I know, Curious George. You’re dying to hear all the lurid details about that vicious spork attack down at the bingo hall. It’s all over the news but there’s more to the story, you just know it.
What are you calling me for? Throw your giant nose for news into the car and get down to the corner store. Get yourself a gallon of gossip to go along with the eggs and lottery tickets.
Reporters. Always out there with their ties and hand-held recorders. Hanging around the police station, waiting for a press conference the way goldfish wait for someone to drop flakes of food into their bowls.
Simpletons. They were apparently not taught a fundamental trick to fact-finding at Don Henley U. It is this: Police pick through the facts and give reporters what they think they should know. They leave out the grimy stuff, the gory stuff, the grim stuff.
Get ye to the corner store, where the lady behind the counter will tell you everything she’s heard, leaving it up to you to decide what’s hot and what’s not.
Down at the store — and some stores are better than others, I’ll give you that — it’s a press conference all its own after a significant event. The clerks behind the counter are ringing in purchases and handing out bits of information with each handful of change.
There’s a guy standing nearby and he’s been there all day. He’s stirring the same cup of coffee and waiting for the perfect moment to chime in.
“Yup,” he’ll say, stirring that cup of sludge for dramatic effect. “I hear they didn’t find the head for three days and even then, they didn’t find all of it.”
The town drunk will wander in, weaving with his fistful of dimes, and even he will have something to contribute. He drops enough change onto the counter for a bottle of Mad Dog and spills what he knows. Dude knows what he’s talking about, too, because he was sleeping it off in the alley behind the bingo hall when the sordid affair went down.
The delivery guy bringing in a new supply of chips will have something to share because he’s been to every store in town this afternoon, and he’s heard a lot.
The lady from the lawyer’s office, the construction guy, the teenage mother with three kids in tow. Everybody has something to offer on this business at the bingo hall. They are like the blind men who describe different parts of an elephant until realization dawns and they shriek: Whoa, gross! We’re handling dead elephant parts!
There was a killing a few years ago in which almost every question was unanswered. Who was the dead man? Who was the man with the knife? Why did it happen and why in this spot?
Turned out the victim had a very loose connection to a store in Lewiston. A quick stop for peanuts and cigarettes and the facts came together quite nicely. A clerk knew the dead man and his girlfriend, too. A patron waiting to buy milk and a newspaper recognized the name and filled in more blanks.
The police press release was one paragraph long. The stuff I’d heard at the store could have filled a book. Plus, I got peanuts.
I love corner stores. You don’t find many people there who want to put a spin on things. They don’t have agendas. They have freezers full of ice cream and all the hours in a day to collect facts, near facts and things that should never be uttered in the same sentence with facts.
Quiet man? Kept to himself? Tripe. It almost never applies yet people mutter it all the time, anyway. Not at the friendly corner store where there is no reason to wrap the truth in pretty paper.
“Quiet man?” the clerk with the beehive hairdo will tell you. “God, no. He liked to listen to show tunes at night and strangle squirrels in his backyard.”
Now, that’s news you can use. That’s a quote that will jump off the newspaper page.
As cash registers everywhere have been known to say: Ka-ching!
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can contact him at his virtual corner store at firstname.lastname@example.org.