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Unpublished Draft

The Pundit

 

Donald Pugliese obeyed the ringing of his Timex alarm clock at 6:00 a.m. He took off his flannel pajamas, folded them neatly and put them in the dresser drawer reserved exclusively for sleepwear and cotton tee-shirts.

At precisely 6:07 a.m. he brushed the nighttime fuzz off his teeth, showered and shaved, then he slapped his jowls with men’s cologne saying “grrr.” At 6:23 a.m. he dressed himself in grey rayon trousers, a white button-down shirt and a conservative necktie, then laced up his wingtips.

Donald observed this exacting ritual every morning for twenty-seven years, even after the bank laid him off three years earlier.

He gave up looking for a new job because he could no longer tolerate the humiliation he suffered at the hands of snotty H.R. women wherever he got a rare interview. He had a CPA but not advanced computer skills. He couldn’t understand what they meant by “multi-tasking.” He’d never heard of Facebook. At age fifty-seven he was a discard. He was Mister Nobody, living in Nowhere Land.

That morning as he was drinking a fresh pot of percolated Folgers and reading the Times a strange headline caught his attention. The article said a man named Donald Pugliese of Pequannock Township, NJ, had been lauded for jumping into a freezing pond to save the life of little Susie Plunkett, a three-year-old girl with long golden curls. It went on to quote Susie’s mother praising Mr. Pugliese for his quick thinking and selfless courage.

All this on the front page of the New York Times.

Donald was dumbfounded. “It’s absurd,” he muttered. The man has the same name, he lives in the same town, and he saved the girl at the same pond where he stopped on his morning walks to sit on a bench and think. He was still reeling when the phone started ringing.

“No, no, it’s not me,” he said, trying to be patient and polite to every caller. “There must be another Donald Pugliese in town who saved that little girl. I never met the man you’re taking about. Never even heard of him. It’s just a coincidence that we have the same name.” After seven or eight calls from intrepid reporters he switched on his answering machine.

Then, coffee mug in hand, he sat on the La-Z-Boy and tuned his Motorola to CNN. “This just in,” said Anderson Cooper, voice trembling as he grasped a sheet of paper in his hands. “A Pequannock man saved a little girl from drowning in a freezing pond late last night. Sources say Donald Pugliese refuses to take credit for the heroic act of saving the life of three-year-old Susie Plunkett. Neighbors describe him as a modest man who lives alone and keeps to himself. CNN has not been able to reach Pugliese for comment, but we’ll keep you updated on the hour. And now, in other news, our correspondent in Beijing reports that China invaded Japan this morning.”

Donald rose from his chair and moaned. This has gone too far. Sooner or later the other Donald Pugliese will step forward and clarify the matter, he reassured himself. It’s a simple case of mistaken identity. Then he overheard an incoming message on his answering machine: “Mr. Pugliese, this is the National Inquirer calling. We’d like to offer you a $20,000 gratuity for an exclusive interview.”

Donald found his phone book in the kitchen and scoured the white pages to see if there was another Pugliese in the area. He was the only one and unfortunately the phone book listed his phone number and address. Reporters were already banging on his front door and peeking though the windows.

He called the police. The staff sergeant on duty said “Wow! It’s such an honor to speak with you, Mr. Pugliese, for what you did. But, sorry, there’s nothing we can do to disperse the crowd. It’s a first amendment thing. The media are allowed to exercise their right to freely assemble and do whatever. But call me back if it gets violent and we’ll send a squad car over there to crack some heads.”

Donald sneaked out the kitchen door and trotted to the alleyway behind his house without looking back. He thought he was scot-free and started planning his next move when an attractive young woman wearing a black vest and a fedora stepped in his path. She identified herself as Sara Kravitz, a national reporter for the Associated Press. She’d out-foxed her rivals in the media mob by covering the back entrance.

Donald was impressed by the woman. She spoke in an intelligent tone and made eye contact, not at all what he expected a reporter to do. “Mr. Pugliese,” she said, handing him her business card. “Can you give me a comment on the war breaking out between China and Japan this morning? Do you think Japan provoked the invasion?”

Donald didn’t know what to think. His first reaction was to say “no comment” before sprinting up the alley to hide in the middle school gym. Yet he hesitated. The pretty AP reporter was seductive with her skillful look of earnest interest in Donald’s personal opinion. He did have an informed understanding of dicey Sino-Japanese relations now that he had time to read three newspapers cover-to-over every morning, but he realized he’d be digging himself deeper into the madness of his sudden and unwelcomed fame if he took the bait.

“What?” he said. “What what? Go ask someone else about it. An expert. I’m just a retired banker. China shouldn’t go around invading other countries but I can’t see why you’re asking me about it. Can’t you and your friends just leave me alone?”

Donald ran off as fast as he could while Sara drew her cell phone from its holster to call her editor. Within minutes Donald’s sound bite, “China shouldn’t go around invading other countries,” was a priority bulletin on the AP wire, soon to be picked up by the blogosphere and go viral on social media. There was no turning back now.

He thought he’d be too exposed in the school so he headed to Main Street, looking over his shoulder to see if Sara was in pursuit, and when he saw he was in the clear he ducked into Tweetie Bird’s Café, where he hid in a booth behind a cup of coffee. No one knew him at the place so he felt safe at last. He kept his head down in the event the media jackals had his photo.

The radio in the corner of the coffee shop was playing light jazz when all of a sudden an announcer broke into the broadcast to run a live debate on the floor of the U.S. Senate covered live on the ESPN Radio Network. The Senators were making repeated references to Donald Pugliese’s comments on the war raging in East Asia.

“Mr. Pugliese’s interpretation of events is prescient and I hope the White House is listening,” shouted Ralf Cramden, a republican from the New Jersey. “China shouldn’t go around invading other countries,” as he says. It’s a clear call for action on the part of the United States. Get the 7th Fleet to rain fire on those Chinese bastards. We need to bust some balls and I think Mr. Pugliese would agree with me.”

Donald sank deeper into his booth. The proprietor’s wife switched on the television hanging from the ceiling and tuned it to a daytime entertainment channel featuring a popular gossip show called Ruth’s Truth. “Donald Pugliese has got to be the sexiest man in town,” exclaimed a chubby blonde in a tight red dress. “He’s the mystery man we all dream about.” The thin man in heavy make-up sitting next to her on the couch squealed in agreement. “His neighbors all say he’s the sweetest guy on earth. He’s tall and handsome but very shy, the manly silent type. And he’s an unattached bachelor,” he said, breaking into a falsetto. “I’d just die to meet him!”

The sexiest man in town plopped a twenty-dollar bill on the table and sneaked out of the café. He saw the coast was clear so he double-timed it on the way home, taking a circuitous route to avoid stalkers. The swarm of reporters had vanished with exception of two men who were lingering across the street, apparently cub reporters keeping watch. They were trading a skinny little cigarette and puffing it with expressions of total boredom. They didn’t notice when Donald boldly entered his front door. He didn’t waste any time fixing himself a gin and tonic.

Donald set his cordless phone on mute and put a heavy sofa cushion on top of the answering machine. His mobile phone had lost its charge so he didn’t have to worry about being chirped at today. After fixing himself another drink he collapsed into his La-Z-Boy and tried to think about what to do next but his mind reeled in exhaustion, making him very drowsy. A horde pounding on the front door and tapping the windows with coins woke him from a brief nap. He closed all the curtains and wedged a heavy chair under the doorknob in case the media mob tried to use a crowbar or a battering ram to break in.

He was on his way to the bedroom to lie down and bury his head under a pillow when he heard a horrified shriek coming out of his fireplace. “Help! Help!” a desperate voice rang out. “I’m stuck in the chimney! Call the fire department!” Donald seriously considered opening the flue and lighting gas on the ceramic logs. He heard footsteps on the roof and someone yelling “Get me some jumper cables and we’ll attach them to his shoes to pull him out. Maybe he got a good picture on his phone down there!”

I’m living in a horror move, Donald said to himself. The body snatchers are coming down my chimney. He got the duct tape from the kitchen tool drawer to fasten the toilet lid to its base, in case zombie reporters were lurking in the sewer system like alligators. He would pee in an empty milk carton if necessary. To relieve his panic he swallowed a cocktail of pills from the medicine cabinet – two Zolpidem, a Flexural, a Vicodine and four Tylenol. Then staggered to his bed.

Donald woke at dusk, sweaty and disoriented, still fully dressed for work at an imaginary job in Manhattan. The pills had afforded him a deep sleep and calmed his nerves considerably to the point where he almost felt refreshed. He tightened his necktie and after using the milk carton he went to the kitchen to reheat the morning’s Folgers. He paced around the house without a clue where he was going. Should he put on his apron and grab a dust mop to swipe the cobwebs off the corners of the ceiling? Count the coins in his loose change jar? Slit his throat with his Swiss Army knife?

Finally he succumbed to the perverse curiosity of watching what the world was saying about him. He switched on the television.

PBS News Hour was broadcasting a special feature on the Life and Times of Donald Pugliese. “He is the only son of Italian political refugees who fled to this country when their lives were in danger,” anchor Gwen Ifill said. “His mother was assistant to the vice secretary of the Italian Communist Party and his father was a successful gay poet who played trombone in the Milano Symphony Orchestra. Their fortunes declined when Mussolini took over and began his reign of terror.”

“Lies, all lies,” Donald yelled at the television, unconcerned that a reporter might be listening at the door with a stethoscope. “My father was bisexual, not gay, and played the piccolo!”

Ifill continued: “When his father died of scarlet fever his mother, Sophia, raised the ten-year-old Pugliese alone while working three jobs. He turned out to be a juvenile delinquent and was arrested once for shooting and maiming a playmate with a cap gun.”

The camera turned to Stella Argyle, a neighbor who, Ifill said, cared for Donald after school while Sophia cleaned toilets at a local college.

“He was such a nice little boy, but he started hanging out with the wrong crowd,” she said. “I told him to stay away from that cap gun but he insisted that he needed it for self-defense. But you should have seen it! The other boy suffered a first-degree burn and they had to put a band aide on his cheek!”

Ifill broke in. “The victim told police it really smarted,” she said. “Congress banned toy cap guns the following year. Yet the incident turned Pugliese’s life around. After serving a six-month jail term for aggravated assault with a plastic weapon he went on to become a model citizen, the valedictorian in high school and a summa cum laude graduate at Yale. It was the American Dream.

“But his criminal past would later come back to haunt him,” she said. “We’ll hear all about that tomorrow when News Hour continues its investigation of this instant celebrity. And lets not forget to thank our sponsor, the American Fracking Institute.”

This was followed by a snappy jingle: “Fracking’s good for you and me. It makes us rich and free.”

“Absolute horse shit!” Donald screamed at the cathode ray tube. “I didn’t shoot Billy with a cap gun, I stuck a Philips screwdriver up his nose and we settled out of court. And it wasn’t Yale, you media nitwits! I went to Rutgers.”

He jabbed the remote control to change the station, wondering if he had the balls to send PBS a protest letter with baking soda in the envelope. The mild-mannered Sexiest Man in Town stood up and stamped his feet in a rage. “This is a conspiracy!” he yelled at the top of his lungs. “That’s right, a God Damned conspiracy to make me go insane.”

He lowered his voice to a hissing whisper. “The government is behind this –they’re the only ones who have the power to make the media industrial complex do this to me. They’re all in cahoots with each other, those tax-and-spend liberals and that eloquent blowhard president who wasn’t even born in this country. It’s those Masons and the Rotary Club, the IRS and the CIA. They’re all ganging up to squash me like a bug!”

If Donald Mario Pugliese looked in a mirror at that moment he’d see a bright crimson face with veins bulging on his temples about to burst, lips quivering and mouth drooling. Tears brimmed at the corners of his eyes. Heart palpitating and agitated beyond belief, he wandered over to the liquor cabinet and helped himself to the gin right out of the bottle. No need for tonic.

“It’s accelerating. Now they’re taking revenge on me because of that stupid little thing I said about China,” he murmured. The idea dawned on him that little Susie Plunket and the frozen pond was just a set-up. His old boss at the bank must be involved in the cabal, he concluded. “They fired me because I knew too much – I never should have signed that non-disclosure agreement.” He was racking his brains to remember what it was that he knew and when he knew it when heard a familiar voice thunder above the din of the crazed reporters outside.

“Donald, let me in! Open the door right now,” she bellowed in her heavy Italian accent. “It’s your mother!”

He cracked open the door with timid resignation. What could be worse, a pushy reporter or his mother? He saw her standing there swatting sway the scum of camera-flashing paparazzi with her eight-pound Loui Vuitton handbag. “Get away you cheeky bastards!” Her heard them yelp in pain. She barged in and slammed the door tight. “I called and called and then I called again but you didn’t pick up,” she said in a wounded voice. “Is that any way to treat your mother? I’ve been worried sick about you here all by yourself.”

Donald grit his teeth.

“Look, Mama, you shouldn’t have come,” he said. “This is just going to make matters worse.”

“What do you mean, make matters worse? I’m here to help you,” she said. “I’ve been watching every moment on TV and we’re all so proud of you, Donny. I can see you need an agent.”

White-haired, squat and 89-years-old, his mother was still the unstoppable neighborhood political organizer and former Communalist Party zealot. She embarrassed him to no end when he was a teenager.

“No, no, no,” he said. “I don’t need an agent. I need a Terminator to make this all go away.”

“What do you mean? You’re famous now. You could get a job on CNN as a commentator! And it’s about time you got a job instead of moping around the house all day. Take advantage of this opportunity. You can do your part to revolutionize the world.”

“Look, Mama, this is all lies. I didn’t save that little girl from the pond. I didn’t recommend we use military power against China. I’m not the sexiest man in town. It’s a cruel hoax and they’re putting words in my mouth,” he said. “I’m just an ordinary guy who wants to be left alone.”

“I can get you on Face the Nation,” she said. “The Tonight Show would love to have you on as a special guest. Don’t be a wimp.”

It occurred to Donald that they’d gotten to his mother. They brainwashed her and now she too is part of The Conspiracy.

“You know Donny that it wouldn’t be like this if you’d married Angelica. She was in love with you and wanted to take care of you but you pushed her away. You just can’t make commitments. You were afraid she’d rearrange your furniture.”

“That was 30 years ago, Mama,” he said. “And Angelica was a slut. She screwed half the male population of New Jersey. She gave me gonorrhea.”

“Whatever,” said Sophia as she picked up the phone in defiance and started punching numbers. “My old boyfriend George has contacts in Hollywood and he can set us up with a top-notch agent. Who wouldn’t want to represent the famous Donald Pugliese?”

Donald yanked the telephone cord out of the wall. He faced his mother, fists clenched, and bore into her with furious dilated eyes.

“Go home,” he said. “Whack your way through the mob to your car, don’t answer questions, don’t look back until you’re at a safe distance, and make sure you’re not followed. These people are not your friends.”

He could see tears brimming in his mother’s eyes, but he knew from experience they were crocodile.

“You’ll be sorry, Donald, treating your mother this way,” she said with exaggerated fake sniffles. “You’re passing up the opportunity of a lifetime and someday you’re going to regret this. You’re going to stay awake at night thinking ‘My Mama told me so,’ but no, you’re a terrible son too proud to listen.”

“Out!” he said, pointing to the front door. He surprised himself with his resolution and command.

A photographer wedged his hand into the threshold as Sophia slinked out the door. Donald slammed the door on his fingers then opened it just enough to allow the man to withdraw his mangled paw. The guy won’t be clicking the shutter button on his camera for a long time, Donald thought. One small victory in the war against his demonic celebrity.

He went to the kitchen to see what was in his refrigerator, only to find a small chunk of cheddar cheese zipped tight in a plastic bag, a package of beef franks and a greenish hard-boiled egg. Today was the day for his weekly “big shop” excursion to the supermarket when provisions ran low. But his routine had been dashed by fame. He’d cause pandemonium in the canned vegetable aisle if he risked exposure to the media-consuming public. He found a box of Triscuits and a jar of peanut butter in the cupboard that would have to suffice. It was his custom to eat his supper from a tray in the living room as he sat on his La-Z-Boy and watched the evening news. Donald put on his heather-gray cardigan as he always did for the occasion and started nibbling on his peanut butter crackers. Sticking to routine would calm his nerves, he figured, and perhaps return him to the sweet comfort of anonymity. He hesitated, then switched on the television.

A beautiful blonde sat behind a glass table, which showed her long legs meeting the hem of her mini-skirt. She chatted about developments in the Donald Pugliese story. “In a rare public appearance today, Mr. Pugliese went to Capitol Hill to brief the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the China situation.”

“Not true,” Donald hissed at the screen, spilling Triscuit crumbs on his tie. “They’ve been reduced to telling bald-faced lies!”

The blonde continued: “He told lawmakers that the crisis became even more perilous in the late afternoon when the Tibetan Navy deployed three of it’s destroyers off the Pacific coast with scud missiles aimed at Nagoya.” Peanut butter got stuck in Donald’s craw and he coughed and choked when he saw the video of a Pugliese look-alike sitting at a mahogany desk wagging his finger at the Senators. “You should have listened while we had time,” the televised Donald said. “Now we are not on a mission of mercy as the Dolly Rama maintains. The strategic options are limited, but we are treaty-bound to help Japan defend itself. They desperately need to violate their Peace Constitution and appoint a new militarist emperor with a backbone. But all they got are a bunch of peacenik housewives waving protest banners over there.”

“We’ll be right back with more from Security Guru Donald Pugliese after the weather report,” the smiling blonde anchorwoman said. “Stay tuned.”

It has to be the other Donald Pugliese, or a hologram, Donald thought. He’s back again, where it all started with that little girl who was stupid enough to wander into a frozen pond. In a moment of insight he wondered if the other Donald Pugliese, if there was one, was thinking the same thing about him. Who was the imposter, me or that media whore briefing the Senators? Was his house under siege by the news predators as well? And if so, how did he escape so he could fly to Washington and be on TV? Donald would never admit it but he felt a tinge of jealousy. Maybe the other guy was a good boy and listened to his mother.

Finally he concluded that there had to be only one Donald Pugliese and it was he, not him. The perpetrators of the Conspiracy that dressed up a stooge to look like the real item. It’s a clear case of identity theft.

He switched channels to see himself being interviewed by Charlie Rose.

“Enough!” he shrieked so loud and so shrill he heard a wine glass explode in the kitchen cabinet. “I’ve got to get out of this place!”

Donald sprinted to his attached garage and jumped behind the wheel of his Oldsmobile Cutlass. He opened the garage door and gunned it toward the paparazzi encampment, sending photographers flying in terror. He heard loud shouts as he turned the corner on Elm Street. “Go get him! Don’t let him get away!” they yelled. Screeching of tires and an out-of-tune symphony of honking followed him at every turn, making him furious to the point of contemplating vehicular homicide if they got too close. He regaled at the thought of side-swiping one of their cars into oncoming traffic and how enjoyable it would be to see it explode in a fireball in the night.

He ran the red light at Montego Avenue without reducing speed and looked in his rear-view mirror to see cars rear-ending and broadsiding each other across the intersection with satisfying crunching sounds. Then he saw that two black sedans had snaked through the wreckage and were in hot pursuit with men leaning out the side windows shooting photographs. The adrenalin made his heart race and flutter up to his throat as he stepped on the gas and made a sharp U-turn at Center Street, laughing with glee when he saw the black sedans fishtailing and sending the cars to the other side of the road to bump into a ditch. Donald Pugliese, the mild-mannered certified public accountant, had never had so much fun in his life.

He looked at the rear-view mirror in anticipation and saw the headlamps of black sedans gaining on him. A daring young woman photographer wearing a red silk scarf had climbed up on top of the lead car, gripping the edge of the roof with one hand and with the other hand shooting pictures with a powerful flash and a telephoto lens like a skilled marksman.

These guys are professionals, Donald remarked to himself as he braked the Olds suddenly and watched his pursuers swerve left and right to avoid a collision. Donald had just last week paid an outrageous sum to have his brake pads replaced, but he thanked George the larcenous mechanic now. He sped away before the black sedans could get back on the asphalt. Suddenly he found himself traveling at great speed toward a giant lumbering truck, one of those roll-on double-deckers designed to haul automobiles. Donald closed his eyes as momentum took him up the ramp in the rear and sent him bumping over the roofs of a four brand new Volvos and then launched him over the cab of the truck. It was a hard landing but it appeared the Olds hadn’t been damaged in flight. “Free at last,” he shouted. “Those damn shutter buggers are off my tail now.” Momentarily the blast of an air horn and the menace of blinding high beams made him look over his shoulder. The two black sedans had done the same trick with the young photographer still clinging to the rooftop like she was riding a bucking bronco. They were catching up fast so in a moment of panic Donald careened around the corner onto Main Street. The black sedans missed the turn and had to turn around, which gave Donald time to stop the car and assess the situation. Main Street was blocked off to traffic. It was the Pequannock Townships annual Unalachtigo Festival, featuring crafts people in tents selling forgeries of Native American pots and jewelry, food trucks selling tacos and falafels, and a bandstand where children in Indian costumes were performing hip-hop dancing. Just as the men spilled out of black sedans Donald noticed that Police Chief Frank Constanza was now standing atop a gaudy flower float wearing the fake feather headdress of the Unalachtigo Tribe and tossing candy to the crowd as he had done every year since he took over as department chief 32 years ago in a rigged election. Next to him stood the mayor, dressed up as an exact replica of Donald Pugliese, Pequannock Township’s new champion. A dozen people in Donald Pugliese masks surround the float, shuffling their feet in the spotlight like they had no idea what they were supposed to do.

Something snapped in Donald’s mind when the sound of whirring cameras assaulted his ears. He put the transmission back to drive and stepped hard on the accelerator pedal to crash through the police barricade and ripped down Main Street, driving on the sidewalk when possible to minimize the collateral damage. The photographers jumped back into their black sedans and followed. Festivalgoers leaped off the sidewalk screaming, knocking down booths, tents and children. Donald had to swerve into the street to avoid a flickering lamppost and came close to wiping out Boy Scout Troop 47. The lead black sedan hit the lamppost with its fender and the impact sent the car smashing into the window of Chuck’s Barber Shop. The woman on the rooftop saved herself by grabbing onto Chuck’s awning.

Donald jerked the wheel into a maniacal left turn at the next street with such centrifugal force that the Olds careened on two wheels before it landed with a loud thud. The remaining black sedan tried the same stunt, but rolled and landed on its roof. Donald looked back to see seven or eight journalists scramble out of the capsized car like an impossible train of circus clowns. “How did they all fit in there?” Donald said with a snort. He drove home at a leisurely pace.

Donald Pugliese obeyed the ringing of his Timex alarm clock at 6:00 a.m. the following morning. He considered getting dressed but instead he strutted to the front window to peek through the blinds. They were still out there, swarming like drunken bees.

He went to the bathroom to put on his plush cotton robe, the one he filched from the Hyatt Regency in Des Moines, Iowa, where the bank had a meeting seven years earlier. He looked in the mirror and was surprised to see a little paunch at his beltline. He’d always been thin. He figured the scourge of unemployment had condemned him to a sedentary lifestyle and the new flab was a consequence. He wondered if it would grow into a potbelly someday and spill over his belt. They say gin is fattening, he thought. I’ll have to dilute it with more tonic water.

Donald loaded his percolator with Folgers, smiling as he recalled last night’s car chase. He’d really bested those fools. Nobody can drive like Donald Pugliese when he’s mad. He had a Walter Middy moment, imagining he was in the lead at the Indianapolis 500, but he quickly snapped back to reality. He needed to make the paparazzi on his front lawn disappear. He thought about calling one of those exterminators who poison cockroaches for a living, but he wanted to avoid the loss of life where possible. Yes, that’s right, journalists are cockroaches, but they don’t deserve to die.

He sat down on the recliner, a cup of coffee and a slice of toast in hand, and switched on the television. He wanted to know what they had to say about the car chase. But none of the channels mentioned it, as though last night’s drama never happened. All those photos taken by the woman on the rooftop had gone to waste.

A local newscaster broke into the morning traffic report, brimming with excitement over the scandal. “Donald Pugliese is not who he says he is,” he said in a smug voiced. “Sources have confirmed that he never went to Yale. He’s a mid-level bank executive who was fired for incompetence. His expertise in foreign affairs is a sham. The Susie Plunkett affair was a hoax to gain attention in the job market. Police say they are investigating the alleged fraud. The screen filled with a woman in a flowery housecoat being interviewed. “I saw Donald Pugliese at a stoplight last night,” she said. “He was picking his nose.”

“And now today’s weather forecast,” the anchorman said. “Over to you, Fred.”

“Trash!” Donald yelled. “Absolute slimy trash! These local stations feed on slander and sensationalism.” He’d never picked his nose in public, not once. He might have scratched it once in a while but never to the point of vulgarity. She’s part of the conspiracy, he could only conclude.

He went over to the front window and peeked through the curtains. The mob of reporters and photographers was starting to disperse. As much as he loathed the uncouth parasites on his lawn his feelings were hurt. He wondered whether he’d miss them in a perverse way once they all went away. They made him feel special.

Maybe the networks would have something nicer to say about him. He waited in anticipation after the Today Show host said they would air another installment of their Pugliese Watch Report after the station identification break.

“The reputation of Donald Pugliese, who rose to prominence overnight as a keen observer of global affairs, is in tatters today,” Barbara Walters said. “Not only has he falsified key information about his background and qualifications to shape public opinion with his dry wit, he has concealed personal matters that bear on his integrity as a celebrity. His own mother has stepped out of hiding and reportedly said: “My son is a stinker. He doesn’t listen to my advice and he never calls.”

“The Pugliese Watch Report has exclusive evidence that the man’s claim to have rescued that little toddler from a frozen pond in Pequannock Township was unfounded.” The camera turned to woman sitting on a red couch next to a little girl with golden locks. The woman nudged the girl, inducing her to speak. “He’s a bad man,” she said. Her baby words sounded well rehearsed. “I don’t like him.”
“Donald Pugliese, the overnight sensation, has been completely discredited. Sources say Pequannock police are pursuing Pugliese in a probe of purported fraud,” Walters proclaimed with gleam in her eyes.

Donald sighed, pushed the off button, and slinked to the bathroom. He took off his robe and flannel pajamas, folded them neatly and put them in the dresser drawer reserved exclusively for sleepwear and cotton tee-shirts. He brushed the nighttime fuzz off his teeth, showered and shaved, then he slapped his jowls with men’s cologne saying “grrr.” He dressed himself in grey rayon trousers, a white button-down shirt and a conservative necktie, then he laced up his black wingtips.

His percolated Folgers tasted sour. When he searched the pages of the New York Times to see if the paper had turned against him like the networks, there was no mention of his name. Nothing. The same with his local paper, the Pequannoc Township Times-Inquirer. Nothing. He thought he should be relieved to have the nightmare behind him, but in fact he was angry when he realized he’d been dropped like a stone.

At a loss for what to do next, Donald put on his suit jacket and overcoat then took his customary walk to the park, where he sat down on his usual bench by the frozen pond to think. Across the pond he noticed a little girl with long blonde curls screaming and struggling to stay afloat in the icy water. He smiled as he watched her drown.

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Copyright © 2015 Karl Schoenberger

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