How Hardyville got its unattractive tourist attraction
By Claire Wolfe
Spring showed up temporarily last weekend, bringing the first tourist of the season. That means -- months before I intended -- it's time to tell you about Hardyville's One Unattractive Tourist Attraction.
Hardyville, as you may know, is a one-stoplight, many-horse town that's home to two farm implement dealers, three bars, five churches and the aforesaid Attraction. It pains me to have to talk about The Attraction, because this means I must also confess that Hardyville once had something that plagues the rest of the world: politicians. Politicians and The Attraction go together like rats and plague.
It all started when a dead philanthropist from the City bequeathed Hardyville his collection of genuine wax imitations of Old West people. You know -- life-size figures of Wild Bill Hickock looking bored while being shot by a department store dummy. This collection had been in a warehouse since 1939, when such things went out of fashion. But the dead rich guy left them to Hardyville, absolutely, completely free -- provided someone in town would "provide suitable housing."
Well, after much hemming and hawing and inspection of these wax haunts in their distant, dusty warehouse, the owners of the Hog Trough Grill and Feed offered to set Calamity and Billy the Kid and the like around the edges of their restaurant. The other business people opined that, in this age where beeps, boops and bright lights are the big draw, perhaps the most "suitable housing" for these cobwebby caricatures was right where they were.
"But this is our chance to Put Hardyville On the Map!" protested Mayor Pickle in capital letters. "We can Bring People from all over the World, to View this Unique Reminder of Our Western Heritage." He deplored our lack of Civic-Mindedness, and snorted down his long nose at the prospect of housing such Greatness in a mere private restaurant.
The city councilmen nodded their heads in agreement -- in particular, Councilman Branch, who just happened to have some "suitable housing" to sell the city. Price: $269,000. His fellow politicians voted to buy the building before most Hardyvillians knew what was happening. Several months later someone dug through the records and discovered that Councilman Branch had himself bought the property for $97,000 a few weeks earlier.
The steam was just blowing away when Mayor Pickle announced that a mere $100,000 of city funds would be required to renovate the building to "make it Ideal for This Fine Collection of Priceless Americana."
It was about this time that Rocking T Western Wear at 512 Main Street, the only clothing store for 45 miles, shut its doors. Seems cowboys couldn't afford new clothes like they once used to.
Well, the city decided to let the bids for the $100,000 renovation in five stages -- downstairs, upstairs, roof, landscaping, then signs and displays. But when Mayor Pickle presided over the Grand Opening of the Bids for the All-Important Downstairs Display Area of the New Museum, the lowest bid, just for that alone, was for $172,534.
People wondered where the politicians had gotten their "$100,000" figure. Particularly since that was a bit before Clinton's magical "100,000 policemen," "100,000 teachers" and 100,000 girlfriends. I guess Hardyville politicians were just ahead of their time.
Anyway, by the time they trimmed a few items out of the wish-list (new price for downstairs: a mere $143,562) and got that part of the work underway, the Hardyville Hideaway Restaurant, only competition for the Hog Trough, had also closed forever. Not as many people can afford to eat out, these days, so it seems, even what with working two jobs. Wherever does that money go?
Well, that particular group of councilmen lasted through the reroofing ($43,000) and landscaping ($79,344), before being replaced by a whole new slate of reformers campaigning on Fiscal Responsibility. (Mayor Pickle was re-elected, but that's because Hardyville always has a Pickle for a mayor.)
The new councilmen spent a week or two making noises about "cutting waste." Then they went out and got a Federal Farmer's Home Administration low-interest loan ($243,556) for the upstairs renovation and an Emergency Grant for Inner City Beautification ($37,892) for signs and the like.
When angry people showed up at the next city council meeting, the puzzled poly-tick-ans protested, "But it didn't cost Hardyville anything! IT WAS FREE GOVERNMENT MONEY!"
They said that. I tell you the truth. They really did. And some clods actually believed that although Hardyville could make the people of Poughkeepsie and Paducah pay for their pleasures, Pittsburgh and Portland would never in turn put their paws in Hardyville's pathetic taxpayer's pockets.
But then the new councilmen halved the town's snow-removal and road-maintenance budgets to hire Sindee-Lee Pickle at $75,000 per year to manage the museum. It wasn't because she was one of those Pickles, they said (Of course not!), but because of her Vast Experience as Assistant to the Assistant Manager of the World-Famous Museum of Barbed Wire, in the nearby Territory of Wyoming.
So, there we were. By then, Joan's Sew-It Shop had gone out of business, quilting and dressmaking supplies being more expensive than the ready-made imports, and The Quik-Mart had closed, due to the street being in such bad condition customers couldn't get into the parking lot. That left Pickle's Groce Mart (yes, that Pickle's) the only place in town to buy off-the-shelf food.
"But," you might say, if you're an optimist, "at least you got a tourist attraction out of it."
Seems as if, about that time, there was a fire next door to the warehouse where the dummies of the Old West were stored. It wasn't in the warehouse, mind you. Just nearby. But wax ... heat. Well, you know how it goes. And unfortunately, in their enthusiasm to Bring Visitors >From Around the Globe, Hardyville poly-tick-ans had let slip a few details, like whether the town or the estate of the dead philanthropist was responsible for the insurance premiums while the dummies were in storage. (Hint: It wasn't the philanthropist's estate.)
I doubt that, in real life, handsome Wild Bill ever envisioned himself looking quite so much like Freddy Krueger. And even though Belle Starr was no beauty in her day, she probably never looked that ... well, run down.
"This was an Unforeseeable Catastrophe," Mayor Pickle pronounced, "for which No One Can, Of Course, Be Blamed. However, after an Exhaustive Search The City Fathers of Hardyville have located an Artisan Formerly of the Famous Madame Tussaud's in London. For a mere $345,000, he will come Right Here to Hardyville and Perform his Work in Our Beautiful New Museum, Rebuilding the Wild West Right Before the Very Eyes of Our Many Astounded Visitors. Think of the Oppor. ..."
At this point, I will tell you what we did. First thing, we got a citywide initiative on the ballot, abolishing the whole city council, for good and all. Some folks spoke of nooses. But we decided that, for now, mere abolition was less likely to draw outside attention.
Second, a bunch of ranchers convoyed down to the City, loaded up the dummies (the wax ones, that is), hauled them to the Glorious New Museum, stuck 'em here and there, then broke out the beer.
Third, Sindee-Lee Pickle was sent back to Barbed Wire.
Fourth, using donations from the few business people left in town ($723.11), we installed one of those coin-boxes in the museum like they have in Europe, where you stick in a Deutchmark or a Euro or whatever to operate the lights for x-minutes. We leave the doors open all the time, and anybody who cares enough can just walk in there, pay for his own damn lights and stare all he wants.
We found a quarter in the box this weekend. That's how we know a tourist was here. We figure at the peak summer rate of ten visitors a day the museum will be paid for in just 32,000 years -- if the electric rates don't go up.
The talk of nooses eventually died down, although an interest in knot-tying as a hobby seems to have taken curious hold among the more politically aware Hardyvillians.
Oh, we kept Mayor Pickle. But as part of the same initiative that did away with the city council, we reduced his responsibilities to one and changed his title. Now, in his new capacity as Omnipotent Potentate and Plenipotentiary of the Principality of Hardyville, he fulfills his function by delivering a Grand Oration at the annual re-dedication of the statue of the Drunken Cowboy (just west of the empty storefronts on Main Street). His wife made him a purple robe, and someone donated a crown from an old high school play. He seems quite happy. (The mayor, not the Drunken Cowboy.) And most of us are kind enough not to make snickering references to Emperor Norton.
But you know, the next time you're tempted to try to persuade me that poly-ticks can be reformed, or that there's some magical means we just haven't yet discovered to elect "honest" people, or that one more letter or petition will turn some tax-sucking, oathbreaking blob into a human being with a conscience -- don't. Just don't. Because here in Hardyville, we've learned exactly what politicians are good for. Fertilizer.
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