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In his novel, A Slander of Witches, the late Richard Gehman tells how gossip in a small town destroys the lives of two innocent people. A replay of Mr. Gehman's tale in Port Washington in the past two weeks may not have destroyed their lives, but it surely significantly damaged the ability of two local businessmen to make a living. Specifically, I am referring to the present trials and tribulations of the owners of Bill's Mobil Service Station at the corner of Port Washington Boulevard and Main Street.

Following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, a female customer at a local gasoline service station reported that a Muslim attendant at that station bragged to her that "America got what it deserved." Understandably shocked, the woman, whose name is not generally known, repeated the story to a neighbor - probably, as well as to others - who, in turn, repeated the story and the gossip mill had its disastrous result. It, in effect, destroyed much of the good will and business that Bill's has built over the past 25 years of serving our community honorably and without incident. If the alleged occurrence did happen at Bill's, then community outrage would be understandable.

There is only one problem here. While I understand that the alleged incident did occur, it did not happen at Bill's! As corroborated by a Port Washington policeman, it occurred at another local gasoline station. And, as a result, I understand that the owner of that station claims he fired the ungrateful wretch. I surely hope so.

But that doesn't help Bill's; it will take the rest of us to do that. I would hope that the station's customers will express their regret at the hasty rush to judgment by some otherwise decent residents of our great community by bringing their business back to Bill's. For those who never were customers of the station, drive by, honk your horn and wave just to let them know you care. It won't make up for what they've lost, but it may make them feel better.

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