The first municipal election that held much interest for me featured my neighbor, Stanley Shepalonis, as a candidate for city council. Stanley, known to everyone as Shep, was somewhat unique among local office seekers. For one thing he was the only candidate who had once been dead.
The local folklore had it that Shep spent the better part of one summer day drinking boilermakers consisting of Stegmaier beer and Canadian Club whiskey at the annual clambake held by the Lithuanian Citizens Club. After climbing into his car and weaving his way home, he pulled into his garage and promptly fell asleep with the engine running. By the time his mother realized the situation and called for help, Shep was unconscious and had turned an eerie shade of blue. An ambulance arrived with the local coroner not far behind. The coroner, who was not a physician but rather the local undertaker “Digger” Delaney, knelt beside Shep, listened for breath sounds and felt for a pulse. He detected neither.
Some suspected that Delaney’s failure to note vital signs might have been related to the fact that he had just returned from the same clambake (by virtue of his office he was an honorary Lithuanian).
In any event, Delaney said, “He’s gone,” and instructed the ambulance attendants to take the body to the morgue. On the way to the morgue Shep sat up and started talking, which scared the bejesus out of the ambulance attendants and caused the vehicle to end up in a ditch. Shep said, “The hell with this”, climbed out the back of the ambulance and walked home.
People in the old neighborhood didn’t make a distinction between clinical death and real death. To them, dead was dead. So when Shep returned after being hauled off to the morgue, he was viewed with some reverence as having returned from the other side. Many thought that Shep was sent back to accomplish something, and his mission might be met by serving on the city council.
Another distinction that Shep held was the fact that he was generally considered to be the cheapest person in town. Although he had a reasonably good income and lived rent-free with his mother, he bought all his clothes at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, bragged that he still wore the same underwear he had worn in high school, and was said to hang used tea bags on the shower rod to dry so that they could be used again.
With this mix of spirituality and frugality, Shep was considered the early favorite in the election. However, politics, even at the small town level, can be a tricky business. Shep’s candidacy began to unravel when the local weekly newspaper, The Sunday Dispatch, decided to publish interviews with candidates for city council. Shep’s responses to the interview not only demonstrated him to be completely unfit for public office, but also caused many people to wonder about residual effects of the carbon monoxide episode earlier in his life.
Regarding his qualifications, he had always claimed four years of high school. But when pressed for a graduation date, Shep had to admit that his four years of school consisted of two in the ninth grade and two in the tenth.
On municipal spending, which was considered one of his strengths; he supported the fire department’s plan to buy a new fire truck, but insisted that they keep the old truck for false alarms.
He also used the interview to propose his double-barrel plan to reduce unemployment and save the tax payers money. He proposed that all city departments should lay-off one person to reduce the size of government. Then each department was to hire a currently unemployed person to replace the person who was let go, thus reducing unemployment.
After that interview was published, even his most ardent supporters realized that whatever the purpose was for Shep’s return from the dead, it was not to serve on the city council.
Many years later I was visiting the old neighborhood and happened to run into Shep. We sat on his porch and talked about the old days. Of course the subject of the election came up. He looked off in the distance and said, “Yeah, back then seeming to be on God’s good side and hating to spend money couldn’t overcome a bad case of stupidity.” Then looking me straight in the eye he said, “Too bad I’m not running today, I’d probably win in a landslide.”