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Thursday, August 26, 2010

IT'S IN THE WATER

Tranquility is a small town in the northwest corner of Connecticut near the New York and Massachusetts borders. Only 20,000 residents live in the area which enjoys an influx of tourists in the summer who want to escape New York City and enjoy some country air. Nearby lakes and parks in both Connecticut and New York make Tranquility the perfect getaway for a picturesque and affordable vacation.

25 years ago Tranquility was aptly named as it was a quiet and peaceful town. Neighbors watched out for each other, and school kids were well behaved. During the summer, baseball was king, and during the winter hockey ruled on the many ponds in the area. There was no such thing as crime and it was commonplace for residents to leave the front door of their houses open and keys in their cars. Not anymore. Over the years, the town was slowly transformed into a mere shadow of itself. Neighbors no longer trust each other, and local schools are now filled with screwball kids who are regularly in and out of trouble. The attitude of the local citizenry was such that tourists began to stay away which hit their bottom-line and finally got someone's attention.

As the town elders became concerned about "the change" as it was called, I was contracted to come in to try to determine the cause of the problem. Actually, I got the job because the mayor is an old college friend and, as such, it was hard for me to say no to him. My background is in environmental studies and psychoanalysis, two separate fields which didn't seem to have anything in common until now.

I began by studying the behavior of the school children. The local principals allowed me access to observe classrooms, playgrounds, and sports fields. I also attended PTA and Booster Club meetings. On the weekends, I attended religious services and interviewed the local clergy and chamber of commerce. I also would drive around keeping general tabs of the community, who was doing what, in an attempt to detect patterns of behavior. The local Sheriff's department was also cooperative in reviewing crime statistics which revealed that over the years there was a slow yet steady increase in reports of road rage, theft, drunk and disorderly conduct, and drug possession, among other things.

One of my earliest observations I recorded in my journal was that most, if not all parents were working in order to make ends meet, both husband and wife. This meant nobody was home when children returned from school. Without parental supervision, children tended to lack discipline and responsibility. I also observed a marked increase in students with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). Actually, this wasn't too different than other communities I have studied.

Teachers also reported students at all levels had a general disrespect for adult authority, lacked academic discipline, and were experimenting with drugs. There was also a noticeable increase in teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Basically, school officials described their students as social misfits who were irresponsible and held a general disregard for personal property, yet possessed a strong sense of entitlement. At home, there were several reports of domestic violence and it seemed everyone had a story of a wacky relative. I had considerable trouble locating a family who behaved as a close cohesive unit.

Adults were also experiencing problems. Unemployment had reached double-digit proportions. Those who still had a job were somewhat apathetic about their work and were frequently tardy. Reports of depression were not uncommon. While the rate of marriages decreased, separations and divorces increased. Adults also reported a lower sex drive, sperm count, which led to a lower birth rate in the community. One-by-one, civic and community volunteer organizations slowly faded away as nobody offered their services freely anymore. Alcohol and drug abuse was also on the rise. Again, this was not too different than other communities I've studied.

In attempt to get my arms around all of this, I created an extensive spreadsheet to compile and plot the data on a graph. Interestingly, I detected a slow but steady increase in the various problem areas. Beginning in 1985, Tranquility's problems rose steadily 5% each year. It was a slow and steady increase that could almost be plotted with a ruler as the numbers were not erratic. I have never seen such a consistent increase before.

I had graphed the symptoms, but what was causing the problem? Was it a social problem? Economics? I wasn't sure. This caused me to study the physical environment. I began to check on the foods consumed and clothes worn by the natives. I could find nothing unusual there. I then checked all forms of electronic signals in the area and encountered a handful of unusual low-frequencies signals canvassing the area. They were the type of signals distinguishable by animals, such as dogs, and young people. I also took samples of soil and air for laboratory analysis and found nothing. Then I started to sample the water which is when I met Mike Gilmore, the superintendent of the town's water supply.

Gilmore is a strange looking duck. About 6' in height, 200 pounds, gray hair, black glasses, and insists on walking around with a white medical lab coat. I thought this was a bit strange as his job wasn't too complicated; it was more of a matter of studying the water tables, routinely taking water samples, and regulating the water supply. The water ultimately originates from Gridley Lake, a rather large body of water that is spring fed and collects rain runoff from the hills nearby. There is no industry nearby to pollute the water and the county established a sewer and sanitation system years ago.

When I asked Gilmore for a tour of the water treatment plant, he was somewhat tightlipped about the operation and watched my every move when I took samples. I collected water from different spots around the lake, the preprocessing area, filter, and post processing. My initial tests didn't detect anything except some strange residue which technicians didn't recognize. True, the water was properly filtered and fit for human consumption, but something seemed strange. They were finally able to detect a compound in the water which was odorless, tasteless, and colorless. After taking numerous samples, they were able to replicate the results but were uncertain as to what it was.

After consulting with the lab techs, I began to dig into the background of Mike Gilmore who grew up in the area. Although he attended the local high school, he only had an Associates degree in chemistry from the nearby community college. I ran a criminal background check on him which produced nothing noticeable. I then went back to his high school and checked his record. It was here that I noticed he excelled in chemistry. Fortunately, his chemistry teacher still taught at the school and so I took it upon myself to interview him. According to the teacher, Gilmore did fine in the classroom, but was always considered a strange outcast who nobody wanted to partner with during lab work. Gilmore seemed to have a strange intuitive sense of chemicals. He put this knowledge to work when he began to experiment with drugs. This led him into a drug culture where he began manufacturing his own products, fortunately on a small scale. When his lab was discovered, he was suspended from high school and he finally graduated with a GED certificate. He never forgave the school for suspending him which hurt his chances for winning an academic scholarship to an out of state university. Surprisingly, he elected to stay in the area and took the job at the water treatment plant after graduating with his associate's degree. The year? 1985.

This was too much of a coincidence for me. Working with the police, we obtained a court order and strategically hid video cameras around the water treatment plant, particularly places where Gilmore was likely to work. We then began to follow his movements during the work day and started to document his patterns. As it turned out, he was a slave to routine. He would dutifully check gauges and perform water tests like clockwork. On the surface everything looked proper until I noticed his plastic water testing kit was not empty when he took samples. It was only two ounces, but I observed some liquid was always emptied from the container before he dipped it into the water to collect his next sample. Based on this evidence, we obtained a warrant to search the facility, much to the chagrin of Gilmore.

Among all of Gilmore's other belongings, the police found a small yet powerful radio transmitter which turned out to be the source of the strange frequencies I detected in the area. They also uncovered an aluminum canister containing a clear liquid. The police asked me to take samples and have it tested while they took Gilmore down to the station for questioning. My lab techs put the samples through a battery of tests. It was an interesting combination of saltpeter, caffeine, nicotine, Barbituric acid, and a touch of Mescaline for good measure, all in a concentrated dosage making it powerful if consumed all at once. Such a concoction though fed regularly into a water system in diluted doses could slip by undetected. Interestingly, I discovered a correlation between the radio signals and the chemicals. Somehow the signals accentuated the effects of the chemicals. There was evidently some synergy when the two were used in tandem thereby causing the various neuroses experienced by the town.

Gilmore refused to crack under pressure. Regardless, he was prosecuted for contaminating the town's water supply with mind-altering drugs. Shortly after the transmitter was disabled and the concentrate eliminated from the water supply, there were numerous reports of headaches, indicative of withdrawal. Nonetheless, the town slowly returned to normal. Within 120 days I observed cell phone traffic had diminished considerably, there was a marked decline in petty crimes, volunteer organizations and the clergy reported increases in attendance and membership, and unemployment dropped radically as did the divorce rate. In the schools, the principals reported students were more subdued and attentive which resulted in a noticeable increase in grade point averages. In other words, everything was returning back to normal and the town of Tranquility was just that, tranquil. Tourists took notice and began to return to the area where they were made to feel welcome.

Gilmore never revealed where he got the transmitter or formula from or who he shared it with, if anyone. There were a couple of things that disturbed me about this episode though, there was no identification mark on the canister containing the concentrate other than a seven digit serial number. This led me to believe there is more than one canister out there. More disturbing though, both the transmitter and the canister obtained by the police, were mysteriously stolen from the property department without a trace. While police continue their search for it, authorities are keeping an eye on the water supply and monitoring radio frequencies.

As for me, the success I experienced at Tranquility earned me considerable notoriety and I was quickly contacted by several municipalities to investigate "the change" in their communities. How about your community, have you experienced a change over the last 25 years? Just remember, it's in the water.


NOTE: This is a work of fiction. All events and characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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