Back to the Desk

©2017 Levite
TheMediaDesk.com

"We don't need a city manager."

Middlefork, Illinois

"Well, Ed, you're the City Manager. What do we do now?"
    "I'll make some phone calls."
"Now you sound like a manager."
    "Gee, thanks."

-Part One-

      I had applied for the job and was invited in for an interview, and before the interview even started one a man who appeared to be the oldest board member, and who had a remarkable pure white mustache, smacked the palm of his hand on the table then proclaimed that they still didn't need a manager, and that I was the 'third one' they'd drug all the way out here for an interview.
      "I'm sorry Mister Davies, but, you'll have to understand that feelings have been running a bit high over this issue."
      "Yes, ma'am, I understand."
      "We've been here all these years without one, what's changed?" The protesting member asked.
      "The census for one," a heavy set gentleman said with infinite patience running through his voice.
      "Well, but."
      "And the city is offering more services to residents than ever before," the chairwoman added.
      The large man nodded, "Most of them you voted for."
      The mustached man, muttered "we're not even a town yet" then he clammed up and glared at me.

      It wasn't the most amicable interview in history, but I got the job.
      One of the comments I heard clearly through the door was that they didn't want me to leave after hearing all their dirty laundry.
      Not a high recommendation for sure, but I got the job nevertheless.

      After their discussion, I was reintroduced to the board members that stayed around to meet their new employee, and I made the effort to remember the names while we casually walked around city hall. All three rooms of city hall, not counting the restroom.
      The chairwoman of the village board was Mrs. Robbins. She told me she'd just love to take me on a tour and show me the apartment that came with the position.
      Pastor Smith of the United Church was the large patient man whose handshake was firm, and very warm.
      The member of the board who had only said one thing during the interview was the village secretary, who also happened to be the president of the PTA. Ms Matthews asked me if I planned on using their town as a springboard to a better job someplace.
      I answered the best I could, "Possibly, ma'am, but I'd like to spend a number of years getting good enough at the job to make such an advancement possible."
      "I'm Mayor McBride, Sam, Sam McBride. I would'a voted for you, but the mayor doesn't get a vote unless there's a tie."
      "Nice to meet you, sir."
      Mister Falls, the local car dealer was wearing a nice suit and had asked several business oriented questions, which I think I answered well enough based on the several business and economics courses I'd taken. He evidently agreed with that self evaluation because as he shook my hand he looked me in the eye and said, "I voted for you. I like the way you think about business."
      "Thank you, sir."
      The mustachioed member that didn't stick around to congratulate me was Mister Kaiser. Mrs. Robbins explained him like this: "He's just generally unhappy with anything that wasn't his original idea. And a few things that were."
      Pastor Smith added a very telling comment, "he also doesn't like anybody younger than about fifty, or who has any education at all."
      I looked from one to the other, as that sunk in. They were both younger than the gentleman in question as most living people apparently are, and both appeared to have some 'education'.
      I had to say something so I nodded and said, "I'll try to do the best possible job I can."

Three part time jobs in one.

      During the tour I wondered what I'd gotten myself into.
      I knew the village was going through the process of changing its charter and incorporation status from village to city. And, because of an ancient peculiarity in the constitution of the state of Illinois, it couldn't step up to be a 'town', because there was no provision to become a 'town', it was either change and become a city, with aldermen and all that, or stay a village.
      "We grew without knowing what we were doing, and now, for all intents and purposes, we are a city, but we're still chartered as a village," the lady said.
      "Does it make that much of a difference?"
      "Yes," she said, "surprisingly it does, with everything from bond issues for updating the sewer system to our insurance coverage on the police cars, and other legal matters. And we have less than a year to do everything before we recharter."
      "And Mister Kaiser doesn't like change."
      "No, he even got upset when the diner changed from automatically giving you toasted white bread for breakfast to asking if you wanted white or wheat. He wouldn't go there to eat for a month or more even though they make the best breakfast I've ever had in a restaurant."
      "I see, I look forward to trying it."
      "You won't regret it."

      She took me to an older white clapboard building that you could tell used to be a motel, or maybe even a 'moter inn'. One of those from the fifties that boasted about "A/C and Color TV in every room", that then went bankrupt in the seventies. Now it was a set of fifteen somewhat small apartments which had a marque sign out front that said that some units were available for monthly or yearly lease.
      "This one is yours," Mrs. Robbins said as we walked toward the side entrance of what used to be the motel's caretaker's suite. She unlocked the door and then handed me the key ring and told me to keep the two identical keys on it. "We've got a spare in the safe in the office."
      "OK."
      I'm not sure what I expected, however, whatever I expected it to be, this apartment wasn't it.
      "I feel like we just walked into one of those designer TV shows," I said when she turned on the light in the living area.
      "That's what it is. Carol Enwater did it for a decorator show, she's a designer that works with a lot of campus apartment landlords down in Urbana and over in Bloomington. After the show back in the spring, she donated it all to the city to outfit the apartment for the new manager."
      "Well, it's different," I said as we walked into the kitchen.
      "It all works, at least it did when we moved it up here. I don't know how to use some of it." She pushed a couple of buttons on the thing that I thought was a microwave oven. It beeped a few times and the display changed messages from blinking the wrong time to an error about the food sensor. "The book is inside." She said, then she tried to open the door. "You'll figure it out."
      "Yes, ma'am." I looked at the toaster. Then I inspected the refrigerator. "It wants my email address," I said reading the screen on the freezer door of the side by side unit.
      "Carol said it's the latest and best. Or at least it was last year at the appliance show." She looked at me with concern in her eyes, "It's OK isn't it, Ed?"
      "Yes, ma'am. I'll 'figure it out'." But then I almost took that back when I saw the coffee station. Not coffee pot, Coffee Station. Complete with a foamer and a selection of flavors best left to the hands of professional coffee chefs. Since I would need coffee to do the job, I'd either have to learn how to use it or use my old drip unit from my dorm room. "It'll be OK."
      "The bedroom is over here."

      The bed didn't want my email address, but it did have settings for temperature, massage, angle, height, firmness, and even a built in sound system that produced white noise to lull you to sleep.
      Even the bathroom mirror had a panel on it to change the lighting from daytime to nighttime to something called 'club'. Settings I never planned on using.

      "The home show lady, did...., you said her name was Carol?"
      "Yes."
      "Carol. Does she use all this stuff?"
      "Oh, no. Well, some of it some of it she has in her office. She's an interior decorator and home remodeler. She had a booth with all of the latest for the home."
      "Let me guess. Mister Kaiser didn't buy anything from her."
      She laughed and opened an interior door that led to the former front desk area for the motel.

      The old check in desk was still there, and the office part was all mostly original, complete with now antique cabinets and a rack where the keys used to hang below numbered mail slots.
      "You're also the manager for the apartments. The village owns the..., I mean, the City owns the building. We ended up with it after the former owners went bankrupt and couldn't sell it for what they owned on the taxes."
      "OK." The keys to the vacant units were hanging there, with a folded up lease paper and payment sheet in the mail slots. There were also some notes and things in the various slots referring to either the unit or the tenant.
      "Slim helps out keeping the place up. He'll be by so you can meet him."
      "Slim. OK."

      In the corner of the desk area was a slightly out of date computer with a somewhat small flat screen monitor and a set of speakers that somebody forgot to turn off. Next to it were several thick file folders with department labels on them. The top one said 'parks and lots', the next was 'streets', 'sanitation', 'fire board', and so on. The computer was plugged into one of the oldest internet cable modems I'd ever seen still in use. But, by the flashing lights, it looked like it was working.
      Mrs. Robbins smiled as I read the folders, "The only city department that won't answer to you is the police, their contract says they report directly to the mayor."
      "That's understandable."

      There were several chairs around a small table next to the window. "This way you can have meetings on weekends or at night when city hall is closed," Mrs. Robbins said. "And you can use this as your office if you want." Her face changed to a slight frown. "We only have a desk in the corner of the village office for you, for right now. It's not very private."
      "It's fine, nice and convenient, short commute," I nodded toward the living area.
      "No rush hour traffic, that's for sure," she laughed.

      From there our tour took us out to her car and around the village.
      She pointed to landmarks and facilities, but by the time I looked to see the Falls Family Auto Mall she was already talking about the grade school, and then she was saying something about the fire station.
      There was nothing I could do except nod and make a neutral comment while she turned the corner and then told me about the house where so-and-so lived.

      Later I shook hands all around and said I'd be back on Friday to move in, then get started next week.

      "Did she tell you about the pay?" The Mayor asked me.
      "Yes."
      "All about the pay, the car, and the radio show?"
      "Evidently not."
      "Got a minute?"

      I laughed about the pay for the hour it took me to drive back home.

      While the new city manager's job was full time, and did have benefits, it was being paid for by the combining of three former village part time jobs because there was no provision for it in the village charter.
      The way the mayor put it, from eight until ten in the morning I would be paid the hourly rate of a now vacant part time position that used to pick up trash and empty the cans in the village parks. They didn't need the extra man in the parks because one of the parks isn't there any more, and the other one is now a joint park with the county that has it's own maintenance crew. But the position was still on the books, so they're using it to pay me.
      From ten until two I was the manager for the apartment building. It had been a part time position that became vacant when the lady that had been doing it 'went to the home'. After she left, they decided to move the trade show stuff into the apartment and create the new city manager position with the apartment as part of the package.
      Then from two until five I was drawing the salary of a village inspector who had retired five years ago and had never been replaced. Which also meant that, at need, I would have to go out with the checklist and inspect grounds, sidewalks and streets, the county enforced the building code for new structures at least for now.
      "We're going to readdress the salary issues with the recharter," the mayor concluded, "and under the new charter, the Mayor will be paid for more than twelve hours of work a week as well." He smiled broadly. "I'm part time too."
      There was also a car that was at my disposal for city business. Except that it was in the shop, and nobody knew when, or if, they'd get it back.
      The bit about the radio was simple, but slightly unsettling for me personally, but I didn't have to worry about it for a month.

      And all I could do about any of it was laugh.

"You really got that job?"

      My class at the university had eleven of us graduate with Bachelor's degrees in Civil Administration. Most of my classmates left with their diploma in one hand and at least one job offer from some alphabet soup agency in Chicago or Houston or someplace like that. Me? I left school and two weeks later was helping to load building supplies onto trucks at a warehouse not far from home back in Rock Island. One other of my classmates didn't have any gainful employment lined up, and wasn't looking for any. She went back to school, this time to pursue a music degree. It would be her fourth BA, paid in full, as long as she maintained a 3.0 average or better, by her trust fund.
      So the next morning I went to the warehouse, found the foreman, and simply stuck my hand out with a smile. He knew by looking at me what it was about.
      "Yes, sir, I got the job. It even comes with a small apartment in a city owned building."
      "Well, damn, Ed. Good for you. So how much notice are you giving us?"
      "How much do you need?"
      "Can you work today and tomorrow? I can get somebody in to cover your shift after that."
      "Yes, sir," I answered, shook his hand again, and went to get my pick sheets for the first order to fill.

      It didn't take long for word to get out to the others on the crew, and soon I was taking some good-natured abuse from everybody about how I was moving up in the world and to not forget about them in my big shiny new office.
      All I could say was that the office wasn't that big and the only shiny thing in it was a coffeemaker that I didn't have any idea how to use.

      But all too soon I was at home, sorting my stuff from my roommate's, and packing.
      "Hey, no problem man. Cody needs a place to crash, and he's good for the money too," my soon to be ex-roomie said. Then we argued about whose towels were whose, something we never could keep straight because, evidently, our grandmothers shopped at the same yard sales.

      My family was happy that I had a job where I would 'use my degree'. My grandfather made a speech about how I had to take care of the citizens of the town, even though he kept forgetting which town I had said I'd be working for.
      For his part, my father thought it was some sort of racket and I'd end up going to jail for something the politicians had done years ago. All I could say was I hoped that wasn't the case, but I wasn't going to willingly go to the slammer for something I didn't do.
      Then my grandmother gave me a trash bag and a couple of boxes full of fresh from another rummage sale sheets and towels and 'stuff'.

"My Appliances Hate Me."

      Friday morning I was on the road again. Heading south east on Interstate 74, looking at cornfields and thinking about my new job and the apartment that came with it.
      I knew I was getting close to town when I saw the giant windmills among the corn.
      By noon, I had my stuff moved in and was dealing with my first annoyance of my new place.
      The drawers in the dresser had a mind of their own.

      According to the sticker on top, the drawers would conveniently 'auto-open' with just a touch. And then a second touch would close them.

      No.

      "It says you will OPEN with 'just a touch'," I said to the dresser.

      Hell, no.

      It was a scene from some slapstick revival show with a Charlie Chaplin impersonator. Or maybe that seventies children's ghost hunter show with that one old cowboy actor where the guy in the Zoot Suit could never open the filing cabinet.

      Staring at the dresser didn't work either.

      I touched the drawer I wanted to put my socks in and it opened as advertised. But then as soon as I tried to put my socks in it, it shut without my hands being anywhere near it, and I was still holding my socks. I stopped and laughed, the first time. And a little more the second time. But by the third time it shut the second anything touched it, pinching one pair of socks in the drawer, which it cured by opening and then closing again in a blink of an eye, I gave up. I touched it again, then darted my hand in and out to get the two pair of socks that were in it out. But this time it stayed open. I touched the drawer, and it started to shut, then stopped and opened again. All I could do was laugh, and while I was laughing it shut on its own. So I left the top drawer empty.
      The other drawers worked. Sort of. The second drawer down I had to give a good shove, but then it closed on its own. The bottom would only open about half way, but that was all I needed to put my pajamas in it. The third drawer had evidently read the sticker and worked the way it was supposed to.
      I guess there is a reason the 'auto opening' dresser never caught on.

      I got another dose of ultra modern convenience in the bathroom besides the 'motion sensor' lighting that I wasn't sure I liked or not. I guess I'm fortunate that they didn't change out the toilet for something that monitors your vital signs while you're using it, this one was vintage 1950-something. But they had taken out the old sink and put in a super efficient model with no water pressure and a timer to make sure you only got your face half washed before it turned itself off. The shower in the bathtub was the same sort of thing. It could massage, or give you a high pressure burst, or even change temperature on the fly. That night I found out the only thing it didn't do was make it easy to take a shower.
      While I was in the bathroom I spotted a small appliance that I didn't remember seeing on the tour. But then again, I hadn't looked in the bathroom closet.
      It claimed to be a high efficiency self-contained laundry unit that washed and dried and even refreshed dry cleaning with a steam cycle. The control panel didn't appear to be related to any science fiction movie I was familiar with, instead, it was fairly straight forward. You had three choices of water temperature to wash and rinse, and three choices of drier settings, all on knobs that turned and one switch for 'full load' or 'half load'. You told it what you were putting in, added some soap, and let it do its job. Considering that nightmare microwave in the kitchen, this one was a breeze.
      "Almost too easy," I said to myself, and yes, I do tend to talk to myself.
      I had my doubts about the machine's simplicity, but I fed it some of the dirty clothes I'd bagged and brought with me, put the recommended powder in it from the samples on the shelf above, turned the knobs to 'cold/darks' and 'half load', and listened to it start running. It really was almost too easy, so I started to worry I might never see my stuff again.

      But now I was faced with an empty kitchen and an empty stomach. I remembered that there was a small grocery store somewhere not far from the city offices. Mrs. Robbins had pointed it out on the tour, but I didn't remember seeing it on the way back into town today, which meant it was on the other main street through town.
      So, off I went.

      I found it on my second try.
      The grocery store shared a parking lot with a combination dollar and hardware type store.
      I shrugged to myself and went to the hardware store first.
      Evidently at some point the owner had decided to carry a little of absolutely everything. If you needed something, it was probably there, if you could find it. I walked through and picked up everything from a small frying pan to a wireless weather station and a baseball cap that I decided I could wear while inspecting vacant lots.
      The grocery was small and the staff was friendly. And although the offerings on the shelves were a bit limited, especially considering the monster super store I was accustomed to shopping I. But it had the essentials and that's what I needed.
      I stopped by their deli and picked up a ready made dinner instead of tempting Fate by trying to do anything in that kitchen when I was already tired.
      Finally, after a successful excursion, I headed home.

      Now I had to deal with the fridge.
      It beeped when I opened the door. The panel blinked at me that the 'egg unit' was empty. It still wanted to know my email address. And the vegetable chiller was at forty six degrees. Did I know that I had dared to put something in the dairy section Without Scanning It! Yes, I was fully aware that I didn't get my refrigerator's approval of my choice of yogurt and if I'd remembered to check it in, it probably wouldn't approve of the 'buy one get one half price' butter either. Then when I shut the door, it asked me if I wanted to see a photo of what I'd just put in.
      "No," I said to it.
      The ice dispenser worked. And after all that, I needed it.

      I was running through the TV channels on the old set in the office while my laptop warmed up when I heard a chiming that wasn't the refrigerator cussing me out. I didn't know what it was until I realized it was coming from the bathroom in the apartment.
      My clothes were done.
      I opened the door and there they were. Clean and dry. How about that? I wondered to myself if there was a setting to make it fold the towels and hang my shirts up.
      "Probably not."

      My almost brand new laptop was very underwhelmed by the Internet connection it had found.
      There was no wireless. Period. The blinking box sitting on the desk fed the other units in the old motel on cables through a rack of routers on the shelf above it. But it worked. And it came with the job.
      I decided that Monday I'd call the cable company and see if there was anything they could do to bring our bandwidth into this century.

      The shower was no fun at all. And I felt lucky that the bed didn't throw me out of it because I didn't want to be lulled to sleep by a gentle warm massage to the sounds of the seashore. No, I just wanted to go to sleep, thank you.
      I tried to set the "voice command auto alarm and sleep system" to wake me up in the morning, but evidently it didn't like my tone of voice because the second thing it did was change the clock display to 24 hour time, then it wanted to confirm that I wanted to change the time zone to Pacific Standard from Central Daylight.
      So I gave up and just went to sleep vowing to myself that I'd find where I'd packed my old one the next day.

      Saturday morning I woke up not knowing where I was or how I'd gotten there. Then I heard some sort of dinging and wondered what it was. That's when I remembered where I lived now, and I suspected it was the fridge telling me it was still unhappy with me.
      The refrigerator was unhappy with me, but it wasn't what was dinging.
      The sound was coming from the desk phone in the office. I had a message.
      "This is Myrtle in seven. When somebody gets this message can they come down and fix my toilet again?"
      I looked at the phone and chuckled. Then I said, "Welcome to the Village of, I mean, the City, of Middlefork, Illinois. We're glad you're here."

      Fortunately, when I'd bought my car it came with a tool box overflowing with junk. Some of the junk was tools, and some of the junk was just junk. Now it was a tool box again. I went and got it just in case I needed something, and went to see what I could do.
      I walked down and knocked on unit seven's door, and Myrtle, one standard issue little old lady, answered. "Are you here to fix my toilet?" She said instead of welcoming me to Middlefork, Illinois.
      "Yes, ma'am."
      "It's in there."
      All that was wrong with it was that the pull chain from the flush handle had come loose and gotten wrapped around the flapper valve. It used to happen all the time to one of the toilets on my floor in the dorm, and I'd learned how to fix it in self defense. I saw how they'd tried to fix this one before, but I had a better idea. At least I hoped it was a better idea. I had seen some small plastic cable ties in the drawer in the office, so I went and got one and used it to reattach the chain to the handle. It looked solid, it worked, and it wouldn't rust.
      Myrtle thanked me for coming again, then said she had to get ready to go meet somebody from the church for something.

      As I put my still unopened toolbox back in the car I decided to go out to breakfast and see more of the city.

      There was exactly two choices for breakfast in town. The chain burger joint, or the small, almost quaint diner.
      I chose the diner to see what Mrs. Robbins' best ever breakfast was like. Then I ordered the 'three way' special based on the recommendation by two guys in mechanic's outfits and the waitress. What arrived on my plate violated the premise of every 'healthy eating' program I'd ever seen on TV, but it was very good, at a reasonable price, and I promised the waitress that I would be back at least a couple of times a week since I was working in town now.
      "Oh, that's wonderful. I love having regulars that I get to know," she replied with a smile.
      "Hello, Holly," I read her name tag and smiled back, "My name is Ed."
      She smiled back and shook my hand, then she took my money.

Interesting Signage

      I drove around the downtown for a few minutes, then went to the town office.
      Being a weekend morning, the place was empty, and it gave me a chance to go through the last six months of the village newsletter, and become more familiar with the map.
      "Well, how about that?" I said to myself when I noticed something I hadn't seen before. Then I locked up the office and drove out to what the map said was the Village Picnick Park. And, yes, that was how it was spelled on the big wooden sign along South Street, which was the southern end of North Street. I pulled in and parked in the gravel lot that I guessed would hold six or eight cars around the outside, not counting the one handicapped spot closest to the sidewalk. Then I put on my brand new inspection hat and went for a walk.
      The park was larger than it appeared on the map, with a small stream that was labeled with two more rather grand engraved wooden boards, one about the other, that proclaimed it the 'South Fork, Western Branch, Middle Fork Vermilion River'. I looked at the sign, then at the stream. In a pinch, you could take the two signboards, lay them side by side across the water, and have a serviceable bridge.
      But the park was pleasant enough for an early summer morning walk, and surprisingly well maintained. The three picnic tables were clean, as were the trash cans. The swing set was in good shape, as was an aging classic metal pipe jungle gym that was painted bright red, white, and blue and looked well used. But I was less impressed by the merry go round. It was painted bright colors, but it didn't want to turn, and protested doing so with an amazingly sharp noise.
      "I guess my first job as manager will be to have somebody find some grease," I said to it.
      I walked down the nature trail to a small arching bridge over a shallow drainage ditch that ended at the stream. Small wooden signs identified various trees and a replicated fox den that looked like it had been used as a nest by something other than a fox.
      A cast metal state historic marker on the way back to the parking lot identified the park as part of a homestead of a family named Knight during the early days of the territory. Whereas the wooden signs were in good shape and appeared to be regularly maintained, the cast metal sign was weathered and had spots of corrosion around the edges. My initial guess was that it was supposed to be taken care of by the state or county instead of the village. I made a mental note to check on that because it really didn't look good given how nice the rest of the park was.

      As I was getting ready to leave a pickup pulled in and parked on the other side of the lot almost as far from my car as they could get without a handicapped card. Two young guys got out and then each one got a couple of fishing poles out of the back, one got a tackle box and the other took a plastic bucket and they walked toward the stream. I knew there wasn't anywhere to fish in the part I'd walked through, so I watched them go for a minute, then sort of followed them by retracing part of my route along the ditch so it wouldn't look like I was following them.
      The fishermen were walking diagonally across the park away from the playground, then they met the creek and followed it downstream. After a hundred yards or so I could see that the park's stream joined up with a larger one that I remembered from the map, but I didn't recall a name for it. The men paused and one pointed off to the right and they split up. So I resumed my walk and turned toward the parking lot with another mental note to check the records and see just where the park boundary was.
      I had to wait to back out when a young mother pulled in and stopped a minivan with a couple of kids in it. She smiled at me and waved when I signaled her to go ahead and park.
      The older of the kids was out of the van and running toward the swings before mom had her foot off the brake.
      And I had learned something else about my new job and home. It was clear that the village park was well used.

      After another drive around town and stopping out at the airstrip just to see what was there, "not much", I decided to try the burger joint for lunch.
      I got my order and was turning to go to the drink station to fill up my cup when I heard a voice that sounded familiar.
      "That's him. Mister Davies! Over here. Please, come join us."
      I looked toward the woman that had called to me and recognized her as a member of the board from the interview. But I had no idea what her name was. The three others at her table were total strangers to me.
      "Thank you. Let me get some tea and I'll be right over," I said and as the ice dispenser growled and then dropped cubes in to my cup I racked my brain for her name. With no luck whatsoever. I knew who she wasn't, but I couldn't remember anything else to save my life.
      Fortunately, the lady that had called to me introduced herself as I walked to their table. "Hello again, Mister Davies. Remember me? Heidi Matthews, from the village counsel."
      "Oh, yes, of course. Good to see you again," I smiled and nodded.
      She proceeded to introduce an older couple, the Johnsons, and her friend, Marge something, but I only caught part of what she said because once she got going, she talked faster than I could hear.

      But, all the same, lunch was pleasant, and when I'd mentioned my tour of the Picnick Park, Mister Johnson turned out to be a fountain of knowledge about it, including that there used to be a tent camping area across the creek that the scouts used to use. And he confirmed that the boundary ends 'a good stones throw' from the fork with the other stream.

      After lunch I stopped by the grocery store and got a couple of things that I had forgotten yesterday so I could do my own cooking in the apartment because I knew that eating out every meal would be hard on my checking account, then I headed back to the apartment full of appliances that hated me.
      I spent a couple of hours at the workstation in the office part of the apartment listening to a ball game while I tried to familiarize myself with the never-ending minutia that was now my responsibility. According to a hand written outline of 'upcoming items' that was on the desk, I would have to ensure that the snowplows were dispatched in the winter, and that some of the same guys drove the plows went around with a giant truck mounted vacuum to make sure the storm drains didn't end up clogged with leaves in the fall.
      It reminded me of part of one of the civil administration classes I'd taken. It was an exercise supposedly drawn from real life where a department manager had to allocate man hours and equipment for a variety of chores. You had so many employees, all working a forty hour week, to accomplish a given number of tasks, and so on. I saved myself a headache by realizing something my father always talked about.
      One time when I'd complained about a spring thunderstorm canceling my school baseball game he had smiled and answered, "I love bad weather, to me, those clouds say one thing..." he glanced up at the thunderheads, "Overtime!"
      He always volunteered to go into work and clear limbs and debris from the streets, whenever it needed done. During one string of storms, counting the weekend, he worked more hours of overtime in two weeks than he did his scheduled shift because the storms seemed to know that the city closed at four, so about five thirty, they'd hit.
      Remembering that, the first sentence of my answer was, 'ask for voluntary overtime to cover the unusual circumstance'.
      Two days later the professor read that part of my answer before the class discussed the matter. Fortunately, he didn't say who had written it because I stayed on the good side of several of my classmates who had done some high level, and totally impractical, mathematics to work out how to get everything done with scheduled hours.

"A half ton Baby Jesus?"

      The outline went on and referred to other things, and in some cases, other papers and folders on the desk, and said a few were in the main office. I went down the list and looked in the various folders that were there.
      Something else that I was in charge of was asking for village, and soon to be city, volunteers to help put out Christmas decorations. Because some of the items had been declared 'religious symbols' we were not allowed to require city employees to put them up on the clock. But we could ask for volunteers, whether they were on the clock or not. Evidently the protesters had no problem with city employees putting up candy canes and snowmen, but only had heartburn about their setting up a 'manger scene', as the worksheet that had originated in the nineteen fifties called it, on the vacant lot next to the fire station.
      I did find one note attached to the Christmas decoration checklist amusing. It reminded everybody that because of repeated vandalism over the years, the life size painted double figurine of the Virgin Mary kneeling next to the Christ Child in the manger was now made of solid cast concrete and weighed nearly a thousand pounds and required heavy machinery to move. According to a hand written note on the typed sheet, somebody had gone after it with a hammer in 2003. All they managed to do was some surface damage and the Holy Infant got a new nose from some pool repair compound.
      The other figures, subject to much less attention, were still either plastic models or plywood cut outs.
      I laughed at the idea of somebody fixing Jesus's nose with hydraulic cement and got up to take a break and rest my eyes.

      While I was up I thought I'd go ahead and make supper.
      I'd bought frozen fish fillets and some vegetables and thought I'd make myself a real meal. That is, I thought that I would once I got my new set of pots and pans out of the box I'd bought them in.
      That was the easy part.
      "Enter item type and dirt level or select Auto," I read off the panel of the dishwasher. I looked at the array of touch-pad buttons. "I don't see an 'auto' button." I pushed one at random just to see what it would do, "Steam sanitizing. Terrific."
      I decided to wash my new pans by hand and see if the manual for the dishwasher made any sense while I ate.

      The faucet on the sink had a blinking red light to remind me that the water was hot any time my hand got close to the thing. But it did work. And supposedly there was a garbage disposal in the left side, but I didn't investigate further right then.

      I ignored the hate mail on the screen on the fridge and got my fish out, then the screen changed to ask me if I wanted to watch TV on it.
      Then I had to deal with the electric stove. I stood and stared at the controls. No, it didn't look like the cockpit of a jet airliner, but it sure didn't look like my mother's stove back home. I had the choice of three different ways to heat the pan to cook my fish. I could choose to use 'induction', 'radiant', or a combination of the two. As I had no idea what 'induction' even was beyond using a magnetic field in some way I picked radiant, then I had to tell it what temperature I thought would turn raw tilapia into grilled tilapia and get the water hot enough to cook my California blend with mushrooms.
      "No, thank you," I said to the cook top as it asked me if I wanted a 'timed cook/keep warm cycle', then it wanted to know if I wanted to engage 'auto off' when it noticed there wasn't anything on the burner after a few minutes. I thought that was a good idea and pushed the button for 'yes'. Then I had to decide if I wanted it to wait one minute or more. Oh, well.
      Finally, after way more button pushing and thinking about it than I felt was really necessary to cook one small meal, we were cooking.
      The refrigerator was upset with me because I'd taken something out of the freezer and not added it to the shopping list. And. I hadn't entered an email address for my shopping list. And. The egg bin was still empty, and ... I just walked away after I put the rest of the frozen veggies back in the freezer without telling it what I'd done.

      Cooking was a skill I'd picked up in college as a form of self defense. The dorm's cafeteria wasn't bad, but it was crowded, and unless you were one of the ones that got down there within about the first half hour for any weekday meal, whatever the advertised entree was would probably be gone and you'd have your choice of cold cuts or something along the lines of 'mystery meat patty', of which they seemed to have an endless supply. My problem was that almost every semester, I had a late class or lab, usually on the other side of campus, so I ended up eating there about once a week.
      Me and my roommate stocked one of the three small fridges in our room with stuff you could cook in a tiny microwave, on hotplates, or in small electric kettles, and after three years of that, we both got pretty good at it. There was a rule that you weren't supposed to cook meals in the rooms, but every time the floor assistant came around on inspection we always convinced them we only made snacks, which was allowed. We made grilled steaks, spaghetti with real meatballs, blackened fish and chops, anything that involved eggs and cheese, and even a pretty decent French bread pizza from our supplies. Oh, the other two fridges were full of beer and soft drinks and junk food, which was allowed.
      Tonight's meal was along the same lines of what we'd made in the room, simple, but tasty. It was exactly what I wanted. I saluted the memory with a bottle of just slightly better beer than we used to buy, and wondered what my roommate would think of these appliances.

      According to the manual for the dishwasher, if I kept pushing the far right hand button until a green light came on, everything would be on 'automatic' and it would happily clean my dishes with one of the little balls of ecological soap once I pushed the big 'start' button. The paper for the garbage disposal said something about a button on the wall behind the sink activating its 'auto action' feature which included a 'non-grindable emergency halt' sensor.
      I was skeptical but did as I was told as a test case with the few things I had.
      The button for the disposal looked like a fancy doorbell. But when I put my scraps in the sink and pushed the button, it made them go away with its own stream of water and a rather impressive growl.
      I pushed more buttons on the dishwasher, which then beeped a few times, and the screen said it was 'sensing load', then it beeped some more and I heard water running, the screen changed to 'washing'.
      "Two more down," I said to the kitchen appliances with a grin, "but I'm a man that knows my limits." So I left the running one to do what it does and went back into the office area to finish up getting acquainted with the rest of my job.

      As it turned out, my old clock radio was in my old carry on suitcase with my old shoes and a couple of books that I always said I was going to get around to reading. I plugged the clock in and reset it by clicking one switch and pushing two different buttons, hours and minutes, and it was ready to go without arguing about the time zone.

      Sunday morning I decided to accept Pastor Smith's invitation and drove over to the United Church just to visit.
      Not only did the Pastor remember me, he introduced me to about forty friendly and welcoming people, and one old grouch.
      "Welcome to church," Mister Kaiser said as he shook my hand. Then he turned and walked into the sanctuary.
      "Oh, don't mind him, we're glad to have you, Ed," Mrs. Kaiser said and took my hand in a double grip and smiled a perfect false teeth smile. "Let me show you where the coffee is, and I think Mrs. Prescott made her apple cookies today. Then I'll take you to the men's study classroom."
      "Coffee and fresh apple cookies? I'm already glad I came."
      Five handshakes and three hugs later I had coffee and cookies in hand and was discussing the school bus stop near the fire station with an elderly gentleman who was concerned that there was no rain shelter there any more before our class started.
      The apple cookies had real bits of apple in them, and a lot of cinnamon, but other than being very sweet, and very good with coffee, I couldn't tell you any more about them.

      Between Sunday school and the worship service there were more introductions, and I did make an effort to try to remember their names and connections. But I knew it would be months before I got them all, if I ever did.
      I had to turn down all but one invitation to lunch, but I tried to be gracious about it.

      Sunday afternoon I took a break from even pretending to work and watched a baseball game on the bedroom TV that had more on-screen programming features than I'd ever need.
      For supper I attempted to use the microwave, but if it hadn't been for the 'instant heating' twenty second button, I would never have gotten my frozen burritos warmed up.
      I also didn't tell the freezer what I'd taken out of it, so now I had six error messages flashing across its screen.
      I didn't trust the "voice command" contraption to wake me up for my first day on the job, so I set the alarm on my old radio, in regular 12 hour time as well, to do it, and went to bed.

"Really?"

      My first real work day started OK.
      That is, it went OK in that my alarm woke me up and I found the bathroom with one eye half open, but then I was blasted fully awake by the sensor for the lights in the bathroom when it turned EVERYTHING on full.
      I had spots before my eyes as I turned around and blinked for a couple of minutes.
      "OK, that's got to go to manual. Period," I said. And when I could see I fumbled with the switch until the lights worked by my touching the switch by the door.
      At least the shower still worked as advertised.
      Everything went OK until I went to cook something for breakfast.
      The refrigerator was locked.
      No, really, the doors would not open.
      "Really? Oh, come on," I said to it. And I said other things as well, but I don't want to use that sort of language in print.
      Somehow its "child security feature" had gotten activated and I had to do Stuff to it to get it to let me open the door to get my ham and egg biscuits out of the freezer.
      And as soon as I shut the door the screen flashed a message about the child security system was 'ON' and then it started in with its nagging me about everything I'd done to ruin its life since I'd walked in the door.
      So I ignored it and made my breakfast and left for work.

      Since I was the first one there I had to fumble with the ring of keys for a minute, but I managed to get into the village office and get the lights turned on before anybody else arrived.
      That gave me a chance to do one very important thing. On the day of the interview I was introduced to the office staff. I remembered that the secretary was Betty something or other. But that was all I remember. Now I looked at their name plates on their desks and tried to commit Mrs. Betty O'Neill and Mrs. Denise French to memory. Except there was a second smaller sign on Denise's desk that said she was Miss Denise French.
      There was a coffee machine in one corner next to an elderly refrigerator that didn't have a monitor on its door that talked about an empty egg compartment and a microwave with a knob that turned a timer instead of a computer screen. I picked one of those small dispenser cups and put it in the machine, put a paper cup under the nozzle and then pushed the green button. The machine made me a cup of coffee with no drama or argument.
      A few minutes after eight Miss French showed up and welcomed me to the office. While she was still showing me the various features of the office Mrs. O'Neill came in, "Oh, you're already here," she said.
      "Yes, ma'am."
      "Oh, well, welcome to the office."
      "Thank you, Mrs. O'Neill."

      About nine, Mayor McBride stopped by to see how I was doing and to turn over some official correspondence that had come to his house.
      "I've already started telling them to use this address. But..." he shrugged and handed me the mail, "Computers. What can you do?"
      "Don't buy a refrigerator with one in it, that's for sure."
      "You've had problems with Carol's toys?"
      I gestured with the mail, "I'm working on coming to an understanding with a couple of them."
      "You should talk to Carol. At the show she claimed she had mastered all of them."
      "I saw her card at the apartment, I'll give her a call."
      He grinned, and I didn't know why until later, "You do that."
      "Oh, Sam," Mrs. O'Neill said to him, and I realized that she had the habit of beginning almost every sentence with 'oh'. "I ran into Emmett this morning, he asked me to have you call him about that elm on Third."
      The Mayor nodded, then he looked at me, "I'll talk to him, then we'll sort it out with you later."
      "Sort what out?"
      "Emmett does the tree service for us, but he's always called me. He won't even call Chuck."
      The name rang a bell, "Chuck, the streets supervisor."
      He nodded, "Emmett has always just talked to the mayor whenever something needs done. But now...." He grinned at me again.
      "But now the trees are my problem."
      "Yes, sir."
      "Thank you, Mister Mayor."
      "Sam."
      "I'll work on that."
      "Good." He turned to the office ladies, "I'm working today, if you need me call there." He glanced at me, "I work at United Trucking four days a week. On the floor, cell phones don't work very well."
      "Oh, OK."

      For a first day on the job, I thought I did quite well. Or at least, I didn't mess up so badly that they told me to go back to the motel and pack my stuff and see if I could get my old job at the warehouse back.
      We had sandwiches delivered from the store's deli for lunch that were surprisingly tasty. Then just before three Miss French left to go to an appointment. About four Mrs. O'Neill told me that since I'd beaten her there this morning I could leave first and she'd lock up at closing time, and I didn't argue.
      In between getting the mail from the Mayor and saying good night to Mrs. O'Neill I talked to Chuck about the tree on Third and he explained to me why the mysterious Mister Emmett didn't want to talk to him.
      "Emmett is real old school. Since he owns the tree business, he only wants to talk to whoever runs the town."
      "Makes sense," I nodded, "do you think he'll accept that I'm the one that runs the town now?"
      Chuck nodded, "once he finds out you're also the one that signs the vouchers so he can get paid."
      "There is that."

      Later I had a piece of new business come in that wasn't on the outline. A letter arrived with office mail from the power company about the moving of a series of outdated and decaying poles that ran down the alley behind what everybody called the town's business district. The letter went into minute detail, describing poles that had warped and one that had cracked and was separating. There was even a diagram.. So I walked out and took a stroll down the alley and looked at the poles and wires.
      "Wait a minute," I said to the tall wooden post closest to me. I walked down a little further and looked up, then back at the diagram. "This isn't here."
      According to the letter and the diagram, the power company was going to take out a total of twenty-six poles holding twelve old transformers along four long blocks of alley, an alley with buildings on both sides, and then down the street, and replace them with eleven new poles and seven transformers in a more efficient configuration, and then do more work on the street.
      Our business district was, if you were generous, two blocks, maybe two and a half, with buildings on both sides of the alley for only part of one block. All told I came up with seven poles in the alley, only three of which I'd call 'decaying', and five transformers, anywhere near the alley. And when I went out and looked down the street, it was even more obvious.
      I walked back to the office and called the person on the letter.
      "Yes, sir, this is Mark Wright."
      "Good day Mister Wright, I'm Ed Davies, the City Manager of Middlefork, Illinois. And I think we have a problem."
      It took Mister Wright a few minutes to pull up the map of our town on his computer, then he found a copy of the letter and diagram that he sent to us.
      "I see. You're right. This worksheet clearly isn't your town."
      "I agree that the wiring plant back there needs cleaned up and a few poles replaced, but, it's scarcely on the scale you sent me."
      "Hang onto that letter, I've got a meeting tomorrow, can I come out and meet with you on Thursday morning, say around nine?"
      "Yes, sir. That will be fine. But in the meantime you might want to find out whose poles these are that really need replacing."
      "That's my next call. Thank you, Ed."

      After I hung up I opened my calendar and scheduled myself a meeting with Mark Wright from the power company. And for the first time I felt like this was really my job.
      Then I called the mysterious Carol Enwater about her choice of appliances. I left her a message and then started looking through the various forms and documents that had miraculously appeared on my desk. Only about half of the village employees used the computerized system to do things like request time off or account for overtime and other mundane housekeeping tasks.
      According to the briefing paper from the Mayor, there had been some resistance from certain quarters about 'big brother knowing their every move'. Fortunately, the soon-to-be-City of Middlefork had fewer total employees than the shipping warehouse I just worked at. In fact, there were more people on the shift I'd left than we had here. So the Luddite Brigade of Middlefork consisted of two full time employees in the Public Works department, one part timer who worked as a janitor in the police and fire station... .... and one councilman.
      According to the briefing, there had been one other anti-technology individual out of the two dozen or so full and part time employees, but she had retired a couple of years ago, and oddly enough, she started helping her daughter sell craft items and vintage computer games from a store on "the interweb".
      "Mister Davies?"
      "Yes, Miss French?" I responded.
      "Chuck's back, he said he'd be right in to see you."
      It took me a minute to recognize the name, "Streets."
      "Yes, sir."
      I glanced at the roster looking for his last name, but even there, all it said was 'Chuck W'. I had to go into the personnel file on the computer to find out that his last name was Very Polish, to put it mildly. "Charles Wolotrzewiszchzykowycki", I tried to say it but I know I wasn't even close and somewhere in the middle I think I may have damaged one of my fillings.
      "If I have to use his last name, I just say 'Chuck Who'." Miss French laughed.
      "Agreed."
      In a minute a big man in a flannel shirt with a name patch sewed on came in with a bag from a farm store. "Hiya gorgeous" he said to Miss French, then he made a similar statement to Mrs. O'Neill who was just coming back into the office from a trip down the hall.
      "Hi, Chuck," she answered.
      "I'm Chuck, Street Department Manager," the man said with his hand out as I stood up. His smile and his handshake were absolutely genuine.
      "Ed Davies."
      "Great to meet you! Let's go for a ride. I bet they didn't show you our garage."
      "No, sir, they didn't. I saw it on the m...."
      "Then let's go! The truck's outside."
      There was no saying no to the man.

      Riding in the old utility box pickup truck with Chuck was an experience I won't soon forget. We went up every street and down every alley in town, some of them twice. He told me about the intersections, and the sink hole from the old mine that kept coming back about every other year, and the problem he had with the county where their snowplows would plow the road clear right to the city limits.
      "Then they stop and turn around and leave a pile of snow six feet high in the middle of the road," he gestured with his hand as we sat at the spot.
      "Why would they do that?" I asked.
      "We had a problem with one of their drivers a few years ago. He plowed into town, and took out a couple of street signs and mail boxes and stuff. We complained, and the county took the damage out of his pay, and ever since then..."
      "I see. Maybe we can reach a compromise."
      "That'd be good, sir. The township will work with us, but the county..." he let it trail off into silence.

      The Middlefork Village Streets and Works Maintenance Facility was less impressive than its title. But it seemed functional. I was very impressed with the array of equipment on display.
      "When my father worked here, they had a policy of taking anything anybody else was getting rid of. If the state or county had a man-lift or an end loader that they were clearing out, we bid on it, whether it ran or not. Some of it they fixed and we still use, some of it we parted out or scrapped. And some is still sitting out there. But it worked out in the end."
      "Do you still do that?"
      "Yeah, some, but not as much. I mean, that's how we ended up with that," he pointed to the back corner of the yard where an old military-looking helicopter sat surrounded by knee high weeds.
      That scene reminded me of the serious lack of grease out at the park, so I mentioned it to Chuck Who.
      "I'll add that to my list," Chuck said and took out a large cell phone and sent himself a message.

      The only department we didn't visit was the inside of the police wing of the joint 'public safety building'. "They only call us when they need something towed," Chuck said.
      As we were walking through the engine bay of the fire station we met one of the assistant chiefs of the volunteer department.
      "Terry Johnson," the assistant chief introduced himself. "So, where do you want to start?"
      "The description said that I would be a member of the Fire Board. But it didn't say what that was."
      Mr. Johnson and Chuck exchanged looks, then Chuck laughed, "There's a reason it didn't."
      "He means that there hasn't been an active board in," the assistant chief paused for a second, "I'd say four or five years."
      "At least," Chuck answered.
      "Why not?"
      "A couple of members couldn't agree on who the new members should be for one."
      "That sounds familiar," I nodded.
      "But with the new charter, we have to have an active Public Safety board, which will be the combined police and fire committees, so he can't get around it now."
      "When do we meet?"
      "The old calendar had it meeting on the second Tuesday of every month."
      I thought about it, "That's about two weeks from now. I think we should set it up, and talk about the new board if nothing else."
      Mr. Johnson was all for it, "I'll be there. I've got the names of the other members, well, the ones that are still alive."
      "Call them."
      "Yes, sir."

      We then walked around the fire station side and the assistant chief proudly showed off their rigs, including something that you'd think didn't belong in a small town fire station.
      "It's the only heavy rescue truck in this area, and the only one I know of owned by a volunteer department. We've even gotten calls to come into Ford and Iroquois county because it's the closest unit like it. We've even taken it over into Champaign county and Indiana on tornado calls."
      "No doubt."
      The unit was massive, even given the scale of the pumper and ladder trucks in the garage, with five compartments on each side behind the huge four door walk-in cab and two sets of huge dual rear tires on each side, but it was fully stocked and ready for a call. "Let me guess, somebody else was selling it cheap and you had a grant...."
      "Yes, sir," Mr. Johnson agreed. "It came up for sale up north and, how did you know?"
      "He pays attention," Chuck laughed.
      "Good." Then the chief took me up on top of the rig to show me the light towers and extendable crane that he said could lift a small car completely off the ground.
      Inside was a small but well appointed command area complete with multiple radios and video monitors. "We can tap into helmet cameras worn by some of our members and see what they see."
      "This is amazing. And it all works?" I asked looking at the self-contained decontamination shower.
      The assistant chief nodded, "It all works, even the coffee maker in the command center is ready to go. I like to say she's forty two feet of total rescue vehicle."
      "When's the next training class?" I asked marveling at the rig.
      "I think there will be a basic class the day after the next board meeting."

      The tour of the police side of the building was far less interesting, but it was informative all the same. The woman on duty was one of the four full time sworn officers, and she took a few minutes to show me around the office.
      Lieutenant Carson was professional and knowledgeable, but I can't say she was the friendliest person I'd met in town.
      As I walked back into the fire department Mr. Johnson and Chuck asked me what I thought of the police station.
      I looked back at the now locked connecting door and shrugged, "I guess it serves well enough. What's next?"

      Later, back at the office I got a return call from Ms Enwater and she agreed to meet me at the apartment when she got off work in Urbana.

      I didn't spend as long on the phone to the cable company as I expected to. But the worker in their call center didn't seem to understand my problem the first three times I explained it. Then she saw something on the screen.
      "The test says your modem is a model C-0501 (or something), those were all discontinued three years ago. It should have been replaced. Can you tell me what the model number is on the back of your unit."
      "Yes, ma'am," I answered. I stood up and moved the unit so I could see the back. I read the manufacturer name, and the model number, C-0501, with some letters behind it.
      "I'll get a tech out there to upgrade that. Let me see what our commitments are for your area."
      "Thank you."

"The Students Love Them"

      I expected an interior designer to dress like, well, to dress like the interior designers I'd seen on TV. But the woman that parked in front of the apartment looked more like one of the students that Mrs. Robbins said rented the apartments she furnished. She was wearing a pair of jeans with only a little of that fancy stitching on them, a sweater that looked itchy, and a pair of heels that she evidently couldn't drive in because she paused and put them on as she got out of the car.
      After a pleasant exchange of "it's nice to meet you" I took her on a tour of the apartment.
      She found the dresser amusing and said that it had worked fine in the demonstration apartment at the field house. But, "we didn't have anything in it, we just opened and closed the drawers as we showed the set."
      One thing she did do for me was to turn off the auto-use timer on the bathroom sink. But the shower was the shower and she said if the new model that was coming out soon was any easier to use, she'd get one for me.
      "The health monitor commode wouldn't work with the existing plumbing, so we left the old one. I hope it's OK."
      "It's fine."

      In the kitchen I scrolled through the refrigerator's messages and explained why I didn't want to have to explain to my ice box why I didn't buy the organic Greek yogurt that it thought I should.
      "Oh, I can take care of that. That's a message from one of the sponsors of the show. Here, I'll clear it for you."
      I tried to watch as she pushed a series of buttons and the thing beeped and flashed at her, but then, the screen was blank.
      "I cleared all of those errors for you and turned off the auto-camera viewer. You can start over with fresh errors," Ms Entwater said happily.
      "Thank you."
      Then she showed me the secret to saving my idea of coffee as a 'favorite' on that machine's menu so I didn't have to reprogram it every morning, but even Designer Carol said she had no idea how to work the voice activated alarm clock, but she declined my offer for her to take it home and give it to her partner.
      "She'd hate the thing too."
      The last thing she told me about was the appliance that I'd seen, but hadn't used yet.
      "It can be set to auto detect cooking and vent any smoke or fumes," she pointed to the hood over the cook top, "Do you want me to turn it on?"
      "How does it detect cooking?"
      "Heat and motion sensors."
      "I think I'll leave it on manual. If I make some BBQ or something, I'll turn it on."

      We sat and drank the coffee she'd made when she saved the settings on the pot and I asked her why she said she didn't use the state of the art appliances she has installed in the properties her company manages.
      "We live in an historic farmhouse, we only have electricity in half of it, and no new appliances at all, the gas stove was made in 1948." She smiled as if to indicate that explained everything. "My partner even put in a wood stove in the bedroom that we use for heat in the winter. The house has been on the Lincoln Heritage Tour a few times, we even dress up like women in the olden days for it."
      All I could do was nod as I digested all of that. "So. You just sell these things, you don't use them?"
      "Not at home. We've got some things like these in the office to show to landlords and renters, but, I've never taken one home."

      As the lady left all I could do was wave and smile, and then go back inside and laugh.

      Later that evening I met the resident of Unit Three, which, oddly enough, was right next door to Unit One. Until then, I'd never noticed that there was no number two, the suites went from one to three, then, four, five and so on. So instead of fifteen rental units, there were twelve. There was also no Unit 13, instead, it was a broom closet so nobody could say that fourteen was really thirteen and talk about a curse.
      While I was talking to Mr. Peters from Unit Three we were joined by another couple who lived further down.
      "Well, Howdy!" The older man said with a big smile and a firm handshake. "This is my wife, Maria. I'm Slim Cornell. We live in Number Nine."
      "Hello, Mister Davies," the lady said, "his name is Harold, but everybody calls him Slim."
      "Hello, Slim." I said, "Mrs. Cornell."
      "We heard you'd moved in, but we were up in Chicago for a few days, we just got back yesterday."
      "Oh, well, welcome back. Why did you go to Chicago?"
      "I got new teeth." Mrs. Cornell smiled at me to show them off.
      "We volunteer as patients at the medical school twice a year. For that, we get free teeth when we need them." Her husband explained.
      "Sounds like a fair trade."

      After Mr. Peters said he had to get going to get to work on time, Slim said he wanted to show me something in Unit Eleven so we walked down there while Maria told me all about the other residents including Myrtle in Seven.
      "I met her my first day here, she called about her toilet. So I came down here and fixed it."
      "You fixed it?" Slim asked me.
      "Yeah. Just a loose flush chain."
      "You can do stuff like that?"
      "Yes, sir. I've done light maintenance all my life. It was just easier to learn how to do it than to wait on somebody else to get around to it."
      "Good."

      The problem in Unit Eleven was that it simply needed painted. It had been missed a few years ago when the other units had been done because the elderly lady that lived there didn't want them to do it with her there, and now it desperately needed cleaned up and painted.
      "And carpet," I said looking down.
      "Yeah. That too."
      "OK, so, who does it? Me and thee?" I asked Slim.
      He shrugged.
      His wife nodded, "That's probably what it will come down to."
      "I saw a line in the budget for this place for remodeling units prior to a new tenant moving in. I'll see how much it is and what we can do. Then we'll figure out when."
      Slim looked at me and nodded again.
      I remembered what Chuck did to remind himself to do something, so I got out my phone and sent myself a quick note.
      "Nice meeting you both," I said to the Cornells outside of their apartment.
      "Nice meeting you, too."

      On the way back out, Slim gestured to Unit Ten and told me a complicated story about the Johnsons and a girl that lived on an Army base and all I could do was nod and listen. I'd seen something about it, but I didn't understand it, and after he finished his story, I still didn't understand it.

      Thursday morning Mister Wright from the power company showed up and I had my first official meeting as City Manager with him and Chuck. The three of us took the plans that had been sent to us, and the real diagram that Mr. Wright brought with him and looked at what they wanted to do to the power supply for the downtown.
      "So, who did this one belong to?" I asked him as I folded up what everybody agreed was the wrong blueprint for us.
      "I still don't know," Mister Wright admitted, "I went through a dozen or more upgrade plans and none of them resembled that one. It's not in our service area that I can find."
      Chuck had an idea. "Maybe it's one of those training exercises."
      "That could be, but it should never have been printed out and sent to anybody."
      "Do you have a timetable for when you'll be doing this?" I gestured up at one of the worst off of the power poles.
      "Probably later this year. Because of this little debacle, I'll see if I can get you moved up in the timetable."
      "Thank you, sir."

      After Mister Wright left I glanced over at Chuck, "I want your honest appraisal. How did I do?"
      "Good. I think it went well," he patted my shoulder.

      On Friday I heard back from Mrs. Robbins from the board that officially they didn't care what color paint, wallpaper, or carpet I put in Unit Eleven as long as it was "kinda neutral".
      Which, I thought, meant that I probably didn't need to call Designer Carol.
      "We'll paint the place, then we'll get somebody professional to come in and lay the new carpet. Then if we need to touch up any dings on the paint we can," I said to Slim.
      "That sounds like a good plan, Mister Davies."

      Saturday I used most of the day to run a couple of my own errands in Danville and got to see that part of the county for the first time. Then on the way back I took a tour of the state park between there and here and managed to get myself lost for a short time, but it was a pleasant drive and after some backtracking I decided to look less at the scenery and more at the road signs and got home without further incident.

"Boom!"

      The storm started Sunday just before church with some light rain.
      But as the day wore on, it got worse.
      Finally, later that afternoon my phone sounded off with a severe weather warning including a tornado watch.

      Evidently the thunderstorm decided to live up to the billing.
      We never got the tornado part of the equation, but we did get sheets of driving rain, high winds, and a lightning show that more than made up for it.
      The road out front of the motel was flooded for awhile. The power blinked several times and the internet connection went dead.
      Fortunately for my sanity my cell phone had a full charge and it never lost connection except during the worst of the lightning flashes just before dark.
      According to the weather networks, we were right dead center along a fast moving band of supercell storms that were reported to be dumping between three and five inches of rain an hour on those in their path.
      A set of radar indicated tornadoes blew through just north of us, and at the county airport to our east they reported wind gusts well into the usual range for Hurricanes.
      Needless to say, until things calmed down outside, I didn't get much sleep.

      In the morning I drove to the office noting how many tree limbs were down and so on.

      There were several messages waiting on me describing damage, including reports of a large tree in the park that was down because the levy around the farm pond upstream on the larger branch had breached its damn, again, and washed out part of the bank in the park.
      Given that there really wasn't anything else for me to do, I told Mrs. O'Neill that I was going to go check it out in case I had to do an insurance claim or something.

      It wasn't 'a' large tree down, it was several. Along the far bank of the creek.
      The stream was still well out of it banks and I stepped gingerly through ankle deep water on the path to get up on the bridge so I could see better and at least make an effort to not get my shoes any wetter than they were.
      And what I saw made me call Chuck.
      "I just heard, I'm on my way."
      "I'm at the bridge. I'll wait for you."

      It wasn't long before I saw his truck pull in next to my car.

      The sudden storm with its ferocious winds and massive rainfall had done some remodeling of its own to the far bank of the stream near where it joined the larger branch.
      "I'd never been over there," Chuck said.
      "I think we should go see how bad it is. Where can we cross?"
      He thought about it for a minute, "I know, come on, we'll take the truck."

      There was an old service access on the south side of the park just beyond the parking lot. The truck splashed through large puddles along the track. After much jostling and joking about getting stuck we ended up at an old wooden beam farm bridge that was more of a half rotten death trap surrounded by quickly moving muddy water than a bridge.
      "Think we can jump it?" Chuck asked me.
      "I'm game," I said and saw an angle that might work, "I'll even go first."
      I made it, although I was glad nobody was scoring my landing technique. But scrambled up the far bank and raised my arms in victory. "Next?" I said to Chuck.
      "Here goes nothing."
      He jumped further, but landed harder, and I got to make fun of his technique as I helped him up the bank.
      "Thanks," he said as he reached level ground. "That way."
      "Lead on."

      We were serenaded by the creek splashing through the downed branches of the trees long before we reached what we'd seen from the other side.

      "So this used to be the campground?" I said to Chuck as we passed a clearing.
      "Yeah, I think we came out here once when I was a kid."
      "We could clean it up and use it again."
      "That'd be nice," he looked one way then the other. "I think this way would be easier going."

      "Well, now, that's something," Chuck said as we walked into the area that had been hit by the small but intense flash flood. "You think it's the foundation of the old house?"
      "Yeah. Let's get some pictures," I said taking out my phone.
      "Good idea. Here, I've got a tape measure."

      When the bank had washed out and the trees fell over, their roots took a lot of soil and brush with them. And in doing so it exposed some huge stones and some large but seriously decayed wooden beams.
      As we walked around and took pictures we found where the original steps were, and even found a rusty mass that appeared to have been a door hinge at one time. Chuck held it with the tape measure and I took several pictures, then we put it back where it had been.
      "Well, Ed, you're the City Manager. What do we do now?"
      "I'll make some phone calls," I said taking one last photo of the stone steps.
      "Now you sound like a manager."
      "Gee, thanks."

      I called the county historic district office, but after being transferred to a voice mailbox that didn't work, I gave up on them for now and called somebody that I thought might be interested in what I suspected was the foundation to the Knight family's homestead.
      It only took me a minute to find the phone number, then to explain to Mister Johnson who I was.
      "Oh, yes, sir, I do remember having lunch with you and Heidi. What can I do for you?"
      "During the storm yesterday there was a flash flood out at the park. It exposed what I believe is the foundation to the original house. I thought you might be able to confirm that."
      "Yes, sir. I'll be happy to give it a look. When do you want to go out there?"
      "Let me talk to Chuck about a better way to get across the creek in the park and then I'll call you back."
      "I'll go find my walking boots."

      As it turned out, Chuck was way ahead of me and said he was getting a couple of long boards to put across the smaller stream using the old bridge to hold them in place and he would be back out there within the hour.

      I met Mister Johnson in the parking lot and we took the nature trail toward the crossing.
      Chuck was out there with Jimmy from his crew and they were just finishing up putting the beams across.
      "Ready to go, sir." Chuck said, then he recognized Mister Johnson and shook his hand.

      This time we had a couple of real cameras, and a much longer tape measure, as well as some other gear and it felt more like an actual expedition than the first trip out there.
      "I don't think this is from the first house on the site," Mister Johnson said after looking at the stones and the huge timbers. "That would have been a log cabin, probably with a dirt floor. This was a real house. And they would have had to bring these stones in from either way north or south of here. There's nothing like this around here. Sandstone, yes, but not limestone like this."
      Chuck and Jimmy were measuring everything and taking notes. I stayed with Mr. Johnson and tried to remember everything he said, then he remembered something. "There's a book in our library about the early families. Maybe there's something in it about this place."
      I glanced at him, "I saw the sign for the library, but I've never been there."
      "When we get back to town, I'll show you. You should have a key to it," Chuck answered.
      "And I know where the book is."
      "You're both on. I'll stop and get the coffee."

      Before we left we spotted some more old timbers and some very old concrete that looked like the frame of some ancient shed not far from the house. We took more measurements and photos, then headed back to the bridge.
      "Think we should take it back up?" I asked Chuck, "make it easier to protect it until we know what it is."
      "Probably. What do you think?" He asked Mister Johnson.
      "Might be a good idea."

      Back at the cars I told Mister Johnson I'd meet him at the library and asked what he took in his coffee.
      "Just a little sugar. Takes some of the bite off it."
      "Yes, sir."

      The library wasn't anything to write home about. It was a small storefront with a mismatched collection of shelves and books that nobody else wanted.
      "Right, there," Mister Johnson said after he turned the lights on.
      At the far end of a shelf that said 'local reference' in faded black marker he pulled out an old thick leather bound book. "Now, it just takes finding the right page." He said and set it on the table. "And, you can look in this one." He pulled out a thinner book that said it was 'History Under Our Feet' and gave it to me. "I don't know if it'll be in there, but you can look through the part about our township and see."
      "Yes, sir."
      And so we sipped coffee and turned pages until Chuck and Jimmy came in.
      "I stopped by the office and had them print out the plot data for the park. It's mentioned in the 1930 survey, but not the one from 1970," Chuck said and showed us the printout with the description and number for the lot.
      I started reading the survey from the thirties, "It says the nearest creek bank is two rods, give or take, from the north west corner of the remains of the stone foundation of the Knight-McCord house." I looked up, "if I remember right, a rod is, fifteen feet? Something like that. That creek is a lot closer than that now."
      "A rod is sixteen feet, six inches," Chuck said.
      "The creek moved and the house didn't," I nodded. "A lot."
      "But that helps with this," Mister Johnson said as he turned a page in his book. "It's listed as one of the houses along the West Branch as the McCord place." He read to himself for a minute. "That's the name of the family that bought the farm from the Knights, who bought it from one of the original settlers, a family named Juvinall."
      "When did they move out?" Jimmy asked.
      "Before 1890," he answered. "It just says the residence is empty. So I guess it was still there."
      "So, it is historic, but that's all it is," Jimmy surmised.
      "Yeah, but we should keep it from being torn up. You know, people do stupid stuff to things like that all the time."
      "I'm trying to remember if I remember seeing it when we were out there with the scouts. I don't think so. We probably didn't spend a lot of time looking in the bushes for old houses."
      Jimmy agreed, "We used to always just go swimming and fishing and stuff. Nobody did any archaeology."
      "Well, we're going to now. We'll get that hinge and look for other stuff out there, and see about preserving it." I looked around the library. "We'll get some good pictures and a map and make a display in here, maybe with a section from one of the logs before it disintegrates. It's part of the history of the town, and we should take care of it."
      Chuck looked at Mister Johnson and Jimmy, "See, I knew they'd hired the right guy for the job."
      Mister Johnson was all for it. "I know some of the people at the county museum, I'll see what they think is the best thing to do for it. If it is OK with you."
      "Yes, sir. Do you think it'll be OK out there until Saturday?"
      Chuck laughed, "It's been there for over a hundred years, what's another week?"

      So I spent Saturday with Mister and Mrs. Johnson and some of the others out at the site, collecting relics and artifacts and taking more pictures of the place. Jimmy brought a gas powered weed cutter and a metal detector and a bag of the tools he used with it on vacation. Mister Johnson had talked a couple of the amateur historians from the county society into coming out and seeing what we had found in the woods. They were helpful, but I got the impression that because they didn't think Abraham Lincoln or somebody called 'Uncle' Joe Cannon had set foot on the place, that they really weren't all that interested in it.
      But at the end of the day we had a couple of boxes of items to take back to town, and more than enough pictures to make our point.
      The Johnsons volunteered to see to the artifacts and I told them I'd go through the photos and then we could meet next week sometime and see what we had.

Paint and Carpet

      Somehow I missed telling you about the beginning of another adventure of mine.
      Unit Eleven.
      I suspected that it wasn't going to be as simple as just breaking out a paint roller and going over it with a coat of beige. No, I knew better than that.
      All of the walls were showing age and needed wiped down and even sanded in places, there was some damage around the bathroom door frame, and the back window over the sink had leaked at some point in its life. There was even mildew in places on the wallpaper in the bathroom. So I knew it was going to take a lot of prep work if nothing else.
      Wednesday evening I went down there with Slim to give it a good once over and see what we were getting into.
      We went through it wall by wall and fixture by fixture and made a list. We decided to just go ahead and take the trim off the window and replace it, and he'd check it outside to see if it needed repaired out there. The bathroom was moldy because the exhaust fan didn't work, so we had to replace that. There was also a discussion about redoing the tile in there, but we decided that it was just in need of a good cleaning and some new grout.
      Finally we were at the front door.
      "Well?" Slim said and handed me the list.
      "A lot of work and no mistake, but I think we can do it."
      "I know we can. But this is going to be more than a couple of evenings of work."
      I nodded and looked down it. "Yeah, where do we start? The window? That could be the biggest headache of the lot."
      "Yes, sir."
      "I'm already tied up on Saturday, but I can meet you here, say, tomorrow and Friday and we can get started."
      "Sounds good to me. There's some tools in the utility room by the office. I've got some of my own. How about you?"
      "Utility room?

      And that explained where Unit Two was. Off the front reception area to the office was a narrow door that I just thought was a closet and never paid any attention to because I'd only used that door a couple of times.
      It wasn't much more than a closet, and certainly was never meant to be a rental unit even when the place was a working motel. But it was a utility room after a fashion, complete with a shelves full of junk and a florescent light fixture that did more buzzing than lighting.
      "I'm impressed."
      "Really?" Slim asked me.
      "Yeah. That they could get this much crap into this small of a space." I said as I shifted a dead water heater slightly. According to the paper taped to it, it had been removed from service for units six through ten in 1983. "I think this can go. You?"
      He didn't answer but nodded and chuckled.

      We made steady progress on the work beginning that Sunday after church.
      It was relaxing for me to get off work and go home and change into some old jeans and a T-shirt and go meet Slim in the apartment, and pick up more or less where we'd left off the previous day. Most of the time his wife Maria would bring us something for dinner after we'd been working for an hour or so, and she'd stay and eat and visit, then we'd get back to work and after another couple of hours, we'd knock it off for the night.
      And in that way, we made slow but steady progress.
      Finally, a day or so after we'd finished in the bedroom and the bath we talked about pulling up the carpet and what would be the best to replace it.
      "Don't go with that stuff they put in our place. It's impossible to keep it clean," Slim said with surprising venom.
      "Oh? Is it different from what's in the office?"
      "Yeah. Come, see."

      The carpet in their apartment was almost white, very soft, and showed obvious wear in the traffic areas. I knelt and felt the pile and moved my hand back and forth. "How long have you been here?" I asked them.
      "Four. Maybe five years," Slim answered.
      "Coming up on six in September," Maria said with authority.
      "I'll have to verify that date, but, you know, part of your lease includes paint and floor covering as needed after five years of continuous occupancy. And there's no doubt that this carpet is worn out. And I'm betting it was dirt cheap when they bought it." I stood up and frowned at the trail through the center of their living area. "Is this stuff in any other units?"
      "I think it's in at least two of them."
      "I'm going to make a suggestion and push Mrs. Robbins to go along with it. We do Eleven because it has to be done, we do yours for the same reason, and we add the other units to it to see if we can get a bulk price."
      "Thank you."

      It didn't take much convincing to get Mrs. Robbins to agree to recommend to the rest of the board that they authorize the capital expense to replace the 'old white carpet' in the units that still had it. One reason was that the board had been told years ago that all of the white carpet that had been put down shortly after the village had taken over the place had been pulled up and replaced with a long wearing institutional grade rugs.
      "No, ma'am. It is still in four of the units."
      "Well. OK, I'll send you the name of the contractor, you know we want a neutral color, so, I'll leave it up to you."
      And I had something else to do.

      In the mean time, several of the county historical people came out and stood around the homestead site in the park and talked about other homestead sites everywhere from Virginia to Montana. I tried to ask questions about what we could do to preserve it, and its age, and so on, but the only answers I got were about Lincoln's home in Indiana and someplace I'd never heard of in Missouri.
      Then it dawned on me. "Is it because this site is inside our city limits and in an existing city park that you can't do a whole lot for us?"
      One of them looked at the others, then shrugged, "Well, not officially, but in a way, yes, as I don't think Middletown has an agreement with us."
      "Middle. Fork." I corrected him.
      "Yes, Middlefork, sorry."
      But even with the wrong town, that was one of the best non-answers I'd ever heard in my entire life.

      I talked to Mayor McBride, Chuck, and several of the others and we decided to put a fence up around the foundation and make sure there was nothing else out there that might be historically significant or valuable.
      The mayor thought it was great, and mentioned that, "it'll give us something to talk about on the radio show next month."
      "Us?"
      "I'll tell you about it later."
      Not long after that, Chuck's crew found what appeared to be a small cemetery just upstream of the foundation. We weren't sure if it was inside the park or not, but after a short conversation with the farmer who owned the tract to the immediate west of the park, if the 'graveyard' wasn't in the park before, "It sure is now. I'll see to it."
      He said if we determined that there were burials there, that he'd cede the area to the city because he didn't want to own a cemetery.
      It took some work on our part, but we felt pretty sure that we'd located a dozen or so graves. But only a handful had any sort of marker, and all of them were badly weathered. The only name we could make out looked like 'Trimniell', which, according to the local history, meant that it was very old.
      "So, you see, Ms Perry, that's why we need somebody that has ground penetrating radar and knows how to use it." I found myself saying into my phone.

      According to the oldest records we could find, there had been a family cemetery on the property. But the files indicated that it was closer to the county road south of the site.
      I showed that to Chuck and wondered, "could there be two?"
      "One's enough trouble, but, I guess we should go look." He turned the map slightly and then thought about it. "I think that's the old route, before it was straightened and paved. There was a huge dogleg south of town. They fixed that, oh, I guess it was after World War Two."
      "Is the road still there?"
      "No. Not really. But I know where it used to be."

      The 'cemetery near the road' wasn't hard to find at all.
      In fact, we drove along the old road until we saw it. Then after walking across an old half collapsed rusty culvert we stood along a low cast iron fence Chuck took a picture of it.
      "We've confirmed that there are two cemeteries in the park, and this one is a lot newer than the other one," I said as I could almost make out the name, and below it, a date on the stone peaking through the weeds. "It looks like Mister or Mrs. Haldebrand died in 1923."
      "That's not a Knight or a McCord," Chuck said looking at another old stone, "Neither is this, I think it says, 'Pickens', and the date is 1919."
      Chuck took some more photos and said he'd get somebody out here to clean the place up and fix the fence. "We owe that to them, if nothing else," he nodded toward the graves.
      "Agreed."
      "There's one thing I do know for sure, Ed."
      "What's that?"
      "Our little picnic park is a lot more interesting that it was a couple of months ago."
      "Agreed, again."

School Drama

      The cable tech was mildly amused with my antique. He wrote it up, then gave it to me to put in the village museum.
      The new box gave us over twice the bandwidth we had, was still able to feed the routers that sent internet to the other units, and had built in wifi that made my laptop all kinds of happy, although the old desktop unit the village's stuff was on still had to be plugged in.
      "How's it working?" The tech asked me while I logged into my personal email.
      "Smokin' fast. Wow."
      "That's what I like to hear. You have a good day, sir."

      According to the historic information from the folder of papers, in 1910 there had been twelve schools in the township. Then, for a long time, there was only one, the middle school down the road.
      Now we had an elementary school. The old schoolhouse building not far from the fire station had been gutted and remodeled and then, after what was described as one of the ugliest educational fights in modern times, Middlefork Elementary had been opened for business about five years ago. And, according to the board, "they'd be damned if they let the district close it on them again." To their credit, the village paid a substantial part of the operating budget, which at least gave them a voice in the school's future.
      To its own credit, the school had scored in the top handful of schools in the county and in the top few percent of the state in every category you could imagine. From standardized test scores to student attendance to parental involvement, the school was a model of success. But there were sore points. One of which was number of students. Since Middlefork was a small town to start with, and the local population was, to be diplomatic about it, a bit older than the usual crop of K-4 student parents, the result was that the entire school was underpopulated to the point that the summary mentioned a three year spell where they combined two of the grades to have enough kids in the room to justify paying a teacher to show up for work.
      As City Manager, I was also now the vice-chair of the, I'm going to pull the title right off the job description to make sure I get it right, "the Middlefork School Support and Continuation of Local Education Committee". Salute!
      So, I made another appointment on my calendar, and, one day the following week, I went to school.

      The outside of the old brick building was one of those fortress-like schools built in the twenties with the stonework around the main door and even some sort of coat of arms over the dedication date and name.
      "Good morning, I'm Ed Davies," I said to the lady in the office to one side of the door as a group of hyper-excited children ran by.
      "Remember to Walk!" She said for probably the first time in her life. "Davies. Yes, you're the..."
      "New City Manager and Education Committee member."
      "That's it," she smiled at me, "I'm Jill Henry, I'm the school admin, welcome to Middlefork Elementary."
      "It's good to meet you Ms Henry."

      The inside of the school was nothing like it had been on the second of September, 1927 when the place first opened. For one, now it had air conditioning, wireless internet, a multipurpose room that was serving breakfast to some of the arriving students but would also serve as our committee room next week. The gymnasium, built in the forties, showed signs of age when you looked up at the massive steel girders that held up the roof, but that was it, otherwise, even the basketball hoops were new.
      Each classroom was well appointed and friendly, and even the kid-sized school desks looked like something you'd want to sit in to do a worksheet of the continents.
      "Do you know them all?" Ms Henry asked me as I checked out a spare paper laying on a nearby desk.
      "I thought I did, but I don't see Atlantis."
      "You have to draw that one in yourself."
      I laughed and put the worksheet back where it came from.
      But in that classroom I saw exactly what the briefing notes had talked about. The classroom was designed for maybe two dozen students. From the looks of it, there were maybe half that many assigned to it.

      From what I could see, the only furnishings inside the building that were original to the structure, or at least from its early days, were the hardwood floors, the trim around the windows and doors, and a set of wooden benches in the hall outside of the gym.
      "We're really proud of these," Ms Henry said. "They were in the original bus shelter out in front of the school in the thirties. Somehow they ended up in the basement under an old canvas. They found them during the renovations, had them refinished, and put them here. Now students use them every day again."
      I looked at the far bench where three young boys were waiting for whatever boys that age wait on before school starts. "That's good. I'm glad they were saved," I nodded to the boys as they stared at me like they'd never seen me before. "Do you like coming to school here?" I asked them.
      In order from the closest to us on the bench. The first one nodded. The second said something like "uh huh". And the third one mumbled what might have been "yessir."
      "Good, it seems like a nice school."
      The first one muttered "yeah", the second one said something but I have no idea what, and the third one just sat there.

      I met a couple of the teachers, and the acting principal, the custodian, and a few parents who were dropping their kids off.
      All in all, I felt like now at least I would have some idea about what I was talking about at the meeting.
      But the first item on the agenda still gave me pause.
      Once again the district, in the name of cost containment, was talking about closing our school and busing the students elsewhere.
      It was a beautiful building, with wonderful facilities and a wholesome atmosphere, But, it was only being half used, if that. Unless there was a sudden influx of young families, which I didn't see happening anytime soon, the situation was not going to change. Objectively, the district had a very good point, and the only point the city had was the wish to keep their young children in town for at least the first few years of their schooling.
      Eventually, I knew, the district would win and the school would be closed once again.
      "Unless," I said to the dashboard of my car, "we took it private, or charter, magnetic, something like that. Then the district couldn't say a word."
      The idea gave me chills, but I knew it was my hole card. As to when I would play it, I hoped I never had to. That was one school play I didn't want to see.

"'Defrost cycle complete.' Now go buy new food."

      I opened the door of the office part of the apartment and heard a bonging sound. Not the 'ding' half the things in the place made. It was a deep 'bong' like an old grandfather clock. Curious, I followed the sound into the kitchen and to the front of the refrigerator.
      I opened the door and my eyes started watering.
      Then I called Ms Enwater.
      "It did what?" She asked me with total disbelief in her voice.
      "Hang on, I'll send you a picture, I'll call you back in a minute," I said. Then I used my phone to take a picture of the message on the screen and sent it to her. Then I called her back.
      "It isn't supposed to do that," she said when she answered.
      "It did. Everything in it is ruined. And about half of what's in the freezer is bad. Some of it I can save, but I'm going to have to cook it tonight."
      "I'm sorry, Ed, I don't know why it did that. The defrost cycle is supposed to give you plenty of notice."
      "Maybe it was one of the messages you cleared the other day."
      "I didn't see it when we scrolled through, but it might have been there someplace. I'm really sorry."
      "It's OK, I just thought you'd get a kick out of it."
      "I'm going to send your picture to their sales rep and see if he has any ideas."
      "If he doesn't, tell him one of your clients has a few of his own."
      "I sure will. Thank you for being a good sport."

      One of the ideas I did have was to go see if the old fridge in the utility room still worked, and if so, I'd put essentials and things that would go bad easily in it, and only use the nightmare cooler for stuff that was a little tougher to spoil, like beer.
      I went into Unit Two and plugged the old thing with the creaking door and its own odd smell in. The light in the bottom section came on with a yellowish tinge to it, but the compressor kicked in, and by the time I'd cleaned up the mess in the new one, and figured out what I was going to cook and have for supper, and what I was going to cook and have for either breakfast or lunch tomorrow, the old unit was cool enough to convince me that it was working.
      I got the rusty two wheel dolly and proved that I still knew how to use one from my days at the warehouse. In a few minutes the antique fridge was parked across the kitchen from its new counterpart. I plugged it back in, wiped it out, and put the few good things from the other one in it. I also rinsed out the ice cube trays that were still in it from 1972, filled them up and put them in the freezer.
      "Now, do your damnedest," I said to the new fridge, "I'm covered."

      The next morning the old fridge was cold enough to reload when I got off work, and the new one had a new message for me, "shopping suggestion: rotate stock after purchase."
      All I could do was laugh. Laugh. Go out to breakfast. And then go see what the new day held in store for me.

-end part one-

Continued in "The Village" Part Two

[NOTE: As far as is known, there is no village, or city, of Middlefork, Illinois. All characters are FICTIONAL. Overall this Piece Is A FICTIONAL STORY, enjoy it as such.
Thank You the Author. ]

The Fiction Index

to the Desk main page