ON THE AVENUES 3-PK, PART TWO: Inkem binkem notamus rex, protect us all from the city (still) with the hex (2014).
A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
Back in April, 2014, there was a precursor to the current unpleasantness. Doug England’s bizarre plan to hand the mayor’s office to Irv Stumler had ignominiously failed, and now Jeff Gahan was poised to interfere with Irv’s municipal flowery ashtrays. There was a bad moon rising, and so most of us did the sensible thing and just stayed drunk.
“You know what I think I’m going to do? I’m going to go home, have me a little nap, and then go on over to Thelma Lou’s and watch a little TV. Yeah, I believe that’s what I’ll do. Home. A nap. Then over to Thelma Lou’s for TV. Yep, that’s the plan. Home. Little nap.”
— Barney Fife (The Andy Griffith Show)
Absurdity describes a quality of harebrained preposterousness, and arguably, it is rooted in real-world empirical judgments. Surrealism embraces a more unearthly, dreamlike weirdness of the sort that emanates from Colorado now that marijuana is legal there.
So, was Tuesday afternoon in New Albany merely absurd, or did it ascend to the rarified level of surreal?
To even begin making a determination, one must parse a few pansies. It was only a few weeks ago that volunteers under the aegis of Keep New Albany Clean and Green were out and about, tidying the flower planters placed in recent years by the organization on downtown street corners.
Full disclosure dictates personal honesty: I’ve had plenty of issues with the planters, even as I appreciate and respect the good intentions of the organization. In the first place, the planters have tended to look like (and be used as) ashtrays. Moreover, as an ambulatory adult who walks downtown on a daily basis, I’ve found it annoying to be forced to reach an arm’s length over the planters to click the street crossing button.
What’s more, it has been obvious to many (apart from Clean and Green itself), and for quite some time, that those among us most in need of a signal’s assistance in crossing New Albany’s almost entirely unregulated streets – namely those in wheelchairs, the handicapped, the elderly and children – were being more than merely inconvenienced by the positioning of the planters, at least some of which effectively blocked any reasonable ease of use.
I’ve mentioned it, both to Clean and Green and city officials, and have found little evident traction, generally being looked at (yet again) as a space alien, primarily because there isn’t a single member of either city government or Clean and Green who has even the slightest grasp of the theory and practice of walkability, and as one might expect, even fewer are willing to learn.
But I digress.
For weeks, and perhaps even months, Clean and Green has petitioned the Board of Public Works to grant it permission to place even more of these saucer-like planters downtown, and the board has continually dragged its feet, pleading for more time to amass the single item most often missing from the collective hard drives of city officials – namely, crucial information.
Apparently Tuesday was the time of denouement, during which the needed information abruptly materialized, and a conclusion finally was reached: Not only was Clean and Green precluded from expanding the planter program, but the planters currently in use would have to go, lock, stock and petunia.
Thus ensued a textbook illustration of the city’s innate, enduring, politicized dysfunction; with any semblance of compromise yanked inelegantly from the table, a Keystone Kops movie abruptly broke out, the city moving with uncommon, absurd and perhaps even surreal speed to remove the offending planters, while Clean and Green’s own volunteers were racing just as quickly to move their dirt bowls out of the way, or collect them altogether, before the other side got to them first.
That’s right. They’re adults … at least in a chronological sense.
Predictably, the city has since re-circled its wagons and imposed the usual embargo on clear rationales and public explanations, and of course, Clean and Green has taken to the Court of Facebook to decry the death of private-public partnerships – except in truth, the organization’s work has never been a public-private partnership in any coherent, readily transparent way.
Because that’s not the way we do things New Mayberry.
Rather, the “partnership” dates (what slipshod stop-gap mechanism doesn’t?) from England Doug and Carl Ford Maalox’s calculated electoral jury-rigging in 2010/11, back when Irv Stumler was declared overnight to be Hizzoner’s anointed successor.
With the Urban Enterprise Association’s till set for emptying, Stumler’s Clean and Green would then function as a source of elder-think beautification monies that the dynamic duo couldn’t or wouldn’t find elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the current Gahan administration, which seems to believe (how would we ever know for sure?) that the only way to think outside a self-imposed economic development box and actually do something (anything) to incentivize entrepreneurial activities downtown is to convince the Horseshoe Foundation to give away millions of dollars for use in a county that rejected the casino – not once, but twice – has decided to seize upon the street corner planters to publicly humiliate Clean and Green, a prime mover of which is Jerry Finn … who has his hand on the Horseshoe spigot.
Talk about winning friends and influencing people … so why bother writing fiction when reality keeps handing you pre-written comic opera scripts?
In other cities, there are economic plans, creativity and empowerment. People read books, and parking ordinances are enforced uniformly. Vital improvements occur without deforestation, and farmers markets somehow operate successfully atop the asphalt of parking lots.
But in New Albany, we rerun old Andy Griffith episodes on imaginary Bicentennial Park drive-in screens, dating from the collective childhood of a leadership caste that imagines itself comfortably ensconced in Floyd’s familiarly comfy chair, with sideburns trimmed and tonic dutifully splashed, and as such, Deputy Fife said it best — and he never even lived here.
All I’m saying is that there are some things beyond the ken of mortal man that shouldn’t be tampered with. We don’t know everything, Andy. There’s plenty going on right now in the Twilight Zone that we don’t know anything about and I think we ought to stay clear.
Jeff Speck has no idea what he’s gotten himself into, does he?
September 29: ON THE AVENUES 3-PK, PART ONE: Chocolate covered frozen banana republic, or “understanding” Harvest Homecoming, our peculiar institution (2014).
September 8: ON THE AVENUES: It no longer keeps me waiting.