Leonard used to be the Boro meter reader, and a cracker jack one at that. He’d step over comatose bodies and wrestle live pythons to get to the gas or electric meters all over town. He knew the inner workings of old buildings, every cellar, every back alley, every cut up apartment building utility closet. He wore a ring of brass and chrome keys to a hundred locks. It must have weighed five pounds.
Picture Barney Fife from Mayberry but with a meter reader’s uniform. Same bantam rooster physique and strut, only no gun belt. He came into the coffee shop religiously at 2:45 p.m. most weekdays, on his way back to the garage and the time clock. “Best job I ever had”, is what he’d say about his work.
In the winter he wore insulated pants with hand warmers. In the summer he wore shorts that showed off his parboiled chicken legs. It was on a summer day when I was sitting with Leonard shooting the breeze across from a table of five middle aged women. Leonard stood up and stretched his legs, rattling his keys simultaneously. His knee caps bulged suggestively. I took the opportunity to say a little too loud, “Leonard, you are a sex magnet!” He smiled and struck a pose while the female table exploded in laughter, which caused me to laugh, which caused Leonard to keep readjusting his rooster pose. It was quite a moment, deserving of more than mere blog memorialization.
As his retirement from the Boro meter reader career approached, we discussed the appropriateness of replacing the Civil War soldier, who faces south from our town’s main square, with a bronze sculpture of the ever vigilant Leonard wielding his keys like a Ninja throwing star weapon. The general enthusiasm, however, was not matched with exuberant donations in the Leonard Bronze Statue jar I set up. After two weeks on the counter, we raised only eleven cents, a Bingo chip, a magnet, and a couple of funny notes. Eventually he started visiting the local Starbucks and our ways diverged. Once in a great while our paths still cross at his antiques business, but it’s nothing like the Barney Fife days. Maybe we should have just made something in wax or fiberglass, ice or butter. History cannot and should not be forgotten. And yet… it is.
On the other side of the Square, the old five story bank building was recently torn down to make way for a sleek new courthouse project. Here again history has become mystery. As Coffee Nation’s official historian/consigliere Joel taught us years ago, a significant event occurred there about one hundred years ago. Are you ready for this factoid? The Human Fly fell to his death there, right there, in our little town!! Now, inconceivably, not so much as a bronze plaque or a chalk outline tells the story … how a brave World War I veteran scaled the edifice in front of several thousand under entertained spectators. And how as he struggled to pull himself into the fifth floor window via an old bicycle inner tube, it snapped. Whap! The Human Fly hurtled to his pesticidal death below. He did not expire on the spot, my good citizens. No. He struggled for another 24 hours and died in the local hospital. There was some salty talk later on regarding his female traveling companion who was not his wife. She was on the other end of that dry rotted bike inner tube, guilty as sin of, uh, something too terrible to type. Old newspapers did not report her name because, I would guess, of her shame. Okay, it was Dolly.
What a shame it is when history is literally burned to the ground! This second picture is roughly of the same intersection as the previous photo. Note that the Neoclassical columns are the same in both photos. If you are not from around here, then you would not know that Turtle Town was incinerated by the invading Confederate Army in 1864 on their way to Gettysburg, where they got what was coming to them. Local historians tell us that the Rebels wanted horses, money, and other booty. They were also pissed off that local men were not in some military uniform and spoke German. Can you imagine it? The Human Fly fell to his death at that very spot about fifty years later!
Some think it’s a stretch, but I firmly believe if we’d had the Mighty Leonard protecting our town at the Square in 1864, fully armed with his Ninja key chain and inimitable smile, I really don’t think the Rebs would have dared extort our fair town. I mean, would you?