Friday, July 09, 2010

“Conch Shell Conversation”

(Revised version)
c. 2010 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Note to Readers: None of the following is literally true. But don’t let that curb your reading enjoyment.

My friend Ezekiel Byler-Gregg is a true wordsmith at heart. As Editor-In-Chief of The Burton Daily Bugle, this craggy fellow represents the best of Geauga County journalistic traditions. But like many public figures, he has a sibling with different habits.

Lemuel is his brother, and opposite soul.

This wandering spirit once shared the writing passion of his better-known brother. But he became lazy, and disinterested. Eventually, he responded to the siren call of faraway vistas.

I remembered him recently, while searching through material in the Icehouse home office. Yellowed copies of ‘The Bugle’ came crashing to the floor as I moved a stack of boxes from behind one of my four-drawer file cabinets.

Along with these old newspapers was a wrinkled envelope. When I opened it, a crude business card appeared. Scribbled on the bottom was a contact number in the U. S. Virgin Islands.

Lemuel Byler-Gregg had ditched his promising newspaper career for a ticket to sunny skies and warm sand. He left Ohio, and The Daily Bugle, over a decade ago.

I fumbled with my glasses to see the tiny print on his card. Seconds later, I dialed the long-distance number.

The telephone line reacted with electronic squeaks, popping, and static. Then, I heard a ring tone. And another. And another… then at last, there was an answer.

“Hello?” my old friend intoned.

“Lem?” I said with excitement. “This is Rod from Geauga County. Remember me?”

A short pause elapsed.

“Geauga County, Ohio?” he laughed.

“That’s right,” I answered. “I’m Zeke’s friend from Thompson.”

“Wow, is my margarita too strong?” he mused.

“No, it’s really me!” I said.

Another pause filled the line.

“How did you find my number?” he wondered out loud.

“You gave us a card at the airport,” I said. “Remember? Right before boarding your flight out of Cleveland…that was a long time ago!”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Many, many years…”

My thoughts drifted over the time that had passed. “I read your work online. You seem to be very happy.”

“Of course!” he bubbled. “My office is right by the beach. I can watch the sunset over white sand and the ocean. It sure beats shoveling snow in Burton!”

I cleared my throat. “That sounds great…”

“It’s peaceful,” he said.

“But what about the thrill of chasing stories?” I interjected. “The rough-and-tumble world of local politics? The intrigue of back-room business deals?”

“We have all that here,” he insisted. “Last week, Mayor Nobota broke his big toe after tripping on a conch shell. He had to transfer authority to his wife while the doctor applied a splint. That was headline news for us…”

I held my breath to keep from giggling.

“So how are you these days?” he asked, before I could speak.

“Still in the business,” I explained. “Twenty-eight years now. I’ve written three books.”

“Really?” he exclaimed. “Did you sell any of those?”

“A few,” I confessed, while turning red. “The second one has moved best of all. It’s a kid-friendly book about music. Last year it even became available in India.”

Lem muttered with amusement. “Well, what are you writing about these days?”

“Umm… The same stuff,” I said.

“UFO sightings?” he chortled. “Flea market escapades?”

“Sometimes,” I replied. “But I also try to produce serious articles as well.”

“Serious?” he said with wonder.

“C’mon, don’t be so sarcastic,” I complained.

“Sorry,” he chuckled. “What kind of features are you doing?”

My mood brightened. “Well, last week I wrote about the use of bologna as a staple recipe item…”

Suddenly, Lem seemed to awaken.

“BOLOGNA??” he shouted.

“Yeah,” I said. “My thought was to offer an alternative view of modern cuisine.”

“You call that serious?” he babbled.

“Yes,” I proclaimed. “Zeke ran my story in ‘The Bugle’ as well…”

“Zeke, schmieke!” he grunted.

“It was written from the standpoint of enhancing culinary diversity,” I said.

“You’re off the rails!” he exploded.

I had to collect my thoughts. “Not at all. Just expressing freedom on the dinner plate… ”

He snorted like a bull. “Now that’s crazy!”

“Your brother doesn’t think so,” I observed.

“Blast him!” Lemuel roared.

“We’ve become too predictable as a nation,” I reflected. “Our dining habits are stale. Remember the rebellious eats of our forefathers? Now we teach our citizens to gnaw on carrot sticks and drink fruit juice.”

“Here’s a tip,” he growled. “Stick to real journalism!”

“Your brother thinks that is real journalism,” I said.

“Stop bringing up my brother!” he huffed.

“Good reporting requires courage,” I said. “You told me that a dozen years ago. Did something change since then?”

“And don’t twist my words!” he grunted.

“Our mission has always been to enlighten readers about their alternatives… another bit of Byler-Gregg wisdom,” I said. “Did that change, too?”

“You win, Rodney,” he wheezed. “You sound as nutty as my brother.”

My face tingled. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Silence filled the telephone line.

“Each slice of bologna carries the taste of liberty,” I said.

Lem was out of breath.

“You’re going out on a limb with this,” he said.

“Maybe,” I half-agreed. “But my job is to convey ideas. Not just follow the current paradigm.”

“Okay,” he snapped. “Good luck with that. I’m gonna go get myself another margarita.”

“Wait!” I protested. “There’s a lot more to talk about…”

He didn’t wait for me to finish the sentence.

“Good luck, Rodney!” he cheered. “Bye-bye!”

I spent the rest of my afternoon browsing through old issues of ‘The Bugle’ and working on a column for next week.

Many miles away, I knew Lemuel Byler-Gregg was laughing over a colorful beverage.

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