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Russell Wangersky: Truth is stranger than fiction

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I thought about writing a short story about a pilot and a co-pilot commiserating about their joint miseries while at the controls of a blimp providing the high-angle camera work for a PGA golf tournament. About the way they would beetle slowly across the sky, fighting headwinds, increasingly disgusted with where their lives had ended up. For those on the ground, the blimp would be little more than the constant dull throb of the engine and propeller and the occasional flit of shadow across the too-green grass.

Hopefully, the blimp would belong to an insurance company, and it would be that insurance company who would be on the hook financially after the pilots began their long, slow, deliberate descent directly into the crowd of spectators on the 18th green. The fans would be focused on the golfers, the golfers, focused on their shots, and the big round nose of the blimp would loom over the horizon at their backs, the pilots laughing hysterically as they inched themselves towards destiny.

Oh, the golf humanity.

Then I remembered that fiction was dead.

I mean, not dead, but it sure is hard to write anything that can’t be overtaken by the truth.

I could tell you that the El Rancho and other casinos in Wells, Nev., didn’t recover from the great earthquake of 2008. A great earthquake, the worst since the 1950s, and chances are you didn’t know it even happened. A biblical end to casinos that were already trending downwards, the money up and gone to Vegas.

But I wouldn’t have to make it up, because it did happen.

I could weave you a story about a man who shot a deer, and then used the deer’s teeth to make a pair of dentures, and then used those same dentures to eat the deer’s meat.

“An inventive and sick mind you have, Mr. Wangersky.” That’s what you might say.

Except the deer denture story happened — you can find it on the internet, and decide if you want to believe it or not.

Tell us another one, you say.

OK. Say there was this desert town, the perfectly designed grid city, so intrinsically perfect that you could just name it after the concept itself.

Let’s call it Metropolis.

And say that Metropolis was laid out for hundreds of people. In all, 700 filled its gridded streets, all religious people. Mormons, in fact. Let’s make them dry-land farmers, and at first, the land was good to them. But they shot marauding coyotes, and then, without predators, the jackrabbit population exploded, eating the crops.

But if that wasn’t enough, the dry years came soon after, most crops died, and to make it worse, the lands were overrun by — wait for it — a veritable plague of voracious Mormon crickets.

To add injury to injury, it turned out that the great planned community had failed to find that most basic of requirements. The city fathers had neglected to find a source of water, meaning the end of Metropolis, which returned to dust. Let’s give it the nickname “the town that died of thirst.”

Sounds like an object lesson out of an obscure chapter of the Bible itself, doesn’t it?

Well, that happened, too. I’ve been there.

Metropolis, Nev., is just outside of Wells, not far from the earthquake you can’t quite place either, because it was knocked from all the front pages by the 2008 financial collapse that took up so much media space that winter.

So, back to that golf course blimp.

Perhaps the pilots could both be zombies …

Oh, never mind.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.

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