The slab showed up unannounced, a 4 foot by 4 foot concrete square sitting at the edge of the little park I caretake, a mystery to me. Maybe the county had decided to bring in artwork, who knows, maybe a commemorative sculpture of me, Ranger Daddle. I know, not too likely given the fact the county may not know the park even exists or if they do, who is doing the maintenance. But a mystery, like winning the Lottery, is mostly about firing our greedy imaginations.
A week went by … then two. A month. No bronze Skeeter appeared one morning. No plaque. Nothing. Just that square of concrete poured apparently by hand in the dark of night either by aliens or South End tricksters. I mowed around it and pondered its meaning the way astronauts in 2001: A Space Odyssey pondered the Black Obelisk, knowing only that some intelligence had brought it, who knows whether for good or ill. All I knew was I wouldn’t be moving it, not a half ton of concrete.
After a few weeks I stopped paying attention to my mystery square, stopped guessing what its Maker intended, stopped seeing it at all … until a few days ago when the phone booth showed up, one of those rectangular booths from a time just before the cellphone made public telephones obsolete. Clark Kent would have to change in a McDonalds bathroom hereafter and every citizen, no matter how impoverished, would need to purchase a personal phone and a plan.
And yet … here was the Last Phone Booth on the South End, possibly in America, maybe even the world!! In my park. Under my care. Which, considering I do not own a cellphone, is Totally Apropos, as if the Gods of Wire Transmission or the Ghost of Alexander Graham Bell had anointed me Keeper of the Dial Tone.
Of course it arrived without a working phone, just a payphone with no incoming line off the street. Most gifts, if you think about it, come with strings attached. Mine did, but not the useful ones. Nevertheless, I’m the Ranger, an American Dr. Who with his very own nonfunctioning Tardis. I would find a Way, count on it, because that’s my job. The concrete square was, it turns out, my new purpose, better, I suspect, than winning the Lottery where the end of my days would be filled with South Enders begging for loans.