I get the coolest mail. 

Not email, mind you but real mail. Stuff that’s delivered to me in the newsroom in the form of envelopes, weird shaped packages and, most recently, a box of chocolate Graham crackers that was, alas, empty. 

Well, not empty. All sorts of stuff fell out of that box, it just wasn’t delicious crackers. 

Here are two photographs of a pie; one with the pie intact, the other with a slice taking out. Cherry, it looks like. Rhubarb? I don’t know, but soon the mystery about that pie will be revealed. 

Here’s a McDonald’s receipt, dated Dec. 19, for five dollars and 39 cents. 

There’s a very old postcard featuring the old Dewitt Hotel towering over the former Sun Journal building (sob) on Park Street. 


There’s a photograph of some boots; one pair old, the other pair new. 

There’s a newspaper clipping in which an Associated Press writer warns of the dangers of artificial intelligence. 

Here’s a newspaper cartoon featuring an artificially intelligent robot approaching Charles Darwin to say howdy do. 

Another newspaper clipping asks the question: Summer is here. Where are the fireflies? 

There’s a copy of one of my recent Talk of the Town columns along with a column entitled “The Long Haul” written by one Finn Murphy in 2017. 

Does any of this make sense to you? Are you spotting any themes or coherent messages? 


Naw. Me neither. But fortunately, my sadly empty Graham cracker box also features a 9-page letter that serves as a kind of road map through all of that mystery. 

Now, bear in mind that this letter writer has been sending me these packets for more years than I can remember. When it comes to putting together packets for the local reporter he either likes or hates — honestly, I can’t tell — the man is indefatigable. When you open that packet for the first time, a whole bunch of material falls out onto your lap, and you think that what you’ve got are completely meaningless newspaper clippings, photos, receipts, postcards, food labels and whatever else the obvious madman has managed to cram in.  

But this isn’t pointless detritus at all. Once you start reading his letter, it all starts to make sense, like one of those crazy photos with mystery image hidden behind the pixels. 

That empty box of chocolate Graham crackers, for instance, is a response to my recent lament that those suckers were getting hard to find in the grocery stores.  

My pen pal writes: “You get no flowers from this fellow, but you can sniff the empty box. Ha ha ha!!!! Chocolate Grahams — all gone!!!” 

So you can see why I suspect the man might hate me. 


The pie photos were apparently a reaction to a pair of my recent complaints: one in which I professed a hate for November and the other in which I admit that I’ll never be able to spell tourtiere pie correctly. Not without spell check, anyway. 

“I was born in November,” my letter writer declares, “and don’t forget that, Bud. It was a good month. Birthday AND Thanksgiving. See pie photo. Wife makes me all sorts of goodies. I am special! Christmas is also special: wife made me two French Canadian meat pies this year. Still eating them — and we ain’t Canadian.” 

You have to move on to page eight of the man’s letter to find an explanation for that McDonald’s receipt. 

“I cannot believe that I paid $5.39 for one (1) Egg McMufin,” he writes. “In fact, I cannot believe I paid a visit to the place, or for that matter, a fast food joint.” 

The letter writer goes on to report that I look a lot like his mother — “she was old but looked good for her age,” he writes. “You?” — but let’s just move past that. 

That postcard image of the old Dewitt Hotel? My phantom pen pal sent this along mainly because I’ve been crying so much about the Sun Journal’s move away from Park Street. So you can plainly see that he DOES care. 


Or he despises me and is just rubbing it in. Seriously, folks. I just can’t tell. 

As he is wont to do, this letter writer covers a lot of ground in his long missives. In this one, he touches on virtually everything I’ve written about over the past month. This includes my observations (and his) on talented mice, snow blower difficulties, gross sweet potatoes (he loves them,) Christmas shopping, lobster rolls, fireflies, Patrick Dempsey, water in my basement and the mystery murder birds now identified as Dovekies.  

Also, I’m advised that real men prefer stuffing at the Thanksgiving table.  Real men don’t think about where the stuffing goes.

The letter writer also zeroed in on some of my recent comments in which I vowed — as I do every winter — to move to Florida. 

Not a lot of good things to say about the Sunshine State, this guy. 

“Does your current wife know you are planning on the move?” the fellow wants to know. “Florida is a place where old widows lurk in the shadows for their next catch — almost happened to my granddad when grandma passed. An aunt and my mom came down and rescued him back up north to safety. Evil place, Florida.” 


Oh, but he wasn’t done warning me about the perils of my plan to run away to that place of warmth and sunshine. 

“BAD MOVE,” he wrote, in all capitals like that. “Bad, bad, bad! Do you know anything about the place? Population about 22 plus million — this does not count those annoying snow birds who infest that part of the world. The place is also crawling with alligators, snakes and bugs, not to mention humidity all the time. 

“Oh,” he continues. “And I am not sure that you will fit into the Florida lifestyle. Don’t take your motorcycle, Bud. You brains will bake out quickly… Think before you jump. And who in hell will be writing Talk of the Town?” 

For years, when the Sun Journal was located in that rickety old building on Park Street, my unseen friend complained that when he came to drop off his letter packets, he was confronted with parking meters. Now that we’re in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of Lisbon Street, I have no idea how he gets those packets to me. They aren’t sent through the postal service, so at some point, the mystery man must walk them right to the front door of the newspaper and yet I still have never seen him. 

Is he an ancient fellow with a long white beard and a crooked, hand-carved walking stick? 

A dapper man with a top hat and a can to twirl? 


Does he wear a hooded sweatshirt and dark glasses to hide his features or does he come in openly, whistling a jaunty tune as he plumps his latest package down on the counter? 

You got me, son. Other than the little hints he drops in his notes here and there, I know nothing about the fellow. His letters are signed only “A Subscriber” so it’s possible he doesn’t WANT me to know more than he lets on.

I tell you this, though. Receiving those packets in the newsroom is always a delight. I honestly never know what’s going to fall out of the latest box, crate or overstuffed manila envelope. Every new delivery feels like a Scooby Doo mystery to be unraveled and as I pull one newspaper clipping, receipt or seemingly random object out of the box, others gather around me in the newsroom as though I’m performing a magic trick. 

The magic isn’t mine, though; that belongs to this anonymous letter writer, who collects a weird array of news and trinkets and somehow manages to make them fit together. 

I sincerely have no idea how this fellow feels about me but my feelings about him are pretty clear. 

I think you’re very wise and clever and witty, Bud. And don’t you forget it. 

When Mark LaFlamme isn’t making friends via snail mail, he’s the crime reporter for the Sun Journal. 

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