February 27, 2024

Phil’s Reasoning


Life-long Doodlebug Island resident Phil Malvern owns and manages a Jeep outfit that offers scenic tours of the Sedona area to visitors. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy, a straight arrow that sticks to historical fact and accurate topographical information. In this, he is the opposite of his chief driver, Curley Gwelthausen, who holds the patent on storytelling and imaginative labeling.

Curley explains that since he generally hauls people who are innocent of any type of Arizona history, and who wouldn’t know a metamorphic rock from a rock by any other name, he feels free to embroider, embellish, and “label fancifully.” Visitors who have ended up in his Jeep have–unbeknownst to most of them–been exposed to events, names, and places totally removed from reality, but entertaining and memorable nevertheless.

Early in their partnership, Phil tried to help Curley understand that visitors might be confused by other than official names and stories, that they might go home and convey false information to friends or family members.

“Would it hurt anything to call rock formations by their rightful names? If the topo maps calls out ‘Madonna with Child,’ shouldn’t it be introduced to visitors by that name instead of ‘The Virgin Chick’ or something worse? And, how can you justify pointing out a formation consisting of a single spire and that maps refer to as ‘The Sentinel’ as ‘The Spindle’ one day, ‘The Needle’ the next day, and the ‘Ochered Phallus’ the third? I tell you, Curley, I cringe every time I think of you out there telling people that the conjoined twin towers accurately known as ‘The Supporting Sisters’ is locally known as ‘The Limping Midgets’ or ‘The Gay Nuns.'”

But Curley was only amused by such logic. “Well, I’d be glad to call a thing by its rightful name if I only knew what that was. How ya reckon them map-making fellas found out? Did the rocks whisper their names or somthin’? Is they a committee got up to see that only properly accepted names is used?”

“It’s by common agreement,” Phil explained. “It’s just common courtesy to those of us who live here and those who visit.”

“Phil,” laughed Curley, “these are rocks we’re talkin’ about, and what looks like Snoopy from one angle might look like Aunt Jemima from another. Why, that pile of sedimentary tailings the maps call ‘Court House Rock’ might give that impression from a north view, but from the south it looks more like a Sumo wrestler’s big butt!”

“That’s not the point,” argued Phil. “A given formation is a point of reference–it marks location. It might even be said to mark time and distance. And, in any case, it marks understanding. Can you see the confusion that might result if I call a given formation ‘Eagles Nest’ and you call it ‘Buzzard’s Roost’?

But to a man who can take the most mundane event, sight or sound and weave a tale around it that would make a soul-saving bishop–one that has yet to perjure himself–testify to its gold-plated credibility, Phil’s reasoning made no impression. And, it was shortly to become clear to Phil things could get worse. For if he thought he’d solved the problem and had brought an errant sinner back into the fold, his hopes were dashed.

Less than twenty-four hours later he greeted a few of Curley’s passengers by asking them how they’d enjoyed their trip and if they’d gotten an up-close view of  the Turkish Knight and Bell Rock?

Members of the group exchanged puzzled looks, then one of them brightened with understanding. “Oh, I think you must mean ‘The Lurking Turk’ and ‘Ding Dong Hill!’  Well, we had a wonderful trip and learned so much. We had no idea that all these canyons were a result of early strip mining. One thing puzzles me, however. Curley kept asking if we didn’t want to visit an historical monument of sorts, a memorial to a local resident. But when we learned it was just a land fill, a dump site, we passed on it.”

“A memorial dump site, you say? And what is the man’s name?” asked Phil, wishing that he didn’t feel compelled to voice the question.
“Philip S. Malvern,” came the simple answer.

A despondent Phil made his way back to the office, resignation written on his brow. “Oh, what the hell! They’re only rocks,” he said to himself as he slumped into his chair and reached for a doughnut. “I wonder if anyone has scaled ‘Ding Dong’ or cares that it was discovered by George Washington?”

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