Every year at this time my newspaper of choice is the Cadillac (Mich.) News, "serving," as it says on the masthead, "Wexford, Missaukee, Osceola and eastern Lake counties." For a blessed ten days or so, in fact, it is the only paper I read, and while I read almost everything in it, the classified section usually grips me most. It is the journalistic equivalent of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, and I can become something like the stage manager, with new characters to think about, sympathize with, and even worry about in nearly every issue.
For instance, will Rick and Laura get together again? They met at Home Depot last Monday, and Rick has been running an ad ever since: "Laura…I would like to speak to you or see you again," along with his phone number.
Anyway I want Laura to call, and I wish her and Rick well. Perhaps they will marry and have children. If Laura wants to keep working while the kids are small she can get help from "STAY@ HOME Mom," who, I am sure, is very nice, and is "seeking children to care for in her kozy Cadillac home -- meals, fun and TLC provided."
But I am getting ahead of myself. The kids would be in the future, and Rick and Laura must first get engaged. Meanwhile I note another classified ad, "Will the party who inquired about a lost engagement ring at the Frosty Cup the week of August 5th please call Mary Kay, afternoons and identify ring," along with Mary Kay's phone number.
So it's good the ring has been found, but how was it lost in the first place? There is a story here, I think. The engaged couple had a spat -- anger, tears, recriminations. Take back your ring, the young woman cried, and she threw it at the young man, but he was disdainful, and the ring bounced off the table and into a frosty.
More anger and recriminations then, and the breach was not healed until the week of August 5th. The repentant young couple returned to Frosty Cup then in search of the ring, but it did not turn up until Mary Kay spotted it just now, glistening in the dish washer. Dutifully she placed her ad, where it appeared under "Lost-Found" on the same day as this ad:
"One $100 dollar bill. Lost Friday 8/9/02. Belongs to the Cadillac Skate Park Fund. Call (231) 775-0499."
You are not likely to find ads like that in the New York Times or the Washington Post, and it suggests a trust in your fellow man you do not always find in big cities: If someone finds a $100 bill lying around, then of course they will return it.
So I happily return to this area every year, and I stay with my old college roommate and his wonderful wife in their lovely old house in the woods. I do not want anything here ever to change, although I am aware I am fighting a losing battle on this, and that change will certainly come. Meanwhile I look for signs of change in that infallible guide, the classified ads.
Sometime in the early 1990s, for example, I noticed that restaurants, even the hallowed Herman's, were no longer looking for waiters and waitresses. They wanted instead waitpersons for the waitstaff. This, of course, was not a good sign, and now I have found one worse. A growing number of ads for apartment rentals include the words no smoking or non-smoking, as in "One Bedroom Apartment near Downtown Cadillac. $400 plus deposit. No smoking."
That means the health nazis are here too, even in Wexford, Missaukee, Osceola and eastern Lake counties. On the other hand, there are still so many good things. Cadillac, after all, voted for Bush, and it is still a place where they expect you to return a lost $100 bill.