“WELCOME TO BURDOCK COUNTY, hails the peeling roadside billboard out at the county line, THE ASPARAGUS BED OF THE COMMONWEALTH.
Not that anyone in Burdock County actually grows asparagus in any noteworthy quantity; we’re in tobacco country here, and asparagus makes, at best, an indifferent smoke. It’s rather that the noble vegetable is reputed to insist upon the choice spot in the garden for itself, and civic-minded Burdock Countians like to suppose they’re at least as discriminating as a stalk of asparagus.
At what is purported to be at once the highest point of ground and the exact geographical center of the county, the Burdock County courthouse, an ash-gray pile of colonnaded, crenellated stucco, bulks exceedingly large, with the village of Needmore, nine hundred citizens strong, abjectly huddled around it, and the wrinkled hills and dales of Burdock County tumbling off to the four horizons like a vast unmade bed. Until recently, the predominant color in this great rumpled patchwork vista would have been green–the bosky verdure of woods and thickets, the paler shades of meadows and cornfields and tobacco patches–but the harvest season’s over now, and the first frost has come and gone; and on this day–a certain fine late October Sunday afternoon in 1941–the orange and dun and russet hues of autumn are in the ascendancy.
Atop the courthouse, that imposing eyesore, is situated yet another imposing eyesore: a bulbous, beehive-shaped cupola with four clock faces the size of mill wheels, each asserting with all the authority of its hugeness four entirely different times of day. Two sides of the clock have, in fact, long since concluded that being right twice a day is better than never being right at all and have taken their stands at, respectively, 9:14 and 7:26. The remaining pair toil on, not in tandem but quite independently, one gaining several seconds every hour, the other one just as resolutely losing them. There is, moreover, a bell in the clock tower that has a timetable all its own and is liable to toll midnight at three in the morning and noon at suppertime. The dedicated public servants in the courthouse learned long ago to ignore altogether the two broken clocks and the bell and to come to work by the slow clock and knock off by the fast one. They regard their singular timepiece as a labor-saving device and treasure it accordingly.”
–Ed McClanahan, A Congress Of Wonders