By John B. Keane
Reputable dictionaries have different meanings for the word phenomenon. One says that a phenomenon is something which is exceedingly remarkable. The Oxford Dictionary more or less agrees, but goes one better when it says that a phenomenon is a thing that appears or is perceived, especially a thing, the cause of which is in question. I am convinced too that phenomena are like bills: when you get one, others are sure to follow, and no matter what precautions one takes one is never fully prepared for them.
These supernatural happenings began on Monday afternoon as I took my leave of the busy streets and byways of my native town and directed myself in the general direction of the rain-freshened, hail-dotted countryside. There was a sting in the air, so I wisely decided to call at a wayside inn before entirely abandoning myself to the rigors and alarum of the wilderness. I called and paid for a glass of whiskey. I was about to indulge in a preliminary sip when an insignificant bald-headed gentleman tugged at my sleeve and intimated coyly that he would like to join me. I allowed him to dangle at the end of my elbow for a moment or two while I considered his request. He was, from his appearance, a man of the roads, itinerant to some, tinker or traveler to others. A solitary nasal dewdrop hung precariously at the end of his puce-colored, pock-marked proboscis. A practiced cough racked his frame. It left him shuddering and shivering. From all outward appearances he looked like a man at the end of his tether.
I bought him a half glass of Irish whiskey and laid upon him a blessing of good health. He drank the whiskey and demanded a pint of stout. When I pointed out to him that the government of this country had consistently failed to provide me with the funds to purchase drinks for the man on the street, he scoffed and spoke as follows:
“If I warn’t a tinker,” he said, “you’d soon stand to me.”
“But,” said I, “you’re bald and the world knows that there is no such creature as a bald-headed tinker.” I quoted for him a passage from the ruminations of the late Jack Faulkner, whose pronounciamentos on itinerant matters are the next thing to infallibility. I told him how Frank Hall in his earlier television programs had conducted a highly successful nationwide search for a bald-headed tinker.
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“But I am, sir,” he said, “I am a tinker.”
A tear appeared in his eye and I could see that he was telling the truth. I bought him the pint and left the premises having first finished my whiskey. The countryside at once opened its arms to me. I moved happily along congratulating myself on having stopped for the drink. If I had not stopped, I would have not encountered the phenomenon of a bald-headed tinker.
The second phenomenon followed almost immediately. A pony and cart guided by a bog-man of my acquaintance passed me by at a modest trot. I saluted the driver, who responded, albeit slurrily, with a weatherly comment. In the body of the car sat two tiers of peat briquettes containing in all a dozen bales of this excellent factory-produced fuel. This was the second phenomenon. Here was a man from the heart of a first-class bog bringing, as it were, coals to Newcastle. At home the fellow was surrounded by black, glinting turf-banks begging to be cut, yet here he was paying good money and undertaking a return journey of several miles for that which he already had in abundance at home if only he took the trouble. Surely this was something which defies analysis, and this is what phenomena are all about.
No doubt whatsoever my star was in the ascendancy. How fortunate I was to have witnessed two phenomena in a row and all in a matter of minutes. Two thoughts occurred to me. Would my readers believe me when they read of them? Secondly, had I really witnessed phenomena?