Here Come the Judge

It is the worst kind of nightmare, to wake from a bad dream into a worse one, with the sickening realization that you are condemned to run, like the incredible shrinking man, through an infinite regression of worlds, each more terrifying than the last. My first dream last night was elegiac: a visit to my desolate hometown, where there was no familiar face, no word of welcome. A faceless voice whispered to me: there is no place on earth that you can call home.

I "awake" into the dismal predawn grayness of a November day in northern Illinois, knowing that the shadow will not lighten for several months. At breakfast I pick up the local Gannett paper and see the face of the leader staring at me. Here in the Rockford nightmare, it is not Bill Clinton or Mayor Charles Box or any elected official who cracks the whip and grinds the peasants, but an appointed potentate named Michael Mahoney, who is content to be called "the Judge." His picture is everywhere—in the newspaper, on television; it is a face bloated with arrogance and contempt.

Today, the Judge has made himself the lead story by issuing a decree that local property owners will be assessed another 12 percent (making a total of a 17 percent increase this year), to pay for his favorite sport: a game called musical schools, in which children are bussed around the city, schools opened and closed, academic programs turned upside down and inside-out....

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