Sweetditch had a community center until it burned down. At one time it sat next to the library, less than a block from Main Street, on Route 100. The basketball courts lay behind it. Jacob Ulster took the blame. The gasoline fed fire started the night he lectured on primitive gift economies in the community center. At the time, the local high-school employed Jacob in a research post. His grant-administered contract stipulated that he had to deliver “at least one improving lecture per quarter to the teachable people of Sweetditch.”
His previous two lectures had both ended in riots. A lecture on folk singing had inspired Sweetditch to rise up and take hold of famed local banjoist Twitch-Finger Rollins and nearly offer him as a sacrifice unspotted to atone for their sinful neglect of communal singing. When they made their way out of the center for the monument to the Unknown Lady, where they intended to shed Twitch-Finger’s purifying blood, the crowd had a hard time describing what their intentions had been. They dissipated, some going home, others struck with a dull impulse to drink and sing “Oh My Darling, Clementine.”
Jacob’s next presentation, on the rocking chair’s place in rural culture, resulted in his audience’s destroying the “dead” folding metal chairs the center offered, and forming a posse to seek and destroy any and all chairs incapable of the true solace found in the rocking chair. Again, once the crowd passed out of the hall, they regained their senses, with a veiled hankering for something they couldn’t recall. More than a dozen citizens slept on their porch swings that night, “for a change of pace.”
Only fifteen minutes into Jacob’s presentation “Some Interesting Observations About Primitive Gift Economies That No One Needs to Get Upset About or Take Too Seriously”, the social fabric had come apart. The people rent their garments and prostrated themselves, horrified at their dependence on a system of currency that destroyed the bonds of community. Finding no ashes, they resolved to set fire to the community center, which they now viewed as a tumor grown on a sick culture, dependent as they were on the government to create meeting places for them. They could then blacken themselves with ash and repent properly.
The center also housed some of the town’s landscaping equipment, including a number of gas cans. The flames started in the auditorium. A pile of rocking chair remains—replacements for the metal folding chairs destroyed several months previous—served the mob’s purpose. As the fires continued, the people fled the building, and once again found themselves unsure of what had just happened. Some even recovered their senses enough to make attempts to fight the fire, but once the fire reached the gas, the crowd’s previous intentions carried through. A confused mass of people watched the building burn to ashes.
It took months to discern the exact cause of the riots. Finally, Jacob Ulster was held responsible, but not-guilty.