• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

Spring showed up temporarily last weekend, bringing the first tourist
of
the season. That means — months before I intended — it’s time to tell
you
about Hardyville’s One Unattractive Tourist Attraction.

Hardyville, as you may know, is a one-stoplight, many-horse town
that’s
home to two farm implement dealers, three bars, five churches and the
aforesaid Attraction. It pains me to have to talk about The Attraction,
because this means I must also confess that Hardyville once had
something
that plagues the rest of the world: politicians. Politicians and The
Attraction go together like rats and plague.

It all started when a dead philanthropist from the City bequeathed
Hardyville his collection of genuine wax imitations of Old West people.
You
know — life-size figures of Wild Bill Hickock looking bored while being

shot by a department store dummy. This collection had been in a
warehouse
since 1939, when such things went out of fashion. But the dead rich guy
left them to Hardyville, absolutely, completely free — provided someone
in
town would “provide suitable housing.”

Well, after much hemming and hawing and inspection of these wax
haunts
in their distant, dusty warehouse, the owners of the Hog Trough Grill
and
Feed offered to set Calamity and Billy the Kid and the like around the
edges of their restaurant. The other business people opined that, in
this
age where beeps, boops and bright lights are the big draw, perhaps the
most
“suitable housing” for these cobwebby caricatures was right where they
were.

“But this is our chance to Put Hardyville On the Map!” protested
Mayor
Pickle in capital letters. “We can Bring People from all over the World,
to
View this Unique Reminder of Our Western Heritage.” He deplored our lack
of
Civic-Mindedness, and snorted down his long nose at the prospect of
housing
such Greatness in a mere private restaurant.

The city councilmen nodded their heads in agreement — in particular,

Councilman Branch, who just happened to have some “suitable housing” to
sell the city. Price: $269,000. His fellow politicians voted to buy the
building before most Hardyvillians knew what was happening. Several
months
later someone dug through the records and discovered that Councilman
Branch
had himself bought the property for $97,000 a few weeks earlier.

The steam was just blowing away when Mayor Pickle announced that a
mere
$100,000 of city funds would be required to renovate the building to
“make
it Ideal for This Fine Collection of Priceless Americana.”

It was about this time that Rocking T Western Wear at 512 Main
Street,
the only clothing store for 45 miles, shut its doors. Seems cowboys
couldn’t afford new clothes like they once used to.

Well, the city decided to let the bids for the $100,000 renovation in

five stages — downstairs, upstairs, roof, landscaping, then signs and
displays. But when Mayor Pickle presided over the Grand Opening of the
Bids
for the All-Important Downstairs Display Area of the New Museum, the
lowest
bid, just for that alone, was for $172,534.

People wondered where the politicians had gotten their “$100,000″
figure. Particularly since that was a bit before Clinton’s magical
“100,000
policemen,” “100,000 teachers” and 100,000 girlfriends. I guess
Hardyville
politicians were just ahead of their time.

Anyway, by the time they trimmed a few items out of the wish-list
(new
price for downstairs: a mere $143,562) and got that part of the work
under way, the Hardyville Hideaway Restaurant, only competition for the
Hog
Trough, had also closed forever. Not as many people can afford to eat
out,
these days, so it seems, even what with working two jobs. Wherever does
that money go?

Well, that particular group of councilmen lasted through the
reroofing
($43,000) and landscaping ($79,344), before being replaced by a whole
new
slate of reformers campaigning on Fiscal Responsibility. (Mayor Pickle
was
re-elected, but that’s because Hardyville always has a Pickle for a
mayor.)

The new councilmen spent a week or two making noises about “cutting
waste.” Then they went out and got a Federal Farmer’s Home
Administration
low-interest loan ($243,556) for the upstairs renovation and an
Emergency
Grant for Inner City Beautification ($37,892) for signs and the like.

When angry people showed up at the next city council meeting, the
puzzled poly-tick-ans protested, “But it didn’t cost Hardyville
anything!
IT WAS FREE GOVERNMENT MONEY!”

They said that. I tell you the truth. They really did. And some clods

actually believed that although Hardyville could make the people of
Poughkeepsie and Paducah pay for their pleasures, Pittsburgh and
Portland
would never in turn put their paws in Hardyville’s pathetic taxpayer’s
pockets.

But then the new councilmen halved the town’s snow-removal and
road-maintenance budgets to hire Sindee-Lee Pickle at $75,000 per year
to
manage the museum. It wasn’t because she was one of those
Pickles,
they said (Of course not!), but because of her Vast Experience as

Assistant to the Assistant Manager of the World-Famous Museum of Barbed
Wire, in the nearby Territory of Wyoming.

So, there we were. By then, Joan’s Sew-It Shop had gone out of
business,
quilting and dressmaking supplies being more expensive than the
ready-made
imports, and The Quik-Mart had closed, due to the street being in such
bad
condition customers couldn’t get into the parking lot. That left
Pickle’s
Groce Mart (yes, that Pickle’s) the only place in town to buy
off-the-shelf food.

“But,” you might say, if you’re an optimist, “at least you got a
tourist
attraction out of it.”

Well. …

Seems as if, about that time, there was a fire next door to the
warehouse where the dummies of the Old West were stored. It wasn’t
in the warehouse, mind you. Just nearby. But wax … heat. Well,
you
know how it goes. And unfortunately, in their enthusiasm to Bring
Visitors
>From Around the Globe, Hardyville poly-tick-ans had let slip a few
details, like whether the town or the estate of the dead philanthropist
was
responsible for the insurance premiums while the dummies were in
storage.
(Hint: It wasn’t the philanthropist’s estate.)

I doubt that, in real life, handsome Wild Bill ever envisioned
himself
looking quite so much like Freddy Krueger. And even though Belle Starr
was
no beauty in her day, she probably never looked that … well, run down.

“This was an Unforeseeable Catastrophe,” Mayor Pickle pronounced,
“for
which No One Can, Of Course, Be Blamed. However, after an Exhaustive
Search
The City Fathers of Hardyville have located an Artisan Formerly of the
Famous Madame Tussaud’s in London. For a mere $345,000, he will come
Right
Here to Hardyville and Perform his Work in Our Beautiful New Museum,
Rebuilding the Wild West Right Before the Very Eyes of Our Many
Astounded
Visitors. Think of the Oppor. …”

At this point, I will tell you what we did. First thing, we got a
citywide initiative on the ballot, abolishing the whole city council,
for
good and all. Some folks spoke of nooses. But we
decided that, for now, mere abolition was less likely to draw outside
attention.

Second, a bunch of ranchers convoyed down to the City, loaded up the
dummies (the wax ones, that is), hauled them to the Glorious New Museum,

stuck ‘em here and there, then broke out the beer.

Third, Sindee-Lee Pickle was sent back to Barbed Wire.

Fourth, using donations from the few business people left in town
($723.11), we installed one of those coin-boxes in the museum like they
have in Europe, where you stick in a Deutchmark or a Euro or whatever to

operate the lights for x-minutes. We leave the doors open all the time,
and
anybody who cares enough can just walk in there, pay for his own damn
lights and stare all he wants.

We found a quarter in the box this weekend. That’s how we know a
tourist
was here. We figure at the peak summer rate of ten visitors a day the
museum will be paid for in just 32,000 years — if the electric rates
don’t
go up.

The talk of nooses eventually died down, although an interest in
knot-tying as a hobby seems to have taken curious hold among the more
politically aware Hardyvillians.

Oh, we kept Mayor Pickle. But as part of the same initiative that did

away with the city council, we reduced his responsibilities to one and
changed his title. Now, in his new capacity as Omnipotent Potentate and
Plenipotentiary of the Principality of Hardyville, he fulfills his
function
by delivering a Grand Oration at the annual re-dedication of the statue
of
the Drunken Cowboy (just west of the empty storefronts on Main Street).
His
wife made him a purple robe, and someone donated a crown from an old
high
school play. He seems quite happy. (The mayor, not the Drunken Cowboy.)
And
most of us are kind enough not to make snickering references to Emperor Norton.

But you know, the next time you’re tempted to try to persuade me that

poly-ticks can be reformed, or that there’s some magical means we just
haven’t yet discovered to elect “honest” people, or that one more letter
or
petition will turn some tax-sucking, oathbreaking blob into a human
being
with a conscience — don’t. Just don’t. Because here in Hardyville,
we’ve
learned exactly what politicians are good for. Fertilizer.

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.