August 22, 2019

No News From Doodlebug Island, by William F Jordan


When members of the Doodlebug Island Chamber of Commerce chose a new president, they turned to Riley Curtis, a stalwart and indefatigable member who had performed yeoman duty in virtually every chairmanship capacity to which he had been appointed. Whether it was membership, finance, advertising or public relations, he had stood to his post and accomplished chamber duties in a creditable, even stellar way. So, it came as a surprise to everyone that whereas he smoothly assumed his new duties, he nevertheless managed to be a source of consternation to other members.

With his first speech, it became apparent that Riley was never going to make it as an orator. His modulation was appropriate, his gestures well synchronized with his comments. Syntax and word choice were within acceptable limits; his smiling countenance spoke to his warm, embracing feelings, and his humility and mildness of manner attracted the admiration of his listeners. These qualities and behaviors were forgotten, however, when he spoke. For Riley, when he was placed in such a position, revealed a shortcoming that pulled the rug out from under all his virtues and left him vulnerable to criticism.

It turned out that the man spoke in something of a stream-of-conscious style that left his audience scrambling. This is what they heard: “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the chamber, welcome. I’d like to begin the evening by recounting recent accomplishments. Financially, we’re solvent and the executive committee is thinking of drafting a resolution to alter (pause). Membership is at an all time high with new applications arriving from potential business partners who wish to (pause). We’ve been approached by chambers in three nearby cities asking if we’d like to join their efforts in alleviating taxes on (pause).

I believe we should be most proud that our delegate to the statewide conference on global warming was recognized for her achievements in eliminating (pause). Meanwhile, nearly every effort to nullify trade agreements with close-by countries has resulted in an increase of those assurances necessary (pause). We were recently asked by the state to help underwrite the gray wolf reintroduction project on the Coconino Forest, a matter that has been tabled pending the vote (pause). Your officers, those of us you elected to carry out board policy and which, hopefully, reflect your wishes in the matter, have been in conference with the Attorney General of the State of Arizona, and have signed on to be a litigant in recovering funds thought to be lost in the (pause).

With each incomplete thought, audience members became more and more restless, their desire to know what resolution was in the works, how many members were currently signed up, the nature of the enterprise that other nearby cities had in mind, who the delegate was and for what had she been recognized, what the devil trade agreements or gray wolf reintroductions had to do with us, and what possible advantage could we expect from the recovery of funds somehow lost by the State of Arizona?

Nor did Riley provide answers. He went blithely on, hopping like a rhetorical frog from one topic to the next. It began to dawn on folks that cogency lay in another direction, one that might only be found with a verbal global positioning system of some sort or at the end of a rope, and the rope began to be viewed as the more desirable alternative.

Fortunately for him, Riley ran out of things to ramble on about, leaving any substantive conclusion to any one of them as nebulous as a republican motion to improve voting rights. Then he sat down, it was to a smattering of applause and the profound sighs of people wondering if survival was worth the cost, and who were now dedicated to keeping the man permanently barred from this or any other rostrum.

Members were reminded that just as there is a season for all things—reaping and sowing, for example—there appears to be an appropriate choice of tasks suitable to each of us, tasks one can perform competently. And, while striving may be judged to be generally desirable, it might be just as desirable not to oversell the idea, especially if the result doesn’t rise to a level that can be tolerated. Artful contrivance managed to forestall any further speeches by President Riley, who was persuaded to delegate this function as being simply an infringement on his time and his involvement in more important tasks.

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