March 19, 2016

SMALL-TOWN DESPERATION


I have often been accused of having more courage than brains; and reliving these experiences on paper, I find I must bow to an observant public.
My editor (a/k/a “Attila”), having assigned me the impossible task of covering Deep River, that thriving metropolis all of one square mile large, was done with me.  I left his office with no names, no addresses, and no leads.  The only thing I knew for sure was the location of this diminutive burg and the telephone number of the Town Hall.
I decided that the first thing I ought to do was to call the Town Clerk and get the schedule of town meetings for the month.  At least it would be something to cover.  Here’s what happened:
“Hello?”
“Hello.  Town Clerk, please.”
“This is the Town Clerk,” the same voice replied.
“Oh, well this is the Provincial Picayune Gazette reporter for Deep River.”
After her hysterical fit of laughter subsided, she asked, “What can I do for you?”
“I’d like the schedule of the town meetings for this month,” I replied.
Following another seemingly endless guffaw, she asked, “Honey, are you kidding?”
I assured her I was not.
“Lady,” she chuckled, “we haven’t had a town meeting here since the garbage truck broke down back in 1910!”
Seeing that I was getting nowhere with this human cabbage, I asked to be connected with the First Selectman.
“Speaking,” she said.
I rattled off a list of every official position I could think of, asked to speak to each one of them.  She answered to them all, right down to dogcatcher and second-in-command of the local flea circus.
Disheartened, I hung up the phone.  But then, like a thunderclap, an idea boiled up in my brain.  Why not call a resident and do an expose on living inside a small town dictatorship?  Or, better still, the pros and cons of living in a ghost town?  Trembling in anticipation, I located a telephone directory and began flipping pages.  I went through that phone book at least seven times, but Deep River was nowhere to be found.  Somewhat irritated that Ma Bell had seen fit to deny the very existence of the town I was reporting on, I called the telephone company to inquire as to what they had done with Deep River; because, if it’s not listed in the directory, then it surely must no longer exist.  For that matter, things were getting so surreal, that I began to believe that it might never have existed at all.  The telephone company has an ‘in” on these matters, and their word is not to be doubted.  As a matter of fact, if the directory is published and your name is omitted, it might be a wise idea to check your pulse.
When the receiver at the telephone company was lifted, I prostrated myself in a position of submission and asked, “May I speak to the Holy One?”
“Do you have Vatican approval?”
“No,” I answered,” but it is a matter of the utmost urgency.  I’m sure the Benevolent One will understand, if you will please make an exception.”
“The Christian Patriarch understands all.  I shall put you through,” she said softly.  And I was connected with HIM . . . the One in charge of Customer Service.
“Oh, Great Lover of Truth and Light,” I addressed Him, “Will you suffer to answer a question from a humble, unworthy servant?”
“Yes, my child,” He replied.
“Oh, Master of Wisdom and Keeper of Charity, where is Deep River?”
“Page 23,” He said.  “May the Lord bless you and keep you and endow you monthly with wealth and an abundance of long-distance telephone calls.”  Then he hung up with a gentle click.
Awestruck by the religious experience I’d just been through, I quietly replaced the receiver in its cradle.  No church service had ever been like this.  It was like a direct line to the Almighty, who, if He were located on earth would, out of necessity, be the CEO of the telephone company in order to maintain the equivalent measure of power He enjoyed in heaven.
After considering whether or not the current CEO could walk across the Connecticut River unaided by a bridge, I remembered my original purpose and picked up the directory once again.  What had he said?  Page 23?  I turned to the twenties.  No Deep River . . . and what was worse, no page 23 – until I looked closer.  Page 23 was stuck between pages 22 and 24.  I disengaged it and looked upon the Deep River listings . . .a full half page of them.  The first half was comprised of a listing of Town Offices; all, of course, with the same telephone number after each one.
A tear trickled from the corner of my eye as I counted up the population of Deep River . . . on one hand . . . with fingers to spare.
I did find a listing for the Boy Scouts of America, oddly enough.  With that in mind, I phoned and arranged for an interview about scouting in Deep River.  I got a Pulitzer Prize-worthy scoop about the town’s negligence in providing the Boy Scouts with a place to meet and hold functions. The fellow I spoke with had been the scout leader for the last 35 years, but didn’t have a whole lot to do, since no one had joined his scout troop . . . ever. 
It was my considered opinion that if a meeting place had been erected, he would have moved in there; lock, stock and torn tee shirt.  Anything to escape the rabbit hutch he was presently inhabiting, along with six dogs and twelve cats, which, if the fragrance filling the house was any indication, he never let outside.  And the noise!  The dogs tore at the cats and the cats scratched at the dogs until it was no longer possible to determine which was which, unless you judged by height and amount of blood.
As soon as I was able, I beat a hasty retreat from the premises.  After I dried my tears and blew my nose on my interview, I drove to the town garage, punched quarter-sized holes in every tire on the garbage truck, and poured five pounds of sugar into the gas tank.
There was a town meeting that Friday at 8:00.

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