Thomas Mundt: “The Ribbon-Cutting”

Dixon Elementary was overachieving in the field of underperformance, according to the latest figures, so certain measures were taken to preserve its existence. Some called them drastic; others, total horseshit.

“The numbers don’t lie,” said Superintendent Dr. Grace Buttermilk, a notorious fibber, as she dropped her greasy eyewear on The Report. “We need Gutiérrez.”

Rich “The Snitch” Gutiérrez would object to the term Fixer on the grounds that it does not adequately capture the finesse with which he manages Action Items, the lack of clemency he grants Fucking Around. He is rumored to reside in a Safe House outside of Medicine Hat, however, boning up on the basics of curling before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and thus any protest on his part is unanticipated and purely speculative.

It is better for Gutiérrez this way, kilometers from Los Cabrones Guapos. Rumor has it the men’s group still has a bone to pick after he texted The Feds the coordinates of their lair, and after the O’Hare food court expansion deal went south.

After all, there is the well-being of his testicles to consider.


The Cricket customer Grace was trying to reach had been disconnected, so she tried The Other Number. She believed the voice on the other end to be female, a positive sign, but it was difficult to confirm due to the modulation.

“Tile Solutions of Texarkana, this is Modesty. How may I deflect your call?” The operator’s words were like Vermont maple syrup rappelling down the side of The Good China, right onto The Not-So-Great Ikea Tablesetting.

“Accounts Payable, please.”

Grace recognized the Call Waiting music, a ditty her daughter Ginny gargled in the shower in the Early Aughts. “Shards Of Neptune,” or something within reasonable proximity thereto. She thought about reaching out to Ginny once her business had concluded but remembered Machu Piccu. It was Thursday afternoon and that meant Ginny was still waiting tables, hustling Peruvian Fusion to couples in their mid-to-late thirties, praying they use their Tip Calculator apps properly so she could swing rent. Such is the life of an aspiring sculptor, Grace figured. Sweaty and consistently-awful.

“So, I don’t even get some Restroom Rhumba this time?”

Gutiérrez was referencing the duo’s sole embrace, an impetuous session in the differently-abled stall in the Museum Of Contemporary Art’s employee washroom. With the assistance of her behavioral therapist, Grace was two stages away from permanently shelving the episode, a stone’s throw from scrubbing his weeping and insistence that she call his member Master from her cerebral cortex. It was ha-ha funny that a single line from a miscreant could undo us, she thought.

“I need your help with something.”


Grace was early so she ordered her stand-by, a double Old Fashioned with extra bitters. She knew the horror stories by heart, could recite the paint-by-numbers transactional debacles attributed to alcohol abuse standing on one leg. They were weak, she always concluded, those who failed to derive strength from drink. They would have made putrid Hunns.

“This seat currently unoccupied by ass?”

It was Gooch Standeforde, in the flesh. He had turned the world of education upside-down with a lecture series entitled Now Wait A Cottonpickin’ Minute!, wherein he enumerated the ills of public schools throughout the country and urged audience members to join him in his titular catchphrase point after rage-inducing point. The solution, he argued, rested with the infusion of private sector capital, the so-called IV Bag Of American Achievement And Development. Money mended a roughed-up and down-and-out Western Civilization after the Second World War and it could heal this owie too.

Grace read enough Marx & Engels at Cornell to spot a good need of a constantly-expanding market, could recognize some quality globetrotting on the part of the bourgeoisie when she saw it. Wasn’t it inevitable, though, the devouring of the planet by The Haves? Wasn’t she just checking tickets at the door, the real show set to go down in Guangdong Province in a decade or two?

“Sounds like you got a real ham hock to brine, Miss-“


“A thousand condolences. Doctor.”

Gooch had not even so much as adjusted the turquoise stone of his bolo tie before he was off, the only remnants of his pop-in the business card and c-note stacked on the bar counter. Grace detected what she believed to be the scent of a Junior Whopper as her Benefactor Contractor lifted and lowered his million-gallon hat in deference.

“I hate to blow my wad and skedaddle but my G5’s by the hour. I know you can relate, bein’ a workin’ mom and all.”

“It was a pleasure.”

As Gooch wove through the college-age hooch receptacles engaging in their species’ pre-fornication communication rituals, Grace examined the business card. Superimposed on the hefty, cream-colored stock were the words VENDING SERVICES, along with a presumably-international phone number, given its length and format.

Her drink having collected dust during the meeting, Grace imbibed and imagined a string of digits so long that it wrapped around the neck of the Milky Way, followed by Our Benevolent Creator’s kicking the chair out from under the galaxy.


Parents and selected members of the media milled about the snack tables, double-dipping pita wedges and inspecting plastic-wrapped brownies for nuts on behalf of their hypoallergenic progeny, while the techs readied the P.A. Grace was jumpy in a manner that vacillated between pending public speaking engagement and bad coke jitters but there was reassurance in her anxiety. That Post-It note from Life persuading you to keep your shit together had not lost its tack.

A thumbs-up from a hoodie’d serf was visible above the piles of electronic equipment at the rear of the congregation and, accordingly, Grace and two of the School Board’s least liver-spotted members approached the podium set up in front of Dixon’s main entrance. Alongside the trio stood a cardboard replica of a vending machine, a dispensary of a beverage called Thrust™, adorned with a blood-red ribbon.

“Parents, students, friends, and colleagues, it is my distinct pleasure to announce the Grand Re-Opening of Dixon Elementary, Home Of The Prancers.” A chortle went up among the assembled as Paulie Prancer, Dixon’s half-lynx/half-surfer mascot, attempted and failed a basic backflip, per his beloved long-running bit.

“I would now like to introduce to you a man who needs an introduction, Thrust™ Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Bonk.”

Shaking hands with Bonk, Grace noticed that this new chieftain, to whom she had unequivocally tethered Dixon’s future, wore pleated pants. She immediately envisaged Old Testament scribes engaged in heated debate, their camps divided as to the issue of replacing The Mark Of Cain with this variety of slacks.

“Thank you, Superintendent Buttermilk. I’ll be brief, as I think poor Paulie needs immediate medical attention to repair his spinal cord.” Ever the cut-up, Paulie writhed on the concrete, eliciting a Woo! and a We love you, Paulie! from one particular wisenheimer, outfitted by American Eagle.

“The bottom line is, this isn’t about The Bottom Line. While it’s true that Thrust™ Is A Must™, Thrust™ is also about trust. And we at Thrust™ trust Superintendent Buttermilk, your teachers, hell, even Paulie Boy here, because they care enough about you and your refreshment needs to partner with The Best. The question is, do you trust Thrust™?”

It was then that Bonk turned one-hundred-and-eighty degrees and fell backwards, his arms outstretched. The intact instincts of a woman in a neon-yellow Wisconsin Dells hat in the front row prevented him from sustaining a concussion. Once he was returned to the upright position, Bonk dusted the lapels of his blazer in mock relief. There was a glimmer within him that Grace recognized as the unmistakable luminescence of a firefly, flickering and chemical.

“And now, without further ado, and on behalf of Thrust™ and its parent company, The Omicron Group, as well as their North American subsidiaries and yet-to-be-formed LLCs, Limited Partnerships, and Corporations, I hereby declare Dixon Elementary… open for business!”

Grace had failed to even notice the giant pair of novelty scissors in the hollow of the podium and she watched as the ribbon fell, Bonk beaming as photographers professional and camera phone alike snapped away, the shiny, mutant school supply refracting the mid-day sun.

Thomas Mundt is the author of one short story collection, You Have Until Noon To Unlock The Secrets Of The Universe (Lady Lazarus Press, 2011), and the father of two human children, Henry (2011) and Evie Mae (2013). Additional teambuilding exercises and risk management advice can be found at www.jonathantaylor/

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