Prank of 2 Cities
2: The Dive
Ottawa Mayor Rigs NHL Series - Scandaleux!
Murphy was asking me if I’d be willing to build on
the joke that had been so brusquely perpetrated against Byron
Brown. Murphy’s proposition: Call the mayor of Ottawa and make
the same pitch for swinging spouses.
agreed, reluctantly. This was a tall order. Back in October,
on my first day at BEAST headquarters—only my second
in Buffalo—I had waxed eloquently about a return to the BEAST’s
prankish, pioneering roots: the stuff that had first drawn me
to the paper. To date, though, I’d failed to even conceive a
stunt, let alone execute one. Now my BEAST elders expected
me to pony up. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t refuse.
Mayor Chiarelli’s bio, I dialed Ottawa immediately—hesitating
would only heighten my anxiety. I mouthed a pitch for sex with
the mayor’s wife to myself as the phone rang. Scanning the bio,
I noted the mayor had five daughters and considered raising
the stakes to include one or more of them. But then my eyes
hit on something horrifying: Bob Chiarelli’s wife, Carol, died
of cancer in 1996. Abort! Abort!
shaken, I informed Murphy and we mutually pondered the near-disastrous
outcome. Murphy seemed ready to abandon the idea of a second
stage altogether. But I, suddenly, had begun to warm—ever so
slightly—to the idea. I was determined to be more careful in
that evening, back at my rooming house, I hit upon what I thought
might be a profitable angle, specially tailored for Mayor Chiarelli.
Some basic research about Ottawa revealed the city had a burgeoning
tech economy. I had never read Trump’s Art of the Deal
and neither, I hoped, had anyone else. But I thought I knew
a bargain when I saw one. I phoned Murphy, my excitement practically
stifling my words.
I don’t want to get into specifics,” I said. This was a nagging,
idiotic, but remarkably powerful superstition of mine—the notion
that revealing something beforehand would render it powerless.
you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine.” Murphy indulged, and
Uthman agreed. “But I’m dying to hear your idea.”
spite of myself, I relented. “I’ll give it a try tonight,” I
made my first call at around 5PM on Monday evening. I’d opted
to use a voice modulator because, at barely 5’4”, my natural
voice is better suited for Eric Cartman voiceovers than dishing
insider politics. As we would later discover, the modulator
had the opposite effect, producing an otherworldly baritone—like
a cross between Andre the Giant and a 50-foot oscillating fan.
Oddly, my digitally altered voice fazed none of the Ottawans
with whom I spoke as Buffalo’s new mayor. Canadians, we later
speculated, must be so unfamiliar with black men that they assumed
my Jabba-like tonal depth to be typical.
was the beginning of an emotional rollercoaster—from elation
to utter dejection almost nonstop—over the next 24 hours for
me. Elation as the phone rang, then feeling faintly ridiculous
as an automated tape played for three minutes. Finally, I got
through to speak to a charming and attentive young man named
this is Byron Brown, mayor of Buffalo in the great state of
played off calling the automated line, explaining that I’d believed
I was dialing Mayor Chiarelli’s direct line, and said I was
calling to wish the mayor luck for Monday night’s game. Richard
chuckled and said he’d be happy to put “Mayor Brown” through
to Mayor Chiarelli. I was reborn—momentarily. A familiar voice
intruded on the line—Richard again. He was sorry to say the
office was closed for the day; that’s why I’d been directed
to the switchboard. “Mayor Brown” could try again tomorrow,
at the same number.
we’ll be discussing a Buffalo victory,” I quipped, approximating
a dopey political jest that proved pretty accurate.
can’t say I agree with that, sir,” Richard replied amiably.
“But good luck.” I would need it.
a night of fitful sleep, I rolled out of bed as close to the
crack of dawn as I’ve ever come: 10AM. I was a wreck. After
an ill-advised breakfast of leftover Thai food, I spent the
next 30 minutes trying to stanch the corrosive, mucosal tide
of acid reflux and clear my throat enough to make my follow-up
call to Ottawa.
phone rang around 11AM, but things were less smooth this time
around from the get-go. For starters, I booted the greeting
I’d employed so effortlessly the night before. Worse, I couldn’t
hear the receptionist’s name and instead of calling him Jacques,
mistakenly referred to him as “Rock.” Despite the bumbling,
I was patched through to Mafalda, one of Mayor Chiarelli’s aides.
She was the third Ottawan in a row “Mayor Brown” had met who
was faultlessly gracious. These Canadians were starting to remind
me of Gary Larson’s unfortunate “Far Side” deer who was born
with the bulls-eye birthmark.
mounted quickly when I realized I wouldn’t simply be patched
through to Chiarelli. Silently I cursed Murphy’s brazen virtuosity.
I tried to assume a proprietary manner, assuring the staff I
wasn’t “calling to gloat.” Mafalda, amused but single-minded,
wanted a contact number and an itinerary—“coordinates” she called
them—to arrange a call from Mayor Chiarelli later that
day. I was doubly panicked when I realized that Murphy could
not reasonably be expected to rise for several hours, and Uthman
not till dark. I started to blurt Fallon’s cell number when
I realized I couldn’t remember it! I asked Mafalda to hold,
pretending to speak with a phantom secretary—“Cherie,” I said,
vaguely—all the while scrolling my cell phone for Fallon’s number.
Found it. The phone was now dialing Fallon’s number. Ottawa,
Mafalda, Jacques, Chiarelli—they were all gone.
I called Fallon anyway and explained his role—carefully. He
was to be “Deputy Mayor Steve Casey” and my contact person.
I then rang Ottawa again, expecting the worst.
explained to Jacques what the Frenchman already knew. “Mayor
Brown,” reconnected with Mafalda, tried to make light of his
aides are laughing at me right now.” I admitted. Mafalda laughed,
almost too much. “My first attempt at international diplomacy
and I drop the call.” More inappropriate laughter. “Mayor Brown”
was feeling ill.
reiterated that I looked forward to speaking with Mayor Chiarelli,
“Only if I’m not bothering him.” I noted the Senators and Sabres
match-up was, ultimately, trivial. But I expressed my hope this
might be the start of an ongoing dialogue between the two cities.
Mafalda and I had a brief discussion about the playoff series,
and the two teams. I praised the Senators, despite their two
losses, as a “tremendous team.”
are very good,” Mafalda agreed. “But they have a tough time
in the playoffs.” I savored that catty, intimate snipe without
comment. It was the clearest indication I’d had that the act
was working. We agreed a lunchtime call would work best. I bid
Mafalda goodbye, expressing one last time my eagerness to speak
with Mayor Chiarelli.
came. And went. Nothing. I phoned Fallon every ten minutes.
They hadn’t called. They weren’t going to call. “Maybe
they smelled a rat,” Fallon said. I couldn’t eat or sit still,
so I decided to head to Fallon’s house, resigned to put the
whole thing out of my head and get to work on those three, or
four, or fifteen brilliant articles I’d been contemplating.
asked Fallon to make a call this time, posing as “Steve Casey.”
The receptionist—Jacques, perhaps—directed him to voicemail.
did they sound?” I asked solicitously.
They weren’t hostile or anything.” Fallon said.
hour passed. Fallon started spinning his punk vinyl. The needle,
the speakers and other myriad defects, colluded to produce a
searing assault on my bowels. Comforting myself with the thought
Noriega would’ve caved much faster, I packed up and headed for
BEAST headquarters. On the way, I occupied myself the
usual way, imagining the most efficient methods of suicide,
and tried to narrow the list according to those which were most
considerate of friends and family.
mood at BEAST central was terribly subdued. I had hoped
to find the joint buzzing with comedic fervor. Uthman and Murphy
were, instead, pretty listless. I, they observed, looked awful,
sickly—packed in layers: a sweater, jeans and jacket on a hot
day. “Like a vampire,” Murphy said. I accepted without enthusiasm
some assignments, the dim prospects of publication—the dregs—and
contemplated driving straight back to Rhode Island, to slower
death. A certainty, at least. Just then my phone buzzed. It
was Fallon, for the 200th time that day. “Jones,” he said. “You’re
called? What? When? I’m in the car!” I shouted. “When do I have
to call them back?!”
minutes they said.”
it; I’ll call you for it when I get home. Wait, no, give it
I’ll call you when I get home.”
in hand—the same number I’d been given twice before, as though
it kept self-destructing—“Mayor Brown” prepared for his third,
and final, act. As the phone rang I realized I was about to
talk to the Mayor of Ottawa, capital city of all of Canada.
How had this happened so easily?
to the call. (20:47, 2.38 mb mp3)
Mayor Bob Chiarelli’s office, bonjour!
Uh, yes…Bonjour! Is (Chiarelli Executive Assistant) Anna Baker
Very well, sir. May I let Anna know who’s calling please?
This is Mayor Brown. Is this Jacques?
Uh, no sir. This is Greg speaking, but the mayor is expecting
your call. I will—
Oh, very good—
I will let him know you’re holding, sir. One moment, please.
Very good. Thank you.
Thank you very much.
Carpenters, “What the World Needs Now Is Love”)
Mayor Brown, how are you today? You must be happier than I
Well, actually, I was kind of worried that you’d be reluctant
to call. I tried to assure your staff: I was not calling to
gloat. It was—in fact, I tried to place a call last evening,
but I was unsuccessful. So, I’m—it’s an, an honor and a privilege
to finally speak with you, sir. I’m, uh…As I said to (Chiarelli
aide) Mafalda this morning: I’m a great admirer of—of the
things you’ve done in Ottawa.
Mayor Chiarelli departed on a lengthy, informative and actually
quite fascinating discourse about Ottawa’s successes. He spoke
proudly of the partnerships he’d nourished in the business community,
and the innovative model for communicating and developing ideas
that has made Ottawa a center of the tech industry. We’ve omitted
it here because we didn’t want to rub it in—losing you before
this prank really got going.
My understanding is that you’re an accomplished jurist. You
had a distinguished legal career.
I spent 18 years practicing law before I went to the provincial
parliament for ten years. And then—
I went into provincial politics.
I actually—at one point, I contemplated going to law school.
You know, it didn’t work out, but…When I was a teenager, I
successfully argued—I’m originally from Queens—
And I successfully argued—it was sort of an exhilarating experience—but
I successfully argued my own case between the school board.
And I earned the right to play on the, uh, the women’s lacrosse
team. I mean, I didn’t actually suit up—
Oh…(uneasy laugh) Okay.
I didn’t actually suit up. It was the, you know, the principle
of the thing. You know, “equal rights” and everything. And
Was, you know, a nice little thing…But I got some press, or
whatever, built up some confidence. You know, arguing a point
of view. And, uh…
something extraordinary and completely unanticipated happened.
Chiarelli, to this point a very wise and very decent man, magnanimously
suggested Buffalo and Ottawa could become partner cities! He
offered to make a trip here, or to host a Buffalo contingent,
to share experiences and, ideally, learn from each other. This
was how easy it was to make a small, but possibly meaningful,
difference in the life of a flagging metropolis; and yet, apparently,
no one from Buffalo’s actual city government had availed himself
of the opportunity to begin a dialogue with our Northern betters.
sick feeling formed in the pit of my stomach as I realized I
was about to scuttle—maybe permanently—Buffalo’s chance to profit
from an alliance with a world-class city like Ottawa. No matter.
Ruthlessly committed to the task before me, I steeled myself
and made the crassest response I could extemporize.
Well, if you do—if it turns out that you do decide to come,
if we can work that out, I would encourage you to pack a gas
can in your trunk. A lot of times, you know, the panhandlers,
(Feigning vague recognition.)
You know, they’re very assertive and their opening line is…
“Do you have a gas can?”
And then it moves on, you know, to money.
So, you should pack a—prop, I guess—
Guess you would say. And if you did come down, I’d want to
know if you could get me one of (CBC hockey commentator) Don
Maybe something that could be refitted, retailored for me.
I’m pretty much in awe of his sartorial splendor, if you will.
Well, he’s quite a showman, that’s for sure.
Absolutely. And loves the game, loves the game.
more than a little suspicious at this point, Chiarelli resorts
to a very clever probing technique, invoking the name of Don
Gilbert, a Buffalo native and popular CFL player who “lived
next door” to one of the mayor’s brothers. Apparently they “used
to socialize quite a bit.” He asked if the name was familiar.
Panicked, I said simply I didn’t know Gilbert, and that my “deputy
mayor,” who was conveniently unavailable, was better versed
in such things.
schmoozing out of the way, I decided to get to the point of
the prank—but I was unprepared for Chiarelli’s reaction. I started
by beating around the bush, as I imagined one would when proposing
incredibly illegal sports-rigging.
Um, well, before you—before you go, I had the opportunity
to speak with (Buffalo Sabres Coach) Lindy (Ruff) and with
(General Manager) Darcy Regier, from the Sabres and…You know,
because we’re always—we are forward thinking. We’re um—we
don’t have as many resources as we’d like, but we’re constantly…We
do have a lot of youth and we’re constantly sort of churning…ideas
and trying to generate some stuff. I had a chance to speak
to Coach Ruff and to speak to Darcy. And I thought that as
an ambassador of the City—and you represent your city—I thought
that maybe I could…You would be the appropriate person to
make the pitch to, you know. We don’t—we’re up two-nothing
(in the series). But we don’t—we were certainly not favored
You know, we don’t have to—we don’t have to win. We could
still put up a… strong fight, whatever.
(Silence, palpable discomfort.)
I know you’ve got the (jobs) contract with Dell (Computer
Corporation). You know, a very lucrative deal.
All these tech jobs and, um…Is there any way we could work
something out where, you know, we could…we could sort of…garner,
we could sort of garnish (an ironically appropriate malapropism)
some of that—those tech-base jobs in exchange for something…I
mean, clearly a Sabres victory in the playoffs would mean
a lot to Buffalo. But, in the long run, I mean…I’m the one
who’s responsible for the health of the municipality—
Yeah. (Renewing interest.)
Sometimes the citizens aren’t very forward-looking. That’s
supposed to be my job.
Yeah, yeah. I have found that when we’ve—when we’ve pulled
something good together as a community, it’s by tapping into
the community leadership. If you get the right people around
And keep them there, they can often come up with some great
ideas and, uh, be able to implement some significant changes.
Sure! And, I know (Ottawa Senators General Manager) Mr. (John)
Muckler, he has a history here in New York. He played for
the Rovers in the Eastern League and he was with the Sabres
for a while. So I know that he has—he has some sentimental
attachment, I’m sure, to Buffalo. Do you think that he would
be receptive to maybe us giving them a game, or two? Spotting
them a game? Um, in exchange for some sort of, you know, work
exchange, or uh—
Oh, I, I uh…
O-o-obviously we’d have to…I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
Obviously it’s—this in an elaborate kind of thing. And you
would have to talk to Dell and everything…
I’d have to—I’d have to tell you something that…That the hockey
arena in which the Senators play their games, and they own
the arena—it is in a suburb of Ottawa called Kanata.
Kanata is the—is part of the City of Ottawa, but the district
is called Kanata. And that is the hi-tech center of the national
capital region here. Probably 80% of the tech jobs are in
and around the hockey arena where the Ottawa Senators play.
And they’re very, very good neighbors there. And they might
be able to talk to Dell, or Nortel and, uh, get a few volunteers
who are prepared to move down to Buffalo if you can assure
that the Senators will win at least…three out of the next
(Stunned) Oh! I don’t think that would be a problem…Well,
three out of four—that’s kind of a stretch. I think…Well,
I mean, it’s definitely something to consider. I’m glad to
hear, at least, that you’re receptive.
the only thing you have to understand about The BEAST
and the people who work for it is this: We spend almost every
waking minute (and countless sleeping) contemplating every form
of human ugliness. We’re irredeemable cynics who like to believe
we’ve mapped the entire genome of rottenness and venality. And
then we encounter something like this: a sitting mayor seriously
considering fixing an NHL playoff series in exchange for jobs,
without so much as blinking. For all our misanthropy, we were
unprepared for that.
Murphy, I never imagined the call would go any farther than
my suggesting such a deal before Chiarelli either laughed it
off or chewed me out and hung up. Instead, I was faced with
the stunning fact that he was actually going for it. I
hadn’t planned for that, and now I was grasping for words.
Mayor Chiarelli was at no such loss, as he revealed, perhaps,
why he was so eager to secure victory for the Senators:
Now, I have to tell you, though: I have a very close connection
to John Muckler.
My nephew—who also went to a university down in the US
on a hockey scholarship, came back up here and became a lawyer.
Then he did player management and contracts…
Then he started working for the Senators and he’s the Assistant
General Manager being mentored by Muckler!
Oh! Is that right?
Well, listen, I don’t want to stake too much on this, but
if you think that there’s any hope of those, these quote-unquote
volunteer positions becoming permanent…Obviously this is gonna
take a few phone calls in the next couple of days. You know,
if we can work out something like that—I’d be more than willing
to sacrifice a superficial victory for something that’s going
to be, in the long-term, economically viable.
Well, it’d be a fair exchange—it’d be a fair exchange. We
have a lot of tech jobs and we’ve never had a Stanley Cup
in recent memory. So, I think—and you always have the Bills
to fall back on—at least you have up until now—
You’ve had your Super Bowl (!) and, uh, all that other stuff.
So, you can afford to pass by a Stanley Cup in order to get
some good tech jobs.
I think so. And, uh, that’s just something that we’ve been
turning over. We thought it was a good idea. And it’d be fine—you
know, we can save face. Maybe a scandal involving a couple
of our players. Maybe Briere and—you know, well Connolly’s
hurt—maybe Briere and Drury, we can generate a story…The Buffalo
News, they’re pretty good to us, they basically reprint
things (we give them)…But we could maybe run a story about
Briere and Drury caught together. Or something. That’s just
Well, I’m going to have to get my Council Cabinet together,
here, and see whether they will agree with that strategic
Well, we wouldn’t implicate you. I think it would be all above-board.
You know, if you want to talk to Mr. Muckler—they’re free
to take a run at McKee. If you want to put (Senators Defenseman
Zdeno) Chara on (Sabres Defenseman Jay) McKee, I’m not sure…I
was speaking to Darcy and they’re not sure they’re gonna be
able to sign him anyway…
Again, I’m glad to find that you’re at least considering the
Because, you know, really it’s…Like I said, I’m new to this
and I’m finding that, in the States here, that there aren’t
too many people willing to extend a hand and—
Well, you know, maybe it’s a bit premature and we should revisit
this on Thursday morning after we see the results of tomorrow’s
the conversation was at an end, I decided to squeeze what
further life I could from it by revealing “Mayor Brown” to
be somewhat emotionally unstable and hopefully rattling Chiarelli’s
cage a bit.
Well, you’re driving a hard bargain. I can appreciate that.
But, like I said, it’s—just…I really am, like, (growing emotional)
overwhelmed by the fact that you’ve taken the time to call—
You’ve heard me out. It’s—there’s been some bad news here,
recently, that I’m losing some people in my staff. And the
papers, I’m starting to sense that they’re maybe laying into
me a little bit. You know, the honeymoon is over…
I’m just sort of struggling right now. (Sobbing) I appreciate
it. I really appreciate you being so courteous and kind.
Yes…All right! Listen…
Well, stay in touch! Let’s touch base on Thursday morning
and maybe we can revisit this, uh, potential—potential exchange.
(Sobbing profusely) Yeah, I’d like that very much! Okay, Mr.
(Tearfully) Okay, thank you! Thank you!
Chiarelli’s staff spent much of the next hour futilely pumping
Fallon for information, over nearly half a dozen phone calls.
His was the only contact number they’d been given. Fallon resorted
to his lawyering worst, offering clipped, monosyllabic answers.
Finally, he agreed to send them a fax, which would “prove” he
was from Mayor Brown’s office. But he never sent it. We were
just stunned they hadn’t figured it out by then. We also imagined
Bob Chiarelli, good-natured Canadian—and newly-minted felon—heaping
immoderate and obscene abuse on his ingenuous staff.
have to say, this shocked even us. We always knew governments
were buyable. We just didn’t think they were for sale to inert
layabouts like us. But in the space of a day, with little planning,
we managed to proposition a mayor’s wife, courtesy of her husband;
and to successfully pitch a sporting fix, greater in its potential
economic impact than the 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal. We
know what you’re thinking. Say it ain’t so, BEAST.
Say it ain’t so.
folks. It be so.
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