Mickie Winkler, a former Menlo Park City Council member and mayor, has released a humor book containing local anecdotes and reflections called "Politics, Police and Other Earthling Antics."
The book is published by Austin Macauley Publishers and is narrated from the perspective of an alien from the imaginary planet Zalaria. But for locals, it's not hard to find stories from around the community embedded in its pages – scattered with observations about pop culture and other personal anecdotes.
Having lived in seven cities around the U.S. and several other countries – Turkey, Thailand, Russia and China – Winkler said in an interview she wanted to apply the different perspectives she's picked up living around the globe. Even within the U.S., she said, she was considered a liberal in New York, a "damn Yankee" in the South and then was recast as a conservative in California. Winkler served on the Menlo Park City Council from 2002 to 2006 and was mayor in 2005.
Writing from an alien's perspective, she said, made it easier in some instances to talk about awkward subjects. For instance, why so much of what humans do seems to be tied to an obsession with sex.
"It's a perspective you can have from the outside, (but is) less fun to talk about from the inside," she said.
It's also a perspective she's learned to apply in her own life, holding subjects at an arm's length and finding a way to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
Absurdity, she says, "is part of who we are, our human heritage."
Several of her stories point to what she sees as the absurdity of some local and state politics. When she was elected to the City Council, she said she laughed when she was asked to swear to protect the California Constitution from all sworn enemies.
"Nobody reads the Constitution of California," she said, "It's hundreds of pages of mishmash."
A number of the anecdotes in the 147-page book are loosely veiled stories about Menlo Park. Winkler's stories describe a town called "Menlo Lark" of which she served as mayor, and how she achieved what she describes as a rare distinction of not being reelected after her first term. Still, she told The Almanac she considers her time on the council to have been "an incredible experience and privilege."
Included in the book is a story called "The Naked Cop," which draws on a news story The Almanac broke in 2013 about an on-duty Menlo Park cop who was found wearing nothing with a prostitute at a Motel 6 in Sunnyvale. He was later allowed to return to duty following an internal affairs investigation. Winkler frames the story as a comical bedtime story dialogue between a grandmother and her granddaughter.
In one anecdote, she says that she earned enemies among voters while in office for voting against police raises, opposing using a baseball park as a dog park (she said she warned that it would become known as "Poop Park"), and calling the city's heritage tree ordinance a Heritage Twig Ordinance "because it protects even the newest and tiny trees from nearby development."
"For this, I was accused of liking people more than trees," she said.
She also makes pointed jabs at police body cameras and their frequent "malfunctions" and California's ballot initiative and legislative processes.
Winkler's stories also draw heavily on her experiences teaching conversational English around the world and in the U.S., and in one piece points out the difficulties of teaching English learners the distinctions between words like led and lead, read and read, and hour and our.
"English is a really hard language to learn," she said. "I really respect people who ultimately master it."
Winkler recently moved across the Menlo Park border into a retirement community in Palo Alto, but remains politically active in Menlo Park. She's working on more humorous materials, she added.
The stories, she said, are short and can be read and shared with friends quickly.
"I hope they make people think a little," she said. "There's a lot that people in Menlo Park will recognize here. I do think they'll enjoy it."
The book is available at Kepler's, Barnes & Noble and Amazon for $10.95.