The Volunteer and the Vulpine

Film Fest 2015

Tuesday was the volunteer meeting for the Salem Film Festival. Just like the year before, the meeting was at the Cinema Salem. I got my new shirt, which you will see in the photo above and two free passes to exchange for tickets to any of the documentaries featured. Just like the year before, there was only one movie that caught my interest so I got my ticket for that one and I gave the other pass to John.

Last year, I saw Letters to Bill, a documentary about a guy searching for knowledge of his favorite elusive comic strip artist, Bill Waters. For those of you born after 1990, Bill Waters is the author of the much loved Calvin and Hobbes. Get thee to your nearest bookstore and find the collections if you are not yet enlightened by the wisdom of the little blond haired boy and his stuffed tiger pal.

This year, I will be seeing I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story. Just like Calvin and Hobbes, the impact Big Bird and Sesame Street had on my life respectively cannot be understated, so naturally I will see a documentary involving the big yellow guy.

After we got the new shirt and passes, we went into the movie theater to see a Bluray compilation of a series of short, five minute student films. A lot of these films were short pieces that involved some Salem History that I was not aware of. They featured footage from the 90’s and showed me a view of the city that I have not begun to scratch the surface of in my five years of barely living here.

John was born in this town. So when I came home to relay some of what I learned, of course he knew about some of the film subjects that I told him of. Like Vincent’s Potato Chips and Helen the Popcorn Lady. A lot of these films were about businesses that had been in Salem for almost a century and were long since closed by the end of the 90’s. And this is where I found my first snag with a couple of my fellow volunteers.

Keep in mind that I did not engage in conversation with these women. I only heard snippets of the conversation.

“We’re inviting people to visit Salem and those little sketches were just people complaining.”

Hearing this in real life is as annoying as when people accuse me of this on my blog. Hell, I’ve been accused of this my whole life and as always, the people who are doing the accusing, are the people who couldn’t be more oblivious if someone welded sunglasses to horse blinders before gluing them to their heads.

If these women really lived here longer than I did, then they would know that statistically, more people know about Salem because of the Witch Trials than the Film Festival. Go ahead. Ask the next ten people you meet what they know about Salem, Massachusetts. If more than three can tell you about anything other than the Witch Trials, or can name any movie other than The Crucible or Hocus Pocus, I will be mildly surprised. Oh, mentioning Hawthorne or Puritans is off the table too, if you go to or went to an American high school where such topics are part of the standard curriculum.

My point is that people who come to Salem need to know that there is more going on here than a bunch of hype and kitsch. Oh, you can get a tarot reading and meet real witches. That’s great. Did you know that allegedly, this is the town where the first millionaire in America, Elias Hasket Derby lived? Did you know this is the town where Monopoly and Clue were developed? Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell conspired with Elisha Gray to murder and bury the original inventor of the telephone and that Bell blackmailed Gray into silence? Well yeah, most of that happened here in the town that most people are wholly unfamiliar with.

So what if a few students decided to use their five minutes to introduce visitors to something else they didn’t know? What’s wrong with seeing the human side of the coal plant, or a manufacturer of neon signs, or a wonderful old lady who made people happy just by making and selling popcorn from her little stand at the edge of Salem Commons? Do you really think the tourists who come here for the Film Festival are going to be so bad off when they see those wonderful homages to a town that probably only exists to them in the form of heavily abbreviated brochures and sensationalized fiction?

Whatever, I can’t change the minds of a woman who uses a blanket judgment to express her shallow and superficial opinion, anymore than I can stop the Internet trolls from doing the same thing. Like any of the documentaries featured in this year’s film festival, there is only so much the original creator can do to tell the story and just like I am finding my audience here, I hope those people find theirs.

There’s a bit of an epilogue to last night. It started snowing sometime late in the evening and by the time the volunteer meeting let out, the road was covered. On my way back to the house, along Brown Street, a fox bolted across the street.

For the two of you who don’t know this by now, I was born and raised in Bennington, Vermont. Foxes are as common in the Green State as Ben and Jerry’s cows. So before anyone sees the picture and tries to tell me that what I saw was a coyote, a cat, or a dog, there is no mistaking the bright orange shine to the fur in the light of streetlamp, amplified by the snow. That quick step and the head to the ground, trust me, that is a fox my friends.

My first instinct? Got to get a picture of it. And I ran to the little driveway that leads to the back yard of the Visitor’s Center and I was so psyched to realize that the distinct paw prints of my vulpine friend were clear despite the falling snow. I followed the prints until I realized that the fox had obviously cleared a snow pile and must have made it’s way to Essex Street by now.

Where did it come from? There are a few heavily wooded areas nearby that aren’t entirely residential that could reasonably support a fox or two. Foxes are resourceful animals and there are certainly plenty of small vermin in this city. Still, it’s the first time I have ever seen one in Salem and since I highly doubt he is here for the film festival, I can only hope he made it to another patch of woods before sunrise.

Sadly, I did not get a chance to ask him what he said.

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