The Marietta based rag I worked for didn’t really have the means to send journalists out; and before that day, I had never heard of their doing it. When I came in that morning, there was a note on my desk telling me to see Harley, the editor in chief, in his office immediately. Harley was a strange 43 year old man that nobody liked, possibly because of the obvious contempt in which he held everyone and everything or possibly because of the unsettling feeling one got from spending more than a few minutes in his company. As I walked into his office I immediately suspected something was up because he smiled as I came in.
“How would you like to go out and do special report?”
“Hello to you too! Maybe... what’s it about?” I asked guardedly.
“I doesn’t matter…” he said mildly, “…if you don’t go I’ll fire you.”
“I guess I’m going then, are you going to tell me where or do I have to guess?” I said struggling to be polite.
“You’re going to Chiwsip, my old home town in Fannin county. I was going to give you 100 bucks for bus, lodging, and food money, but since I don’t like you, here’s fifty. I want you to go there and write a piece about the gabled houses; the ones they built after they got rid of the redskins back in 1832. You got three days, if that report isn't on my desk by Thursday don't bother coming back. Now get out of here.”
He slammed a fifty dollar bill on his desk and stared fixedly at me. I wasn’t entirely sure what kind of response he expected of me, so I shrugged, took the bill, and turned around to leave. As I made my way to the door, I could still feel he gaze boring into my back and just as I was about to close the door to his office, I’m pretty sure I heard him laugh unpleasantly and mutter “Have fun.”
Although I wasn’t particularly pleased with the prospect of going out in the boonies for a couple days, my professional conscience would let me do no less than the task I had been assigned to do. I bought a roadmap at Walgreen’s and set out. I started by hitching a ride from Marietta to Ellijay in the back of a pickup truck delivering flowers. From Ellijay a newly wed couple heading for Blairsville Airport to start their honeymoon took me to Blue Ridge, the Fannin county seat.
It was at this point I realized that Chiwsip wasn’t on my map. So I decided I should ask a local for directions, but I found most of the homes to have been boarded up, I knocked on the doors of those few that weren’t, but got no answer. I walked up West Main Street and found all the places of business to be closed with not a soul in sight. I then walked down East Main Street, yes this was really a two street town, and I spotted a strange white cylinder, as I approached it I realized it was a barber pole whose colors had faded and cracked beyond recognition.
The pole stood in front of a decaying barber shop that I entered. After a cursory look around I found the barber sleeping under a yellowing newspaper that was at least as old I was. I politely coughed to try and wake the barber, and then tried saying “Excuse me?” more and more loudly, but the barber would not be roused. Finally I wondered if the man were alive so I lifted the news paper, maybe to see if there was a pulse, but the moment I touched the paper barber leapt up from his stool scattering yellowed pages of newspaper.
It was as if some the man had been a freakish bald automaton that had suddenly been switched on. The man stood with his back to the wall and an expression of fear on his face as he frantically glanced left and right with rheumy bloodshot black-rimmed eyes. I realized he was very old, ancient even, with wrinkled parchment skin stretched tight on his skull… He made a strangely bird like figure as he stood there with his back to the wall, all prominent nose, bald head, gangly decrepit limbs, and frightened glances. He eventually took in that there was no one else there but me and he seemed to calm down somewhat. When I thought he had settled down enough I asked him for directions to Chiwsip, but he just shook his head as he pointed to his ears.
He reached under a counter and grabbed a pair of bifocals which he promptly put on his nose and that magnified his eyes eerily. He then pulled a piece of slate and a bit of chalk from a drawer which he handed to me. “How do I get to Chiwsip??” I wrote. He vigorously shook his head as he read my question. I underlined my question a few times and added “I have to go there!” He shrugged and wrote in an arthritis shaken hand that wouldn't want near my head with a pair of scissors, “10 miles east, on dirt road leading out of town. Bad place! Don’t go there!” I put his reaction down to some form of senile dementia, shrugged it off, thanked him, and left. He stood at the shop window and stared at me as I walked away. Soon I was walking on the deserted dirt path he had pointed out, hoping that I’d find a motel or something before sunset.
"The old barber pole"
From Bleu Chocolate