Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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Arts & CultureJohn Dunn's StoriesHARRY, M.D. -- a John Dunn story

HARRY, M.D. — a John Dunn story


Harry took on the job to help out the township.  That’s all.  He became a civil servant, Master of Debris at the township dump, and Keeper of the Township’s Trash.

“You’re aware how it is with civil servants, I’m sure,” said the councillor by way of expressing the importance of the job to Harry on the third Saturday in January. “There are so many newcomers nowadays in the township, and we’d like to make sure they don’t abuse the dump site, spreading the mess about as if they were weasels in a chicken house.”

“Now you’re talking, councillor,” jovial Harry laughed.  “Let them know in plain four-letter words they’ll all understand, no matter where they’ve come from.”

“Council feels the custodian at the dump is the point man for the township,” the councillor continued. “You’re the first and only civil servant most residents will ever meet.  Friendly public relations has to be top priority: out in the wilderness of trash, you’re the spearpoint for the entire township.”

The mantle of responsibility slid down over Harry’s shoulders.  “I’ve heard it said that in ice-bound Switzerland they send out a St. Bernard dog every so often to a point man, and that the dog has a small barrel tied round its neck with a tin mug clatterin’ agin’ the barrel,” remarked Harry testing the thrust of the spearpoint.

“You’ve heard a mighty peculiar and expensive way of sending out help for the afflicted,” quoth the councillor.

Harry laughed, looking out to the gate as another half-ton entered the precincts with a load of cartons and spent Christmas trees which tumbled over washing machines, TV’s and open-door refrigerators.  In the foreground sat a ceramic throne and an upturned bathtub, both handsome furnishings discarded from someone’s inner chamber, the room known and respected in every dwelling in the corporation as the House of Commons.

“It’s a bit of a shame, don’t you think,” observed Harry, “Seeing so much stuff just thrown away here.  It’s stuff with lots of good use still left if someone had a mind and the imagination required to get more use from it.”

“Yes, and recycling might become common before long,” the councillor agreed.   “But we’ve another problem before I get away.  We’ll have to be particularly vigilant next Saturday, for I expect the annual January Thaw by then.  If the frost comes out of the ground,” the councillor’s head shook mournfully, “It’ll be chaos here.  Mud, mess, and slop, just awful to think of.”

“A day for being more civil than servant,” remarked the M.D. with a wave of the hand as the councillor left Harry’s half-ton to board his own and drive off.

To fill in the time Harry undertook to re-arrange trash near the entrance.  He set two broken chairs eight feet apart.  On each chair he set a discarded television set, complete with aerials poking into the sky.  The ceramic throne he set, seat up,further back, facing the TV’s.

Something still seemed missing for authenticity.  Harry looked about for something homey in the midst of desolation.  Behold, an idea struck.  Harry found two small pieces of plywood in the debris, and with a magic marker from the glove compartment of his half-ton he added the power of proper words.  With that he mounted one piece of plywood on the back of each chair.  One said “HIS”; the other “HERS”.

On the fourth Saturday chaos struck.  Three days of the January thaw had worked black magic:  frost came out of the top inch and a quarter of the township.  Rain stirred  mud in the dump to a salad dressing consistency, fit for a devil’s funny face.

Few residents ventured through sleety rain to toss out trash. I was one who did.  In the entry way my half-ton stopped as if stunned: directly in front, amidst desolation, ruin, and despair a new sign snagged and gripped me.

“What in the world?” I muttered, and laughed unrestrainedly. Harry came over to extend greetings.

“What do you think of it?  Does it surprise you?” he asked, cutting off my hilarity.

“It’s a work of art,” I replied.

“I saw the plywood in the debris, just the size for a sign.  Then I found an aerosol can of black paint still half full.”

“It captures attention,” I offered admiring art in the wilderness.

“People coming in can’t help laughing,” said Harry.  “I just sit back in my half-ton and watch the expression on their faces.  You should see them.  It’s a treat during the January Thaw.”

I looked again.  WIPE YOUR FEET, the sign ordered.

“Harry, you’ve used four-letter words only.”

“That’s it,” said the Master of the Debris, “Snug sign.”





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