In a small county in a very rural area of a southern state lives Tater McPlank, widely known as the Village Idiot. He has worn this distinction for 10 years running. You might think it a derogatory appellation but in this area it is a boon to the McPlank family, for people come to the McPlank farm for miles around just to get a glimpse of Tater. All those people mean nice paydays for the McPlanks, who sell vegetables, lemonade, moonshine (behind the barn) and knickknacks pertaining to idiotdom.
Tater isn’t the first village idiot of his county. No, the commerical trade that a Village Idiot elicits has been known to the locals for decades. The honor of being the Village Idiot is bestowed by a panel of judges, all of whom must not have children nor be related to Idiot contenders. To be designated as the Village Idiot, a person must possess a prodigious amount of dullness. No ordinary dullard can expect to be selected.
When Tater’s parents challenged the then-current Village Idiot, Olaf Gunderstuble, the people of the county felt the excitement generated from the first genuine challenge to Olaf in a decade. Tater had grown into manhood with a most admirable string of failures. Never progressing past the first grade, Tater had only learned three letters of the alphabet and the number eight. He came into notoriety when he received a lower SAT score than did Harmon, the family mule. Olaf’s family protested this feat by reminding the McPlanks that it was well known that Harmon had only to fall in the family well once before he learned to avoid it making him a right smart mule indeed. Pa McPlank countered with the fact that Harmon was reacting to fear, not revelation, for the mule passed gas when frightened, and had been passing gas since his fall whenever he was near the well. In addition, he explained, Tater had fallen in the well most every day since Harmon ceased and had shown no sign of changing. Indeed, Pa McPlank said Tater’s well mishaps were so common that the chickens had been congregating around the well in anticipation of the eventual plunges. He insisted the chickens found this amusing due to their incessant cluckings after each splash, and he was forced to move the chicken coop adjacent to the well so they would return to laying. The Gunderstubles were well aware of the relocated chicken coop and conceded this point.
County lore has many examples of the challenges and counter-challenges between the McPlanks and the Gunderstubles, though not all can be definitely substantiated. For instance, Mr. Gunderstuble was said to have challenged Pa McPlank with the fact that Clucky, the McPlank’s rooster, could never beat Tater at a game of mumbly pegs, pointing to Clucky’s obvious lack of a toe on his left foot and the fact that Tater retained all his digits. Pa McPlank called Tater over and had him remove his shoes revealing two missing toes on his right foot and one on his left. There was also the story of how Gunderstuble claimed to have witnessed Tater winning an argument with a fence post; McPlank’s quick reply was that he was pretty sure Tater didn’t know any fence posts.
Eventually the Village Idiot Panel was called to order to end these disputes. After examining all the evidence, they were deadlocked. It was decided that a true test of idiocy was required. Two wooden sheds were constructed, 10 feet by 15 feet by 15 feet high with no roof. The judges stood upon a 15 foot high platform that was placed between the two sheds.
One open window was placed in each shed, the bottom of which was at 10 feet. A 10 foot long ladder was placed along on the floor along one wall. Olaf was locked in one shed and Tater in the other. Each shed was set afire along the wall opposite the window. After a few minutes of Tater and Olaf running in circles, the judges noticed Olaf looking at the ladder and glancing at the window. Had Olaf’s parents been standing on the judging platform they would have been screaming, “NO Olaf! Don’t do it!”
Olaf eventually decided that the ladder should be placed under the window but had not advanced up it but stood scratching his head. Tater, though, was standing looking at the ladder as if in deep thought. Although Olaf never set foot on the ladder, Tater was awarded the coveted prize, for he had grabbed the ladder but was swinging it at the flames as if he was going to blow it out. “Exceptional stupidity!” murmured the judges. They ordered the fires extinguished and freed the two dummies. Olaf’s family hung their heads in shame as the judges placed the desirous dunce hat upon Tater.
As has been said, Tater was a goldmine for his family for 10 years but the string of good fortune almost came to an end at the end of the fourth year when he was beaten out by a newcomer named Clod Arngst. The McPlanks were crestfallen and demanded an investigation which proved that Clod wasn’t an idiot at all, but was instead a sack of oats with a face painted on it. Jubilation abounded on the McPlank farm and Pa McPlank beat Tater only six times that week.
Tater’s family felt fairly secure that no one in the county could challenge Tater’s deeply entrenched stupidity nor did they fear Tater would “learn” anything during his daily toils that would erode his chuckleheadedness.
That being said, the admonition against looking a gift horse in the mouth was not just a trite saying in the county that the McPlanks called home, it was a tried and true warning to anyone that fortune smiled upon too fondly. The McPlanks were well aware of the good fortune Tater had brought them through no effort of his own, and at the back of their minds, Ma and Pa McPlank dreaded that something, anything, would someday end their largess. For that reason, although there was some discussion of half-starving Tater in an effort to enhance his lunkheadedness, it was finally agreed that Tater should be fed a proper amount of food and not work him any more than 18 hours a day. And the weekly beatings were confined to chucking rocks at his head because hitting him elsewhere could result in infection or inability to work.
One cool fall day while Tater was walking to school, he spied something that piqued his curiosity. That Tater was walking to “school” needs to be explained, for Tater was expelled from the county school some years before for lowering the average IQ of every first grade class he attended to just above negative numbers. So to keep him occupied, his family had convinced him that school was the chicken coop and that the chickens were his classmates. The Rooster, Clucky, of course, was the teacher. If the Gunderstubles had known about this arrangement they could have rightly questioned the positioning of the chicken coop next to the well.
Anyway, back to Tater. He had glanced at the sky and noticed something that confounded him. It was an airplane. This is not to say that airplanes had never flown over this part of the country before, they had, and had for years. You see, Tater mostly walked with his head down to protect his eyes and teeth from the rocks his family chunked at him. But this particular morning was cool and clear with a breeze that pronounced the mournful buss of the airplane’s engine to an unusual pitch. Tater was puzzled, astonished, thunderstruck. This thing didn’t look like his class mates, the chickens, nor was it a bird. Or was it?
After an especially difficult day at class (Tater’s nose was getting raw from pecking chicken scratch) he ran home and asked his mother about what he had witnessed. After some careful questioning, his mother decided that Tater had indeed seen an airplane. Most parents would see this as a sign of blossoming awareness, and Tater’s parents were no exception; they were terrified.
Pa McPlank blamed his wife for suggesting the chicken coop school scheme. He was fully aware of the dismal track record of public education and, therefore, feared that Tater had actually been learning something from Clucky and the hens. Ma McPlank was nonplussed. She suggested that frying up Clucky for dinner might be a solution worth trying. Pa, though, stated that the damage had apparently already been done and that eating tough old Clucky didn’t sound too appetizing anyway.
They finally decided upon an approach of carefully watching Tater for signs of increased intelligence. This approach was not without its drawbacks, and chief among them was the time involved watching him. There was barely enough time to get the daily chores done as it was without spying on Tater too. They decided that their only course of action was to have Tate with them as they conducted their daily labors. This, however, presented them with another problem; what if Tater were to learn something, anything, from his parents’ example that might endanger his hold as the Village Idiot.
They mulled over this problem and decided that the best approach would be to have Tater blindfolded. But what if he hears something they then wondered. It was agreed that packing his ears with mud would do the trick. So they set about implementing their plan. The test was to be conducted over a month’s time.
While Pa McPlank plowed, milked the cows, fed the hogs, Tater was there at his side. While Ma McPlank did her household chores, collected eggs, churned butter, Tater was there at her side.
Much to their relief, Tater never objected to the test and only stood by motionless with his head down. His parents were so happy at this that they ended their test after three weeks. “He may be even more stupid after this!” declared
“I think you may be right!” declared Ma. Pa.
So with the strain of worry over, they removed the blindfold and washed the dirt from his ears. Tater stood, his eyes squinting due to the unaccustomed light, and looked around slowly. “Father, mother”, he began, “I want to thank you”. Astonished and dismayed at once they looked at one another and asked, “What do you mean, Tater?”
“Why, to thank you for providing me the opportunity to think things over”, Tater stated eloquently. Stunned, the McPlanks traded terrified looks. Pa finally broke from his dumbfounded silence, “Tater, I have never heard you talk this way before, what is going on?” Tater responded, “I initially was more confused than ever but as the time you afforded me passed, my mind began to organize itself and it was as if a veil had been lifted from my understanding. I realized how stupidly I had been acting and I am sorry about that. You and Ma did, however, benefit from my stupidity so I suppose I was of value to you”. Ma fainted. Pa went for the jug.
Tater’s rise from the ashes of his idiocy was met with shock, anger, and bewilderment by the leaders of the county. They hired a professor from a local college to test Tater. They were informed that Tater was not an idiot, but had a mind to be admired. He stated, “Tater could probably pass the college’s board exams by hardly trying.”
The sale of pitchforks and torches skyrocketed over the following week. When all the angry and indignant speeches regarding the McPlanks’ treachery were concluded, the march of townspeople to the McPlank farm was assembled and set off. Tater, seeing what was about to happen, rushed home by way of shortcut and warned his parents about their impending peril. He told them to hide in the barn because he sensed that the mob would set fire to their house.
When the angry townspeople approached the McPlank house they were met by Tater lounging in the porch swing. The mob’s leader told Tater he should leave the premises if he knew what was good for him. Tater beseeched the crowd not to burn the house, after all it really wasn’t his parents’ fault for misunderstanding his condition. This, however, fell on deaf ears, “You’re only trying to protect them”, the leader stated, “Get out of the way”. What the humiliated crew didn’t count on, though, was Tater’s new found powers of persuasion. He apprised them of the blowback that was likely to occur by the state authorities if they were to burn the house with his parents inside. “If you really must make a statement,” he counseled, “burn the barn”.
That they did, and since it contained a harvest of new dry hay, the McPlanks stood little chance of escaping.
After the fire died down, Tater sifted through the ashes to see if anything was left. The blaze was so intense that even bones could be turned to ashes. Only the blackened metal parts of farm implements stored there were left, along with and four metal kerosene cans sitting at each corner of the barn. These, Tater disposed of.
The townspeople assumed the McPlanks fled the state for they were not seen again. With an Idiot void in the county, the townspeople decided to proactively award the title of Village Idiot to Clod Arngst, the sack of oats. Clod’s “parents” tried to capitalize on their unexpected fame and began a tour of surrounding counties exhibiting Clod’s idiocy. This went moderately well until Clod met an unfortunate end. In the town of
, clod was plopped unceremoniously onto a platform built just for his exhibition. Unbeknownst to the Arngsts, Clod’s sack was caught on a nail and oats began pouring out behind the platform. A local mule brought to challenge Clod discovered the growing pile and consumed all but a handful of Clod. The mule was brought up on charges of manslaughter but was found not guilty due to the fact that the body of Clod had disappeared; the sack, stored in the jail’s evidence room, was transformed into nesting material by the inhabitant rats. Coopsickle
Tater settled into the family home. He found that his parents had stashed a goodly amount of money in the attic. The money was put to good use expanding the farming business which his parents struggled to make break even. Tater’s new found brilliance was manifested in an acute business sense and his farming endeavors evolved into a successful farm implement business and very well received feed supply concern, but the thing that made his fortune was the new strains of corn and wheat he developed.
Tater felt a sense of gratitude to Clucky since his parents had cured him based on falsely believing that he had learned at Clucky’s “school house”. He, therefore, made Clucky Vice President of Tater & Associates, his duties mostly testing new seed corn. This arrangement worked well for the first year or so, but when Tater noticed Clucky hanging around the chicken coop a bit too much, he tried to put a stop to it. Clucky assured Tater he would quit his romantic endeavors but he soon was back at it.
Clucky, unfortunately, was to meet an unexpected and premature end when he mistook the lid to a deep fat fryer for the door to the newly installed company sauna. The “accident” might have been considered less of one if people had known that a sign with the word “Sauna” had been attached to the lid. This sign soon disappeared as mysteriously as was event of Clucky’s end.
Harmon the mule had witnessed much of Tater’s doings over the years. He was undecided as to Tater’s responsibilities regarding demise of the McPlanks and Clucky and didn’t dare broach the subject. When he was approached by Tater to consider the open position of VP he was afraid to decline.
To this day the several businesses of Tater & Assoc. are making enormous profits, Tater married the richest girl in the county and they have three beautiful and very talented children. Harmon has been a real asset to Tater, though, he had always been bewildered by the four blackened kerosene cans and the deep fat fryer displayed in Tater’s trophy case. Harmon decided that these too were outside the realm of discussion. To this day, Harmon feels pretty lucky about his lot in life but the local veterinarian is at a loss to explain why Harmon farts every time Tater enters the room.
Please comment. I am consdering a sequel that will feature Harmon the Mule on vacation. Any ideas/
Next up, "Strategies for Drunken Louts"