Slightly On Edge
by Calendar Hacksaw
'Twas the night before Christmas, and ol' Calendar was hunkered down at the keyboard of his solar-powered, IBM-compatible word processor, mulling over the mistakes made by denizens of Twin Oaks during the past year. Yes, folks, you've got some atoning to do. Someone needs to tear you a new one, and I think I'm just the fella to do it. So grab another "free" refill and listen up. If you don't like what you're about to read, I'd suggest you break out a pen and fire off a Letter to the Editor of the Fence Post and voice your objections; Rick and Donna enjoy a good laugh, too.
On two separate occasions during the year just ended, friends and acquaintances of mine have visited the Twin Oaks General Store (TOGS) for the first time, and come away with very negative perceptions of the resident clientele. One described them as "the meanest lookin' bunch of hombres I'd ever seen." And, this coming from a fellow who owns 40 acres outside of Tehachapi. You folks really do yourselves proud, don't you?
In both instances, the newcomers were met with nothing less than frosty glares and stares from the locals sitting at the counter and tables. As soon as they walked in, they knew they weren't welcome, cutting short their visits as a result. And when they left, they took with them the money they had intended to spend at TOGS.
When I related this to a friend in Walker Basin, her immediate response was laughter. Yes, she laughed! The mere thought of someone from outside the community getting such a cold reception from the locals reduced her to the belly-jiggles.
Well, folks, I've got news for you: Linda and Cheryl are trying to make a living off of TOGS, as did Donny and Janelle and Connie and Al and others before them, and you're standing smack dab in their way. They can't achieve their financial goals by selling bottomless cups of coffee. They need new customers, and you're not helping matters one bit by scaring off all new arrivals. Believe it or not, TOGS is not your private club. Get over it. If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.
Perhaps it would be a good idea to post a highly-visible Public Notice at each of the entrances letting first-time visitors know what they're in for and how to react. For example:
TOGS LOVES NEWCOMERS!!
"Please do not feel offended or intimidated if our regular customers stop whatever they're doing to glare at you when you enter the café. That's just the way they are. A few are outright idiots, some just don't know how to act in public, and others have nothing better to do in this one horse town. We suspect that one or two might be gay or lesbian and in search of a partner, willing or otherwise. In any case, feel free to approach the most offensive of them and just ask, "What in the hell are you staring at, you stupid hillbilly?" This is one of our favorite pastimes here in Twin Oaks."
I attended "Fun Day" for the first time last year, and there were literally thousands of new faces there, who most assumed were just tourists. But upon inspecting their belongings, we found that they were actually new residents of Twin Oaks and Walker Basin. The invisible masses. Who would've guessed? And why don't we see them at TOGS? I think I have a damned good idea. They've been there once, and decided they were never coming back.
I must admit, I've fallen into this despicable behavior myself over the past decade or so. I don't know if it's because I'm imitating the more experienced of you counterflies, or if I'm just bored. But, now that I've brought it to my attention, I intend to change my ways. I remember all too well how I was treated at TOGS until Al took me under his wing, and I thank him to this day for that kindness, because it allowed me to meet the rest of you. Don't sell yourselves short, folks; you're a wonderful bunch of people. We can all change, with a little extra effort. So I challenge Ernie, Lawrence, Loren, Richard, Tom, and all the others to help make newcomers feel welcome. How might this be accomplished? Well, let's examine a few scenarios.
A middle-aged man, his wife and two filthy rug rats come in and finally settle on a table. The man is wearing a "Davis for Governor" T-shirt, his wife is obviously Amish, and both kids are suffering from the flu.
So, Ernie gets up off his butt, sidles on over, wishes them a "good morning," and asks if they came up through the canyon. Receiving an affirmative response, he enlists their aid on the way back out. A cow has been killed by a car during the night, and is beside the road at about the 5.5 mile marker. But unfortunately, the poor heifer landed with its branded side down, so no one's sure whose it is. The newcomers could save everyone some time, trouble and diesel if they'd just stop there for a few minutes on their way out, roll the carcass over and copy down the brand, then call TOGS from their cell phone once they reach Highway 58. Is that too much to ask? Of course not. These are Americans, and they will do anything asked.
Three Ethiopians, two singing cowboys and a snuff-dipping ballet dancer stop at TOGS for directions and a 14-pack of Pabst. Al St. John greets them warmly and informs them that there are no doors on the stalls in the men's room. They take this news well, noting that they are only in the region for one day seeking suitable acreage to house a nudist resort for the blind. This is a good sign. So, Tom saunters over and asks if they saw the old mine down the road, which they obviously did, because it's hard to miss. He mentions that some teenagers have seen fit to scrawl some downright naughty words on the walls, and asks if the visitors would mind covering the offensive graffiti with a can of complimentary spray paint on their way out. They immediately jump at the chance, and feel a part of the community for doing so.
These are but two examples illustrating the ease with which strangers in our midst can be made to feel welcome and a part of the larger community. Another would be to invite them to serve as civilian observers during a SWAT team raid on a Weldon meth lab.
As we've seen, TOGS has no trouble drawing new customers; it's keeping them that seems to be the obstacle. Now that this "problem" is out in the open, I would hope that each of you would mend your ways and do your part to help TOGS survive and prosper. We all need TOGS as much as TOGS needs us, and it would be a sad day indeed if it were to close up for good.
Besides, customers and money add up to improvements, and one day we might just see some doors on those toilet stalls.
Calendar Hacksaw has been under your fixed gaze at firstname.lastname@example.org, and now that he's solved all of TOGS' problems, he's ready for a new challenge. So put on your bikinis and grab the Coppertone, girls, because next month we're planning a little trip to the coast!