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Of camp wood and conscience

August 24, 2012
By BOB SEIDENSTEIN ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Many people believe in intuition, but not me. At least I don't believe in intuition as it's typically defined - some innate sense that can detect and understand what's usually indictable and incomprehensible, a psycho-spiritual Geiger counter, as it were.

Empirical evidence supports me on this. Experiments about intuition that are monitored by clear-minded people who are aware of psychic skullduggery show that mind readers, spoon benders, faith healers, even FBI profilers score no better than the rest of the Great Unwarshed.

This is not to say we don't sense things about people that turn out correct. For example, the minister who's a sociopathic huckster; the Norman Rockwellesque lad who's the town pyro; the honest-as-the-day-is-long lawyer who plunders the savings of rich old widows. We recognized them as wolves in sheep's clothing and told all our friends, but no one believed us ... till after their perfidy came to light.

Of course we conveniently forget the times our "intuition" was wrong - the schmucks we trusted who burned us, but good; or on the other hand, people we thought were creeps who later revealed themselves as the salt of the earth.

Note I said I don't believe in intuition in its usual sense, with all the mumbo-jumbo and mishegas. What I do believe in is the power of induction: If we see enough examples of the same thing, we should be able to make valid generalizations about it. For instance, we may have thought the latest town shrink was more in need of counseling than any of her patients, but it wasn't because we wear crystals, study Majakuta yoga, or have Gypsy blood in our veins. Instead, it's because we'd seen a lot of other nut-job shrinks and the new one was a lot like them.


The precedent

Simple stuff, really and eminently logical. But even though it's a logical process, it doesn't operate on a conscious level. Rather than us thinking about the phenomenon step by step, it seems to just jump to its conclusion, which we somehow "sense." We can't often explain it, but we sure can feel it.

This is exactly what happened to me last Saturday morning when I walked out to my driveway and looked across the road. There, parked in front of the Wamsganz family's camp wood crib was a late model car with Massachusetts plates. In the car were a mother and her daughter, the kid looking about 10. Outside the car was the father, putting firewood in the trunk. No big dealuntil he put in the last stick of wood and closed the trunk. For when he did, he stopped and looked around, and the way he did it set off an odd tingling at the base of my neck.

It wasn't that he looked around; it was how he looked around.

When he turned back to his car, he saw me. He stopped, just a bit, then gave me a sick smile.

I did not smile back.

Then he got in the car and said something to his wife. She turned, looked at me, and also gave me a sick smile. I didn't smile at her either.

Then they drove off toward Tupper. As they drove out of sight, I thought about his actions. They reminded me of something. I thought, and thought some more, and then it hit me.

Whenever I give a class a test I do two things. One is at irregular times I walk up and down the aisles. The other is when I'm not walking around the class I stand in the back. Why? Simple: If a kid's going to cheat, he doesn't want the teacher looking over his shoulder. So before he makes his move, he'll check where I am. In short, the only kid who turns around and looks at the back of the room is trying to pull a fast one.

Not many kids do this, but the ones who do have a certain look on their faces - a combination of faux-innocence and anxiety. And that's exactly how that guy by the camp wood looked - as if he was going to drive away without paying. I didn't know if that was true, but it was my suspicion, and it bugged me.

It bothered me that he'd stiff the Wamsganzes, who cut, split and put the wood by themselves, but it bothered me more that he did this in front of his daughter. Children learn from example, not lecture, and ripping off someone of their well-deserved wages is a lousy example for any kid.

As I was mulling over this, the car came back and stopped in the Wamsganzes' driveway. The guy got out, went over to the cashbox, put some money in it, and then got in the car and drove back toward Tupper.

Clearly, the first time he had left without paying. So why did he come back? I came up with three possible reasons.

One, he had an attack of The Guilts that drove him back to do the right thing.

Two, when he first saw me, he might've thought the wood was mine (the Wamsganzes' house is at the end of a long, curving, uphill driveway and is completely out of sight from the road). In that case, maybe he felt bad getting caught, or perhaps he thought I'd gotten his license plate and was going to call the cops.

Or three, when he saw me, my cars, and my abode, he figured he was looking at an authentic case of ADK - that is, Adirondack Deliverance Kook. He may've thought he was far enough in the woods that instead of me being a gentle (and I'd like to think genteel) lad of the hills and streams, I was some inbred hillbilly with a nonexistent IQ, seven fingers on each hand, and a seething hatred of outsiders.

For all he knew, right after he drove off, I went back into my hovel, got out my trusty 10 gauge and a fistful of double-aught shells, and was gonna tear after him so I could bag me some tourists.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter why he did it, only that he did.

And it doesn't matter for his sake, my sake, or even the Wansganzes' sake.

Ultimately, it only matters for his daughter's sake ... and whether he did it for her or not, we'll never know.



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