Sunday, February 20, 2011
the town event
I was asked to cover a town event for the local paper last week.
The event was slated to begin at 6:30, so I got there around 6 to get the lay of the land. Some local politicos would be talking about the town—our history, where we’ve been, where we’re going.
I stopped to chat with the event organizer. About 100 people were expected in total. A pretty low-key affair. Given the state of the town’s budget, the menu was economical – hot dogs for everyone!
A woman stopped me before I could enter the hall. “Doors don’t open until 6:30,” she said without looking up.
“I’m with the press,” I replied, holding up my pass and camera. “Just wanted to get a few shots before the crowd arrived.”
It was your typical set up. Speaker’s podium up front, American flag in the corner. Folding tables with white paper tablecloths. Along the back of the room, the “banquet” was set up. A few coolers of lemonade, utensils and a spread of hot dogs and buns.
To my left, a side-door opened and a gentleman in a sports jacket ambled in, being careful to close the door behind him without making any noise. He looked at his watch, then across the hall towards me—before setting his eyes on the buffet table.
He glanced back over his shoulder as he stood in front of the hot dogs. He then opened up his back pack and began filling it with hot dogs. By my count, he must have stuffed 30 franks into his bag before turning and taking a seat. This seemed interesting. Odd, but interesting. So I walked over and sat next to him.
“Hi, my name’s Ed,” I remarked, introducing myself with an open hand. “I’m with the local paper.”
He shook my hand warmly and responded with a smile. “Roger. Nice to meet you.”
Now he knows I saw him stuff 30 or so hot dogs into the back pack that now sat between his legs, but he was cool as a cucumber. So, I had to ask. “Excuse me, but it seemed as if you took a lot of those hot dogs for yourself.”
“Oh yes,” he replied. “It pays to get to these events early. They probably won’t open the doors for another ten minutes or so… place will be crawling with people by then.”
Had to admire his ambition. Heh, I am a reporter, not a judge. But a curious reporter none-the-less. “Can I ask what you will do with all of those franks?”
“Eat ‘em, I guess,” he replied haphazardly. “Some today. Some tomorrow. To be honest, haven’t really thought about it much.”
Just then, our little one-one-one conversation was interrupted as a group of four people—two men and two women—entered through the main door. They looked familiar. The woman in red, she was the wife of the town’s finance chairman. The tall gentleman was a golf pro at the town’s municipal course—he was a good guy. The guy in jeans, he was a town legend—took the football team to the state championship ten years ago. I didn’t recognize the older woman (but later learned she was the mother of the town’s first selectman.)
They too made a bee-line to the buffet table—and seemed aghast when they saw that one whole tray had already been emptied.
The football star turned toward me, then trained his glare on Roger. “Excuse me,” he said with authority. “Did you see where this other tray of dogs went?”
Roger replied without remorse. “Sure, I have them. Guess you should have gotten here first if you were so hungry.”
From a distance, I could see granny mouth “what a p-i-g pig” before she and her three cohorts turned their attention to the remaining dogs. Now none of them had back backs, but they did pull out paper bags from their pockets (except granny – she used her pocketbook) and they proceeded to grab a handful of dogs – about 8 each.
“Sorry to interrupt you,” I said with respect, “but do plan on eating all of those hot dogs?”
“Heavens no,” replied the golf pro. “I’m just taking some home for my wife and kids—they couldn’t be here tonight.”
There was a loud commotion as the main door opened again. It was almost 6:30 and there was a line at the door, but only five people squeezed through before the entrance was closed again. I recognized the bank manager. And my doctor (I am so overdue for a physical.) The other three were strangers to me, but judging from their attire, I just assumed they too were local business people.
As they darted toward the hotdog tray, I guess I was just relieved that no one pulled out a bag, paper or otherwise. Instead, they reached for the paper plates… like civilized folk. And yet, as they loaded these plates with about four dogs each, I wondered whether I was the only one who could sense the commotion that was about to follow.
Sure enough, at 6:30 sharp the doors opened and the remaining 90 guests filed in—and they too made way for the hot dogs. Most of them just stared… because by this time there could not have been more than 30 dogs left in total. 30 dogs for 90 people.
Some pushed ahead to grab their wiener. Others, perhaps those good at math, took a knife to cut some dogs in half. A few stepped back, content to go hungry for at least one evening. But many. Most, perhaps. Just stood and looked at those empty platters. And wondered.
“Do we not all live in the same town?” one young lady would later ask me. “These people have kids who go to school with my kids. We live in the same neighborhood. We go to the same church.”
I looked up as the woman in red left her close-knit group of four and approached and elderly man who sat alone in front of an empty plate. She reached into her brown paper bag and pulled out a hot dog, placed it on his plate and left without even waiting for the “thank you” that surely followed.
Once back in her comfort zone, the golf pro patted her on the back, and the football star gave her a hug.
Around 7pm, right on schedule, the town’s First Selectman stepped up to the podium, thanked those in attendance, and talked about our town—our history, where we’ve been, where we’re going.
I wrote down every word and recounted it in an article I wrote. After all, I am not a judge. Just a reporter.