It looked like it was going to be a lovely brief spring afternoon town council meeting. Until I spotted a certain vehicle. Uh-oh. Then it turned out that the present mayor was deathly ill so the former mayor was running the council meeting, except that two council persons were missing. A phone call brought in one, apologizing. That was a quorum, so we started the march through the agenda. (When I say "we," I mean "they" since I'm only an observer.)
Let’s see -- should I use pseudonyms? No one needs one except for the driver of the certain vehicle. I’m afraid to make up a name for him for fear of my subconscious picking something insulting. I’ll just call him X. He sat there quietly for quite a while. Then we got to the water report. The water issues are his trigger.
Roger Skogen, our water master was at the meeting, which meant it was a good time to find out things. The third well is in and almost completed. It looks fine: shallow depth, good water flow, all the right characteristics. The watertower is ready for X-raying in the next few days to test the welds, but it will be painted a standard color, with purple lettering for the word “Valier,” and no thousand-dollar pawprints. (I shed no tears. Others did.) Everyone’s water meters are in and functioning, revealing many leaks which are getting fixed, including one in Roger’s house -- a little toilet trickle that leaked away gallons and gallons of water which he didn’t notice until he got the bill. Now fixed.
Then X begins his list of complaints about this, that and the other -- all issues we’ve heard him harp on a thousand times since the day he showed up. Loftily, he instructed Roger (again) about the proper management of the town streets. Jackie explained things. Roger explained things. Velda explained things. Shannon, who is a deputy when he’s not at a council meeting, sat with his arms folded. He was out of uniform and a great big new deputy was present to give the sheriff’s report. I noticed that during the deputy’s report X did not question him, advise him or even look at him. He just jiggled his knees furiously under the table.
The agenda continued and was finished. Velda asked for citizen remarks but advised that some folks were probably missing their suppers and it would be a kindness to keep remarks short and relevant. Off goes X on his next tirade, second-guessing the city. Very dramatic. Totally irrelevant to much of anything.
Finally Velda’s normally inexhaustible good will snapped and she cautioned X. Jackie, the super-conscientious town clerk, was still trying to explain. X was talking over the top of her. Velda rapped on the table, ruled X out of order, said she was going to ask him to leave and -- by the time she was rapping with both fists and he still refused to shut up -- DID ask him to leave. He started gathering his usual charts and papers, stalling.
Then X made a big mistake. He turned to me and asked whether I thought Velda could throw him out. I slammed down my clipboard, stood up, and yelled, “Absolutely! In fact, I’m gonna come and escort you out of here by the seat of your pants myself!” I advanced on him. He was momentarily defiant. “Oh, you will, will you?” he sneered. But he hadn’t expected this.
Velda demanded, “Is this any way to treat an older lady member of our town??” This was not a question that calmed me down. Older lady indeed! I’m young enough to eject a pipsqueak like X. I kept walking towards him. I cleared the end of the table and was closing in, ready to grab his shirt collar.
Finally the great big deputy, who is rather new and reluctant to use force, went into action and got between us. (Whew!) X swept grandly to the exit door, gave it a big push and -- it was locked. Urk. Sputtering, he had to scrabble out through the side with the deputy making a human wall behind him so he couldn’t double back. It was great.
Velda made a long speech justifying what she had just done. Jackie made a long speech justifying what SHE had done. I made no speech. As far as I was concerned, it was self-evident. Everyone was on such an adrenaline jag that they didn’t want to go home until they’d talked a little of it off. “He thinks we’re STUPID !!” they exclaimed.
Velda wanted to tell us how X’s aged mother was visiting him (she’s normally in a nursing home in Conrad) and he wanted her to plant her handprints in some wet cement. She wouldn’t -- COULDN’T -- since she is an old stiff lady. So he picked her up, tipped her over like an ironing board, and planted her hands in the muck. He is one of those unbalanced people who has far too many strange triggers -- line them up and. . . Valier will be in the news. Not in a good way.
I wanted a word with Shannon about who might be shooting cats in town. They’re using a .177 calibre CO2 “air” gun. Jack Smith’s beloved black cat, the one who curled up with him at night, was killed. His gentle Himalayan was badly hurt but survived. We have way too many cats, but shooting them solves no problems, is against the law, and some people enjoy it far too much.
Keeping order in a small prairie town is not usually very dramatic. Valier has no bars anymore. There’s only one bank to rob and I doubt it has much money. One amenity I wish we had is missing and has been for years now: clergy that live in town. It’s easy to underestimate what impact there is in the steady Sunday exploration of local moral and ethical issues and the quiet visiting and advocacy functions of just watchfully being in the community. In every community the clergy and law enforcement buttress and counsel each other. Older folks used to do a lot of it, but they are disarmed when it comes to these strange coastal people who move in, cuckoos in the bluebird nests. We’re getting a lot of real-life versions of a type of literature that begins, “A stranger came to town.”
Last night people were trying to give this man the benefit of the doubt: “he means well, he’s just different,” and all that. But IMHO opinion, he’s a crackpot in search of a tea party and ought to be frog-marched out of town.