… of a good leader, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They will all say, ‘We did this ourselves.’
Lao Tzu, Chapter 17
There are two types of people. Those who put their hands up in a room when they have something to say and those who don’t. Lois didn’t put her hand up. She had something to say. Something the room needed to hear. It wasn’t a lack of courage. She was not easily intimidated. She didn’t speak because experience had taught her that most of the people in the room weren’t ready to listen. They were too far apart. She had her own way to get things done.
She changed minds one on one. Unbeknownst to those whose minds she changed, of course. One on one with her subtle charms and dervish ways she danced them toward her views as skillfully as a young Isadora Duncan.
“Why, Lois, didn’t you speak up if you had something to say?” Armand closed his Colonel Littleton leather binder making sure that Lois saw the initials inscribed on the front AMH (Armand Maxwell Haverfield). Armand claims it stands for “Are Man in Havana like in the movie.” Lois doesn’t point out the error. Are, Our, who cares?
“Armand, you know as well as I do, no one will listen to the likes of me. But you, everyone listens to you, Armand. You are the pillar of our community.” Lois looked directly at her godfather as she spoke. Her blue eyes were open wide. She stood so close that he could feel her words swish around him.
“You give me too much credit, Lois,” said Armand. His plump face was flushed. He enjoyed the compliment.
“Oh please Armand. You know it’s the truth” said Lois. “You are the only one who can bring folks together. Differences of opinion are fine but these arguments have become vitriolic. They’re annoying me beyond measure.”
Lois is quite right, thought Armand. I am adept at de-thorning the prickly pear but I know the risks of playing the mediator. Play with fire and all that.
“I’ll think about it Lois. But, next time speak up. I think you’d be surprised at how many would listen.”
Armand was prone to vanity. Lois knew how to play on that.
“Thank you Armand. I’m in your debt.” She gave his hand a soft squeeze. “I’m off. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The community was divided. There were those who came of age in the sixties and seventies and never grew out of them. There were those who had become hard pragmatists through experience. And, there was this new group of devout religionists who believed God was on their side. Lois had to deal with them all to get the job done.
As Lois walked home, Rich and Casey Dexter pulled up alongside her in their moonshot green hummer.
“I simply cannot believe you are serious about this,” said Casey through the open window on the passenger side.
“Serious about what?” said Lois.
“You know,” said Casey.
“Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook,” said Lois. As she walked along Rich drove the hummer alongside her.
“I don’t,” said Casey. “So are you saying you’re not going to do it?”
Lois stopped and looked directly at Casey. Rich braked the SUV but he didn’t look at Lois. He kept his hands on the wheel and looked straight ahead. Lois thought about the time Rich tried to feel her up at the Rotary banquet when they were alone in the kitchen.
“Cat got your tongue Rich?” said Lois.
Casey looked at her husband. “For goodness sake Rich honey, can’t you even say hello to Lois?”
“Hello Lois,” said Rich without looking at her.
“So, you’re not going to do it?” said Casey.
“I always thought you two believed in the let-us-alone-free-market and free-guns-no-nanny-state stuff,” said Lois. “Are you saying now you’ve changed your mind and think the government should tell us how to live our lives?”
That got Rich’s attention. “Hell no,” said Rich.
“Nice talking to you,” said Lois. She turned away from the Dexters and walked along a path through the woods.
“But … “ said Casey.
“See you two tomorrow night,” said Lois over her shoulder, “I’ve got to scoot.”
Casey looked at her husband. “What is it about you and Lois, Rich? She always seems to get the best of you.”
“She’s got a point, you know, about the government,” said Rich. “I sure as hell don’t want them running my life. The mask and vaccine mandates, straight out of Hitler Germany if you ask me.”
“What’s wrong with you?” asked Casey. “You gonna start driving on the wrong side of the street just to make a point!”
Rich didn’t answer. He was satisfied to drive his hummer down the street and keep his mouth shut. That Lois, he thought to himself, she can be a little uppity but she’s got nice tits.
The next morning Johnny Johnson asked Lois over for a cup of coffee. It was a nice day so they sat outside on Johnny’s deck. After coffee Johnny pulled a joint out of his shirt pocket.
“Wanna join me?” asked Johnny.
“Why not,” answered Lois. “I haven’t got any work to do.”
Lois knew what was coming. She was ready.
“I guess you’ve heard the rumors Lois?” said Johnny after letting out a mouth of smoke.
“Rumors?” said Lois. She was going to enjoy making him squirm.
“Are you really gonna do it?” asked Johnny. “Actually, I think it’s kind of a cool idea but it isn’t legal, is it?”
“When has illegal ever stopped you, Johnny?” Lois had a buzz on. She looked gorgeous to Johnny. By the look in his eyes she decided it was time for a graceful exit. “Don’t answer that,” she laughed. “I’m a little giddy. I need to go home and get ready for the big event.”
“I was just wondering,” said Johnny. “What is the environmental impact?” He was so earnest his eyes sparkled.
“Don’t worry neighbor. It’s carbon free,” said Lois as she left.
Once she was back inside her house, Lois realized that she was not going to have any real trouble from the conservatives or the liberals. It was the religious right she had to worry about. That’s where her actor friend Mel could help. She had once called him the “meanest, toughest son of a you-know-what in the town.”
The religious right loves the “macho” male and hates the feminist. That’s why she had to take a back seat and let Mel carry her water. Now she knew exactly how to use Armand.
Lois took a nap. She had to come down from her high to think straight. By the afternoon she had her plan. She called Armand.
“Armand, could I come over to consult with you before the meeting?”
“What do you mean consult?” asked Armand. “Are you going to speak up tonight to make your case.”
“I’ll tell you when I get there,” said Lois.
When Lois arrived Armand was anxious to find out what was so important.
“You do support me Armand, don’t you?” asked Lois.
“I think what you wish to do is preposterous,” said Armand. There is no precedent. But, you are my goddaughter. I will do what I can to help you.”
“Then you must get Mel on my side,” said Lois.
“Mel! My God, he’s a religious zealot. Why would he ever support your idea?”
“There is a precedent, Armand,” said Lois, “and Mel is going to love it. When he hears the story of Jules Verreau he will be on my side. And, when he supports me, the Christians in this town will support me. Mel is the rugged ideal of Christian manhood they worship.”
“Who the hell is Jules Verreau?” asked Armand.
“I’ll give you the short version,” said Lois. “The long version is in a book by Frank Westerman El Negro And Me.”
“According to the story, Jules Verreau was a fearless Frenchman who did what I propose to do. He faced untold dangers in the wilds of Africa to get it done. He was a man’s man, Armand, just the type that will appeal to Mel. I’m sure Mel won’t dare oppose me after he hears this. He’ll see himself as another Verreau and he will believe that he is the savior of a poor grieving woman—me. All you need do is tell Mel the story and be sure to make Verreau the kind of macho male Mel wants to be.”
What Lois did not say was that a century and a half after Verreau, changes in political and religious mores resulted in undoing his work. This is explained in Westerman’s book but the book is not in English. Fat chance anyone in her little town would read it.
“You are a marvel, my dear,’ said Armand.
“I know,” said Lois. “So this is how it will work. You bring my proposal to the council for a vote. You will request that sordid misogynist Rich Dexter support me based on his strong belief in personal freedom. In addition you will request that my dopehead neighbor Johnny support my proposal since it is in line with his environmental beliefs. And finally, you will have Mel endorse my proposal because of his Christian manhood. The council will have no choice but to vote in favor.”
“It sounds like you’ve got it all figured out,” said Armand.
“I hope so,” said Lois, “and I’ll be forever in debt to you for your help.”
“I’ve only one more question,” said Armand.
“Go ahead,” said Lois.
“How are you going to taxidermy him?” asked Armand.
“My dead husband?” said Lois.
“Who else?” laughed Armand uncomfortably.
“Oh, don’t worry Armand,” said Lois, “I’ve been reading up on it.”
Jules Verreau and the El Negro story are told in brief by Frank Westerman in The Man Stuffed and Displayed Like a Wild Animal – BBC News