The Truth About Town Meeting




Heaves, hoops and Earl Hadley. The shocking truth about what went on at town meeting.In Frost Heaves, New Hampshire, the same people generally run for office every year, so it ain't that interesting. We try to get people excited about the elections, but it's like trying to get a cat to laugh.One year, we decided that instead of having an election, we would have a talent show and the winners would get the office. The problem is we don't have much talent in Frost Heaves, so the bar was set pretty low. I ain't going to mention any names, but one of the local ladies, she really wanted to be a library trustee, so she did a belly dance. It weren't a pretty sight. You know how you get an image in your head and you just can't get it out? It's what you call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Anyway, we gave up on the talent election idea after that.This year there was some controversy over cemetery trustee. Basically, Mavis and Avis Thompkins, they're sisters, trade off. One year it's Mavis, the next year it's Avis. Well, this year, it was Avis's turn, but Louise Mitchell decided she'd like the job. I tell you, it was the biggest controversy to hit this town since they moved the bingo game from the grange to the town hall. It was a bitter contest, and in the end, Avis edged out Louise. 'Course, Avis had an advantage since she and Mavis keep the rolls of all the dead folks in the cemetery, many of whom actually voted this year.Edith Wyer was re-elected town clerk, of course. And Albert Cooper was re-elected as Supervisor of the Public Works. Basically, this means he takes care of the town plow. Now, the Frost Heaves town plow has got about one more year to go before it qualifies for the National Historic Register. Albert is the only person around who knows where to wham it when the cussed thing breaks down. A delicate piece of machinery like that, you can't just wham it anywhere, you got to know the specific location. He'll give it a couple of diagnostic whaps, and then deliver just the right whack to set it right again. Kinda like acupuncture.There were some dirty tricks pulled during the election. I was helping out with the ballots, and Millard Tuttle come up to me and he told me he would put a dead raccoon in the back of my truck if Fred Kimball was elected to the board of selectmen. Well, what could I do? I had to report him for attempting to bribe an election official.Then, of course, right after election came town meeting. We still do town meeting, in contrast to some other towns around here. We ain't too lazy to do our duty and argue with our neighbors.I don't know who first thought of doing town meeting in March, but if you want to guarantee that people are going to be cranky, just plan a meeting after a long winter. In other towns around here, people start out with a thin veneer of politeness, but in Frost Heaves we skip right over that.The other downside to doing it in March: it conflicts with the college basketball tournament. Now, we never had a basketball player from Frost Heaves make it to the final 4 ... or the final 64 or 1,064 for that matter. But this year, there's a local boy named Jeremy Russell who plays for Millard Fillmore University over in New York, and last weekend was their conference tournament, and there was a chance they were going to make it to the big show.This caused quite a dilemma for a lot of the men in town, who had been watching Jeremy play basketball since he was in junior high. They had to go to town meeting to make sure we didn't spend a penny more than we had to. But they sure didn't want to miss that basketball game. Then someone hit on a plan. Cecil Philmore has one of them old-fashioned hearing aids that runs to an amplifier in his pocket. He just replaced the amplifier with a transistor radio, so he could listen to the game and report to the other guys on the sly. The problem was that, although Cecil knew what was happening at the game, he had only the vaguest notion of what was happening at town meeting.Which weren't that big a problem because town meeting is always the same, it's like a play that gets put on once a year. First they hand out the town reports. About the only interesting thing in there is that you can find out who didn't pay their taxes.The Ladies Loon League always has a bake sale. This year, Mabel Pillsbury invented a new cake special for town meeting. She called it Democracy Cake, and it had equal parts of pineapple, chocolate, artichoke hearts and beef jerky bits.Generally speaking, I think segregation is a bad thing, but maybe not when it comes to food. Anyway, the cast of characters at town meeting is always the same. First you got Howard Everly, he's the moderator, and he follows the rules to a T and always makes sure everyone gets a chance to speak. Consequently, getting anything done in Frost Heaves takes longer than it does for fossils to form.The first item on the agenda every year is the financial report, given by Arthur Tidley, the town treasurer. Arthur loves to give reports, and he insists on reading every single line of the report. This is about as much fun as being awake during your own surgery and hearing the doctor describe each step. The only interesting part of the financial report was when Arthur mentioned that receipts for dog licenses had dropped 17 percent. Cecil Philmore shouted, "Whoa!" and folks who had been dozin' off kinda snapped to attention, wondering why he was so upset about dog licenses, but really, it was that the Fillmore Badgers had just taken the lead.After the financial report come the reports from the town committees, most of which I missed because I had had some of Mabel's cake and I was experiencing democracy in action, if you catch my drift.Finally come the warrant articles. This year you could basically sum up the response to the warrant articles as follows: No! Of course, these days, all the towns around here are pinching pennies, but we were cheap long before it become fashionable. In fact, I'm thinking that this recession could actually be good for Frost Heaves. Because, in times like these, people start to focus on the good old-fashioned virtues like honesty, integrity, common sense ... we ain't got any of them, but we do have cheapness. It ain't exactly one of your classical virtues, but it makes a lot of sense.When it comes to the warrant articles, the same people get up to speak every year. The town meeting is their big chance to hold the entire congregation hostage to their opinions and they ain't going to miss it.First you got Clara Franklin, who taught history at the Frost Heaves Academy for 30 years. I say "taught," but for the last 10 years, Clara weren't exactly teaching from the book. A lot of kids graduated thinking the Gettysburg Address was a place you could send a postcard to. When the school board caught on, they held a quick retirement party for Clara, who looked a little stunned but managed to lecture her fellow teachers about the Peloponnesian Wars, the Taft-Hartley Act and the Gadsden Purchase, without which a southern railroad route to the Pacific would never have been possible before being drowned out by a chorus of "For She's a Jolly Good Fellow."When Clara stands up to speak at the town meeting, you're never really sure what planet she's broadcasting from. And generally, there is only the flimsiest connection between the warrant article at hand and Clara's comments, which center around a few recurring themes: "The Way Things Used to Be" (better than they are now), "What Young People Need" (more discipline) and "those idiots down in Washington."Clara was going on about the Federal Reserve when Cecil Philmore passed a note to Herb Cullen in the row ahead of him. Clara saw this and said, "Cecil! Maybe you'd like to share that note with the whole class!" So Herb passed the note to Clara - you don't want to cross Miss Franklin - and she read the note out loud: "64 to 60, second half" and a cheer went up, so Clara decided that was a good time to sit down.Then Earl Hadley took the microphone. Earl is the town's unofficial contrarian. Earl is opposed to just about everything, on general principle, because he's kinda cheap. Actually, to say he's kinda cheap is like saying that Hitler was kinda pushy. And every year he starts off the same way. "My family came to this town in 1790 ..." and people start to settle in 'cause they know they're in for the long haul.This year the big argument was about whether to buy a defibillator for the fire department. You know what a defibrillator is, it's like a jump-starter for your heart in case all that fried dough you ate at the Eastern States Fair over the years finally comes to roost in your aorta.Nobody was too surprised that Earl opposed this idea, which he said was the stupidest waste of taxpayers' money he'd ever heard of. Of course, that's what he says every year, no matter what it is. You'd think the town fathers just sit around all year coming up with a proposal that would top last year's for stupidity.Well, Earl went on and on. Folks tried to reason with him, but after an hour of arguing about it, the guys from the fire department were pretty fed up, on top of which they were missing the game of the century. At one point, Mickey Edwards, he's the fire chief, he went off to the bathroom - we all figured he'd had some of Mabel's cake, too - and whilst he was in there, don't you know the fire bell went off. Mickey come running out of the bathroom and yelled, "Come on, men, let's go." And they all jumped up and ran out to do their duty.Well, it was perfect timing. Someone hollered over to Earl, "You see, that's why we have to support our firefighters and give 'em what they need to do their jobs." For a moment, it looked as if Earl was going to crumble, but then he shook his head. "I don't care, I ain't voting for it."By that time, everyone had just about had it with Earl, so someone made an amendment to the warrant, and before Earl could object, it was seconded and passed with a voice vote. And that brought the meeting to a close, to the thunderous applause of the gathered citizenry.The cheering was so loud that the volunteer firemen heard it all the way over to the fire station, where they were gathered around a satellite hookup watching the last few minutes of the basketball game. And with just seconds left in the game, Jeremy Hudson made an astonishing shot from half-court ... which didn't even come close. The Badgers lost by 2 points, but it's OK. We're from Frost Heaves, we're used to failure.Oh, and about that warrant article. The way it read, as amended, was: "To see if the Town will vote to raise and appropriate the sum of six thousand dollars to purchase a portable defibrillator for use on anybody who needs it ... except Earl Hadley." NH

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