Some of you may have noticed the last few postings of The Box have been missing on Tuesdays. That’s because, as regular readers of this feature, you have developed an investigative journalist’s eye for detail. For those who may not have noticed because of reading with irregularity, you may want to add Triscuits to your diet. Regardless, the reason The Box has been on hiatus is simple: journalism is a dangerous job.
Especially when “Skippy” the rabid, blindfolded squirrel is unaccounted for.
Each Tuesday, with Skippy’s help, I utilize my investigative journalism skills to determine the circumstances within a photo selected from The Box: a collection of unidentified photos that has remained unclaimed in our newsroom since the 1980s. Sort of like those 1984 graduation party photos your kids found and that you deny being in.
To ensure the selection process is completely random, I wait until my fellow reporters are deep in concentration (on Instagram) before dumping the contents of The Box onto the newsroom floor. That’s when I holler “RELEASE THE SQUIRREL!” and Skippy goes to work: The photo closest to the first person who screams — whether it be man, woman or editor — is chosen.
However, two weeks ago Skippy went AWOL after being released from his state-mandated steel-reinforced habitat by an unwitting college intern who, according to her therapist, won’t stop repeating, I just wanted to pet the mean squirrel. Until yesterday, the only sign of Skippy was a constant gnawing that we finally traced to the janitorial closet. Inside, we discovered “Bill” from composition, who had been hiding from Skippy and gnawing on a broomstick out of sheer nervousness. And possibly a need for fiber.
It wasn’t until I tried mimicking the mating call of a rabid squirrel (By playing Justin Bieber’s “If I Was Your Boyfriend” at high speed) that I was able to coax Skippy back into his cage. This morning, as a sign of trust, I emptied The Box onto the floor and let him loose again. He returned my trust by making or newest reporter, “Jack,” scream.
Great to have you back, Skippy.
Which brings us to this week’s mystery photo!
As an investigative journalist, the first step is to analyze the photo and look for clues that can help establish a location and timeline to start from. Thanks to my keen eye for detail, I was able to immediately rule out Los Angeles, New York City or any major metropolitan area. This effectively narrowed the scope of my search to wooded areas where hillbillies might stand around with their instruments. Next was determining an approximate timeline which, in this case, was actually pretty easy once I compared hair styles…
Clearly, the lead singer in our mystery hillbilly group was influenced by the hair stylings of Air Supply lead singer Russell Hitchcock, offering irrefutable evidence that this photo was taken between 1980 and 1983, before Hitchcock’s “permed” phase sparked nearly a decade of horrible mullet perms throughout the Deep South.
Armed with a time and general location, I left the office to find the exact hillbilly location where the photo was taken. A hunch told me I would find it in West Virginia. Near the Blue Ridge mountains. Most likely along the Shenandoah River. I knew I’d better hurry because life is old there. Older than the trees in fact, but younger than the mountains — which meant there was still a chance some clues, while almost in heaven, were still alive and somewhere along those country roads.
That’s when it hit me: a hunch. Or a feeling, really. Like I should have been home yesterday. Moments later, my editor validated that feeling when she called and asked, “Where the hell ARE you?!?”
Once back at the newspaper, I visited “The Morgue,” which is really just where we keep old issues of Siuslaw News dating back to the late 1800s, but that we call The Morgue to freak out kids on Cub Scouts tours…
It was here my suspicions were confirmed. According to a May 18, 1982 article, “Police are seeking help in locating a group of missing hillbillies from West Virginia who were last seen on the Oregon Coast. Authorities believe group members may be suffering the effects of hallucinogenic mushrooms…
…and have reportedly been referring to a woman called ‘Mountain Mama’ whose voice they hear in the morning as she calls them.”
I couldn’t find any additional information on this group, or whether it was ever found. With cooperation from authorities, I have obtained an artificially aged photo of what the group might look like today…
If you have seen any of these people, please let authorities know. But not before shaving that mullet. After 30 years, they can wait; that mullet can’t.