My happily distant kin, Ralph, was a practical jokester, and anonymity blessed his dotage, so he was never murdered. He was, however, wholly a funster, and his wife, my distant in-law, told me once she was thankful Ralph was not a vindictive man, for his machinations could make unhappy anybody he went after for purposes of vendetta. I have made a study of one of Ralph's more amusing capers, merely to be able to report how meticulously he went about his pleasures.
Bug Light is a waterfront localism in the city of South Portland, Maine. In the city's park system a miniature lighthouse is prominent, with a clock that informs the visitor as to the time. This is known as the Bug Light Clock. It is just about the first thing you see when you come into South Portland by the so-called Million-Dollar Bridge from Portland itself. When this delightful ornament was first in place, Kin-Ralph meditated long as to how he might adapt it to his whimsical purposes, and for many months he was like a broody hen sitting on eggs that wouldn't hatch.
Then he looked up one morning, as does a mother hen when hearing a peep, and he began making his plans.
First, he made a ladder in his home workshop that was just right to reach the clock on the Bug Light monument. He next drove some distance to a neighboring town where he had a friend who would be his accomplice. He measured his friend, telling him he was thinking of giving him a suit of clothes for next Christmas. He gave the measurements to a storekeeper who was to provide some coveralls in that size, and on the back of the coveralls were to be stitched in black five-inch letters the single word TIMEX.
There was, indeed, tediousness in Ralph's preparations, for he did one thing at a time, and spaced, so nobody could ever presume a connection. He next procured an oil can with a long snout, spout, or proboscis, such as railway oilers used when lubricating a steam locomotive. Then he alerted a commercial photographer that his services were about to be needed. And he went to a print shop where he had a card printed that said TIMEX, and he also had a few sheets of stationery and some envelopes run off that seemed reliable but were for an imaginary gift shop at Pine Point in Scarborough.
Kin-Ralph next arranged for his friend and the photographer to meet him at Bug Light, at a time Kin-Ralph selected after checking the route and the schedule of the South Portland police cruisers. He didn't want to have the law ride up to ask what was going on. The photograph took but a moment to make.
Wearing the coveralls that said TIMEX on his back, the friend climbed the ladder with a screwdriver and the oil can, and posed as if he were a clock repairman making some adjustments, but he was just a bit to one side so the picture would show the card stuck to the clock face saying TIMEX.
Kin-Ralph paid the photographer, saying to make him just one print, and he took his friend to lunch, giving him the Timex coveralls after he had pulled some stitches and removed all the letters in TIMEX except ME.
I believe the Timex industry is based somewhere in Pennsylvania. It matters not. On an otherwise decent morning the mail included a letter from a variety store up in Maine. It asked the price and contained an order for 500 clocks such as is seen in the enclosed photograph, to be delivered as soon as possible. "This clock," it said, "is much admired in this area, and I've had many requests from possible purchasers." Kin-Ralph said he wanted to be ready for the expected summer rush of business. And Kin-Ralph did not neglect to go to the Scarborough post office and rent a box under the name of the gift shop, signed by the proprietor, Rushmore Giddinge Proctor.
Timex never made clocks. Only watches.
HAVING perpetrated something like this, it was customary of Kin-Ralph to forget about it and go back to making money, which he did honestly, and in this Timex matter he didn't go to Scarborough to pick up any mail there might be in his post office box until late in the fall. When he did, he found a single letter, from the Timex people, and he told the postmaster he would not be renewing his rental of the letter box. Kin-Ralph didn't show the Timex letter to many, but I saw at the time, and Kin-Ralph told me he was well satisfied with the way this one worked out. He had a way of snickering at such moments, as if he thought of something but wasn't quite sure of what it was. The letter from Timex was businesslike and brief.
"Dear Mr. Proctor," it said, as best I can remember, "we certainly appreciate the order you have forwarded, and regret our inability to supply. Some years ago, now, we discontinued the model clock you wish, and at present have no plans to resume its manufacture. Yours truly."
Kin-Ralph's sudden loss of interest once a caper was set up and the play in motion was proof of his mastery of the art. Nobody is ever going to know what went on in the Timex offices that morning. Ralph never knew, and didn't care. Did any kind of curiosity cause Timex to investigate Rushmore Giddinge Proctor, or did they try to track down Bug Light? We shouldn't want answers to things like that. One thing I know; Kin-Ralph as a businessman could sell anything, and if Timex had tooled up and sent him 500 Bug Light clocks he'd have paid promptly and thought up some way to sell them at a profit. He even got $15 for his used purple woodchuck, which is another story.