It was such a great summer night that Norma and I both decided to walk down to the Pizza Bin and get some pepperoni sticks and a small sausage and cheese. That’s when we ran into the first protesters. In our little town of three hundred in population having protesters is a bit out of the ordinary. But the cable had been out since Thursday and we had used all of my phone data playing Candy Smasher so we were a bit starved for some entertainment. A good non-violent example of citizen assembly could be as good as Wheel of Fortune reruns any day.
My wife and I are not political types, but we were hungry and curious at the same time. The epicenter of all the action was the place we were headed, the Pizza Bin. The Bin’s owner Al Funk was trying to man the counter as a busload of protesters exited their conveyance with signs that read “Pride over Pizza” and “Leave Our Heritage Intact: Say No to the Portico.” Al Funk was usually a taciturn individual, but the presence of a picket line in front of his establishment was unsettling to him.
We barely squeezed in after being hazed by an old couple in matching tie-dyed shorts and shirts with signs saying “Al Funk You” and “Death to Pizza Profiteers”. We ordered our food and I asked Al just what the Sam Heck was going on. He pointed to a plaque over by the malt machine that read “The Boone Stump: On this spot in 1789 the first tree in Perkin County was felled by Daniel Boone and his pioneering party.” “This is the reason these protesters are around” said Al. “I want to cover the outdoor seating with an aluminum portico, you know, for the summer rain and hail. These protestors say that the old stump at the edge of the patio is the one from a tree Daniel Boone chopped down.” Al said glumly. “And if it is moved to put in the portico it would upset the natural balance of the county.” I grabbed a handful of mints that sat in a bowl next to the cash register and remarked, “That is an interesting theory, but tell me are they sure that the particular stump they are referring to is the original ‘Boone Stump’?”
“Nobody is sure”, stuttered Al as he hustled out to chase protesters that had gathered in the drive up lane, “except that Old Man Hunley keeps saying his grandma pointed at that very stump and told him to protect it with his life because it would unleash the ‘Curse of the Boone Stump’ if anything happened to it.” He ran out the door to confront protesters that were having a sit-in on the handicapped parking space.
Norma was now sitting at one of the three plastic tables in the Pizza Bin’s indoor dining area reading a three-year-old National Tattler article about Kirstie Alley. I was a bit miffed that Al had not taken my order when outside there arose a donnybrook that shook the plastic window on the north side of the Pizza Bin. Sure enough it was old man Hunley, ensconced on his three wheeled bicycle with the orange pennant hanging from the basket in the rear, whipping the now rather large crowd into a lather.
“Brothers and sisters”, Hunley bellowed into one of those kid’s party megaphones with the pre-programmed sirens and Benny Hill theme buttons, “I was just a small lad, way before we had to eat pizza for sustenance, and my granny said to me as we walked by the pig farm that used to sit right on this spot, that this was the Stump of Boone!” The crowd started to cheer and chant “Stump of Boone! Stump of Boone!” The lady in the yellow blazer who held the megaphone quieted the rowdy hooligans and then Hunley continued, “She said to me, my granny did, to protect this stump with my life!” On cue the crowd belted out “Protect the Stump! Protect the Stump!” These protesters were very rhythmic, although some had poor elocution and sounded like they were saying “Prospective Dump”.
Al Funk by then had given up on taking pizza orders and was on a ladder trying to get some protesters off of his guttering. You could tell he was irritated, particularly since he had just painted the fascia. It looked like it was going to be leftover cheese grits from breakfast for Norma and me, but I wanted to hang around a bit as I thought I might see history in the making, like that Tiananmen Square thing or maybe even a streaker like at the Academy Awards. Old man Hunley was just getting to the good part of his speech and was reveling in his sudden popularity. Hunley was previously known as the town curmudgeon, and it was said he used to call the police on dog walkers that didn’t carry plastic bags with them. “I decry this encroachment on our heritage by naked commercialism,” Hunley squawked. “It is high time we respected our ancestors, and avoided invoking the Curse of the Boone Stump.” Hunley pointed his bony index finger heavenward and the crowd went wild.
The Curse of the Boone Stump was a legend but had provenance in Perkin County. When Al Funk’s grandpa decided to close his family hog farm and build a pizza place in its stead, he was clearing the spot for his outdoor eating patio when he was suddenly stricken with a strange illness from which he never recovered. So Al’s dad finished the restaurant, and decided to make the stump into a bird feeder, stopping the pouring of concrete for the patio pad just inches from the Boone Stump’s base. Nobody sat at the aluminum picnic table near the stump, partially because of the birds that would peck at your food, and partially because of the rumors of “The Curse.”
Norma tugged at my sleeve. Evidently the cable had come on and it was almost 8:30, time for “Dancing with The Has Beens” on the CW. By then poor Al had decided to pack it in and was loading up his pizza delivery van to head home himself.
As we walked the block back home the crowd could be heard singing “We Shall Overcome”, kind of mixed with choruses of “Never Gonna Give You Up”. “That was kind of interesting” I said to Norma as I fumbled for the house keys. “Too much patchouli in the air,” she replied. We watched some TV, then went to bed.
Since I had my CPAP on all night, what happened later in the evening was told to me by Norma, who evidently had forgotten to take her melatonin and woke up to see smoke billowing from down the block. The other portions of the story were filled in by a very detailed post on Friendbook by an eyewitness’s cousin.
Evidently as the crowds grew someone accidentally dropped a clove cigarette onto the green that the Boone Stump sat on, and a small fire erupted. Old Man Hunley was into another one of his speeches, now known as “Stump Speeches” because they pointed out other remarkable tree bases that were prominent in the area when he was younger. When the lady with the megaphone saw the small fire near the blessed stump she panicked. Instead of getting the protesters safely away from the fire by warning them with her megaphone she accidentally pressed the “Benny Hill” theme music making most of the citizens think that was part of the protest and they all started to chase each other around the property. This hindered the Perkin County Volunteer Fire Department in their efforts to douse the now growing flames. Old man Hunley was accidentally crushed to death by the fire department snorkel as he chased a woman in a nurse’s uniform across the drive-thru. That kind of let the air out of the spirit of the protesters from that point on and they all got back on their buses to head home. Because of the delay in assistance the fire spread to Al Funk’s Pizza Bin and burnt the place to the ground. It was total bedlam.
That was five years ago. Al sold the property to the Burger Barn chain who came in the dark of the night and put up a restaurant that is still there today. The stump disappeared, but it is rumored that BB chopped it up to use in its new secret sauce. Amazingly, that sauce was discontinued as the townsfolk complained about glowing sandwiches and toilet bowls.
After that night’s exposure to political activism I joined the Young Democrats, the Sierra Club and PETA, though nobody in the area seems to know of a local meet-up or chapter of any of those nearby. However, my PETA bumper sticker sits proudly just above the one for Al Franken’s 2008 Senate race, on the back of the PT Cruiser.
Norma was promoted to chief assistant manager of the Candle Corner, and became a vegan because of her experiences with the Burger Barn Big One sandwich. I still can’t help missing the Pizza Bin, particularly on those wonderful Summer nights when we would sit near the Boone Stump, sip Fresca, and dream about America’s future.