Our One-Thumbed Whittler – Michael Grant Smith

“To hear what needs to be heard, you must close your ears and listen with your gut.” — Loyd English, English Accent

Loyd English (that’s “Loyd” with one “L”), budding journalist and retired competitive whittling champion, published the Last Chance Gazette & Intelligencer, our town’s most popular and only newspaper. If controversy or mystery swam in Last Chance, Loyd English was the fellow to cast a hooked night crawler and pull out the truth.

Our Loyd’s English Accent editorial column was popular for its brand of wit, wisdom, and common sense that’s scarce locally, or at least expertly hidden.

This is not an Advice Column. I do not offer Suggestions or Antidotes from my own Experiments. My Detention is to Tell You what is Right and Wrong, and how to Extinguish the Difference between. If the Devil himself came Calling in Last Chance, would you Know Better than to Grasp his Smoky Claw?

Loyd refused to clutter his cramped office by hanging random landscape paintings or motivational posters of determined kittens. He anticipated winning the big, big Palooza Prize, which would occupy lots of wall space.

“You can’t eat one of those journalistic aggrievement awards,” Loyd often said, “but you can sure as heck ram them down the throats of your competitors!”

His presumed rivals, likely to be local shortwave radio operators or writers of letters, were never identified or rammed, which left no one to cite Loyd’s scoops that hadn’t aged so well: invasion by an army of hobos, invasion by an army of smooth-handed property developers, contaminated pet food from China that made cats and dogs super-intelligent, and the potential invention of portable telephones.

This past summer, Last Chance found itself tossed into a chef’s salad of crisis. Outside interests contrived to subvert the town’s hoary habits that had always ambled along a simple, unhindered path. The situation, according to the English Accent, was as obvious as a bologna sandwich served with crispy shoestring potato sticks and a glass of cold milk.

Seriously, folks, TRAFFIC LIGHTS? For close to 200 years in Last Chance, Vehicles of Every Sort have traveled from Point C to Point F without Parishing in Fiery Collusions. Our Nobel Ancestrals survived without Rules and Notices more Complicated than HEY, HOW ARE YA, HERE I COME. Do we of Last Chance dare to Second Guest our Four Fathers?

Within minutes of putting to bed that week’s issue of The Gazette, Loyd scurried to Last Chance’s municipal offices. If he’d had much hair, it would’ve been on fire. Chin up and shoulders back, Loyd passed the nail barrels, sacks of sweet feed, and lovely pocketknives lined up at the front half of Farm & Fleet, and threw open the door marked “City Business Only, Please.”

Constable Arlene was absent from her desk, one of two in the office, but Loyd was bent on his own investigative crusade. Best to let Arlene get on with her job of scolding vagrants and slim-jimming accidentally locked truck cabs. Plenty of time later for arrests and interrogations and leaked statements.

Loyd cleared his throat thrice before removing a loafer and banging its heel on the counter. Most of us had forgiven Loyd’s partiality to Italy-made mail order slip-on shoes, as well as his ever-present unlit pipe (carved by Loyd himself), because these doodads puffed up our beloved editor’s independent, journalistic image.

Last Chance’s clerk (and most senior resident) flinched. Sudden dust sparkled in the air. Frisky Clinchitt’s exact age was unknown, even to his own self, but he could recount precise details of 1931’s monsoon-like rains and subsequent Hay Glut.

Frisky leaned into a microphone and spoke, though he was two yardsticks away from Loyd.

“Yes, Mr. English,” Frisky’s amplified voice creaked. “What is it today?”

“I demand information in disregards to the alleged traffic signal at Main and Center,” said Loyd. “Now.”

Frisky nodded almost imperceptibly toward a row of file cabinets. Swift as a clock’s hour hand, Frisky retrieved the documents; meanwhile, Loyd’s fingertips and eyeballs vibrated. At last, the Order to Install Traffic Control Device (Electronic), all stamped and countersigned in a most convincing manner, lay spread out on the counter for Loyd’s inspection.

“There, you see it?” harked Loyd, stabbing his whittled pipe stem at the clerk and evidence. “These villains are playing shifty sports games with our parliamental procedures! Look, look at this! They’re so brazen, they’ve left their scheme right here for anyone to see!”

“It’s a matter of public record, Mr. English,” Frisky whispered into his microphone, risking the smallest of shrugs as he spoke.

“Not yet,” countered Loyd, “but it will be!”

There’d never been an “extra” edition in all of the Last Chance Gazette & Intelligencer’s years, even in response to former Mayor Lowell “Fuzzy” Nelson’s three best scandals. Tipsy with sincerity, Loyd broke from his own custom.

Folks Say, Let Sleeping Dogs Lay, particularly if those Old Hounds are Lying in their Sleep, and that’s No Lie. The Response to this Bad Reasoning is a Lewd, Clear: HECK, NO! Without a Well-Deformed Citizenry and the Strongest Cents of a Civic Mission, Gentile Reader, what can we do to Desist the cruel Boot of Depression? FIGHT! Don’t let Outsiders tell us when to Stop and when to Go!

Last Chance is not known for the birthing of heroes. We birth regular people and the occasional jackass. All of us stared into the abyss of irrational modernization and governmental hoo-hah, but one man dragged the whole town back from the edge. The traffic signal scheme was shelved indefinitely, thanks to Loyd English, the greatest thing since canned pasta. We avoided making a mistake that could unravel a community faster than an epidemic of pink eye.

Fate and good fortune are oftentimes in cahoots, and their collaboration creates a soothing yet non-greasy, non-staining salve that promotes healing. Angels slip a twenty-dollar bill into our wallet while we sleep, just so we can have a little spending money in our dreams.



Image via Pixabay 

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