Guest Columnist

Yesterday, up on the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away…

–Hugh Mearns, 1899

This is the first verse of a poem inspired by reports of a ghost roaming the stairs of a haunted house in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada. The opening lines of the poem are “Yesterday up on the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there.” This line has always fascinated writers who use the image of “the man who wasn’t there” to represent all the unwanted acts of harassment that seemingly devour our lives on a daily basis.

That “ghost” was responsible for eliminating the ability of the Larrys and Jimmys of today to deliver papers at the age of nine years. That same “ghost” prohibits eager children of today from cutting a lawn, sweeping snow off sidewalks and driveways in the winter, cleaning out a gutter, washing a car, or doing any other chore to make some money or show a neighbor a gesture of kindness. The “ghost” has eliminated the bread man who gives neighborhood children his broken cupcakes.

He has closed the corner drugstore where you could buy a root beer float. The “ghost” has kyboshed the baseball stadiums where children could arrive at the fifth inning and be admitted into the park to watch their favorite ball players without a hassle or a demand for money. The “ghost” has stopped your family doctor from making house calls. That same “ghost” will not allow a teacher to hug a child. He places police stations in our high schools.

Truth be told, that “ghost” is everywhere. Just the other day I was on my way to the golf course listening contentedly to the new James Lee Burke novel while driving. I decided to treat myself to a blueberry scone from Starbucks. They are in my opinion the best blueberry scones around. I stopped in, bought my scone and resumed my voyage to the golf course.

Imagine my distress to find out the “ghost” had placed a cranberry scone in the bag instead of a blueberry scone. Have you ever had the experience of drinking a seven-up when you thought you had picked up a glass of water? This is the “ghost,” albeit in his more playful moments. The point is, I guess, if Starbucks were a private bakery whose owner created his scones from scratch and sold them himself, there is a good chance that you would not encounter the “ghost” in that bakery giving you a cranberry scone instead of a blueberry scone.

Instead, we encounter this “ghost” in stores, offices, movie houses, restaurants and so on. The “ghost” is everywhere. He is in India answering your questions about QuickBooks. It is evident that imagination and creativity have been usurped by regulations, protocols, vision statements and platitudinous multi-point plans without detail to make things “better.” I ask you “ghost,” where is the meat? We are left with our plaintive cries of “I wish, I wish he’d go away.”

More and more in today’s politically charged environment the “ghost” is that faceless bureaucrat who moves in and out of our lives, having never been invited, and who often affects a negative influence over our everyday existence. The “ghost” complicates our lives, for the sole purpose of perpetuating its own ghastly ghostness.

Harassment by these “ghosts” seems to grow exponentially. The “ghost” relishes watching us crawling through a spider web on a scorching hot day to reach a swimming pool only to find out there is no water in the pool. Damn that “ghost.” I wish, I wish he’d go away!

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