Friday, September 11, 2009

The Rest of the Contest Entries. The Harvest Fair Approaches

A late night post. I'm sitting in my Front Room, computer on lap, and preparing to post the last entries in the special effects photography contest for the Shire Harvest Festival and Fair. My side lamp throws a perfectly round circle of light on the ceiling directly above me and a much larger circle of light around my chair. The rest of the room lies in semi darkness. I don't feel the need to turn on another light. It's just me and my computer. Oh, the tele is on as well. It keeps me company - you know - filling the room with voices and laughter. Black Adder... is there anything better than an episode of Black Adder I ask you?

The side widow is open letting in a cool breeze off the canal. I smell Autumn in the air. Autumn in Cloverdale is a blessing from above. Where else on God's green Earth would you want to be?

The Coastal Express was on time thanks to efficiency of the border guards at Fernwood on the Moor's train station, our rail link to The Other World. The train pulled into Cloverdale in plenty of time to make a stop at one of my two favorite places to catch up on local news with old friends- the Hairy Lemon or the Kicking Donkey Pubs. The Hairy Lemon and Kicking Donkey are the places to be if you're ever in Cloverdale on a Friday night. The Kicking Donkey serves great pub meals and the Hairy Lemon serves very unusual local brews. After careful consideration I went with The Hairy Lemon. I'd eaten on the train.

The Lemon's public rooms were wall to wall with locals. Some pretty sauced with Scrumpy, the local ale. Others, like me, enjoyed their unleaded sodas mixed with good company. I found my posse sitting at our usual booth near the billiard tables. They shouted and waved me over when I entered the room, then scooted around the half circle table to open up a spot for me to sit. Just as my behind hit the cushion, Lucy walked up with an ice cold Diet Coke with lemon and straw. She knows how to make a bloke feel at home.
"Is this what the doctor ordered?" she asked.
"Nectar of the Gods," I replied.
"No, you're wrong there sir." Mildew Flanders chided in. "Cloverdale Scrumpy is the Nectar of the Gods!"
Everyone at our table and others within earshot (Mildew has a voice that tends to carry after he's had a few) cheered in agreement - holding up their glasses of Scrumpy to drive home the point.
"I'd love to try your Scrumpy...." the table fell silent in disbelief. Glasses of Scrumpy momentarily froze to the lips of those in mid drink. Everyone knew I was Mormon. Everyone knew Mormons and alcohol didn't mix. "but.... If I did we'd be keeping eternal company at the Hairy Lemon in that dark place where Scrumpy fills the rivers and lakes. You all enjoy your nectar and I'll enjoy mine. Cheers!"
Of course, my statement of faith drew the usual 'Can't handle it' jeers but nothing I hadn't heard before. They stopped when I took out my pen and put it to napkin. I wrote 'Missionary Contacts and Addresses'. "Let's see, who's gong to be the first on my list to get a call from our fine young men in dark suits?" That shut them up. It works every time.

Stories circled the table for the next hour. Many we'd heard before. You know how it is with a group of friends. What's interesting is how they change with each telling. My job in this sorority is to fill them in on life in The Other World. They sure had lots of questions about health care reform. That is one thing they don't understand about life outside of the Confederacy. I do my best to explain but usually change the subject to take them off the scent. There are some things best left at the border.

Two Cokes and an hour later my voice was nearing its limit. It was a long train ride to Cloverdale and my bed was calling. I excused myself, scooted out from behind the table, bid everyone a good bye, slipped Lucy a few bills for keeping my glass full and wound my way through the crowd and out the pub's door onto Lark Lane. The singing from the pub fell quiet when I turned the corner onto Canal Street. A block later and my key was in the lock. I was home for the weekend.

So, here I am staring at the photographs yet once again hanging from the clothesline strung across the fireplace. I believe I've settled on the winner. That may change when I wake up but for now I think the judging is done.

These are the last entries. Enjoy. I'm going to bed.............

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I'm a Judge for the Harvest Fair and Festival.

Excitement is building for the Harvest Festival and Fair in Cloverdale. Gardeners are grooming their fruit and vegetables. Cooks are refining the recipes, and the lady's clubs are finishing up the last of their quilts. Everyone in Cloverdale is preparing something for the Fair.

I took a civic turn a few months ago and stopped at the police station to sign my name to the volunteer judging list. I checked the boxes for every division except garden produce. I planned on entering a few tomatoes myself, therefore my partiality would be suspect.

A week ago, while out ‘gardening’, I received a phone call from Her Worshipfulness, the Lord Mayor’s part time secretary. She left a message congratulating me on my selection as head judge for special effects photography. I was happy with the assignment. I like pictures (as long as I’m not in them). I even like taking pictures (although I’d never enter one of mine in the competition). I called her back and accepted the position.

“I’m sending the contest's entries in a large brown envelope marked Medical Test Results. We don’t want anyone to know you’ve been appointed a judge. The envelope will come by special delivery .” She explained.

“I understand,” I replied, wondering why they decided upon ‘medical test results’ as their disguise. My next door neighbor is a world champion gossip. Her one enjoyment in life comes from digging up dirt, legally and illegally, on everyone that falls within her field of vision. Once I caught her rifling through our building’s mailboxes. If she caught sight of the envelope before I got home, word would spread through town that I had some tropical disease with only weeks to live. That is her special power. She alone constitutes the entire root system of Cloverdale's gossip tree.

“You may prejudge the entries,” the secretary continued . “I will ask for your decisions at the fair. The Lord Mayor will award the Blue Ribbons. Thank you for your willingness to volunteer. Have a nice day.” The phone call ended.

A large brown envelope marked ‘Medical Tests’ arrived the following day. The pictures were impressive. Each showed remarkable imagination and skill. I have them hanging on a clothesline stretched across the fireplace in my living room . I stare at them daily. Before I leave for work I arrange them first to last only to rearrange them when I get home. It's driving me mad.

I’ve decided to let you see a few of what I regard as the best of the lot. I'll post the others tomorrow. What do you think?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ralph Stool, A Green Grocer and Supplier of 'Special Needs'.

Ralph Stool

I found Ralph Stool behind Mrs. Winston’s Green Grocery on Clappen Commons in Cloverdale. He was putting out a cigarette before returning to the shop. He glanced at me from the corner of his eye - very distrustfully. It made me uncomfortable. He put his hands in his pockets and waited for me to speak. I stopped before getting too close. I didn’t know what he had in those pockets.

“What can I do you for?” he asked, never taking his one good eye off me. His other eye tended to wander, an old war wound from Bosnia he told everyone. The Confederacy didn’t send troops to Bosnia so his story was suspect. Because of his temperament no one challenged his claim and I wasn’t going to be the first.

“I understand you're the owner of this establishment?” My question was polite but not the one I really wanted to ask. I wanted to ask if he was Mrs. Winston for whom the green grocer was named. It was a cheeky question. I wanted to test his sense of humor but changed my mind, taking the coward's way out just as the words formed in my mouth.

“Yes. This is my place. Why?” he turned to face me head on. I was unnerved. One eye penetrated my comfort zone while the other glanced back and forth searching for others that might be watching - or listening. My eyes were momentarily distracted by a sprout of hair protruding from his left nostril. Red hair I think tipped in gray. I lost my train of thought. “What is it man?” his voice was gruff and to the point. “I ain’t got all day.”

vMrs. Winstons Green Grocer. Ralph Stool, Owner.

I found my thoughts, cleared my throat and spoke.” The Harvest Festival and Fair is coming up and I was wondering if........” I searched his face hoping he would finish the sentence for me. I knew he knew why I was there. Would he put me out of my misery and take the point?

“Yea, what about it?” He said as he took a step closer, hands still in his pockets.

“Well, last year I entered the best from my garden. I didn’t win a thing. I don't want that to happen again. I want a blue ribbon. You know better than most that winning a blue ribbon at the Harvest Fair opens doors in this village. You're given, well, kind of celebrate status.”

“Again, what’s this got to do with me?” he asked.

“I’ve heard that you are the man to go to if you have a problem that requires special handling. You know, done discreetly.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out a nice collection of bank notes rolled tightly and held together with a rubber band. His good eye found the target. The other continued to patrol the surroundings.

“What are we talking about here?” His curiosity was aroused. “Carrots, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins...... what?”

“Tomatoes. That’s the most coveted blue ribbon at the fair and I want to win it. A lot of produce passes through your shop every day. I’m sure you hold back the best for special customers willing to pay top dollar for the good stuff. Right?”

“Perhaps we can find a solution to your problem that will benefit us both. Follow me?” he opened the back door and stepped in. I followed. We walked down a flight of stairs into the basement. There was a large walk in cooler. He opened it. A cold wind carrying the smell of beautifully ripe fruit rushed out. He stepped in. I followed. Three meters in and he stopped. Crates of tomatoes filled the shelves on his left. I visually examined them, not daring to touch. In my opinion these were the finest tomatoes in the Shire.

“Perhaps you’d be interested in something like this?” he said while snapping a rubber glove onto his left hand. He reached into the box and pulled out what only can be described as perfection on Earth. A tomato, nearly perfectly round with a glistening red surface dripping with goodness, flavor and texture. The size was impressive. That is what I needed to be a blue ribbon contender.

“The Festival is still two weeks off so this beauty will be spoiled. There are more coming just like it. Shall I set something aside for you closer to the Fair?” he asked while holding out his ungloved hand. I answered by handing him the rolled cash.
“We have a deal then.” he said to seal the transaction.
"We have a deal." I replied, blushing with a mixture of confidence and embarrassment at having to commit such a deed to achieve my victory.
I left the shop with confidence knowing there was at least one blue ribbon the Shire Agricultural Office destine to hang from my front window.

I noticed someone standing to the side of the store as I walked across the street. It appeared to be an older woman wearing a trench coat, scarf and sun glasses. She watched me until I got into my car, then turned and walked around to the back of the shop. She walked slowly, using a silver cane to help keep steady. I started the engine and signaled to enter the flow of traffic. I drove off thinking there was something familiar about her. A mile or two down the lane the clues came together - it had to be the Widow Palmer, last year's blue ribbon winner in tomatoes. She was the only old lady I knew with a limp and silver cane. Now I understood my competition. It wasn't a matter of growing the best tomato, it was a matter of who could afford the best from Ralph Stool!

The Widow Palmer

If money was going to be the deciding factor then I planned on returning to Mrs.Winston's Green Grocer the following day with a bit of a bonus to sweeten the deal. Was the Widow Palmer willing to risk everything to win again this year?
We will find out at the Harvest Festival.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Soon, the Harvest and the Harvest Fair.

Hello Friends,

It’s nearly harvest time in the Confederacy of Dunces. And harvest time means everyone will soon be preparing for the social highlight of the Fall - the Shire’s Harvest Fair in the beautifully and tastefully decorated village park in Cloverdale.

The village council meets every fortnight to finalize the Fair’s schedule and events. Much of what’s discussed is kept close to the vest. The Lord Mayor is determined not to allow leaks.
“Secrets are to be kept secret,” the mayor emphasized in a recent interview with a writer for the Confederacy Times, printed weekly in Cloverdale. “We don’t want anyone to know who we’re bringing in to open the fair. We don’t want anyone to know who the judges will be for the contests now do we? Can you imagine the heartache. Take for example the judging of the Shire’s most delicious tomatoes. What if I were to name you to be the judge and word got out in your paper? That’s right. You’d be hounded morning, noon and night by every gardener in the Shire seeking to gain your favor. Those blue ribbons are valuable don’t you know. Each one awarded increases your social standing in the community. I should know. How to you think I got to be Lord Mayor? It wasn’t for my brains don’t you know. Listen, come close and I’ll tell you. It was the blue ribbon I won for the largest pumpkin the year of the election. That blue ribbon gave me this job. Now don’t you doubt what I’m saying. It’s the truth so help me God.”

Yes, the Harvest Fair is nearly upon us. Keep reading for news as the date approaches and if I should hear anything of interest.......... rest assured you’ll be the first to know.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Rain on Beeching Lane.

Is there anything in this world drearier than Beeching Lane under the heavy clouds of an Autumn rain? Just walk down the pavement with umbrella in hand and feel the essence of goodness and the love of life seep from your soul. You’ll soon do what other pedestrian are doing - clutching your jacket over your heart to slow the advancing gloom. You’ll instinctively speed your step and seek shelter before the light which makes you human is caught away by the mist and cold rain.

Only the bravest among us are willing to risk so much, and so we wait in the shops and church for the siege to lift and the sun to find its way back into the sky. Look at the picture above and see the nearly empty street except for a few at the far end of the Lane. They are the ones that ignore the obvious and seek danger whenever possible because of a misguided belief in their immortality. Yet, not even their youth can shield them from these surroundings. They will be different when they get home. Their loved ones will notice it first. They will say something or perhaps verbalize an unkindness that triggers the first of many questions from those that know them best.

“What’s wrong? Aren’t you feeling well?” A loved one will ask.
To which our brave but foolish Beeching Lane pedestrian will answer,” I’m fine and would appreciate it if you would mine your own business.”

Some at the dinner table will blame themselves for the dark mood hanging over their friend, wife, husband, or child - completely unaware that this person in their company stepped onto Beeching Lane during a Dark Storm.

Last week I saw the sign of an approachng Dark Storm while waiting at the bus stop outside Beeching Lane’s First Methodist Church. I stood on the curb, smelling the rain and watching the sky. White clouds drfted by. Gray clouds followed. And then, shade by shade, everything above my head faded to black.

I was determined not to miss my bus so I clutched my jacket and deployed my umbrella. A favorite hymn came to mind which I sang to lift my spirits. The last of the sun’s rays was blotted out by a carnivorous bank of depression that filled the sky up and down the lane. I watched dozens of my fellows dash for the nearest safe haven. Yet I waited and watched for the two headlights of an approaching bus.

The rain started and my defenses weakened. I heard someone shouting from behind me. I turned to look. Up at the top of the church’s stone steps stood the Preacher. One hand held one of the two solid oak church doors open. The other was waving at me.

“For God’s Sake, run!” I heard his voice punch its way through the rain. I turned one last time to look for a bus. Two lights appeared from the far end of the lane. It was the number 12 bus. I waved to the preacher and pointed toward the oncoming headlights. He gave me a thumbs up and slammed the door closed. The whole experience reminded me of the dear price we may be asked to pay for taking such risks.

I'm better now at checking the weather reports before planning my daily routines so I can take precautions not to be near Beeching Lane if rain is in the forecast.

Cloverdale Weekend Television. Loreena McKennitt