There are a few aspects of my life of which I am not proud and which I hesitate to share with readers for fear of being harshly judged. For example, I habitually dislodge food from between my molars with the stiff edge of a folded piece of paper. (See? That was probably a mistake.) Another source of shame is my lack of civic responsibility.
In elections, when I cast my down-ballot, local-only votes, I’ve seldom taken the time to familiarize myself with the candidates, a sin I then compound by not letting my ignorance deter me. Because it is childish, I won’t use the eenie-meenie method; instead, I’ll pick the candidate with the funniest name, or, if the names have an equal humor quotient, I will revert to the shameful method employed by my parents’ generation (they, too, disdained eenie-meenie) and “pick the Jew.” On the rare occasions when more than one name is Jewish, I pick the Jewiest. “Cohen” loses to “Rosenflutz.”
I know, I know. I said I was ashamed. However, I recently had an opportunity to atone for all of this. I decided to attend a community meeting with my city councilman, at a neighborhood tavern. I am pretty sure I would have gone even if the first beer hadn’t been on the house: There was a serious issue at stake, and I had a chance for once to be a Concerned and Responsible Engaged Citizen.
My home is across the street from venerable Eastern Market, which for some reason is a major, storied tourist attraction even though it is basically just a grocery store. I’m also two blocks away from an abandoned middle school that is being torn down and replaced by a huge condo-retail development that threatens to reduce the neighborhood’s on-street parking. (This is a big deal, because parking is already a problem. On weekends, it is often so hard for residents to find parking spots that we wind up prowling our own neighborhood in our cars, as if we were serial killers — sullen, beady-eyed urban raptors, stalking pedestrians to their vehicles.)
My point is, I care about anything concerning the market or the school. I want a voice.
But The Man was conspiring to give me laryngitis. There was a new proposal to redistrict the area, making me officially part of a different neighborhood, with no influence over what happens right in my back yard; instead, I would have influence mostly over what happens on a restaurant-intensive commercial street a mile and a half away. The idea was to rectify an imbalance in the number of people per district, as though the hallowed American principle of one-man, one-vote is essential in decisions of the magnitude of whether restaurant bathrooms must have urinal deodorant cakes.
So, I came to the tavern enraged at The Man, whose name is Tommy Wells. He is the city councilman who had defended this evil plan. My wife urged me to remain calm and not make a fool of myself, advice to which I responded by practicing chants. (“Hell, no, we won’t go!” “Atti-CA, Atti-CA!” etc.) This was a restaurant, I noted. Food can become an effective projectile.
Tommy showed up right on time, took one look at the sea of righteously aggrieved faces, and joked, “I guess this isn’t a fundraiser for me, huh?” He allowed one guy to rant for a while, then stood up. I braced for combat. This was going to be good.
It wasn’t. Tommy said, right away, that he had decided the plan was a bad idea, and would rescind it. A roar erupted from the crowd, led by my wife, whose sense of relief seemed inappropriately vast. Grudgingly, even I had to admit Tommy handled this well. I’ll probably vote for him, unless he is running against someone named Marvin Schlopnick.