The World’s Biggest Snowball Fight

Nobody had ever accused Malcolm Tewtrotter of being the most handsome person in a room, or for that matter the most worldly, well-dressed, outspoken, or otherwise noteworthy person in any sense. There was very little that made this heavy-set man in his fifties stand out in any gathering, unless that gathering was in Otter Creek, Maine. In this fine little woodland town that had not seen an actual otter in some time, Malcolm had been mayor for almost twenty years running, and would gladly serve for another twenty. He hadn’t held his high office due to tactical genius, political brinkmanship, or a keen sense of what kept the heart of Otter Creek pumping. His gift – the sole talent he possessed – was the art of social survival, and it had served him well. Every election win for the bespectacled mayor was reported by the local weekly paper, The Otter Blotter, as “Tewtrotter Pulls Off Come-From-Behind Victory!” This pre-set headline was kept for years in the top drawer of the editor’s desk until after the ballots in town had all been cast and handcounted. The acceptance speech was always humble and grateful, with the dyed-black hair Tewtrotter praising his opponent’s noble campaign. Deep inside, however, Malcolm knew that the only reason he won and his challenger earned the title of gracious loser was because of one well-staged display to win over the voters. One time the event was a perfectly-organized parade, and another time it was a winter fireworks show. Four years ago he arranged for a

Pressler -- 2 morale-boosting, spirit-lifting visit by one of the town’s local heroes (one of his childhood friends who played professional football for three seasons – his phone number is on speed-dial). Whatever it took, Malcolm’s survival instinct would not be defeated. The town election was coming this year, just after the Winter Festival, and the race was another uphill battle against a young upstart with the same “fresh face, fresh ideas” motto splashed on a bunch of posters. Frank Haggerty, a fourth-generation local with a military service background, was putting up a good campaign that started with the first snow in the fall. Something had to be done soon – something big enough for everybody to remember, and timed so it would be fresh in the voters’ minds as they filled out their ballots. To add to his list of non-credits, Malcolm wasn’t a very original man either, but he could recognize someone else’s good idea clear across town. In this case, the idea was tucked deep within a copy of the New York Times he had picked up for the crossword puzzle. The story was about Wauconda, Illinois, where there was an effort going forth to put together the world’s biggest snowball fight – 3,500 people or thereabouts – at the end of January, but little details were standing in the way. Matters of liability insurance, gathering the required people to set the record, and the questionable weather of Wauconda in late January all made for a difficult task. This story was Malcolm’s ‘Eureka’ moment, and everything came together at once. Otter Creek’s Winter Festival was a big tourist draw, and including the

Pressler -- 3 locals, 4,000 people would be easy to sign up. Every bed and breakfast along the main roads would advertise this attraction, and if word spread throughout Maine it would be the perfect event – just as long as those people in Wauconda didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t a touch of genius, but it was definitely a touch of something. If Otter Creek was placed in the Guinness Book of Records three days before the elections, his victory was all but guaranteed. It was a plan worth pursuing, and immediately he went to work putting his secretary Mrs. Purdy on the task. The word spread quickly that on the first weekend in February, the Winter Festival would be host to the world’s biggest snowball fight, and people from Guinness would be there to authenticate the event. As expected – just like in Wauconda – the popularity was very strong, and by February 1, when the final member had signed in for the weekend’s bout, 4,685 members had committed to the melee. The weekly edition of The Otter Blotter made this front page news, announcing, “World Record Event Happening in Otter Creek”, with the mayor’s picture always close by. It was to be held at Otter Creek Park, with the battlefield marked off as twenty acres divided in the middle by Otter Creek itself. Rumors of otters being brought in for the occasion fell short of the buzz throughout town as the Winter Festival approached. At the request of the town board, the big fight would be held on a Saturday so there wouldn’t be conflict with any church activities the following day. This was absolutely fine by Malcolm, as it gave him Friday to make the

Pressler -- 4 last confirmations on the little business details, catch a weather report, then prepare his official garb for the opening of the snowball fight the following morning. One of the greatest benefits of being Otter Creek mayor was the plush, otter-fur jacket, commemorative sash and top hat that were worn for such ceremonies. Over the years the coat had to be let out for him a few times (and one time the sash was let out), but putting on the attire in his office always filled him with pride. On Saturday morning, standing in his office before the full-length mirror inside the closet door, Mr. Tewtrotter was sartorial perfection. His hair had been re-dyed to an even jet black, the top hat tipped to just the proper, playful angle, and his sash never looked so perfect. Maybe it was how the new glasses gave a slimming look to his rounded face, but whatever it was he felt downright handsome. History was about to happen, and the ring of his fax machine would be the confirmation required to place everything into motion. Practicing his regal walk over to Mrs. Purdy’s desk, he took her spare cane to add a touch of elegance to his stroll. As the final page printed off of the fax he plucked them up and examined the papers from Hartford Insurance. Upon reading the fax, all the joy and pleasure of his otherwise perfect morning disappeared in an instant, along with hopes of a political victory come Tuesday. The message was simple, sent personally by the town’s insurance representative. It said that on such short notice, the town could not be granted

Pressler -- 5 liability insurance for such a large gathering. With further time to assess the situation it was possible to cover such an event, and it could be insured as early as the first week of June if all criteria were met. Tewtrotter’s expression melted like a sad snowman in the sun, his hopes of such an epic event crushed because of a minor technicality. Obviously the snowball fight could not go forth, as one bad injury could bury the town financially. It would be a field day for The Otter Blotter to run the headline, “Injury Bankrupts Otter Creek – Tewtrotter in Exile”. He couldn’t win Tuesday’s election if he was cast off to New Hampshire. He had to face the hard truth, and hopefully figure out a way around this situation during the next 72 hours. Mayor Tewtrotter arrived a couple of minutes late to the festivities, still holding the cane but now as a walking aid to support his legs wobbling with anxiety. All the cheers from the huge crowd were only momentary consolation for Mr. Tewtrotter – to him it was the sound of an electorate soon to be very disappointed. The applause from across the fairway and even upon the grandstand mocked his every step. Even the three officials from Guinness, dressed in formal winter garb, offered a few honorary claps. He could almost see the headlines now: “Record-Setting Disappointment Ruins Tewtrotter.” Once he was close to the podium, his secretary Mrs. Purdy rose up from her chair, hobbled over to Malcolm to hand him his speech notes and the honorary first snowball, and fastened the entry number for his formal role in the snowball fight. Number one, of course, and the crowd loved it even as

Pressler -- 6 Malcolm moved his sash just over the registration number. Mrs. Purdy hobbled back to her chair at the rear of the platform, grumbling quietly about never leaving a cane at the office again. The podium awaited the words of the muchadored mayor. With his new glasses, seeing the bright smiles on every red-cheeked face was too easy. All the odd-numbered entrants were on his left, ready to move down across the creek, while the even-numbered people looked about the area for good cover. His opponent, Frank Haggerty, was wearing an even number on his chest and a bitter scowl where a smile should’ve been. He’d likely be trading in both in a short time, but for now he had the only sour face in the group. After a momentary pause to enjoy the last of his fading limelight, Malcolm went forth with the inevitable. “Good people of Otter Creek, it hurts me to say this but it seems the town’s liability insurance for the event was denied. We can’t hold the event after all, and I can only offer my most humble…” “You suck!” The exclamation from Billy Mullen, a burly senior and star quarterback on the local football team, punctuated the moment – along with him throwing a pre-made snowball that knocked Malcolm’s hat off from forty feet away. The yell also set off a chorus of boos pouring in from the crowd. Tewtrotter forced the growing panic back down his throat. “Now, now hear me out, please. I’m only doing what I know is in the best int…” His

Pressler -- 7 sentence was cut short by a faceful of snowball, a close-range attack from below that struck his chin and splashed up into his nose. With a shake of the head he looked down to see the McGraw twins, Rick and Mick, close to the front and just to the side. The two eleven-year olds weren’t perfectly alike, but since they wore paintball helmets the only difference between the two troublemakers was one of them was recovering from a hard throw, and the other was rearing back with his own wet snowball. Survival was Malcolm’s saving grace indeed, and he ducked down like a ducking-down professional as the second snowball flew past. Whichever McGraw boy it was wasted a beautiful throw that went just over the bowed mayor. However, the less-fortunate Mrs. Purdy was not as skilled as the head of the town, and was struck with a wallop of snow exploding like a slush bomb in her lap. The surprise of the moment more than the force sent her flipping over the back of the platform, falling out of her chair and creating a Mrs. Purdy-shaped hole in the high snowdrift. Once his secretary vanished over the edge, Mr. Tewtrotter had little choice at this point. He grabbed the honorary snowball off the podium and over the gasps of the crowd and the snickers of the McGraw boys his voice could be heard clearly. “Did I say start?” With a wind-up worthy of an All-American, he reeled back and let the honorary snowball take flight for all of six feet into the lead McGraw boy

Pressler -- 8 (neither ever admitted who it was). The impact into the paintball helmet made a white splatter that was witnessed by most of the shocked crowd. From the even-numbered team’s perspective, that could only mean one thing. War. Most of the odd-numbered folk went to their mission of crossing Otter Creek and taking positions, but those who looked back or didn’t clear out immediately witnessed the first wave. A barrage of snowballs from the evennumbered team flew toward the platform – 2,342 by some estimates – directed at Mr. Tewtrotter. The sudden rush of snow blotted out the sun like a winter storm and descended around the podium like the worst hailstorm in Otter Creek history. The Guinness officials took a pelting from what veterans call ‘residual fire’, but most of the shots seem to hit poor Malcolm as he tried desperately to make his way to the stairs. The relentless barrage and the rising tide of slush building across the platform made for a treacherous retreat. Once his feet started slipping just short of the steps, the barrage doubled in effort to claim a victim. The renewed snowstorm sent Tewtrotter stumbling, sliding, spinning and finally flailing forward. With jacket sprawled open like a flying squirrel wearing a perfunctory sash, Malcolm launched himself over the stairs and to the side, going headfirst into a high wall of plowed snow. Some say he was pelted for another five minutes, others say ten. Whatever it may have been, the odd-numbered team had a good amount of time to dig in its position, and once the even team tired of its shameless bombardment of the mayor, the real battle commenced almost on schedule.

Pressler -- 9 Mrs. Purdy’s granddaughter even remembered to release the honorary otters into the creek, not that they were a major concern at this point. Probably out of pity someone called Dr. Aussenbach to tend to the fallen town head, and the good doctor broke away from the snowball fight to see to the mayor. Mrs. Purdy reclaimed her cane from the pile where Malcolm was buried, placing Tewtrotter’s top hat atop the snow pile where his legs now stuck out like a clumsy skier. She packed together a good, healthy snowball and gave Tewtrotter one last shot for the road before shuffling toward the main battle. The election was held, as expected, the following Tuesday, and the next day The Otter Blotter ran the same headline as always: “Tewtrotter Pulls Off Come-From-Behind Victory!” The exit polls suggested there was a guilt vote nobody had considered until standing in the voting booth, while other voters wanted to stay with the person they knew. But some brave townsfolk said what everyone felt to some extent. They were proud to be in the Guinness Book of Records and they had their dear mayor to thank. Aside from the unfortunate fate of Mr. Tewtrotter, nobody was injured so the insurance issue never became a topic. Malcolm’s own problems were covered by his own insurance, which he officially documented as a slip-and-fall accident. The officials from Guinness were more than satisfied about the event’s validity, and even included themselves in the final tally. And in the newspaper, just below the election story on the front page, was a feature photo

Pressler -- 10 of a snow pile with Malcolm’s legs sticking out and the top hat placed on the pile – tilted at the proper, playful angle. The Otter Blotter trumpeted the news in bold type for all to read. “World’s Biggest Snowball Fight Held in Otter Creek – In Lopsided Contest, Mayor Is the Loser”.

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