My Most Happy Life Autobiography of a Climbing Tree Chapter 30

By Shelly Reuben
My Most Happy Life Autobiography of a Climbing Tree Chapter 30

Chapter 30 Photographic Documentation

Illustrations by Ruth McGraw

The Department of Parks occupies a huge old brick building that was once a piano factory.  

The executive offices are on the top floor. The second floor is divided into cubicles, showers, and locker rooms for the use of park rangers, groundskeepers, maintenance workers, and clean-up crews. Half of the first floor is reserved for equipment storage; the other half is relegated to files.

It was to the file room, or rather the ante-office for all those files, that Esther Swerling, Meg Fitzgerald, and Patrolman Peter McWhorter were directed.

When they opened the door, they were met by a tall, lanky, milky-faced man in his mid-forties wearing a white dress shirt with a blue and yellow striped bow tie beneath a knobby Adam’s apple. He stared out of slightly protruding eyes through plastic-framed eyeglasses at his visitors. A brass plaque on his desk identified him as ALVIN WIDDLE – RECORDS CLERK.

As Esther, Meg, and Pete approached the desk, Alvin Widdle smiled up at them. And the pathetic eagerness of his expression made it impossible to view him other than as a man who had been alone so long in a catacomb of files, he would welcomed any intrusion. Even one that would require him to work. 

My Most Happy Life Autobiography of a Climbing Tree Chapter 30

Esther introduced herself, explained their situation, and asked to see the policy statement associated with Jarvis Larchmont’s press conference of earlier that afternoon. The records clerk hit a few keys on his computer, scanned a few lines, and declared, “On file and available.”

Esther asked him to print out the policy statement.

He did.

Then she asked Mr. Widdle if he would show her the physical documentation described on the notices posted “By Order of the Commissioner.” The documentation, she explained, relative to the City’s takeover of the Samuel Swerling Park.

He bobbed his head enthusiastically, said, “Be right back,” and disappeared into the file room.

Esther, Meg, and Patrolman McWhorter retreated to a table across the room and sat. Esther positioned the policy statement in front of her, and with her best friend looking over one shoulder and the policeman looking over the other, they began to read.

The text was no surprise. Filled with convoluted verbiage like “arboreally significant municipal trees” and “forestry conservation” and “contamination of biodiversity,” it interspersed long-winded pomposities with incoherent generalities that served only to elevate the stature of the author (Jarvis Larchmont) in his own mind.

Meg finished reading first, stuck her finger in her mouth, and made a gagging noise. Then she added, “And that’s my final comment on the subject.”

Esther rifled through the pages. “Well,” she said bitterly. “Their strategy is simple enough. One: Make unsubstantiated accusations. Two: Send in the goons. Three: Discredit the park’s administrators. Four: Justify a takeover by claiming that we are abusing our trees.”

She fanned the pages across the table.

“But the dates here are inconsistent. Today is…what?”

Pete McWhorter said, “Tuesday, June 23.”

Esther searched through the sheets.

“Look at the date under the signature here,” she dropped a finger to the last page.

The patrolman did so and read aloud, “Tuesday, June 3. So?”

“That was three weeks ago. Now look at the signature.”

Meg also leaned forward. “Jarvis Larchmont,” she read.

“Right. And what two words are printed underneath his name?”

“City councilman.” Meg read. She squinted her eyes and scrunched up her nose. “I don’t get it.”

Esther crossed her arms over her chest. “I do,” she said firmly. “Our Mr. Larchmont has been planning this takeover for a long time. He didn’t have the power to execute his plan as a city councilman, but now that he’s parks commissioner, he has. So he’s accelerated his schedule.”

Sam Swerling’s granddaughter strode across the office. She opened the door to the file room and shouted, “Mr. Widdle?”

From far down a cavernous corridor, a voice responded, “I haven’t forgotten you, young lady. I’m still looking.”

“Thank you, sir. But I have a question. Can you hear me?”

“This room is a giant echo chamber. I can hear shadows tiptoeing across the floor. What would you like to know?”

“When did Jarvis Larchmont become the commissioner of parks?”

“Yesterday morning.”

“Yesterday!” Esther exclaimed. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am,” Mr. Widdle shot back. “It was quite a shock to us all.”

“Do you know how that appointment came about, Sir?”

“Indeed, I do. Mayor Angel went into the hospital for heart surgery. Most unfortunate. We are all praying for him. He asked Michael Hurwitz, our parks commissioner, to serve as acting mayor until he returns to office.”

“I get that part. But why Jarvis Larchmont?”

“No one seems to know. All we know is that he was assigned to fill Mr. Hurwitz’s position in the interim.”

“So the Larchmont appointment is temporary?”

“That is my understanding.”

“And he can do whatever he wants to in the meantime?”

“One would doubt it, although based upon the nature of your inquiries, he appears to be doing exactly that. However…” He stopped, mid-statement, and shouted, “I found it!”

“The documentation?”

“Yes. The documentation. I’ll bring it right out.”

Within seconds, Alvin Widdle emerged from the file room carrying a shoe-box sized container bearing a small label that read: SAMUEL SWERLING PARK. TREE RESCUE/INTERVENTION. Inside the box was a stack of color photographs. Written on the backs of each photo were dates ranging from Friday, June 5, through Friday, June 12.

And tucked underneath the photos was a small plastic case containing a single video compact disk. The CD was labeled:

Interview of Jarvis Larchmont: KABA-TV – Channel 28 First Broadcast Date: Tuesday, June 23. Name of Show: “Plants Without People” Talk Show Host: Katie Oxnard.


Esther lifted the disc out of the box and exchanged baffled glances with Meg and Pete. She showed the disc to the records clerk. Her tone and the expression on her face were apologetic, “I hate to bother you again, Mr. Widdle, but….”

“No. No. No,” he smiled brightly. His eyes gleamed with pleasure. “Ask away. This is the most fun I’ve had in years.”

Esther smiled, too, although it was brief and shallow. “You are very kind.”

He chuckled. “I am very bored. What would you like?”

“A video player, if you have one.” She held up the disc. “And somewhere we can watch this.”

Alvin Widdle lifted a hand, palm out like a traffic cop.

“Wait!” he said. “And sit. All of you. I’ll be right back.”

Esther, Meg and Pete regrouped around the table. Five minutes later, the records clerk returned pushing a metal cart, on the top shelf of which was a small television set with a built-in video player.

Esther stood. “Thank you, Mr. Widdle. Thank you very much. Where shall I plug it in?”

“Sit,” he insisted. “I’ll do everything, and we can watch together.”

He positioned the cart at the opposite end of the table from his visitors, and plugged in the electric cord. Esther gave him the disc. He pressed a button on the video player, and a plastic shelf slid out; he inserted the disc, clicked again, and the machine gobbled it up.

“Mr. Widdle,” Esther asked, “do you know anything about this TV series?”

After a moment’s thought, he said, “KABA is a publicly-owned television station. It broadcasts city council meetings, political debates, and occasional sessions of the State Senate or House of Representatives. It produces documentaries about landmarks and tourist attractions, programs about local artists, dancers, restaurants, amateur theaters, and so on. On weekends, it televises children’s shows with segments on science, the botanical gardens, the aquarium, and the zoo. It also produces interviews.”

Esther tapped the label on the empty disc case and read, “Plants Without People?”

Widdle nodded. “That’s one.”

“Who is Katie Oxnard?”

The records clerk said, “Let me check.”

He walked to his desk, sat at his computer, and began a series of clicks. After a few seconds, he read aloud:

“‘Katie Oxnard is a nationally known proponent of the ideology that interaction between people and plants is morally inexcusable and botanically disadvantageous. Her series explores situations in which people maliciously and/or ignorantly destroy photosynthetic organisms ’.”

“Wonderful,” Meg said, rolling her eyes.

“Is there more?” Esther asked.

The records clerk continued.

“‘Other KABA-TV shows present viewpoints opposed to that expounded on Plants without People. Particularly popular is Reality Check, a series hosted by full-time magician and part-time debunker, Maximilian Flowers. “The purpose of my show,” states Mr. Flowers, “is to expose conspiracy theories, miracle cures, environmental terrorism, and pseudo-science. If an event is not reproducible by experiment or verifiable by experience, then it not an event; it is science fiction”.’”

“Is there anymore in there about Oxnard?”

“Yes,” Alvin Widdle read on. “‘In today’s show, Katie Oxnard discusses “Herbs without Humans” with Lydia Dorzbache; she talks to William Pallett about his book “Dutch Elm Disease: Natural Disaster or Government Plot;” and she interviews City Councilman Jarvis Larchmont about the Samuel Swerling Park and how its administrators are allowing human contamination to imperil valuable trees’.”

Meg looked at Esther.

“I see steam coming out of your ears,” Meg said.

Esther ignored Meg and asked Alvin Widdle, “Does it really say ‘City Councilman Jarvis Larchmont’?”


“Is that important?” Meg asked.

“Absolutely. If Jarvis did the interview when he was still a councilman, then he did it before he was appointed to the Department of Parks.”

“Which means…?”

“That I’m right, and he has been planning this for weeks, months. For all I know…years.” Esther glanced over at the records clerk. “What time is the broadcast?”

Alvin Widdle looked at his watch.

“Was the broadcast. Not is. The show was aired forty-five minutes ago, and it won’t be broadcast again until this Friday. After that, KABA will show it at least a dozen more times before the end of the month.”

He stood and walked to the television cart.

He picked up the remote control, turned to Esther Swerling, Meg Fitzgerald, and Pete McWhortle, and he smiled.

Then he said, “Shall we watch what we missed?”

And he hit PLAY.



Copyright © 2017, Shelly Reuben

Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. For more about her work, visit 

Comments powered by Disqus