July 7, 2020

The Unwritten Word . . . by William F. Jordan


It had been one of those weeks nothing happened that rose to the level of printable news. The blank pages of my newspaper, the Doodlebug Island Run-on, seemed to stare mockingly up at me as if to confirm the little good all my past efforts had achieved, and the extreme likelihood that the future didn’t auger well for anything better.

Phone calls to service organizations like Kiwanis and Rotary produced nothing. No group was planning anything beyond its weekly meeting, and none was convinced that programs lined up represented anything more than a ho-hum speaker made tolerable by the comraderie and light-hearted bantering of members. Even the 99’s, the Women Pilots Association, were contemplating little more than a planning session with regard to their next “fly-in” to some remote destination where breakfast and/or lunch made the trip worth the cost. Nor were they excessively amused when I offered myself for membership:

“If we decide to lower membership standards to allow men into our organization, perhaps you’ll be first in line,” I was told with a knowing smirk that made its way along the line in amused condescension.

The current status of political affairs offered no promise. You can only run stories about publicity-mad sheriffs and gun-loving juvenile adults that get themselves elected to legislative positions only so many times before such stories become boring. And even the antics of the Superintendent of Public Instruction becomes passe’ if aired endlessly. For a time I thought of filling blank pages with the controversy over “Common Core,” but decided against it. Our own local schools have figured out that learning is pretty much the province of the learner, and that he or she will process information in his or her own way despite the packaging.

There was one item on my desk that kept surfacing no matter how I tried losing it. It was a letter from a lonely trail rider who wished to be published, and it seemed to float just below the level of conscious awareness, presenting itself so many times I thought for a time it was either singled out for print or was a terribly bad cosmic joke. It contained cowboy poetry written by a hand more practiced in the art of roping than rhyming, and it bore the odious disadvantage of appearing in couplet form, the much preferred rhyming scheme of people with nothing to do but fork leather for long periods while time disappears in the swirling dust of hapless cattle being driven from one pasturage to another.

But like those who take the Hippocratic oath ‘to do no harm,’ I reminded myself of an obligation to inform, enlighten, influence for good, and to never yield to the corrupting mendacity of sentiment expressed so obtusely and so nauseously by folks who appear to love nothing better than versify while perched between a horse’s rump and his ears. Finally, I burned the letter and felt a redemptive surge of relief similar to those of a practiced sinner emerging from baptism.

But that still left me with what seemed measureless columns to fill, blank pages which glared at me accusingly as if I were some sort of culprit, or worse, some sort of dolt with so little imagination that, left to my own devices, I might plagiarize the telephone directory or pages of non-sequitors from speeches by Donald Trump.

At that moment, Doc Hastings came through the door, walked over to my desk, and glanced down at the empty pages. “I haven’t had a single patient all morning, and by the looks of things the emptiness of my office matches the number of publication ideas you’ve had.”

“No, that’s not quite true. I’ve been giving thought to an article on physician malpractice. Have any last-minute confessions you want to make before the crucifixion begins?”

“Yes, I confess to my neglect in finishing you off when you suffered an appendix attack recently and had need of my services.”

“Service? Is that what your antiquated butchering techniques are called? Why you could have buried me at less expense!”

“Believe me, we thought about it, But your replacement might be someone we’d have to take seriously. What say we retrieve our fishing poles and amuse the fish in Oak Creek?”

“Well, seeing how productive our morning has been, what have we got to lose? Besides, maybe the fresh air will remind us of fresh opprobriums.”

“Moved and seconded my wordsmith of questionable merit. Lead on!”

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