Sunday, March 29, 2009

Before You Get Your Dander Up

A city commission meeting offers as much in the way of cheap entertainment as a cost-cutting couple out on a date night could want. Comfy seats? Check. Comedy? Check. Drama? Check. Interesting people watching? You betcha. If the city put in a coat check room and a bar, the room at the top of the stairs in city hall would be packed every month.

Even without liquid refreshment, these meetings should be full to bursting. With the threats to end curbside recycling, the backtracking on red light cameras and the various nicks and dings in public safety budgets, one would assume every meeting would be packed with as much dander as a herd of feral cats. Instead, each meeting draws citizens with specific items on the agenda and maybe a few other spectators.

No one expects to drop into the middle of American Idol or Top Chef or any other reality show and have any connection to the contestants. A dedicated viewer watches from the beginning, getting to know all the characters: who is this season’s guy-next-door? Who will be the new airhead? Who has a future, who has plans, who looks like they could really do something and who looks like they are just in it for show? There’s an unspoken agreement among reality show junkies that detailed knowledge of show trivia buys credibility in the obsessive fan circles.

Imagine if local citizens followed the city or county commission meetings with the deranged enthusiasm of online Idol forum members with names like “vot4jus10.” Commissioners like Milton Slack or Bill Fricks may be taken aback, but I think it could work well for some of their colleagues. Someone could print shirts with slogans like “Team Kim” or “Team Evie,” or “Garry’s Driving Club.” Someone could print translations guides for some of the more mumbly or inarticulate commissioners. There would be that nerd in the room who knows more about Robert’s Rules of Order than any self-sufficient member of society should, the citizen who raises his hand and tries to correct the commission when one of them misstates a notion or a second. Area news organizations could shift their focus from straight news to performance reviews of each contestant, I mean, commissioner. The public broadcast ratings on Channel 4 would go through the roof.

Recently, the city commission meetings enjoyed a bit of a ratings uptick over the Etowah Terrace skirmish. The government arm of South Rome would like to build a big brick rectangle over that way for some poor and/or old people; the neighbors would rather they not. The entire picture involves lots more acronyms, name-calling and a catalogue of past wrongs. It is quality drama.

Of course, for the citizens involved it does not feel like must-see-TV. It involves serious issues like property values and quality of life and other big platitudes that make for a good letter to the editor. Watching some of these dandered-up speakers at a recent meeting, I realized that much of their anger has roots in coming to the game late. For some, this is their first dust up with their local elected officials, and they are incensed, outraged, livid, at the audacity of the government to even consider a proposal that would be so outside the wishes of the local citizens. They want copies of letters, meeting minutes, emails, birth certificates, Kroger cards; they want documentation that would help explain and illuminate the puzzling behavior of their leaders. In short, they want to understand just what the hell is going on here.

But it isn’t puzzling behavior. Anyone who follows local government on a regular basis understands that these men and women are not out to get one group or another; they aren’t vindictive or even particularly sneaky. One can trust a government body like the commissions to be exactly what they are: a group of regular folks elected to do the best they can. On occasion, we can trust them to be sleepy or confused, kinda like Paula Abdul but without all the dancing. We can trust them to screw it all up and we can trust them to try to fix it and we can certainly trust them to get it very, very right almost as often as they get it very, very wrong.

Beyond the Etowah Terrace brouhaha, there will be another local melee about something or other; perhaps next it will be the pillage of the land across from Ridge Ferry park by the Vikingesque Ledbetters. Put a commission meeting on the calendar; tune in now when the season starts, rather than trying to pick up the storyline in the middle. It really is the best cheap date night in town.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Best. Musuem. Ever.

Confession: I love a big truck. Perhaps this buried facet of my essentially hippie personality stems from the boys’ childhood, when we read The Truck Book a million times a night, and rides in the car came were punctuated with cries of either “Look! Cow! Moo!” or “Look! Big truck! Vroom!” Of all the trucks we marveled at, the giant tortoise of them all, the most massive and inspiring is the Off-Highway Dump Truck.

On Spring Break this week, the boys and I drove over to Cartersville to check out the recently re-opened former Weiman Mineral Museum, now the Tellus Science Museum (Tellus is a cool name for a science museum until you learn that it means “Earth Goddess,” which turns the name just a tidge towards the cheesy side). As we drove up the winding drive, I caught a bit of bright yellow hardware gleaming in the sun. Then I heard angels break into song, for lo, before us, parked in all its construction site golden glory: “Look! Boys! Big truck!”

I have been to the Prado in Spain. I’ve spent hours wandering through the High in downtown Atlanta. One weekend in college, we drove over to the Art Institute in downtown Chicago and hustled our way in. I know all the Smithsonians. I saw the Museum of Natural History in New York the same way you did—in that movie with Nicholas Cage and Owen Wilson.

But when Tellus decided to gird their parking lot with this colossal yellow beast, that was a stroke of museum genius.

The rest of the museum makes for a great afternoon with two boys who did not get to go on a Disney cruise or to New York or to Florida like all the “cool kids” for their spring break and who need to get out of the house. In addition to the awesomeness gracing the sidewalk of the museum, they also have one of these:

And a Periodic Table of the Elements wall, with examples. Poor Francium:

And most ridiculous of all, they have one of these:

Which I think is a dinosaur called Puffballus Ferocious Gigantus. I think I read it killed prey by walking up behind it and nibbling toes. When the T-Rex looked down to see what it was (What the…?) it invariably tripped over the lumpy beast and cracked its big T-Rex head. I think that’s what the sign said.

Of course, the museum kept all the good minerals and gems associated with the original museum. They also added a planetarium and seem very proud of the digital status of said planetarium “There are only two digital planetariums in the whole state of Georgia! And this is the only one in Northwest Georgia!” Not that it matters to the average museum goer, because once they turn out the lights and show all the sparkly stars on the ceiling I’m still going to get dizzy, digital fanciness or not.

We stopped by the off-highway dump truck again before leaving. The boys, suddenly full of all the things they needed to “take care of” at home (mostly Wii related), encouraged me to leave. “Come on, mom—say goodbye to the big truck. Bye bye big truck! We can come see it again another day….” Sigh.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

With Apologies to Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree
And in the spring, nothing compares
To the horrid stench of the Bradford pears.

A friend wrote a note to me on this subject:

“I took a horticulture class in high school where we learned how they developed and planted the Bradford Pear trees all over the campus of the University of Maryland, only to watch prospective students choose to go elsewhere because of the stench.”

For every home run hit this season, the Rome Braves will plant a tree on the trail circling the stadium. Last year they knocked about 150 out of the park, so expect quite a few saplings lining the path by the river. This is a great service, a clever way to support the boys’ hitting efforts as well as doing something to green up the tumbleweed badlands out there now.

Just please, Romey—don’t plant any stinkin’ Bradford pears. Imagine visiting the park to gawk at practice, or catching one of the early season games, only to be affronted by the dull reek of a frat house dumpster on a Sunday morning.

These “Frankenstein” trees, as the Sierra Club calls them, don’t even offer a real fruit. The marble-sized nuggets they produce attract birds with low gustatory expectations—like people who eat gas station burritos just because they are there. Since the trees are hybrids, once the birds poop out the seeds Bradford pears mature in their native state: a deadly-thorned thicket of dense shrubbery choking out native species. The trees also grow too fast and top-heavy, like corn-fed country girls.

This town offers enough in the way of olfactory experiences: the sulfur tinge of river on low water days, the wafting odor of various plants and factories, and the pervasive smell of rank frying fat all the way down Shorter Avenue. When we’re really lucky, some areas of town are treated to the pungent odor of a hydrochloric acid bloom from the folks at Berkaert.

If this year’s tree program goes well, perhaps next year we could bump it up a notch. For every home run hit at State Mutual Stadium, the Braves could plant a tree and the city could cut down one of the horrid Bradford Pears standing single file in the bypass median. Then they could replace them with something appropriate to our hometown baseball sluggers—maybe a nice line of ash trees?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Look Behind You

For a close-knit family, the days before and after a funeral can feel like a black hat filled with little scraps of unpredictable emotions, events and circumstances. We all pass the hat around, pulling out pieces at random, none of us knowing what will be our fortune for the day. You might be the one to pull the “call the funeral home” scrap. Maybe Uncle will get the “confront hidden anxieties” card. Mother usually gets stuck with the “deal with everyone else’s crap” card at the same time everyone else pulls the “stop making good decisions” card, and we all takes turns with the “cry one minute, laugh the next” card.

Yesterday I pulled the “find a deep well of patience” card. Or maybe I should call it the “10 boxes of fruit, Enterprise Rent-a-Car and For Better or For Worse” card.

Back up—remember, dear reader, that the Berry ½ Marathon, 5K & 10K is this weekend? Right, this weekend. Same day as Grandpa’s funeral. My commitment for the marathon is to get a bazillion bananas, oranges, apples, and bagels over to the race. I had to pick up tons of fruit on Thursday—Thursday’s been the day on my calendar this week to Get Stuff Done.

Ha! Says the Grand Scheme of Things.

After Husband and the kids walked out the back door on their way to school and work in the morning, I picked up my coffee and started mentally listing where to start. My parents, who had spent the night with us that night, had to make it up to Cleveland, Tennessee that day to start making arrangements for the funeral on Saturday. There was a service to plan, people to talk to—the usual funeral related details. I planned to make them breakfast, see them off, and then go tend to my fruit, bagels, and finding something in this town for me to wear to a funeral on Saturday. It looked like a jam-packed day.

The night before, my parents had parked their Toyota Highlander behind Husband’s truck. About five minutes after leaving, Husband walked back inside and leaned against the doorway looking at me. “Yes?” I said, thinking he had forgotten something.

“I just wrecked your parents’ car.”

And by wrecked, he means wrecked. The car is probably totaled. Sometimes I think he thinks his truck is a space shuttle, and he needs to slam down the gas pedal to make it take off at enough speed to clear the atmosphere. This is apparently what he did on Thursday morning, Day of Too Much to Deal with Already. I didn’t know a truck could go from 0 to 40 in three feet, but that’s what their car looked like. He bashed the Highlander’s face all in—the front bumper hung off the car and the white Styrofoam padding exposed underneath looked like the dazed, toothy grin of a cartoon boxer. If we lived in cartoons, the Highlander would have had little stars circling over the hood.

As I pointed out to him later, if he had hit a complete stranger he would have stayed to relate insurance information, help them out, do what needed to be done. He’s a stand up guy that way. But since it was me and my parents, he decided the best thing to do would be to take off. He went to work.

He left me to go downstairs, wake up my tired and emotionally drained parents, and tell them their son-in-law had just wrecked their car.

Have you ever had the experience of talking to someone who does not speak your language? You talk, and they look at you with this blank look of incomprehension. That’s the expression Dad’s face held when I told him. Mom, on the other hand, burst into laughter. Hilarious. Laughed and laughed. Dad’s head turned from me to her, still with the blank look. He said “I’m not sure I understand your reaction.” This only made her laugh harder, but now she pressed both hands over her mouth trying to hold it in, which made her eyes water. “It’s…just….a…car…” she said between bouts of giggles.

She’s right, of course. In the Grand Scheme of Things.

But damn, what a headache.

Insurance companies were called, family members were alerted as to the change in the day’s plans. The wrecker service came to pick up the Highlander from our driveway, with the guy tossing out his wrecker-service wisdom: “I guess your son-in-law don’t want his mother-in-law coming around anymore. He hit you hard.”

They still had to get to Cleveland and I still had to get my fruit, but Dad had to go down to the Renaissance Marquis and help his brothers get Grandma ready for the journey. Mom stayed home to wait for Enterprise Rental in Rome to get a car for them to take to Cleveland. Kroger’s on the way home from the Marquis, so I stopped and picked up my 10 boxes of fruit. Now the van smells like warm fruit salad.

I called Mom to see if Enterprise had called. Yes, she said. They’ll have a car for us by 1:00.

Good, I thought. I’ll go try and find some funeral clothes for me, white undershirts for the boys, and all those little odds and ends we usually don’t think to buy. I tried TJ Maxx, but no go.

I called Mom to check in. Enterprise now says 3:00. Maybe.

I went over to Kmart. Nothing there. I called Mom again, told her I was on my way home. The smell of warm apples in the car was starting to make me dizzy.

By the time I got home, Enterprise had completely flaked out and now admitted they did not have a car and probably would not have a car for some time and they had been stringing us along all day. Mom and Dad decided to call my little sister to come pick them up. She drove up from Atlanta, loaded them into her car, and took them up to Cleveland last night.

(Let me just warn others: Enterprise in Rome is terrible. Avoid them. Horrid customer service.)

Periodically throughout the day, I called Husband just to fuss at him. He expertly responded with phrases like “You’re absolutely right, dear” and “whatever you say, whatever you need, dear.” I forgive him; he’s going to get enough ribbing this weekend when everyone is together. (I learned in the course of the day that several cousins and uncles have backed into other’s cars, or backed into garage doors, or generally caused a ruckus in the driveway of their in-laws in years past.)

It’s hard to stay mad--and why bother, when the family gathering of a funeral provides so many other emotions to pick from?