This article was last modified on March 20, 2005.


Welcome to Jefferson

Please allow me to introduce myself. Also, please allow me to refrain from any further Rolling Stones references. It’s a terrible personality quirk I’ve picked up somehow. My name is Karl Potratz. Just Karl is fine, as I am a very personable fellow if I do say so myself. I am going to share a tale with you that is both truth and entirely uncanny. It was many years ago…

I was working for a government agency that shall remain nameless. They work on the federal level in Washington, but deal primarily with small towns. Something like a welfare program, where towns would be given grants to help them progress beyond a hamlet stage. I had my concerns with the program – for example, towns on Indian reservations were exempt, sinking them deeper into poverty – but all in all the idea was really quite ingenius. Sometimes the Democrats do something right.

I was to drive out to a small town called Jefferson. They were isolated, and had built up something of a socialist commune where goods and services were exchanged just as often as money was, since they had little use for the outside communities. The government had no qualms about their trading practices or Marxist leanings, and the IRS left them well enough alone. I was sent because as far as anyone knew, there was no electricity in this town. No power plant or generator was running into the city limits, no underground power lines could be seen (not that you’d expect to see them, I suppose). I was to ascertain the electricity situation, and if I found it to be lacking, offer the town a grant to help establish a modern set up.

What I found was really quite shocking. The village, contrary to what I had been told, was running electricity just fine. Homes glowed with the light of televisions and incandescent bulbs beaming. No wires were visible, but they were most likely buried. Yet, as much as I tried, I could not find a power plant, a generator, some sort of hydroelectric wheel, or anything else I had come to expect from modern cities. I simply had to know where the power was coming from.

The mayor’s office was quaint, very rustic and patriotic with the state and country flags flanking the overly dramatic oaken desk. The mayor, a bulbous little man in his mid forties sat at the desk, busily chatting on his telephone with someone I presumed to be his wife. He abruptly ended his conversation with the caller and turned in his swivel chair to face me.

“Mister Potratz, I have been expecting you.”

“Call me Karl, this really ought not to be such a formal meeting.”

“Fair enough, Karl. Call me Tim, if that makes you comfortable. And how can I be of assistance?”

I explained the government’s welfare program to him and the grant for the electricity. He assured me the town had no desire to have federal assistance and that their electrical needs were already well covered. More on a personal whim than as a matter of public record, I asked him if he could explain to me what was the source of the power.

“Well, now, that certainly is an interesting topic. And to be quite honest with you, I haven’t the foggiest notion. You see, I have only been mayor a few years and the electricity has always flowed freely since as far back as I can remember. I do know the source of the power, but exactly how it works is something I really can’t say.”

He plopped his loafers off the desk and on to the carpeted floor, lifted himself (with some effort) to his feet and asked me to follow him. About a block away from the city hall was a fenced in area no larger than a hundred square feet. Signs indicated that children should not play in the area, as it was unsafe. Danger, high voltage. A few boxes ringed the fence, which I had not noticed earlier. They were standard electrical equipment, and I saw now that the homes were powered by these boxes. Though what powered the boxes I was unsure of.

“You see,” said Tim the Mayor, “the power comes from those plot of land. What is buried in here I never found out, and I certainly am not going to unearth it now. It could be magic, it could be some radiation-leaking nuclear device. All I know is that it generates enough electrcity to keep this town running and self-sustaining. Someday if it stops working, perhaps I’ll see what it is and see if it can be fixed – but why tamper with perfection, Mister Potratz?”

“You have no idea what is buried there?”

“None whatsoever. But apparently it’s safe, as the grass is green and no one to my knowledge has ever gotten sick by the drinking water.”

“Remarkable.”

“Indeed.”

I thanked the mayor for his time, and asked again if he wasn’t interested in the grant. He assured me the town was better off left alone, and I was confident that if anyone knew the town’s best interest, Tim was probably the one. I swaggered back to my car, but I never got far.

“Hey Mister, you government guy,” came a voice from behind the mayor’s office.

“Yes? Who’s there?”

“It is I, Donald the Underminer. I heard you were interested in the power supply.”

“Yes, why, do you know of it?”

“Oh yes, sir. We all know about it.”

“But the mayor said…”

“He is giving you the brush off, the old heave ho. Follow me.”

I walked to where the voice was and found a man dressed in what appeared to be a garbage collector’s jumpsuit, not unlike what John Cougar Mellencamp would wear in concert. He was scruffy and hunched a bit, but was well-kept as far as regular showers were concerned. While Donald was clearly eccentric, I had no reason to think he was homeless or any sort of threat.

Around the back of the mayor’s office was a cellar door, the double-gated kind in the ground you enter from outside a dwelling. Though curiously, the portal was not facing the office at all, but more towards the mysterious fenced area. Donald opened the door and led me down some stone steps into a candle-lit chamber.

This was something out of Mary Shelley, or at least the nineteenth century. A corridor of stone and mortar, leading to an isolated antechamber roughly octagonal in shape. And in the center of the room, a cryptlike box with wires running from within.

“There he is,” chortled Donald.

“There who is?”

“The source of our power. The man himself.” These vague responses were only adding to the heebie jeebies I was experiencing. Why aren’t deep secrets guarded by luscious women in cozy mansions rather than hunchbacks in dank underground sewers?

Donald opened the top of the crypt, coming off on hinges like a broken Jack-in-the-box. Inside was something even more disturbing than magic or radiation: a skeleton slowly circling itself like a plump cornish game hen on a rotisserie. He wasn’t cooking or lathered in barbecue sauce, but he was definately spinning.

“What in God’s name is that?” I demanded of Donald.

“You see, sir, Tim the Mayor was once a part of his high school debate team before settling in this town, which was at that time called Fairfield. One debate ended up getting him kicked out of the school, where they were arguing the best alternatives for our current accepted power supplies. He and his partner, Lane the Fallacious, had this idea to equip people with these rechargable batteries. During the course of copulation or self abuse, the kinetic energy as well as the heat would be stored as electricity and used later to power automobiles or what have you. Despite some convincing diagrams, the teacher foudn the subject matter offensive and ultimately had the two expelled.

“Tim became a bottom feeder, and as most bottom feeders do, he eventually became involved in politics. At the same time, to learn the lingo, he began to watch C-Span. But rather than using this to advance his career, it sparked a new direction in his research of energy production.”

“Your story is intriguing, Donald.” I was very interested, surely. I had found out more about the town and its inhabitants in five minutes with Donald than I did from all my maps, documents and brief exchange with Tim. And I was beginning to see why the secrecy persisted.

“So what happened” I inquired.

“The details are unclear to me, but I do know that Tim took to grave robbing and eventually found what he was looking for. Our distinguished gentleman here, our revolving artifact the town revolves around.”

“I don’t get it. Who is he?”

“Jefferson.”

“Who?”

“Thomas Jefferson.”

Grave robbing is one thing, but stealing a president’s corpse is a federal matter. I can’t even begin to comprehend what the penalty would be, but I have no doubt it’s severe. I knew at this point I had to report this. But one question plagued me.

“Why is he spinning?”

“Well, you see, from watching C-Span, Tim witnessed day after day of our Constitution being distorted and destroyed by the Republicans. He figured Jefferson must be rolling in his grave on a regular basis. Turns out, he was right. He spins so much, in fact, we’ve never experienced a brownout since hooking our generator up to his crypt.”

“Wow.”

I shook Donald’s stubby hand and left the chamber to return to my car.

***
Two days later, I returned to Washington and filed my report. In the end, I left out my experience with the third President. I simply wrote the village preferred their privacy, and the agency had no problem with that, probably even expected that response.

Sometimes you have to follow policy and the law, but sometimes you have to have an open mind and respect true genius when you find it. Sure, Tim was a criminal. But he was brilliant, and a wonderful leader. Besides, why give the greatest American who ever lived back to the very people who betrayed him?

I still don’t know what lesson I learned that day – I can’t sum it up into some Aesopian catch phrase. But it changed me, and maybe if you find in my story what I found in my journey, you will feel that kernel of change pop inside your soul, too.

Also try another article under Poetry and Fiction
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

One Response to “Welcome to Jefferson”

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