When I got to work at about 4 o'clock one afternoon last week, Editor Brennan said, "I left a note on your desk about a story I want you to do today."
"OK," I said, sat down and read the note. There was a woman's name, address and phone number on the paper and this explanation: "a 1-inch-tall pyramid of rocks found on her patio table."
"Oh, good grief," I said. "You have got to be kidding. You want me to waste my time on this? No. This can't be serious. This is a joke. Isn't it?"
"No," said Editor Brennan. "A lady has found a mystery on her patio table, and I want you to solve it."
"For crying out loud," I said. "Is this the kind of journalist I have become after all these years of reading and writing? Is this the kind of assignments I'm going to get from now on?"
"Well, no," said Editor Brennan. "These stories don't happen every day. That's what makes them news. I really want you to call her and go out and get the story."
I began to grumble under my breath, because that's what I do a lot of. I busied myself with making coffee, pouring coffee, shuffling papers around on my desk, writing a story, finding things to do to avoid making the phone call about the mysterious 1-inch-tall pyramid of rocks.
Looking at the note again, I saw that at the bottom of the paper was written this: "doesn't want to be named if we do a write-up/photos." I thought to myself, "I don't want my name associated with it either."
Soon, Editor Brennan said from her desk across the way, "I haven't heard you make that phone call yet." Then she laughed.
I mumbled something and immediately picked up my phone and dialed the number on the note. A woman answered. "Hello, this R.D. Hohenfeldt from the Daily News, I hear you've got a mystery on a table on your patio."
The lady quietly laughed, and explained that Saturday she had discovered the miniature pyramid on the table. She said she had no idea how the tiny architecture made such an appearance.
"It is freaking me out," she said.
"I am thinking it's the work of aliens," I said quite seriously. "Aliens have been visiting this planet for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. They're an ancient life form, far more intelligent than we are. They have the advanced technology necessary to build a 1-inch-tall pyramid of rocks on a patio table. That's a fact. I saw it on The History Channel."
"Oh," she said, laughing. "I don't think it's aliens."
"OK," I intoned. "Then possibly it is the work of a time traveler or a group of time travelers. There are scientists today working on perfecting time travel. That's a fact. I saw it on The Learning Channel, or The Discovery Channel or maybe on PBS. I don't remember, but I know I saw it on TV."
She laughed again and ignored my time-traveling theory: "I thought it might be birds or squirrels, but my son said he didn't think a bird or squirrel would do that," she said.
"I agree with your son," I boldly declared. "I'm not ready to give up the time-travel possibility, though. Do you think your son in the future, say five or 10 years from now, might take a ride in a time machine back to now and pile up a 1-inch-tall pyramid on your patio table just to play a trick on you?"
She continued to ignore my theories and suppositions. Either that or she wasn't listening to my babbling: "And there are no kids who could get in my backyard and do it."
"Well, maybe it was squirrels, after all," I said.
Not listening to me any more, she said, "There are other little piles of rocks on the table, too."
My interest was both piqued and peaked, and I wanted to drive out and take a peek. "Other piles? Are they in the form of pyramids, too? Are there smaller pyramids around the one Great 1-Inch Tall Pyramid? Kind of like the pyramids of Giza? If there are, it has got to be the work of Egyptian squirrels," I declared. "Perhaps time-traveling Egyptian squirrels."
"No," she said, listening now. "There are just little piles of the rocks."
Then, she added, "And it happened overnight Friday, because that table was clear Friday night, but the rocks were on there Saturday morning."
"Time-traveling Egyptian squirrels with night-vision goggles," I said. "That's got to be the solution to this mystery." "Oh, no," she said. "I don't think so."
"Well, I'm on my way out there with a camera and a notepad," I said. "We're going to get to the bottom of this mystery." I hung up and told Editor Brennan that I was going to get the story and picture she assigned to me.
When I got to the house, I was met by a sweet lady. I'll say that she was advanced in years, because she was about my age or a little older, and I'm advanced in years, so there's no insult intended.
She graciously directed me to the backyard gate and the table. There was indeed a little pile of rocks close to the center of the table. I thought that calling it a pyramid was quite a stretch.
She was so nice and sweet that I began to feel remorseful about having so much fun with her on the phone. Still, I couldn't resist some more.
"Which direction is east?" I said, for I was turned around in my directions in the backyard. She indicated which was east. Looking at the so-called pyramid, I noticed that one of the points of it aimed south.
"That points south," I said. "Straight toward Mexico, home of the Mayans. And I'll bet you've heard that the Mayan Calendar runs out of days of this year. That's a fact. I saw it on the news on TV. What this pyramid is, is a portent, an omen, a prophecy of the end of the world on Dec. 21 or 22. I don't remember which. Are you ready? Time-traveling Mayans obviously want to make sure you are."
"Oh, I don't think it's Mayans," she said.
"Well, I really don't either," I said, by now feeling very low and sorry that I had had so much fun at this sweet lady's expense. "Let's look around and see if we can figure it out," I added, attempting to be helpful.
We couldn't. I thought the rocks, smaller than fish aquarium gravel, might have come from her roofing shingles. Even if they had washed onto the table, how would they bet into a sort-of-pyramid shape?
We talked awhile and then I said, "I give up. I don't know the answer to your mystery." I went back to the newsroom feeling extremely in need of repentance. I ought not to treat people so poorly, I thought; it is questionable whether I really love the Lord or not, the way I behave, teasing people and such. I told Editor Brennan I didn't solve the mystery.
A little while later, the sweet lady called and said she found out from her son that the rocks were from a nearly empty bag of some kind of oil clean-up mix. He had turned the bag over on the table to empty it and use the bag for something else.
"It's solved," I said to Editor Brennan as I hung up, and I told her the truth of the matter.
Well, that wraps up another investigation in The X Files, or The RDH Files. If you've seen Sasquatch out in the Mark Twain National Forest or the Loch Ness Monster in your farm pond, give Editor Brennan a call so she can assign the story to me.
The truth is out there, and I'll do my best to find it.