May 212024

Here is another blog post from my days running small town newspapers.

If you run a small town newspaper, you’re going to make some people mad. There’s no way around it. And sometimes the things that make people mad are amazing.

For example, I once ran a story about a man who got drunk and was speeding through town on a motorcycle, with the police in hot pursuit. They reached speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour at one point before he eventually lost control and crashed into a fountain in front of City Hall. Fortunately, he had slowed down somewhat, and because God looks after fools and drunks, he only ended up with a few cuts and bruises and a broken wrist. It could have been much worse.

When I reported the story in the newspaper, his mother and aunt came into my office demanding that I round up every copy of that issue and get them off the streets because it was embarrassing to them to have the whole town read that a member of their family had done something so foolish. They were not disputing the story, they knew he was a troublemaker, but they did not want the rest of the town to know about it. When I told them it was impossible to do that, and I wouldn’t anyway, they called me names that even my ex-wives haven’t called me. At least not yet.

More than once, somebody who was upset about a news story or editorial threatened me, those threats ranging from burning my house or business down to actual death threats, and a time or two I was physically assaulted, as well. But fortunately, I was only cursed once.

Now, when I say cursed, I don’t mean cursed at or cursed out, that happened plenty of times. I mean actually cursed. A woman named Darlene, who was known in town as Ding-a-ling Darlene, was well known for going into businesses and creating scenes. It didn’t take much to set her off. One time she was in a furniture store and she didn’t like the fact that none of the recliners on display were the color she wanted. So instead of asking if they could order one for her, she threw a tantrum and told the owner that she was going to break all of his windows.

Darlene also routinely approached police officers when they had someone stopped for a traffic violation, demanding they let them go. Usually, they just ignored her and went on about their business, but a time or two she got so adamant about things that she was arrested for interfering with a police officer.

I had seen Darlene around town and knew who she was but had never interacted with her. At least not until the day I parked in front of a business and got out and was putting money in the parking meter. Darlene came along and asked me why I was paying money to the city for the right to park, which was guaranteed in the United States Constitution. I told her that since the Constitution was written long before the automobile was invented, I was pretty sure that was not a right guaranteed by our forefathers. Who knew that was enough to set Darlene off?

She followed me into the store, haranguing me and telling me that I was a Communist. When the owner told her to leave, she grabbed some things off the counter and threw them at him before making her exit. Okay, that was interesting.

This was in the days before cell phones, when we all carried pagers. A half-hour later my pager went off, and when I found a phone to call the office, my secretary said I needed to get there right away because there was a problem. I was about ten minutes away, and by the time I got there, there was no question about it. We had a problem.

That problem’s name was Darlene. She had stormed into the office, demanding that I be fired because I was a Communist. When Laurel, my office manager, explained to her that I owned the place and couldn’t be fired, and also mentioned that I was a veteran and she did not believe I was a Communist, Darlene staged a sit-in right in front of the counter. She said she was not going to leave until I had been fired. She opened a grease-stained paper bag and poured out a collection of bones, rocks, feathers, and who knows what else and began chanting some kind of mantra.

By then I was pretty fed up with Darlene’s theatrics, so when I came in the door and she pointed a finger at me and said, “There he is! There’s the Communist that’s ruining our country,” I told her to take a hike. Not taking it very well, she began screaming at me, and one of my employees called the police. Two officers arrived in short order and told Darlene she had to leave, but she refused to get off the floor, continuing her sit-in.

Did I mention that Darlene weighed over 300 pounds? The two officers together couldn’t get her on her feet. In fact, when they tried to lift her under her arms, she laid on her back and began making what I can only describe as snow angels on the carpet. In the process, her skirt ended up around her waist and I saw things no man ever wants to see. Darlene obviously was not a fan of underwear, and later one of the ladies who worked for me described what she saw as a hedgehog wearing an Afro.

Finally, more policemen arrived and they were able to pick her up by her limbs and carry her outside, but not before Darlene screamed at me that I was cursed. She told me she came from a long line of gypsies and that her grandmother was Marie Laveau, the famous voodoo queen from New Orleans. Did you know that Marie Laveau was a gypsy? I didn’t either. I’m not sure Marie Laveau even knew that!

I don’t know if it was just a coincidence since it was a small town, or if it was planned, but it seemed like for the next two weeks, everywhere I went, there was Darlene. Standing in line to check out at the grocery store, she saw me and started screaming that I was a Communist and someone needed to shoot me. Filling my gas tank at the Shell station, Darlene came storming across the parking lot, pointing her finger at me and telling me that she had placed a curse on me and my testicles were going to fall off. Well, that didn’t happen, my first ex-wife still has them in a jar someplace. They were part of the divorce settlement.

My next episode with Darlene was when I was in a restaurant with a couple of my employees having lunch. She walked by and saw us through the window and came in and did the whole finger-pointing thing again, telling me that I was cursed and I was going to choke to death on my lunch. Okay, Darlene. Thanks a lot.

This went on for several weeks, and though my ex still had the family jewels and I had not choked to death, I did find myself looking around wherever I went, just in case Darlene was there to create another ruckus. Eventually, she found someone else to harass and she forgot about me. At least I thought she had forgotten about me. As it turned out, that was wishful thinking on my part.

About six months later the police scanner in my pickup truck went off as I was driving through town, saying there was an unconscious woman down on the sidewalk and needing help. Things like that are always news in a small town, so since I was close, I pulled up as the police and two EMTs were trying to get an unconscious Darlene onto a stretcher. This was no small feat because I think she had added another 20 or 30 pounds since our first encounter.

Eventually, they got her on the stretcher, and as they were getting ready to load it into the back of the ambulance, I stepped back to get out of the way and tripped over the curb and fell on my butt, right into a big puddle of water. Suddenly Darlene, who had been unable to communicate or move all this time, sat up on the stretcher, pointed her finger at me and said, “See, you son-of-a-bitch, I told you you were cursed!”

I saw Darlene around town every so often for the next year or so, and then suddenly she was gone. I don’t know what happened to her. Maybe she moved to a new town to spread her version of joy and terror. Or maybe she went to New Orleans to hang out with her grandmother, Marie Laveau, the gypsy voodoo queen.

And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us. Can I at least slow down before I throw my kid out of the truck?

Thought For The Day – You may delay, but time will not. – Benjamin Franklin

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  One Response to “Newspaper Days – Cursed”

  1. Love the story about Darlene. I had a small version of that experience during my ill fated run for political office in Minnesota. A woman kept calling me a racist bigot at events, at a grocery store, restaurant, and even after a church service. Much like your situation she disappeared and I have often wondered what happened to my Darlene!

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