Thursday, February 2, 2017

Diffle County Truths- The Everybody Principle

There is one simple Diffle County truth that rings true year after year, generation after generation and that is everybody knows everybody.  While that may appear to quite impossible, everyone who lives here actually knows everyone else who lives here. We know where the strangers are living too.  And not one of us  "Difflers"  will rent out our home to strangers from other lands. That would require proper cleaning and adding amenities.

When Aunt Mary Rose  (everyone calls her Aunt Mary and everybody agrees we have no idea who she is related to) received a mailer that an internet vacation rental company wanted to list her summer home in Maine for vacation rentals, she nearly melted down like a grilled cheese sandwich at the diner  ( she actually was at the diner when this happened ).

"Well,  the extra income would be nice" she said to her neighbor Rudith Holmes who sat across from her in one of the the older booths in the original section of the diner ( two additions on opposite ends turned a 30 seat diner into a 120 seat restaurant but the locals prefer the original section ).  Rudith blew her nose into the napkin and then used it to wipe her mouth.  I know- that is kind of gross but everybody knows you only get one napkin unless you ask for another.  Rudith stuffed a thin, dry, bite-sized portion of pork chop she had just sawed off the main course into her tiny, prim mouth.

"I don't know why I order the boneless pork chop here.  Everyone knows that shoe leather is boneless too." she griped back at Aunt Mary, who was mixing her corn with her mashed potatoes, right next to over-sized slice of meatloaf,  " and I am not very sure if this is pork chop or shoe leather."  Ask anyone in town. Rudith Louise Cynthia Holmes complains a lot.

"Rudith I tell you every time do NOT order the stuffed pork chops and then you order it anyway. Now just stop your complaining. Everyone can hear you and we don't need everybody knowing our business." Aunt Mary sipped on her unsweetened iced tea through a plain, white straw, standard issue at the Westville Diner.

"Now if I rented out the Maine house when I wasn't there then I couldn't just pack up my bags, grab Forty-Niner  (there isn't a person in Diffle County who doesn't know that the medium-sized , multi-colored Cockapoo named Forty-Niner belongs to Aunt Mary) and head North for a few days.   I would also have to buy new towels, new sheets, and remove all my personal belongings.  And then total strangers would be living in my house, doing whatever they wanted on my furniture."   Aunt Mary filled her mouth with a fork-full of corn/mashed potato/meatloaf, chewing silently.  However, the money would be helpful, she thought.

"I was having breakfast here yesterday morning when I overheard Pastor Thompkin's wife, complain about having rented out their home for two weeks while they traveled and they came home to over twenty thousand dollars worth of damage to their house." Aunt Mary signaled the waitress to bring a box.  "She said her husband spoke words to the Lord that she never even knew existed."

Rudith started sawing off another slice.  " Ginnie Radcliffe told me that everyone in church knows he has a wicked tongue, forged by the devil.  Serves him right for trying to turn the parsonage into a vacation rental. You know everyone I talk to to agrees with me."  She sighed as she ate another piece of diner shoe, this time adding gobs of gravy to wetten the slide down her aging throat.

Aunt Mary looked over at the counter seat, where Frank Kagen was sitting. Frank turned to face Aunt Mary and smiled a hello.  Aunt Mary frowned.  "Mr. Kagen, Whatever are you staring at?"

"Aunt Mary, I couldn't help overhearing your conversation with Rudith.  I know some folks who rented out their home for the weekend last summer for two thousand dollars.  Everybody is talking about it.  Thought you should know."Frank turned back to his plate of creamed chipped beef on toast.

"While that is a lot of money,  I just don't think the aggravation is worth it.  Are you on you lunch break, Mr. Kagen?"  Aunt Mary peered down through her readers that were perfectly perched on the end of her nose.

"Yes Ma'am.  Just taking a short break."  Frank replied.

"Mr. Kagen,  Every man, woman, and child in Diffle County knows you haven't worked a steady job in fifteen years.  Your poor wife has had to work night shifts at the County Hospital to keep a roof over your head. And here  you sit at the diner for hours every day.  You aught to be ashamed. "

Frank Kagen chuckled at Aunt Mary. "If you want to know more about my life come on over and move right in.  You can sleep in the spare bedroom.  You know the one we shared about ten years ago when Molly started working the night shift? Everybody was talking about us back then, Mary."

Aunt Mary clucked her tongue as she walked past Kagen to pay the bill at the counter, her nose firmly up in the air.  Rudith remained in the booth, smirking slightly as she finished her meal.  There wasn't a person in Diffle County who didn't remember Aunt Mary's affair with Frank. Molly Kagen came home early one night due to a stomach virus and found Aunt Mary and Molly's serial cheating husband Frank naked in the spare bedroom.  Molly chased that Aunt Mary over a mile down Main Street at three o'clock in the morning, only stopping once to fill Aunt Mary's unclothed ass with a shotgun blast of rocksalt.

Aunt Mary slid into to her shiny black, mint condition, 1979 Lincoln Continental with tinted windows and backed out onto highway.  As she was blindly backing onto the state road, Grinold Township Supervisor Big Don was pulling into the parking lot. He shook his head as her car backed out onto the main highway, forcing a tractor-trailer to lock up his air brakes to avoid crushing her and her car.

"Thank goodness everybody knows Aunt Mary never looks when she backs out of the diner onto the main road.  Otherwise she would've been T-boned by now."  Big Don shook his head in disbelief as he parked the township truck at the Westville diner where he would hold court for the next two hours, something everybody complains about but never directly to Big Don.

(Diffle County is a pretend place located in Eastern Pennsylvania near the Kittatiny Ridge. All characters are fictional and any resemblance  to real country folk is incidental and unintended, generally speaking.)

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Diner Talk and Terrorism - Remembering Ross Township

Flags Fly at the Ross Township Municipal Building

Two years ago Friday, a deranged gunman attacked citizens and township officials at a monthly supervisors meeting in Ross Township, Monroe County, Pennsylvania   Three people died including the zoning officer- who I had the honor of working with the winter before he was brutally murdered.

I was their alternate sewage officer at that time but was not present at the meeting.  The primary sewage officer was at the meeting and threw himself over a railing on an emergency exit ramp and fell 15 feet onto hard ground.  He punctured a lung and never fully recovered.  He passed away this past year. I count him as the fourth casualty.

His name was Truman Burnett and he was older than me by a few years.   We were never friends but I respected him and was honored to cover for him when he went to Florida for the winter, fishing in the summer, or when he sold headstones at the West End Fair at the end of August. Each time he would call me and say something like, "Hey kid, I'm taking a week off to go fishing.  I'll call you when I get back"   And just like that, I was covering for him.   I miss him calling up and saying, "Hey Kid".

A week after the mass shooting I was sitting at his desk.  There were bullet holes in the wall with small State Police ID tags taped next to the holes.   There was no "Hey kid" phone call.  When I arrived, a security officer was screening everyone before we entered. The carpet in the meeting room was removed- ruined from all the blood.

  I looked across at the zoning desk of Dave Fleetwood, who was mortally wounded that night. Dave was always so careful about making certain we used a buddy system when we would drive to properties in violation.  He recognized that there were some unstable characters out there and that safety in numbers was prudent.  It is ironic he died in a meeting room full of people.

The window the shooter used in the initial stage of his attack was now boarded up. The room felt sad and full of death. It was very difficult to work there those first few weeks.  I kept thinking about how easy this could happen at any township meeting. It doesn't matter if the shooter is a certifiable or a member of ISIS- the result is the same: innocent people who care about their community will die.

Lots of local folks knew the Ross Township killer and  his family.  He was always crazy, they would tell me.   He was the person who sat at the counter of the local diner and complain loudly about the state of the world- government can't be trusted, and other dark schemes .

At our local diner, there are a couple of crazy old men who sit at the counter and complain loudly about the state of our country- how our government can't be trusted, and other dark schemes.

Here is a snippet of the conversation/monologue overheard while eating breakfast at our local diner:

     "They are discriminating against the white man in this country.  We need to fix that.  This is our country, a white country, built by white men and we need to protect our rights.  We have rights too, ya know.  And we have to do whatever it takes to protect our rights!"

Whatever it takes. That is a dangerous statement one should take to heart,  Now at every township meeting (and there are several each month) I scan the audience for strangers and when the front door rings indicating another person is about to enter the meeting room I tense up just enough and remember to keep low and get to the nearest exit as fast as possible and then run for cover.

This is the new reality of local government service.   Then again, I do the same thing at the movies, at a restaurant, at a concert, or a sporting event.   Perhaps it is simply the new reality that we all share- public meetings, movie theaters, schools, concert halls, festivals, races, or simply riding a train, flying in a plane, or hopping on a bus.  Pay attention to your surroundings and be ready to run for your life.

That should not stop us from enjoying our freedom, so valiantly fought for by so many in the name of country, a freedom that others have spilled blood and given their own lives to defend.  That is why their sacrifice must be deeply respected because if it weren't for them, soldiers and citizens alike, there would be no elections in this country, no freedom of speech, no bill of rights, no right to keep and bear arms, no right to assemble, no rights at all.

My thoughts and prayers are with Ross Township this day.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    


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