The View from Mudsock Heights: With the Thaw, Unexpected Visitors Venture into the Countryside

By Dennis Powell | Posted at 12:29 AM

Out here in the woods, people seldom stop by unannounced. Every so often a logger will knock on the door to ask if it would be okay if he were to cut down my cherry, maple, and walnut trees. It wouldn’t. And sometimes there’s a surprise CARE package, so the mailman or the UPS guy will knock. If I’m not here, he’ll put the package on the back porch, where it’s safe from the elements. But beyond that, unexpected company is rare.

So it was surprising last week when in the space of a little more than a day three strangers dropped by.
The first came one morning, immediately after a rewarding telephone conversation having to do with a little girl meeting Barry Whitwam on a very special day. (Do you know who Barry Whitwam is? No fair Googling for him.) I was shaken from my reverie by a knock at the back door. The Ohio Department of Agriculture wanted to place a trap on my property in hope (actually, “fear” is more like it) of catching the Emerald Ash Borer.

This is a half-inch beetle native to (where else?) Asia. It arrived a few years ago, apparently by accident, and set up housekeeping in Michigan, whence it, like a tiny green football player, invaded Ohio. Their larvae live under the bark of and kill ash trees.

I don’t know if this is the threat to the economy that once it might have been — baseball bats are now made of aluminum, mostly. Though I will not be surprised when we’re asked to worry about the Emerald Aluminum Borer. And why do they give such unpleasant insects such poetic names, anyway?
Of course they may set a trap, I said.

Do you remember the Fuller Brush Man? When I was growing up, his visit was welcomed. We knew his name, as did everyone else. He would stop by a time or two a year, with all kinds of samples and trinkets, and would sell a few items to my grandparents — he was not just invited in but served coffee, and though he spent a lot of time for the amount of product he moved, I think he enjoyed it. I haven’t seen a Fuller salesperson for years and had come to think that door-to-door sales had disappeared, along with every kid being a paperboy. But no.

Because not long after the beetle trap visitor had gone, there was another knock, this time at the front door which no one uses. It was a young woman holding a bottle of dish-washing detergent. I thought at first she might have been selling household products as a school fundraiser or something. She launched into a memorized (though very well delivered) spiel that was effective in masking her purpose. She was there, she said, representing “a housecleaning system.”

This kind of overinflation of product description has been with us at least since the 1960s, when the Hasselblad people took out ads that said, “The System. Not to be confused with a camera,” to sell what were cameras. Very good ones, but cameras nonetheless.

It turned out that my young visitor hoped to demonstrate for me a Kirby vacuum cleaner. The Kirby is by all accounts very good, and it has many attachments, but it is a vacuum cleaner. We had a nice conversation, and I recounted a time when an older cousin of mine was a traveling vacuum cleaner salesman. His sales pitch — literally — involved tossing a little perforated bag of dust or something over the shoulder of the person answering the door, so that it would explode in the middle of the living room and the salesman would gain entrance so as to vacuum it up. Sales work was, I suspect, more dangerous in an earlier day.

The front door got knocked upon again the next morning. The power company was going to make repairs, so the electricity would be off “for most of the day.” This was not a happy surprise, but it was a sign that spring has arrived — AEC was making preventative repairs, not just responding to emergencies. And the power came back on sooner than expected. (I think they may be overly pessimistic in their estimates on purpose, because then rather than grumble about the power being out, we’re happy and surprised when it returns before we figured it would.)

Three visitors in two days. That’s about half a year’s worth.

Yup, spring has come and everyone has awakened.

And, okay, I realize it would be impolite to taunt without offering relief. So, here it is:

Barry Whitwam was (maybe still is) the drummer for “Herman’s Hermits.” He was at the music store when a friend of mine went to get her first really good guitar. She was thrilled. This was a while ago.
If you don’t know “Herman’s Hermits,” though, you’re on your own.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large to Open for Business. Powell was an award-winning reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio and becoming a full-time crackpot. You can reach him at