Helen Chappell - February 2008

I Don't have to Make This Stuff Up


Helen Chappell

   From time to time, someone will come up to me and say, “Where do you get your ideas?” Meaning, of course, that they think my rich and fertile imagination is the source for the subject matter I write about.
    Well, I’m good at pushing situations to the ultimate, ridiculous outcome, and calling it comedy, but I’m not that good. Dying may be easy, and comedy may be hard, as the man said, but my inspiration is often drawn from real life. And, generally, it’s real life within a hundred mile radius of where I live.
    While I’m not saying that I am the brightest bulb on the string, and Stephen Hawking can sleep well at night while I’m around, intelligence seems to be finite. Stupidity? Infinite.
    There are people out there who are so dumb, if their brain was a pea on a fork, it would look like a B.B. rolling down a four-lane highway. Let’s face it. God must love stupid people because he sure made a lot of them.
Foolishness, lack of foresight and planning and just plain idiocy are what keep small-town papers in business, if you ask me. I read about four local newspapers a news cycle just to keep up with the follies of my fellow human beings. Besides that, at my age, I’m too old to find my friends in the wedding and birth announcements, and just young enough not to see too many of them in the obituary pages – yet. So, if I want to know what people are up to, I have to read the crime and accident reports.
    And nowhere else on earth will you find such evidence of foolishness but crime and accident reports. Let’s take a reported story from Slower Delaware from a few years back when a bunch of drunken fools were playing Russian roulette, and one of them killed himself.
    This is bad, but what makes it worse is that they were using a semi-automatic pistol. Homer Simpson, in all his glory, couldn’t have made a stupider move.
    From Accomac, Virginia, there recently came a report of a bunch of guys driving around aimlessly one night, swilling gin from a bottle and beer from a can. For some reason, a disagreement arose and a guy in the back seat got mad at the driver and shot him, killing him, and sending the speeding car crashing off the road. Now, no matter how drunk you were, would you shoot the driver of a car you were riding around in, rolling around curving country roads at high speeds?
    Probably not. But I’m not taking any bets. Years of experience have taught me that anyone at any time can behave with breathtaking stupidity of a depth so deep it makes your socks roll up and down your legs just thinking about it.
    Now, in my youth, I spent many a night driving around aimlessly with my friends, not quite swilling gin, but not exactly sober either. But never, in my wildest days, did it ever occur to me to shoot the wheelperson if I didn’t like where I was going.
    It’s not always men who are stupid, either. I’m sure we all remember the murder at the Murder Mystery Weekend. A woman and her husband came to the Eastern Shore to attend a murder mystery play at a local resort. She was playing for keeps, according to published news stories. She drugged her husband, then set their room on fire, then drove around aimlessly waiting, one supposes, for the room to burn down. I guess she was hoping the scene would be mistaken for spontaneous human combustion. As it turned out, the local constabulary weren’t quite the Barney Fifes she assumed them to be, because she was tried and convicted of murder.
    Okay, that’s stupid enough, but the cherry on the sundae was that, according to court testimony, before she killed him she went around her workplace asking if anyone knew a hit man because she wanted to off her husband.
    And if that weren’t stupid enough, a couple of months before she did him in, she purchased some huge insurance policies on his life.
    Why she just didn’t get a gun and shoot him point blank in front of the courthouse at high noon, I don’t know. If she had, she probably would have been out of jail by now.
    All of this reminds me of a story I heard when I was a reporter. A guy comes up before a district court judge for whatever crime, and is given six months.
   “I can do six months standing on my head,” the defendant says.
   “Then I’ll give you a year!” the judge pounds his gavel.
    I’ve heard this story about more defendants than I can name, and every time someone tells it, they swear it’s true. So, I guess I’m not the only one who suspects the intelligence of a lot of people I know.
    Like the lady who used a lit match to see why the pilot light in her gas stove wasn’t working. She just struck a kitchen match and put her head right in there. Here eyebrows never did grow back. She has to pencil them in.
Or the guy who came into the bank, wondering why his accounts were bouncing, when he still had plenty of checks left in his book. I know this story is true, because I know the bank employee that helped him out with his problem. (This story could be me, I have to say, but it’s not.)
    Or the guy who propped up his ladder on the wrong side of the tree branch he was sawing off. When the limb broke, he ended up on the ground, under the ladder and the tree branch, with a broken arm.
My personal favorite stupid felon is Norman Johnston, of the infamous Johnston Gang of Cecil County. They made their money stealing tractors and farm equipment and such, chopping them up for parts and selling the parts down south to unsuspecting or the uninquisitive. Old Norman was put away for murder.
    Norman, the most hapless of the Johnston brothers, managed to escape from prison a few years ago, and returned to wander around Cecil County. He’d been incarcerated for years, and quite a lot had changed since he’d gone away. It was rumored he’d buried a trash can full of cash in a cornfield somewhere in the northeastern Maryland-southeastern Pennsylvania area. Of course, everything that was rural when he went away is now largely over-developed, and all the fields are filled with housing developments.
    Norman tried to take refuge with his family, but the cops in both states were staking them out, so he was doomed to wander from place to place, stealing money from vending machines and living in the woods. He didn’t know from computers, Big Brother technology and cell phones.
    They finally found him crouched under someone’s porch in Mendenhall, PA, dirty, hungry, disoriented and completely lost in the modern world of McMansions, strip malls and office parks where there had once been rural countryside.
    I think he must have been almost glad to surrender because the modern world confused and bewildered him. The trash can full of money he’d buried somewhere was long lost. The landmarks he had used to identify its burial place had been gone for years.
    And this just in from Associated Press, via News of the Weird:
    Beckley, W. VA. – police detained a 61-year-old man whom they found at the King Tut Drive-In on a Saturday afternoon, apparently sober, after he had “driven” his four grandchildren, all around age 4, “on a busy street in a 15-foot motorboat pulled by a lawn mower,” according to AP. The vehicle was, of course, unregistered and uninspected, and the children not properly seat-restrained, but the man seemed unaware that he had place the kids in danger.
    Now, that might be stupid, but it still sounds like a lot of fun to me. Especially the King Tut Drive-In.