BABY ON THE POOL TABLE
By Ruth Minshull
I consider that a book has been worth reading if I take away one or two nuggets of knowledge or insight.
In the early 1980’s a friend and I both read a book called “Blue Highways” (by William Least Heat Moon) in which the author described a cross-country trip on lesser roads (the blue highways) rather than on expressways. Two of his narrratives have remained in my memory.
In one backwater town, a woman told him that in a place where nothing happens, anything is news.
I still recall that observation when I hear some of our locals chatting on a village corner, or read our weekly newspaper. It doesn’t take a mind-blowing incident to be a hot item around here.
Conversely, the bigger the city, the more drama is needed for something to be considered newsworthy. In New York City, even murders don’t get much attention unless they’re spectacular: multiple deaths, serial killings, a famous person involved or some bizarre twist.
Speaking of bizarre, I remember a New York Times headline that read, “Guardian Sought for Fetus of Retarded Floridian.” I never actually read the article; but for some time my mind wrestled with the memory of that incongruous headline.
Several years ago, I was reminded of how little it takes to make the news here in my home town. I had ordered a mattress to be delivered by truck. Since I didn’t know the exact arrival date, and whether I would be home, I arranged for it to be left with a friend who owned a shop in town. When the mattress arrived, another friend picked up the carton, tied it atop his van, delivered it to my house and put it in place.
The next day, a village official arrived at the van-owner’s door and asked him if he was the person who had left a mattress at the village dump. “No, I didn’t,” he replied. Curious, he asked, “Why would you think that anyway?”
“Someone saw you with a large box on top of your van and assumed it was a mattress.”
“Well, I did have a new mattress on my van, but I delivered it to a friend.”
“What did you do with the old one?”
“There wasn’t one. She bought a new bed for a room that was just finished.”
“Oh. Well, you do know that it’s illegal to leave mattresses at the dump?”
“Well, I do now.”
When he related the story to me, we both marveled at the provincial life in a small village. Someone had to notice the box, deduce that it was a mattress, learn that a mattress had been left (illegally) at the dump, and then make a report to the village bigwigs. Actually, there could have been several people involved with relaying this heady news.
I never learned whether they found the guilty culprit in the mattress caper, but in a village where “anything that happens is news” I’m guessing that they did. Someone surely would have ratted on that miscreant.
Another incident in the “Blue Highways” book concerned a pregnant woman working in a small bar at a Nevada truck stop. She told the author that when she was ready to deliver her baby she wanted to have it on the pool table, but her husband insisted on taking her to the hospital. “Why would you want to do that anyway?” Moon asked.
She answered that her daughter would then be different from everyone else. She’d always have something special she could tell people about herself. (Hello, my name is Fruitilla and I was born on a pool table.)
Since then, whenever we see a person who has opted to do something outrageous, shocking, unusual or flagrant (wearing a tiara and marching in a dog parade; proposing while hang gliding over the Grand Canyon) my friend and I nod at each other knowingly and say, “Yup. It’s the baby-on-the-pool-table syndrome again.”
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© 2009 by Ruth Minshull