

She sent Adenoidal Arne a “confidential” letter, on Chicago Cheaters Union official stationery, concerning her demotion of Teddy, by name, and listing of all the things he could no longer do, adding that all CPScommunications should now be sent directly to the Office of the Imperial Royal Supreme President. It was signed, “In solidarity”, with a copy for Teddy. In Solidarity??? With the enemy???

Somehow, once upon a time, her letter, which was “not intended for general circulation”, and which she requested be kept “most confidential”, wound up all over. Even membersheep who never liked Teddy were offended, particularly since the CTEwe was doing nothing about school closings and teacher bashing.

“Well,” said Scott Skeptic to Millicent Militant and Ewenice Toonice, and all of the others in the so-called faculty lounge, “What do you think about all of this?”

“Mumbles should get an F on her report card,” they said in ewenison. “Won’t share. And even worse, Doesn’t work well with others.”

“Oh, I see,” they agreed.

“O.I.C.” 

"Trouble in Paradise?" was originally published in the February 2008 print edition of Substance. Copyright 2008, Substance, Inc. all rights reserved. See our monthly staff bulletin for information on reproduction of Substance materials.



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