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Dr Ron's Laughter Clinic: Lethargy: An Ode to Squalor

Ron Pataky presents a brief history and portrait of the town of Lethargy - and you may search the map of Oklahoma in vain if you try to find it.

The first notoriety in its bleak 169-year history recently came to Lethargy, Oklahoma, a wretched huddle of humanity in the westernmost plains portion of the Sooner state's forlorn panhandle; and it was, in the dreary vernacular of the area's squalid citizenry, "a doobly doozy."

According to a recent disclosure by the Department of the Interior, Lethargy is the only city in the world of more than four thousand inhabitants able to boast of no accomplishments whatsoever. Ironically, this dismal distinction has earned the sodden slum a questionable place in the new Guinness Book of World Records.

Incredibly enough, Lethargy does not even appear on most maps of Oklahoma, a curiosity that has been described by some state officials, whose dealings with the city's inert population have been something less than ideal through the years, as "the definitive anonymity."

The history of the place is as uninspiring as its present woeful condition. It was founded in 1836 by an indolent gaggle of "pioneers" who, having been expelled from a wagon train because of their insufferable personal habits, decided in typically languid fashion that they were "bored with travel anyway." As thunderheads auger rain, so Lethargy's first citizens proved a jolting harbinger of its insipid future, and the mudhole was off to a beginning that was inauspicious in the extreme.

Indeed, its sole attractions to this day are water (delivered with routine frequency via funnel cloud), and a unique soil composition that fluctuates, depending on the time and exact location of the most recent tornado, between a gritty, utterly oppressive silt, and an inextricable muck next to which quicksand is positively appealing. Observed one motorist whose lot it was to stall there last summer, "It is not a pretty picture."

A recent independent study conducted by the Federal Emergency Management folks reveals for the first time several pertinent facts.

Lethargy does not have, nor has it ever had, a police force. ("Course, ain't nothin' to steal so we don't have no crime neither," remarked one revolting specimen). Nor does it have a fire department, although this too seems of little consequence to the apathetic townsfolk. Their point: since there is no wood in the region, everything is made of mud. Since everything is made of mud, there is nothing that will, under any circumstances, combust.

Stranger still perhaps is the fact that Lethargy has no city officials. In its only election ever, rather hastily mounted in 1943, the outcome proved predictably innocuous when no one bothered to run for any of the city's several tentative offices. Asked how they manage to run things from day to day, a second disgusting citizen spat down a trouser leg and drawled, "We git by."

The city has no telephones, and but a single television set. The latter sits on some magazines behind the cracked and yellowed glass window of Hubble's Hardware, where a handful of folks convene daily between four and five in the afternoon to watch re-runs of "Red Ryder" and "Sky King." There is but a single barber in the entire area; and though he cuts hair free, he does charge a small admission fee to watch.

The fact is that Lethargy seems in a constant state of virtual siesta. People think absolutely nothing of falling into a deep sleep whenever and wherever the mood strikes them, and even more personal habits frequently are not given the discretion common decency would normally dictate.

Nor (need we add?) is Lethargy the quintessential moral community, particularly where per capita alcohol consumption is concerned. The quoted remark of yet another local lout is typical. "Good thing we don't have no po-lice," he slobbered, "or they'd prob-ly be arrestin' folks for sober drivin'!" It is a remark that veritably epitomizes the prevailing attitude in Lethargy, where anything foul and disgusting can and does elicit spasms of cackling laughter at every turn.

There are no churches of any denomination. To extend one's education beyond grade three (which only can be accomplished two counties away in any event) is flirting with tar and feathers. No civic groups exist at all, let alone flourish. Hubble's is probably the only hardware store in the country that doesn't even stock paint (are you paying attention, Guinness?). Nor, for that matter, do any of the city's 40-odd groceries and drugstores bother themselves with soap, toothpaste, or, heaven forefend, deoderant.

The incredible thing, according to the emergency folks, is that everyone seems more then content, even determined, to keep things precisely as they are, and have been for almost 170 years. Indeed, the very suggestion of change has the visible effect of sending shudders and chilled sweats through the seldom-emotional gentry, a situation perhaps best illustrated by the town's unusual resolve on being notified that it would, of all things, be included in the coming year's Guinness publication. Its proud claim of no accomplishments whatsoever had obviously struck some sort of responsive chord with the admittedly-flabbergasted Brits, whose legendary pursuit of accomplishment can be traced back to the inception of Knighthood.

Moving with uncharacteristic speed and accord, they hastily erected a clapboard stature (if a prone figure can properly be described as having been "erected"), and forthwith christened the monstrosity, The Statue of Lethargy. Lest their attitudes concerning positive change of any kind conceivably be misconstrued by anyone, the following message now graces the horizontal eyesore:

Give us your dolts, your dregs,
Your slimy masses, every worthless cuss,
Your wretched outcasts with their whisky kegs,
Send these, the lurching drunk and foul to us

In a related decision that has stunned even veteran Lethargy-watchers - adding insult to clapboard, so to speak - the city has since announced that these identical words also will adorn the facade of the new Greater Lethargy Convention Center, scheduled for completion early next summer.

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