"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Mailing Label Massa-cree (with 3-part Harmony)

I'm a longtime Arlo Guthrie fan. As little kids, my best friend and my brother and I used to sit in the back of my mum's VW bug, singing "I don't want a pickle, I just wanna ride my motor-sickle." We knew the songs by his dad Woody Guthrie. And songs by his surrogate dad and mentor, Pete Seeger, too.

I've seen Arlo in concert 4 times. Once in Atlanta, once in Denver, and a couple of times around New England.

Every Thanksgiving, I listen to the noontime radio broadcast of "Alice's Restaurant." Not that I need to. I own the album.

Theresa's, formerly Alice's Restaurant

We've made the pilgrimage to Stockbridge in Massachusetts, to see the real Alice's Restaurant (pictured here.) And we went to the old church, now the Guthrie Center, where Alice and Ray used to live, and where the Thanksgiving feast took place.

But never, ever, did I expect my life to turn into an Arlo Guthrie song. "Alice's Restaurant Massacre," to be specific. (Pronounced "Massa-cree")

On Friday night, the spouse and I headed to the city for dinner and a show. We dined at the best restaurant in town, with some directors of a local nonprofit , their spouses and partners. There were seven of us in all. We laid waste to 3 bottles of wine, 2 cheese boards (my favourites--the Spanish sheep cheese, the French goat cheese, and the Irish Cashel blue.) Our indvidual meals were divine, and the crême brûlée was superb.

Unexpectedly, we encountered a NY-based nationally/internationally prominent church person, whom my husband and I had met previously, and we greeted him and his wife before departing the restaurant.

We then strolled several frigid blocks (single-digit temperatures!) to the theatre. The show was a musical revue performed by a famous political comedy and satire group--a benefit for the nonprofit. The place was virtually sold out. We saw lots of friends and acquaintances, staff and supporters of the nonprofit. The performers were extremely talented, their material was timely and hilarious.

Having enjoyed an utterly perfect evening, we drove home in a buoyant mood, collecting our mail along the way. Once inside the house, I was suprised to find an envelope addressed only to me--surprised because it had come from the local transfer station. Our Town Dump.

I ripped it open. I found a paper, a photocopy of my literary agent's mailing label, addressed to me. With a letter. Which said--

To Whom It May Concern:

During a routine compliance inspection, staff encountered upseparated garbage and recyclables within bags which also contained your name and address.

District policy mandates separation of reclyclable materials from the waste stream.

If you are unwilling to separate reclyclables from your waste, you must either cease to use the District facility, or you must pay for unseparated waste . . . . Continued failure to separate your reclyclables or pay for unseparated waste will result in legal action . . . .There are substantial fines...of up to $3000 . . . .

Now, before you get the wrong impression, our household recycles like crazy. We separate magazines and mixed paper with great care. So I don't know how that envelope from my agent ended up in the wrong bag. It was an accident. I'm really sorry about it.

But I'm totally freaked out, knowing that my rubbish was inspected piece by piece. And that I was tracked down, not by a random piece of junk mail, but via that envelope from my literary agent. (I'm sure it was the one from the Foreign Rights department, which had my most recent Slovak contracts in it.)

I suppose it's better to receive a letter than to get a telephone call from the local version of "Officer Obie" asking me, "Kid, we found your name on an envelope at the bottom of a half a ton of garbage, and just wanted to know if you had any information about it." Or showing up in court to be confronted by the "twenty-seven eight-by-ten colour glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was." Or spending a night in jail for being a litterbug. (We don't even have a jail in our town.)

If I were in the mood to write a protest song about this bizarre experience, I'd have to call it "Margaret's Mailing Label Massacre." (Pronounced "Massa-cree," of course.) By including the wonderful evening of food and entertainment (nearly analagous to a Thanksgiving feast in de-consecrated church), as well as the garbage inspection, and wrapping it up with a little anti-war rant, á la Arlo, I could probably stretch my massacree song to 20-plus minutes just like he did.

In future, I will be even more careful. I want to avoid legal action. And a massive fine. Not to mention strangers sifting through my own personal discarded mail.

I have rehabilitated myself.

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