Boxed in.

The house is officially trashed. Half of everything’s in boxes, the garage is filling with garbage bags and the dog is starting to look around with a worried expression — he just knows the new place doesn’t have a fenced yard.

(Which is doesn’t, yet. When I mentioned the possibilities of invisible fencing, Alan reminded me of our neighbor’s experience with it. Their redbone hound would hurl himself at the fence, yelping in pain from the shock he was getting, scramble over and run off down the street. Evidently he either never connected the pain with the fence, or else he thought freedom was worth a few seconds of pain. I can see our tough little terrier adopting the same attitude when mocked by a squirrel just outside the perimeter. If you have experience with these gadgets, give a report.)

Anyway, the house is trashed. Tomorrow I have half a dozen errands to run and 65 phone calls to make, and one of those errands will be to the cable company to return their box and unreliable modem, which means we’ll be dark here at NN.C central offices and otherwise insane. So let’s figure on shutting this outfit down until the weekend at the very least, although I’ll still be available via e-mail, thanks to my neighbor’s leaky wireless signal and unsecured network.

In the meantime, feel free to carry on a lively discourse in the comments on topics of your choice. Maybe you could start with this amusing trifle: “Lincoln, gay? Of course!”

UPDATE: Or, you could try out this bit of locally obscure Johnny Carson trivia — the rise of Myrtle Young, potato-chip inspector. Never mind that the linked story appears in my old paper’s competitor; it encapsulates the basic outlines of Myrtle’s story well enough, while leaving out some important details.

One day Myrtle read a syndicated feature we used to run on the comics page of The News-Sentinel, “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” It was about a man who had some bizarre bit of agricultural trivia — a potato that looked like Ziggy or a zucchini that resembled Richard Nixon or something like that. She sat down and dashed off a note to her local p.m. daily. That’s nothing, she wrote. I have a potato chip that looks like Bob Hope, and there’s a lot more where that came from.

A smart assistant features editor, John Bordsen, saw this and assigned it to one of his best reporters. That reporter sought out and interviewed Myrtle, who was an inspector on the line at Seyfert’s, our local snack-food purveyor. Her job was to stand by the conveyer belt and pick out and discard discolored, burned or otherwise unacceptable chips. Over the years, she’d started picking out chips that she thought looked like something other than chips — a pair of cowboy boots, famous people, etc. She was an absolute treasure, a seemingly dotty old lady who had turned the ordinary into the extraordinary, and the story captured all of this. There were lots of pictures.

Someone sent the story to David Letterman, and he invited her on. The reporter went along with Myrtle. It was her first time on an airplane. When the stewardess said there was a life vest under your seat cushion, she got up and pulled the cushion up, just to check.

The Letterman show didn’t go so well. He wasn’t very nice to her, treating her as a boring whack job, a reminder of why so many Hoosiers flee the state for places like Manhattan. Maybe she embarrassed him; the show just didn’t work. Myrtle flew home. But the next time the phone rang from a late-night talk show, it was Carson’s people. She got back on the plane, flying west this time, the reporter again accompanying her, and did the Tonight Show.

The rest isn’t exactly history, but it was memorable TV. Myrtle delighted Johnny, and he pulled the trick that TV Guide called television’s funniest moment — when she turned away to get another part of her collection, and a loud CRUNCH came from off-camera. She turned around, horrified, to find Johnny munching on a potato chip. Her face was like something out of a cartoon, and then he showed her the bowl of fresh chips he had stashed under the desk.

She was supposed to be one guest of three. She ended up being the only guest. Jennifer Tilly got bumped, along with an Irish flutist.

More TV and public appearances followed, in places like Japan, Europe, all over the world. Myrtle was the best thing that ever happened to Seyfert’s chips, although the plant closed a few years later, after she’d retired, when it was sold to a Missouri company that saw no reason to make chips in Fort Wayne. The News-Sentinel no longer has an assistant features editor, and the departmental staff has dwindled to just one writer, not several. I like to think those who remain would be smart enough to pick up on another Myrtle-like story if it came along, but you never know. If the wrong editor had opened that letter, it could very well have been round-filed.

And the reporter who turned Myrtle into a worldwide phenom? Well, that would be my husband, Alan Derringer. And now you know…never mind.

The next time you read this, I’ll be a Mitten Stater. Fingers crossed.

Posted at 11:11 pm in Uncategorized |

11 responses to “Boxed in.”

  1. MIndy said on January 24, 2005 at 6:29 am

    An invisible fence is just an exciting challenge to a tough dog. A Doberman of my acquaintance respected his boundaries but knew the exact minute the batteries in his collar were weak. Then he was off to the races.

    A man in the one-horser where I live ran for Town Clown one year. He lived on the next block and kept the most wonderful Labrador, Maggie, outside when she outgrew her cute puppy stage. Retrievers have thick skin and lots of hair on their necks which makes them the best candidates for busting through an invisible fence. Pissed off neighbors would show up at my door with Maggie by the collar and look shocked when they saw my dog at my side. Then I’d grab a leash and walk her home. One day a neighbor pointed at one of the large campaign signs and asked me if I knew anything about the guy running for Town Clown. I told him yeah, he neglects a wonderful dog and doesn’t care what happens to her. He didn’t get many votes.

    Are you going to be one of those people who points at her right palm to illustrate the map of Michigan? Would it be acceptable for a man from Florida to do that?

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  2. Dorothy said on January 24, 2005 at 6:35 am

    When we moved from the rural neighborhood of Pennsylvania, where our (then) two dogs ran free on 17 empty acres beside us, we did not have a fence at the new place in Ohio. We chose not to put one up and instead walked them. It’s a pain, yeah, but also healthier for us in the long run. Nearly everyone on our street had the invisible fence, but I just don’t care for them. When you are forced to walk the dog, you meet more neighbors and make more friends.

    Here in South Carolina every other house in our subdivision has a fence and we rarely meet anyone. We still walk Augie, and have met many new friends this way. I like this way better, and so does Augie.

    Good luck on the move, Nance, and hope it goes as smoothly as possible for you.

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  3. Connie said on January 24, 2005 at 9:56 am

    Mindy, everyone in Michigan points at their hand to show where they live! Though I am more likely to use the back of my left hand so that I can point with my right hand. And yes, they say things like “I live in the thumb”. Or in my case, “my cottage is in the little finger.”

    Even though I don’t live in Michigan anymore, family is all still there, and for the last several years I have lived within spitting distance of the state line.

    Good luck with your move to the great state!

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  4. alex said on January 24, 2005 at 10:04 am

    Bummed to hear bad press on invisible fences. My doberman is faster than cats or squirrels, as evidenced by what she brings home bloody and dead, and my lot is too large and too impractical to fence–I’m on a lakefront–so I’ll be one of the chumps who tries it. I really don’t want any trouble with my new neighbors.

    In the age of Monicagate, I knew it would be only a matter of time before they started going after dead presidents, and Lincoln in particular. Gore Vidal’s been writing essays about Lincoln being a homo for the last twenty-five years. Vidal, of course, is one of those old-school queens who says homosexuality is a behavior, not how you’re born, having grown up in blue-blood America where that’s the official line. (He now lives in Italy with a man half his age, behaving as he pleases.)

    And Myrtle! Nance, you’re full of fun today. When I wrote a piece for the Chicago Reader on the Dan Quayle Museum back in ’92, I was asked to make a list of other fun things to do around here for anyone who might roadtrip over. So I mentioned Fort Wayne’s Lincoln Museum, for those who’d like to see a real presidential exhibit. And I mentioned an exhibit dedicated to the area’s other national celebrity–Myrtle the potato chip lady. (My Huntington friends told me that this joke alone provoked more anger among the locals than anything else in the piece.)

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  5. brian stouder said on January 24, 2005 at 10:05 am

    CA Tripp seems to have trouble remaining within the Invisible Fence of intellectual honesty; but on the other hand, charlatans have always been ready to leap over the boundaries that serious scholars impose on themselves, while attempting to build a genuine understanding of previous generations of people, and of specific historic individuals.

    It is interesting that history is so often perceived as fixed and dead, while in fact it is almost fluid, and always potentially consequential

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  6. deb said on January 25, 2005 at 8:47 am

    i have friends in ohio who have a sprawling, unfenceable acre-plus on a lake. their dogs were becoming road kill at a regular rate, so they installed invisible fencing, and they haven’t lost a pup since. all their dogs have readily submitted to the power of the fence.

    don’t know whether this makes a difference, but this couple doesn’t own any purebreds — only mutts rescued from the pound or forlorn creatures who simply showed up and stayed.

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  7. Danny said on January 25, 2005 at 9:42 am

    Ya know, everyone, I was thinking that while Nancy is otherwise occupied we could spruce things up around here at NN.C. Make it more homey, more comfortable…maybe even go with some conservative touches. Wanna pitch in? Great!

    Brian, quick, you pull down that poster of Bill Clinton and Howard Dean. Put up that great one of Ronald Reagan, Bush 41, Bush 43 and Rush Limbaugh. In essence, the 21st century conservative Mount Rushmore photo-op.

    Ashley, you help Alex string up this red-state bunting. Oh, and we must have lots of flags and “Free Iraq” posters. But don’t use any of those uckey Abu Gharib photos. Though some of the folks in those pictures look like they are having a good time, trust me, the inside joke was lost on most of the rest of the world.

    Lance, maybe you could compose a short poem or a limmerick in ode to Bush 43. But nothing with the word “Nantuckett” and nothing with “Dicktater” please!

    Man, this is really coming together! Any other ideas? Nance is going to be SOOO PLEASED!

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  8. brian stouder said on January 25, 2005 at 10:44 am

    Gotta have a collection of authentic NN iconography –

    salmon colored business skirt

    stack of hate mail written in crayon, replete with mis-spellings

    old fashioned non-electronic typewriter

    fashionable wide-brimmed hat with a “PRESS” credential attached at a rakish angle

    jumbo-sized container of “white-out”

    sensible shoes

    collected greatest hits of the King family

    well-thumbed Webster’s dictionary

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  9. John said on January 25, 2005 at 1:34 pm


    don’t forget a video clip of our Nancy on her foray into the local TeeVee news scene…

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  10. brian stouder said on January 25, 2005 at 2:48 pm


    Nance in the glaring lights – enunciating her wisdom and submitting herself (instead of just her printed words) to public inspection….and getting away with it!!

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  11. D'Arcy said on January 28, 2005 at 1:35 am

    Best of luck to you, love, on your journey!

    Re the invisible fence – while it may or may not keep your own dog in one place it will prove no deterrent at all to a strange dog coming in from the street to attack yours. And – no self respecting terrier ever noticed an invisible command anyway!


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