Joe Turner was hanging around the Grinold Township building the other day along with Supervisor Larry Lohman. Sitting around the office, waiting for something to happen has become a daily ritual for the old boys. Since the crash of '08, activity has slowed down to a baby's crawl in Diffle County, especially in Grinold Township, known to locals as The Old Grin.
The largest town in The Old Grin is Fletcher's Pond, population 546. Not much larger than a village, it is perched on the edge of State Route 39; houses on one side of the two-lane road and Fletcher's 30-acre pond on the other side. A few side streets are hidden from view behind the very large, early 1900's houses that rest on the edge of the highway. Most of those homes were converted into apartments many years ago.
There are more dirt roads than paved roads in this wild and wooded land. The running joke is: How do you fix a pothole in Grinold Township? Answer: Add more stone. City folks swear they can hear that song from Deliverance playing from every front porch. Yet the men are hard-working and honest, the wives are built from hardwood, and the families run back through time to the first settlers of Diffle County. It is a bad place to get lost and a good place to get found.
Zoning Officer Walt Groner arrives at the township office around 9:30 a.m wearing black, as usual. Joe asks him if he has a full closet of the same outfit. Walt, without hesitation tells Joe Turner to go "F" himself. Lohman laughs so hard he falls off his chair. Another day has begun in The Old Grin.
Walt agrees to be 76 years old and admits he is computer illiterate ("give me a typewriter with round, black keys and I'll be fine"). Walt doesn't accept that he is OCD- in the old days good people were neat and orderly- now it is a treatable illness.
Joe Turner tests Walt for OCD by kicking the leg of one of the folding chairs at the end of the row. They are all lined up in neat rows for the next town meeting. Walt stares at Joe from his desk in the corner of the room. The chair is no longer in line with the rest of the row. Joe smiles sweetly at Walt, who looks away, grumbling to himself. A few seconds pass. Walt Groner stares at the awkward chair, then at Joe Turner.
"Move the friggin' chair back."
"Because it is ASKEW!"
Joe rests his case.
A few minutes later, Walt files an appeal. "OCD is a bunch of crap. don't believe in it." Joe walks over to the town meeting table. It is a large, rectangular table, capable of seating 5 large men on one side. There is a perfectly arranged stack of newspapers near table's corner, close to Walt's desk. Joe Turner smacks the pile, sending sections of newspaper haphazardly across the table. It is a bit of a mess. Joe stands at the end of the table, his smile back on solid.
Walt tries to ignore the messy newspapers. He pinches his nose, he rolls his eyes, he looks over at Lohman for moral support, then he looks down at his shoes. Inside his head, Walt Groner is having a meltdown and Joe Turner knows it.
Suddenly, Walt jumps out of his chair, grabs the newspapers and repairs the tumbled stack, muttering something about jacks and asses. Then he speaks up. "Don't touch the friggin' newspapers. I have them properly organized." Another short pause, then Joe displays his middle finger for Walt to see, and everyone in the room breaks down in helpless laughter- including Walt Groner.
Frank Berger drops in with the mail. A Korean and Vietnam war vet, "Burger" drives his Chevy truck over to pick up the mail from the township post office box every day. After years of tagging along with Supervisor Lohman,the township fathers decided to give Frank his own key. He is their personal mail carrier, a chronic complainer, his thousand facial wrinkles a testament to a long life of serving our country. He is fiercely loyal to his friends. He is equally loyal to their enemies. This creates friction at times, but Frank Berger remains an Old Grin Father Figure.
Burger once thought a broken, ancient, cheaply made drum set had great value simply because it was old and sitting in his attic. Lohman reminded Burger that age alone does not make something valuable. "Look at you, Father Figure. You're old. How valuable are you?" Burger replied with the usual Grinold deadpan, "Happy birthday Don", he chimed out. Everyone laughed. Happy birthday is not a compliment within the boundaries of this community. Calling someone Don can be considered offensive as well, unless their name is Don, and even then it is only somewhat acceptable.
Besides, Father Figure is very valuable. Every three weeks, Burger drives that ugly brown truck to an unknown airfield, is given a briefcase that is handcuffed to his wrist, boards a military plane, and flies off to the Far East. He is usually home within a week. He won't reveal anything more than that and everyone knows not to ask. Burger still serves his country. He has great value.
Jimmy "The Squirrel" Jackson pulls up in the parking lot. Suerpvisor Lohman is through the back door and out into the main garage before The Squirrel can open his car door. Everyone knows the drill. Since Lohman is not in the room, he is technically not in the office.
Squirrel enters the office and is greeted by Walt and Joe."Hey Jim, Howdy, Jim". The Squirrel returns their greeting while looking around, "Is Lohman here? I have a question for him." Sounds like a Squirrel complaint is on its way. Burger answers, "I don't see him here." Turner responds with, "Don left a few minutes ago."
The Squirrel is the only person building a new house in The Old Grin this year. Life has gotten harder, homes once full of children sit empty, their lawns filled with grass higher than a cow pasture. Back in the Township office, there isn't much to do and the old boys poke fun at each other relentlessly. Yet they all feel the undercurrent of despair. Everyone in Diffle County knows someone who has lost their job, or their house, or their family, or all three. The boys of Old Grin believe it will probably get worse. They call themselves realists.
And so the vegetable gardens are bigger this year, the trips to East Greenville more infrequent. The State has fenced all the Game Lands into square mile blocks, numbered each one, and are selling hunting tickets for each block on the "grid". Joe Turner calls it hunting socialism. Lohman claims that there are fewer deer outside the State fences and the Grinold boys are worried there won't be enough deer meat to go around this winter.
Joe Turner says goodbye, walks out into the parking lot and gets inside his honey-dipper truck. He has been pumping out septic tanks for over thirty years. Every morning, Joe Turner will drop in during his rounds, drink the free coffee, read the free newspapers, have a couple of laughs, and then move on to the next hot spot.
Back in East Greenville, the Town Council is working on next year's budget. Tax revenues are down 15% while costs have increased 8%. Foreclosures are on the rise. If the Borough wants to balance their budget, layoffs and tax increases will be necessary. Mayor Cantonelli scratches his head. "Did you know that Grinold Township has not raised taxes in over thirty years?". The other budget committee members shake their head in disbelief.. "They even make their employees purchase their own pencils...and they have 2 million dollars in the bank!" Quiet profanities are uttered.
Squirrel leaves The Old Grin township office. He turns onto the South side Route 39, waving to a boater out on Fletcher's pond. Bobby LaFleur is fishing from his rowboat when he sees something big floating in the lily pads near the shore. He pokes the clothing-covered object with an oar and the object rolls over slightly, revealing the face of a very beautiful, very dead young woman. Life in The Old Grin is about to get a little busier.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real folks, living or dead, is purely incidental, or perhaps accidental but certainly not intentional. Copyright 2011 by Rick Fisher Al Rights Reserved.