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Goodnight, sweet nine-and-a-half-fingered prince

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02/24/2011

Goodnight, sweet nine-and-a-half-fingered prince photo 3

The world lost a great Chicagoan last night. I am talking, of course, about @MayorEmanuel, who disappeared into a time vortex just as a bolt of lightning and a clap of thunder rocked the city in real time. The mysterious and consistently profane Twitter account has been going since September, when the real Rahm Emanuel announced his intention to run for mayor, but in the last month or so, the story has escalated into the realm of genius.

More than 30,000 followers have been engrossed in @MayorEmanuel’s exploits and misadventures, which have included an uproarious 50 Wards in 50 Hours tour, nights spent under bridges and in the Soldier Field parking lot, camping out in the crawlspace in his rented-out house, cruising down Lake Shore Drive in a blizzard, and a psychedelic mind-bender in the middle of a flooded wheat field, incited by a can of fermented baby food and culminating in an encounter with the living, glowing heart of Chicago oral historian (and excellent Jew) Studs Terkel. @MayorEmanuel’s readers have grown to love his cast of sidekicks, included Hambone the dog, Quaxelrod the duck, Carl the Intern and of course, David Axelrod and his trusty Honda Civic.

Much has been made of the fact that @MayorEmanuel had garnered nearly four times the number of followers that Rahm’s real Twitter account (@RahmEmanuel) did. Rahm himself even offered a large donation to the charity of @MayorEmanuel’s choice, if the creator would identify him or herself. The genius behind @MayorEmanuel, however, has decided to stay anonymous, for now – a move which I applaud, as well as the bold move to literally push his or her creation into another universe to save our own, and to get out at the top of @MayorEmanuel’s game. For those who don’t want to wade through the backlog of posts, Timothy Carmody, a former Chicagoan, has assembled an annotated timeline of this last plot twist (warning: VERY not safe for work language).

When that final thunderclap boomed overhead, and the Twitterverse realized that @MayorEmanuel had gone silent (mid-swear, of course), the outpouring of emotion was immense. People all over the world admitted to crying and feeling empty – which begs the question: What serialized fiction has elicited such a response from its audience since 1841, when Charles Dickens killed off Little Nell in his serial The Old Curiosity Shop? I admit to being suckered in. When I started following @MayorEmanuel, it was mostly reactive snark – good reactive snark, but still reactive. Lately, however, the form of the status updates had been changing: we were getting plot, reported as if we were standing with @MayorEmanuel himself, rather than watching his tweets. The audience became involved, and the shift was fascinating. What are we going to do now, without Quaxelrod, without Hambone, without Carl the Intern? What does Axelrod do with himself, once he’s done with his Kaddish?

@MayorEmanuel made us laugh, but he also made us care. You can think what you want about the real Rahm, but this one is – or was – intoxicatingly in love with the city of Chicago. Under all the cursing and comedy and commentary, we got treated to totally uninhibited celebrations of the places and people we love best. There was nothing ironic or self-deprecating about his enjoyment of the gin Jacuzzi or the homemade luge track during the ward tour. That ride down Lake Shore with all the windows open was exhilarating just to read about. Even on @MayorEmanuel’s last night, spent under the Cortland Street Bridge, we can pause a moment for the incredible view.

I don’t know when we’re going to see anything like @MayorEmanuel again. Many have tried, but no fake Twitter accounts have really gotten this kind of following, this kind of involvement, for so long. Part of it is the writer’s awesome comedic skills, coupled with a real humanity that sneaks up on you; a huge part of it, I think, is that the writer is so obviously one of us. This person knows exactly when to complain about the snow, what streets are best for cruising, what quirks of the city are uniquely ours. This person also takes advantage of the audience’s surroundings like no other. I’m not kidding when I remind you that @MayorEmanuel disappeared in the midst of a sudden bout of thundersleet. For all its wackiness, the @MayorEmanuel story remained impressively grounded in reality.

It would, of course, be great to have @MayorEmanuel with us for Mayor-elect Emanuel’s real tenure in office. But I would much rather take a glorious ending at the right time than a joke that peters out when its creator has lost heart but not popularity. If the author of @MayorEmanuel has any kind of savvy, my hope is that she or he will both stay anonymous and get a book deal: I would love to see the whole saga collected in a more permanent, presentable way. (On a personal note, I also hope the author is a she: women are funny, world, and we know it too.)

But for now, let us take a moment. The last month has been a real trip in the Twitterverse. Let us pause in the new, one-Rahm world, and celebrate a great Chicagoan: @MayorEmanuel, mayor for all of space and @#()$%*(# time!

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