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MARTHA SEZ: ‘Old Wentworth just stood there, flabbergasted, holding the telephone receiver’

Already it’s the middle of July, and the days are flying by. Once August hits, the rest of the summer goes fast, like ketchup out of a bottle at a barbecue.

Just when you are getting used to warm temperatures and birdsong and green leaves, just when snow and sleet fade in your memory like something out of the distant past–the last ice age, say– the days of August rush by, falling all over each other in their haste to get summer done with, and, before you know it, all anyone is talking about is winterizing the car. I want to put the brakes on hard and hold onto what is left of the season.

Not Old Man Wentworth, though. He says he’d rather put up with ice and snow than all of these dang tourists and summer people. Misanthrope that he is, he prefers the town to be practically empty.

I ran into Old Man Wentworth, better known for some reason as Shrew Nose, outside the Keene Post Office yesterday.

Around here, some men are known by names that their parents never gave them, as often as not the names of North Country animals. The men upon whom these titles are conferred don’t seem to mind them one bit. I have tried to find out how Shrew Nose and Coy Dog and others got their nicknames, but I can never get a straight answer.

“Maybe,” my friend Charla said, “It’s a Carlos Casteneda thing, and those are their totem animals.”

“I don’t think so, “ I said.

At any rate, Old Man Wentworth, or Shrew Nose, lives up in the woods, and he was not in the best of humors when I spoke with him. He entertained visitors two weeks ago and was still getting over it.

Why? I asked. What happened?

First, he told me, his guests–his nephew Biff, who now lives in New Jersey, and Biff’s wife and their dog and two children–wouldn’t even say hello, they were so upset about their cell phones, which didn’t work. Well, he asked them, are your cell phones Verizon? No, they said, they’re AT&T. Of course they don’t work here, he said, we have Verizon. His house guests couldn’t believe it. Without their cell phones they were helpless, like deep sea divers without an oxygen tank.

Wentworth offered them the use of his telephone.

“This looks like the phone Mr. Ed talks on, on Nickelodeon,” one of the children said. Then the family all stood around marveling at the telephone.

“Why–it’s a landline!” Mrs. Biff–I think her name is Margaret–said finally.

“Go ahead and make your call, if you’re in such a hurry to talk to someone back home in New Jersey,” Wentworth told them, but they just stared at the contraption uncomprehendingly.

“We don’t want to make a phone call,” Margaret said finally. “I want to find the closest pizza takeout. Jackie wants to play Slither.io. And Tom needs to check his email.”

“I wanted to take a selfie of me next to a pine tree with a mountain in the background,” Biff said, for all the world as if he hadn’t just moved out of Keene a few years ago.

Old Wentworth just stood there, flabbergasted, holding the telephone receiver until it started blatting, “If you want to make a call, please hang up and try again! If you want to make a call, please hang up and try again! Eep eep eep eep eep eep eep!”

Then they wanted to hike some trail or other, he said, but what’s the point in just walking up and down a mountain? And besides, they had a car.

Later, their dog chased Wentworth’s cat Cinnamon out into the woods, and she didn’t come home until yesterday. Wentworth blamed the dog for strewing garbage all over the yard, but that turned out to be the work of raccoons. Wentworth wouldn’t take it back, even though he said he wanted to be a good host.

“I use the word host in the scientific sense,” he said, “as in, ‘lake trout may be host to lamprey eels, who leave big sucker marks on their flesh.'”

He handed me a postcard.

“It’s from Margaret,” he muttered darkly.

“I fear we overstayed our welcome,” I read.

“Her fears are well founded,” Shrew Nose said, snatching back the card. “At least they didn’t give me the coronavirus.”

I couldn’t get any more out of him.

Have a good week.