Someone You Should Know: The Disharmony Circle

(WHAM photo)

The art of conversation isn’t a lost art. It’s just harder to find.

All across America, in city barber shops, mall food courts and country stores, there are people who still gather just to shoot the breeze.

The Dandy Mini Mart in Bristol is one such place. There’s a touch of Mayberry to the scene. Especially when the men of the Disharmony Circle get together. And they get together every day.

The dress is casual. On the morning I joined them, all seven present for the session wore jeans. And boots.

What gets done here?

“Well. We have our coffee,” says Dave Parsons, a retired highway superintendent who still does some farming.

Over that coffee – served black, in convenience store cups – they talk about the minutiae of day-to-day life.

“Oh, different things,” says Harold Parrish, a retired truck driver. “Like lawn mowers breaking down.”

Parrish laughs when he adds that some out-of-staters have stopped to take photos of the group on occasion.

They talk about the weather, of course, and politics. One chimes in that there’s a lot of spreading the manure.

As they talk, time passes. So does the traffic, just a few feet away on Route 64. It’s rare that anyone in this group is too concerned about the time. Most are retired, and aren’t in a hurry to be anywhere.

“No time clock to punch,” says Lee Fletcher, a retired Ontario County employee. “If you want to stay here for an hour, stay for an hour. You want to stay 15 minutes, stay 15 minutes.”

The world is changing. But these gatherings are reminder that some things don’t change much.

But what about that name they’ve given the group? Disharmony Circle?

“There is an organization in town called The Harmony Circle,” Dave Parsons explains. “All ladies, 24 ladies. We're the Disharmony Circle.”

Dave points out that The Harmony Circle is 100 years old, and that its members actually accomplish things. As a group, Disharmony Circle has no such ambition.

They have, however, pumped air into tires of travelers in need of help, given directions to hundreds of strangers, and played the occasional practical joke.

“There was a couple guys, pulled in with a boat a few years ago,” Parsons recalls. “And they say, ‘How do you get to Honeoye Lake?’ I said, 'You don't want to go there - it's dry. It's dried up.' They believed me for three or four minutes, then they went on their way.”

The whole group laughs at the recounting of this funny, and harmless, mischief.

Besides Parsons, Parrish and Fletcher, the regulars include Ron Goodman, who worked for years at Ward’s Lumber in Honeoye, and Todd Penlon, who’s younger than the rest and has yet to retire.

Bob Green is also a part of the daily conversation. Retired from the Ontario County Sheriff’s Office, Green is the current Bristol Town Supervisor. He says being a member of the circle keeps him touch with what people in town are talking about.

There is one thing you’re not likely to see being used during the daily conversations.

Smart phones.

“We discuss person-to-person, instead of with computers and with iPhones,” says Lee Fletcher.

Penlon adds, “Communication face-to-face, as opposed to texting.”

They say what’s on their mind instead of typing it. And unlike social media, what they say to each other probably doesn’t go much further than their homes, and that’s only if their wives asked what got talked about that day.

Goodman says the answers are usually so uninteresting, the spouses stopped asking years ago.

Uninteresting to others, perhaps. But still valuable.

“It's one-on-one,” explains Supervisor Green. “We get to read expressions and see how people really, truly feel.”

And there’s civility in their discourse.

Green says, “We don't always agree, but we agree to disagree.”

The Disharmony Circle might actually be a rare haven of harmony these days.

There’s a good chance you’ve seen groups like this one. The politics may be left, or right, or in the middle. The setting could be rural, or urban or in-between. The common bond is the conversation without a keyboard. Actual communication – with people who are right there to look you in the eye.

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