Susan Johnson’s article, “A Fight For Land” took up half the front page of the Daily News the next day. A 4”x4” picture of Carl Pense holding his broken beach chair was placed strategically on the fold enticing the readers to open the paper to see the whole story. The editor selected a pullout quote from Carl to jump out at the casual reader, “People never get to enjoy their cemetery plots. I just wanted to enjoy mine.”
Susan investigated the incident, interviewed all of the parties involved and wrote a tight and interesting article. “Dog bites man is not news, but man bites dog is,” Susan remembered her Journalism professor saying and she had stumbled upon a man biting a dog. It was not her first front page article but it was the first article the AP wires picked up and sent around the globe, they knew a good man bites dog article when they saw one.
The website at the Daily News became a flurry of traffic. The comment pages filled with conflicting views on Carl’s actions from all over the world. Carl was both hero and scoundrel.
Then Carl’s phone began ringing. It kept ringing, and ringing. At first Carl was happy to answer the questions from reporters around the world and country, but how many times can a person answer the same five questions? Carl had not signed up to become beacon of goodness/evil amidst the confusion of the world. Carl unplugged his phone. He wanted to sit on his land and watch the white foam churn. Then the letters began arriving, bags and bags of letters. Carl opened each letter and kept the good ones.
At work people now noticed him. Kids took pictures of him for their Facebook pages, old ladies requested Carl’s assistance loading their groceries, and skateboarders told him he was their hero. Carl’s life had shifted from human existence to iconic cause.
A few days later Wal-Mart’s narrow outdoor furniture aisles became crowded with elderly people looking for the perfect chair. Never before had Wal-Mart sold so much outdoor furniture so late in the year. The store manager was baffled, but his regional manager said that the lawn furniture was “selling like hotcakes” all over the United States.
Mysterious newspapers began appearing in Carl’s mailbox. The Tribune from San Luis Obispo arrived first. On the front page was a large 4”x 6” picture, centered on the fold, of hundreds of elderly men and women sitting on lawn chairs at the local cemetery. The pullout quote from Emma Oxenrider said, “That young man was right. We don’t get to enjoy our plots.”
Carl clipped the articles and put them on his refrigerator and then when there was no more room, he put them in an old picture album.
After a few weeks the trespassing and resisting arrest charges against Carl were quietly dismissed, how could they prosecute Carl when the cemetery was now filled with living people sitting on lawn chairs each evening?
A month after the incident the Sheriff pulled his cruiser into Carl’s driveway. Carl felt his gut tighten as he watched the Sheriff get out of the car and open the trunk. He pulled out a large rectangular box and carried it against his gut up to Carl’s porch. Carl came out of the house before the Sheriff knocked, “What do you want?” Carl asked.
“Carl, I’m sorry about what happened, but you didn’t leave me many options.”
“What’s in the box? You got some kind of weapon in there that you’re going to hit me with?”
“No, Carl, I made you this,” the Sheriff said pulling a beautiful wooden chair out of the box. The Sheriff’s reputation as a woodworker was well known in the town and he often sold expensive handmade furniture at the local farmers’ market. “I tried to make it light, so you can get it in and out of your trunk easily and I put this hinge here so it will fold up nearly flat. I wanted to see how it fit you.”
Carl took the chair and unfolded it and set it on his porch.
“I made it an Adirondack style because I thought it would be the most comfortable.”
Carl sat in the chair. It fit. The wood was smooth from hours of fine sanding and Carl melted into the seat.
“You can take it up to Alder Hill any time you want. There won’t be any more trouble,” the Sheriff said. “You’ll have lots of company up there.”
Carl let his bitterness leave for a moment, “Thanks Sheriff.”
Carl spent the next 35 years enjoying his land. His will specified, “Sprinkle me on my land, I don’t want to be buried.”