CHESTERTON – Our quaint mountain town had been through a spree of open manhole-ings, a term that sounds far filthier than it actually is. Almost all of our sewer covers had gone missing and, even when they had marked the holes with signs reading “Look Out: Foul Orifice,” people had carelessly stumbled into them, hurt themselves, and put a strain on the county hospital.
Chesterton Public Works had deployed all ten of their traffic cones and, still, the manhole-ings persisted. City Council was under the gun. Both pages of our dying local paper had featured calls to action and adverts for the smooth, sterile taste of washbasin gin. The people had spoken and demanded protection from broken bones, wet clothes, and expensive name-brand liquors. With no new-cone money due until the new-cone millage kicked in next summer, City Council had needed something fast and had recalled the local river outfitter had recently gone under, both financially and due to an early thaw. His fleet had washed down the Little Big River, but his storage shed stocked with hundreds of paddles and oars had survived.
There had been many oars. Not enough for everyone outright, but enough that every few neighbors could share an oar. With a simple length of household chain, the oar could be attached to one’s belt and could be carried parallel to the ground throughout one’s errands and benders. Should one happen to stumble into an open hole, the oar would snag on the street and would keep one from falling past their waist, so one could scurry out or, at least, scream for the town winch.
Replacing the covers had been out of the question. New cast iron was more of a Rose City luxury, those prissy brats ten miles to the west, always bragging about their seemingly inexhaustible iron mine and significantly longer life expectancy. The rivalry, though, continued: we built a roller rink, so they built a better roller rink. Their high school football team won states, so we burned down their roller rink. They said they were above this petty rivalry, so Mayor Tammy punched their mayor in the throat.
In our gold mine’s heyday, we could have outfitted all of Chesterton with new covers, backup covers, and monogrammed covers for those spare covers. The town now, however, is full of blight; the talks for a Marshalls are but a distant memory. Any shred of prosperity—all of our golden fixtures and golden showers—have long been pawned or bartered for drugs.
Begging Rose City to donate new covers was out of the question. Despite being drug-addicted, poverty dwellers, Chestertonians were still prideful, image-obsessed, drug-addicted poverty dwellers. We knew how dopey we looked with our safety oars, and yet we were still above charity.
The missing covers hadn’t resurfaced. The local paper reported more savings on homemade spirits and cast suspicions onto the local drug ring. During an article on the benefits of gin, the area drifter they’d sourced claimed he’d been hooked on “Foot Dust.” He had meandered away from his pro-gin agenda, but, per his muddled ramblings, the grooved pattern of the manhole covers had been able to trap decades of airborne mining particles and left it to ferment into a colorless grit capable of a “rockin’ high.”
The drug ring had run an op-ed the following week, skewering Mayor Tammy’s discount gin monopoly and confessing to swiping the manhole covers. In reasonable terms, they explained their fiscal reticence to diversify away from recession-proof heroin had left them in the lurch when Foot Dust seized hold of their client base. This new powerful lid in the drug game couldn’t be ignored. Not being able to compete with free, they took to stealing every manhole cover in town. The next day, the hoppers could buy Foot Dust for thirty a gram, in a bag slapped with a “locally sourced” sticker.
The Rose City Gazette called our town “oar oafs”. “They’re the ones who are going to look real stupid,” Mayor Tammy barked, “when they have to bring their own oars from home if they want to skate inside our roller rink or buy our wonderful, affordable gin. Gin that can be used as a universal medicine for all ailments and disfigurements!”
A few squatters and shanty dwellers moved away, lest they look dumb with their safety oars. This “Manhole Fiasco” (don’t Google it) had far reaching ramifications. News of the missing covers and exodus reached Capitol City and they exercised an archaic insurance catastrophe loophole and classified all of Greater Chesterton as “totaled.”
Mayor Tammy broke the news last week that the remaining citizens were to be paid fair market value for their tarps and drug houses. Her eyes welled up during her speech, “This lawless frontier has been the only home my corruption and cottage gin industry has ever known. I can’t just pick up and go elsewhere, mostly due to hygiene and safety regulations.” The crowd listened, fairly rapt despite their collective dust daze. Tammy’s voice shifted to anger, “We tried to make this work, but let this be a lesson to any ambitious drug lords that you can’t take everything.” She hung her head, solemn. “All gin and gin-based medicine, now, seventy-five percent off!”
Every building was condemned from the mine to the intersection at Old 58. A wrecking crew would be here tomorrow to destroy everything from the roller rink to the distillery with its many basins before further destroying the rubble. “Hey, Rose City pretty boys,” Mayor Tammy chided that morning into the westward mountains, “good luck finding a cool place to indoor rollerskate now!” Her words remain carved on the collective tombstone at the town center.
Chesterton Weekly World – Final Issue