Dean Marden reminded me of a story I’d heard before, in part. I trust his version. In Hanover, town officials got the idea of charging $10 each for a head tax. Dartmouth students, and there were a lot of them, had to pay up. They did. Which made them eligible to vote in local elections and at the town meeting. They petitioned an article and showed up in enough numbers to pass it. The article authorized the construction of a building a foot square and a mile high. Next time around, the head tax was repealed.
Jim, who’s been attending New Boston town meetings for decades, said it tickled him that sixty or seventy years ago they discussed at length an article to appropriate $100 for some small item didn’t amount to a hill of beans. On the other hand, voters took just a couple of minutes to pass the big ticket items. I observed that this was the law of inverse proportionality — the lower the money amount the longer the discussion. Even more amusing to Jim was that this was still going on. At the last town meeting the town spent a good deal of time discussing a $200 item — and it was the same item that had been discussed the year before and ten years before and all the way back. What was that controversial item, you ask — treatment of the trees for white pine blister rust.
This New Boston story is very similar to a story I heard out of New London — but I kinda like this one better — it’s more specific. Seems Charlie Baker, a cantankerous New Bostonian, was having a hard time getting through to the Merrimack Farmer’s Exchange. He kept telling the switchboard operator exactly who he wanted to call, but she kept saying, “I need the number.” Well, evidently, he didn’t have the number. Ended up with Charlie telling the operator to go to hell.
A hour or so passed before the boss at the telephone company called Charlie up and said if he didn’t apologize to that operator, Charlie’s phone would be cut off. He wouldn’t be calling anybody atall. And he was to make that apology by Friday at noon. Charlie — stubborn and cantankerous, held off until the last minute. At 11:59 he called the operator. “Are you the operator I told to go to hell?”
“Changed my mind. You needn’t.”