Monday, April 9, 2012

At the Last Meeting of the Fiat Bottle and Pottery Club

Here the imagination stalls. I don't know what might have happened at the last meeting of the Fiat Bottle and Pottery Club, which I saw advertised via a xeroxed page taped to the window of the junk shop on Water Street. The junk shop sells a good bit of our traditional local pottery, which -- well, if I say that this particular style of folk pottery is an acquired taste, you will understand that I'm not saying I don't like it. I do like it, in rather the same way that I like a beer called Pipeline Porter, which I started drinking because Osama, who runs the restaurant on the square, had it on special for ninety-nine cents for a spell of about six months. Pipeline Porter's list of ingredients includes coffee, which delivers a sort of malty-espresso-up-all-night-under-the-table experience to which words really fail me to do justice;   anyway, I like it. At ninety-nine cents I'll like a lot of things, but I would actually pay more for this if I had to, especially since it's beer and coffee in the same bottle, thus saving me the trouble and expense. And our local pottery is sort of like that, too:  dark and subtle and also alarming, because the local folk tradition is to make pots with faces, with staring eyes and prominent white teeth. Finding one of our face jugs in a midnight alley would be a caffeinating encounter, I would think.

Everyone else in the family has gone to Scouts, and the dog and I have been abroad in the town. This is how I know that, while nothing but nothing is happening tonight, the recent past has been enlivened by a meeting of the Fiat Bottle and Pottery Club. Also, I've missed the Relay4Life Yard Sale, which is a shame, because now I'll be up all night trying to visualize a relay yard sale. How does that work, exactly? You pick up a Mildred Q. Rupman commemorative figurine-slash-floor lamp (minus cord and shade), note that the seller wants seventy-five cents for it, and pass it to the lady in the hair curlers, who hands it to her husband, saying, "Put that in the car, too, Dinsmore, you might as well?"

I might have gone to the relay yard sale, except that it happened on Saturday, and I only saw the sign tonight;  also, the sign declined to divulge any information pertaining to location. Apparently you just had to know. The Prohibition era had its speakeasies;  we have our Mystical-Knowlege Relay Yard Sales. Ah, well. At any rate, I thought about starting a short story about the Fiat Bottle and Pottery Club, but as you see, I never got past the opening phrase.

I suppose that there are people who find small towns boring. My observation is that many people who grew up in small towns would, in their adult lives, rather live on a potash collective on Neptune than in a small town. But then, my observation is that many people believe that anyplace that they didn't grow up -- even a potash collective on Neptune -- is bound to be better in every way than wherever they did grow up, not necessarily because there's anything wrong either with their hometowns or with them as people, but because anonymity is a freeing thing. I don't necessarily mean anonymity as in, nobody knows who you are. We hadn't lived in Fiat for fifteen minutes before I overheard somebody cycling past our house remarking to her companion that a new family with four children had just moved in. No, what's freeing is that the place itself is anonymous to you. You can spend the rest of your life learning its secrets and still not know them all, or even that many of them. Maybe you'll never know what happens at any meeting of the Bottle and Pottery Club, or who belongs to it. Nice bottle, Dinsmore. Was that your wife I saw with the floor lamp from the relay yard sale?Maybe no one will ever tell you who it is that plays basketball in the old high-school gym on Monday nights, or by what machinations the brand-new science building at the community college became, overnight, a department of cosmetology. You may never understand the graffiti on the wall of the old Eureka Textile Mill -- We Love Tim! Beer -- and if other people don't get it, either, they may not admit that in your presence.

Meanwhile, the train -- that same train which kept recurring in the Lenten sonnets -- is moaning and shuddering its way through town, on its way to the power plant in Panacea Falls. I do know that secret:  where the train goes, rocking and swaying and dripping lumps of coal which my children pick up at the crossing at the bottom of our hill. I know, now, who owns the beagle-Pekingese mix tied to one front-porch support of a peeling house in the next block, and when I hear a screaming clamor at night, as of a yardful of scalded turkeys, I know it's only that dog remarking to some other passing dog that there's room on the porch for one, bub.

The night is coming down, the crickets are whispering in the vinca, the ivy is growing in through the front-porch screen, and even my dog has gone inside. I'm trying to bring all this to some conclusion, but I don't know . . . I don't know . . .


pauler said...

You know much of the backstory to my small town background. I miss it every single day and would live in a small town now if I could swing it financially. Not that things are exactly swingin' here now, but.......... I truly miss it. I enjoyed your sojourn through your small town.

Sally Thomas said...

Yes, your small town remains mythic in my own imagination. I cain't hardly pass a water tower even now without hearing a voice in my mind say, "It's gone be green."

I do think of your newspapering adventures all the time. We have here a kind of regional shopper's-news-type paper, in addition to the regular paper, which runs features called "Who Is This?" and "Where Is This?" The "Who Is This" weekly photo is always of some waitress or grocery-store cashier, so that the closest I'd ever get would be to think, "Oh, that's that lady . . . " The "Where Is This" photo tends to be of things like the fourth hole on the Fiat Country Club golf course, or of a totally nondescript pond, or anything else on the theme of "how the heck would anybody know where that is, because it looks like nowhere?"

I know for a fact that some people find this kind of thing oppressive. I find it strangely exhilarating.

Janet said...

When we first moved, we would love to read the 8-page paper that the Tate Co. Democrat sent out in the mail. The back page had news from Thyatira and Antioch and we could read all about who visited whom and who was in the hospital. And some really amazing poetry--although not amazing in the same way that yours is amazing.

I think a story about the Last Meeting of the Fiat Bottle and Pottery Club would be super-fantastic.


Sarah Johnson said...

Thanks for this beautiful and hilarious piece.