“Barrels Ready?” by Norman Corwin
From The Devil’s Coattails edited by Jason Brock and William F. Nolan
Cycatrix Press, 2011
“Barrels Ready?” is a short essay in which Norman Corwin (a respected essayist, journalist, and radio drama scriptwriter and director) reminisces about a colorful character from his past, a man determined to bring attention to a new sport he invented, a cumbersome-sounding affair in which men would race wheelbarrows loaded with cans full of ashes. The winner of said event would be the man who completed the course without spilling his ashes. Corwin, who was working at the time as a reporter for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican, covered the story, only to discover much later that the “sport” may not have been as unique as its “inventor” believed.
This one’s a real head-scratcher. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a well-written, enjoyable read; a nice little slice of nostalgia, the likes of which used to run in newspaper columns all the time (back when newspapers really were interested in covering the entirety of the community, not just the bloodiest, most sensational aspects of it). But its inclusion here, in this collection of horror fiction and other dark writings, is a little puzzling to me. Perhaps there’s some reason, some connection that’s going over my head, but I confess that as of now I don’t see it.