Ever feel like Gulliver traveling around in strange lands where horses rule over men and Taco Bell offers $1,000 sign-on bonuses? The world has gone mad and its not just me. We have a crippling labor shortage here in the valley and I have several highly sophisticated explanatory theories that even the piercing and slightly grumpy skeptic Mr. Marvel may reluctantly laud, but I will not share them at this exact moment because Eaton’s proverbial barn is on fire. Friends, this is an all hands on deck moment: we’re about to lose our beloved shopkeepers, Justin and Kate. I am panicking!
Highbrow Jackson socialites have grown tired of the world’s tiniest violin playing pitiful tunes down here at the valley’s southern end — no Confederate nor Callis flags up north in Jackson, I know. But before you hoity-toity North Country snobs scoff and stuff yet another Daily Scum into the wood fire, know that I have seen your massive J-Town Deli home-made “We Are Hiring” bedsheet. You see, your problem is entirely manageable because you can just stomp on down to the Muddy Moose and recruit some lackey who has grown tired of chopping iceberg lettuce on the prep line. The Eaton Village Store, being the finest in North America, a regal institution in a league of its own, is an entirely different unicorn.
To fill this position, you need to walk on water and also be aware of the stones that lie beneath the surface. Why? Because you must fill the shoes of a man named Phil Kelly. There are probably one or two old-time Wildcat Tavern regulars in Jackson who recognize that name, but here in Eaton, if it doesn’t ring a bell, you will not be taken seriously. Phil was such a towering figure that it is only a small exaggeration to say that he was Eaton; a demigod who descended from Mount Olympus with a giant golden spatula and proceeded to dominate the culinary landscape for an eternity until, “POOF!” he vanished, leaving only the memory of his greatness to guide us forward.
After Phil returned to his celestial position as the personal chef of Athena herself, I feared Eaton might descend into the Dark Ages. Having lost its soul, would the Village Store become an empty shell and the people’s psyche sink to the level of an average North Korean peasant? Would the Store go by the way of Madison’s Silver Mine and become some lousy condominium housing unit? Nay, Providence smiled on us and mercifully delivered a gift of grace: the universally adored darling couple, Justin and Kate.
I personally never thought the Store could ever be the same without Phil. To do this job right, you really need to be a wizard. You are the hub and center of it all. Not only must you satisfy the palate of a discriminating clientele, you must attend to their fickle and funny emotional needs too. To do so, you need to master “The Gossip.”
Eaton is a graying town of bored retirees, and gossip is the life-force that keeps the blood pumping through the veins of these natives who would otherwise simply expire in ennui. You can’t just agree with everyone or no one will trust you, nor can you be a complete contrarian or else you’ll be disliked. You need to know exactly what morsels of juicy gossip to insert into which receptacle and at precisely what moment. You need to be smarter than everyone, but also give the impression that you’re dumber.
Its an art, you see.
You must always anticipate the unexpected. Pop quiz: what happens when a guy that looks like Moses — perpetual congressional candidate Michael “Stonewall” Callis — is giving an impromptu stump speech on the steps of the store? How do you deal with the Eaton Posse, a harmless 1880s Tombstone Arizona style band of octogenarian gunslingers who may take you to task about gay pride door mats and the like? Do you send folks to Foss Mountain or encourage them to go to Rock Edge? What night is Opera Night? What do you do with a pair of smitten love birds accompanied by a Justice of the Peace looking for the “Eaton Love Barge” intent on swimming out to it and exchanging vows? Is Jonny Edge still Eaton’s most handsome and charming man?
When Justin & Kate took the helm, I was naturally skeptical as to whether they could make it work and make it their own. They did both, mounting the unicorn and riding it in style. Can we ever find anyone equally patient and good? It might be my seasonal affective disorder (SAD) kicking in, but I think we’re in real trouble here. Justin and Kate, do not abandon us, but if you must, thank you and shine on!
Quddus Z. Snyder Ph.D. lives in Eaton.