Conventional Wisdom

by Calendar Hacksaw

During the big rains, while the Zanutto clan was pre-occupied with piling sandbags around Wayne Moody and everything else they own, I was holed-up in Frazier Park attending the second annual international conference of the North American Rural Columnists Society (NARCS).

I suspect there's been more than a few reefers got puffed in Frazier Park, so the locals seemed a mite uneasy about the big sign on the convention center marque reading "WELCOME NARCS!"

We all did our best to maintain the image by talking into our sleeves whenever using the restrooms.

"16-58 to Control, any wants or warrants on a male/white, about 25, shaved head, answers to 'Nickel Bag'?"

Yep; we pretty much had them stalls and urinals all to ourselves.

The organizers of the conference has us stacked three-to-a-room down at the Gravel Pit Motel, Ammo and Liquor (tm), where I was assigned to bunk with two total strangers: Mr. Granville Palms of the Gorman Sunday Sig-Alert (tm), and Srta. Piedras Blancas of el Poste de Cerca de Tejon (tm), both of whom had traveled all the way from Lebec on full per diem, including $5 a day for "miscellaneous-unspecified."

We reserved a lopsided table and three well-worn barstools for the opening session, which was held in a gin joint so well hidden that only a seasoned hack with the nose of a purebred beagle could ever hope to find it. Everyone found it with no trouble, which should tell you a thing or two about columnists.

Following introductions, a young woman in the back of the hall stood up and loudly proclaimed, "I'm tired of this damn mountain! I want to go to the city and get polluted and violated!" Every single delegate whipped out pen and paper to jot down the declaration, knowing good rural column fodder when they hear it. Srta. Blancas wrote it in rural Spanish.

The distraught woman was obviously already "polluted," and shortly thereafter the Smokies gave her a ticket for blocking a snowplow, thus satisfying her need to be "violated," which just goes to show that even in Frazier Park a girl's dreams can come true.

The keynote speaker was none other than Walter "Fishnet" Packard, lead columnist of the Little Lake Daily Shaker (tm), a publication which registers a 5.4 on my journalistic Richter Scale. Ol' Fishnet revealed to us that columns about consensual sex among farm animals go over big with readers in the big city, but bottom out in rural districts. He also said there was free ice water in the back of the room, and restrooms were down the hall to the right.

Later that morning, we attended a variety of seminars on the fine art of rural column writing, with such titles as "Making A Mountain Out Of A Molehill," "Outhouses, Bicyclists and Roadkill: Are they Still Funny?," and "How to Make Cityfolk Do Stupid Things In Rural Settings."

Your's truly sat in on a two-hour panel discussion exploring GREAT ways to make BIG money writing rural columns. No one came up with any ideas, but it was time well spent because it opened our eyes to the realization that our collective talent couldn't fill a shot glass.

The exhibit hall opened in mid-afternoon with a beer and Velveeta (tm) party, hosted by the local Grange. Wandering among the displays took several minutes, and was almost enjoyable. The refreshments lasted for several hours, and ol' Calendar drank way too many Velveetas.

My first stop was at a table which featured a dead possum. Some emotionally twisted taxidermist had mounted the rodent in a standing pose, sporting a little leather vest and chaps, a miniature Stetson (tm), and outfitted with a pair of tiny holstered six-shooters. The price tag read $350. I wondered what kind of fool would pay that kind of money for something most of us make ourselves.

Moving along, I found some computer software with a grammar-check feature that claimed to be capable of transforming "normal" writing into something more akin to what a rural columnist might write. I typed in, "The Fence Post's 'Continuous Improvement Process' has reduced copy editing time by 63%."

I hit the 'enter' key, and the contraption sputtered a few seconds before coming up with this: "Ever since Zanutto put his electric fence on the same line as the old Selectric, Donna gets that copy out faster than Willard's V-8 Farmall!"

"That's pretty slick," I thought to myself. But to paraphrase an old David Allan Coe lyric, it didn't say nothin' about Mama, trains, trucks, prison, or gettin' drunk. Still needs some work.

The next booth was filled with politicians, primarily Republicans and Democrats. In exchange for a small campaign donation, a lawmaker would say something that a rural columnist could write something about. One guy paid a Republican $2 to say "we could solve the education crisis by adopting a voucher system." I wondered how many private schools would sprout up in Walker Basin if vouchers ever became a reality. Another shelled out $5 just to hear a Democrat advocate "federally subsidized cellular telephones to help the homeless keep in touch with mainstream society." It was a very popular exhibit.

But all good conventions must come to an end, and it was sometime past midnight when Srta. Blancas and I returned to the motel room. In the dim light, we could see that our bunkmate, Mr. Palms, had already retired for the night. But we could also discern that he wasn't alone under the covers. Quick as a flash, Piedras and I pulled back the blankets, and there--low and behold--cuddled up to Granville's chest was $350 worth of well-dressed, well-stuffed possum!

Calendar Hacksaw's e-mail addresses are <> and <> and he invites you to help support rural columnists by mailing at least $1 each month (cash only), to Calendar Hacksaw, c/o The Fence Post. Expect nothing in return, and you won't be disappointed.

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