Thursday, July 5, 2007

Tank Man

Having just returned from my most recent visit to The Glorious Soviet Socialist Republic of Middleboro, where the decisions of the few are crammed down the throats of the many, I have some exciting news. I think it’s possible that I may have glimpsed the sole remaining ember of democracy glowing within the depths of the town’s current regime.

But first, allow me to paint the scene.

The board of selectmen sit at their long table facing a room packed with pro-casino supporters. On the far left sits Adam Bond. He is wearing a pin – the letter “C” with a feather cutting through it. The signal that he has taken the veil. Chosen his side. Embraced the casino. Kissed the dice.

But we all knew he would.

One might consider Mr. Bond the Tom Cruise of the group. Not for his looks but for his stage-leaping histrionics and frequent convictions that he knows more than everybody else, about absolutely everything. Sadly, he is not facing recall, having been elected too recently for such an honor.

Next to him we find Wayne Perkins. A small town Don Rumsfeld in shirt sleeves. His is a My-Way-or-the-Highway approach to town government. If he wants it, then so you do, dagnabbit. And in his opinion everyone in town is either hysterical or apathetic, and his alone is the voice of reason.

Facing recall, and not too gosh darn happy about it, Mr. Perkins reads from a 20 page manifesto as to why Middleboro needs a casino, would be lost without one, never knew how it managed without one, and would, in all likelihood, sink like cow patty into the Great Cedar Swamp never to be seen again if it doesn’t get one. He claims there has been gambling all along in Middleboro, since the dawn of time in fact, which he can personally remember. And frankly, rural character is over-rated.

At the center of the table looms the omnificent Chairwoman Marsha Brunelle, a perfect counterpart to Nurse Ratched from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, calmly handing out meds and articulate verbal warnings with the knowledge that she has the power to whisk you downstairs for a lobotomy at the slightest hint of resistance.

Marsha gushes over Mr. Perkins’ diatribe and thanks him for ‘getting it out in public’. Of course, the actual public are no longer allowed to speak in Marsha’s presence, and so they cannot refute any of Mr. Perkins’ claims. Fortunately, voters will at last be allowed to express themselves when she faces recall in September.

Next to Marsha, and also facing recall we have Stephen Spartaro. Sort of a tough man to read. He listens while Mr. Bond commands the floor with a motion to move the town meeting to ratify the agreement with the Wampanoag’s to July 23rd, insisting with typical theatrical vehemence that:

Speed, for lack of a better word, is Good.

If we don’t sign now, contends Bond, the town will lose this golden opportunity, it will be a travesty, a loss for humanity. And that’s when I notice that Mr. Spartaro is laughing. Shaking his head in apparent disbelief – and laughing. Is it possible that Adam does not fool Stephen? But at the end of the day, will Mr. Spartaro be a sparrow or a Spartacus? Will he risk a black eye from the schoolyard bully or will he hand over his lunch money without a fight?

Anchoring the opposite end of the table from Mr. Bond is Patrick Rogers. Like Mr. Bond, too new to face recall, he asks for a moment to speak, and then offers up a gentle narrative about an experience he had recently while touring a museum out west. Throughout the tortuous human interest and laborious irrelevant details of his story, (which I enjoyed immensely) Mr. Bond sat at his end of the table, chewing the last three inches off the end of his pencil.

On his museum tour, Mr. Rogers tells us, he had a chance encounter with a senator who revealed that, even in Washington D.C., he had heard about Middleboro and it’s current dilemma. “Make a good decision, Selectman,” was the senator’s singular advice to Mr. Rogers.

One could tell that Mr. Rogers had been truly impressed by this reminder that he was where he was, in fact, to make good decisions. And good decisions are rarely made with a gun to the head. He suggested the town meeting be moved to August. It was only another week. Not much to ask. Let’s slow down, he cautioned. He acknowledged Mr. Bond’s point about speed, but certainly, this issue is one of great importance.

Finally allowed the floor, Mr. Bond, who’s agenda is now set by the Wampanoag’s and not the people of Middleboro, made light of Mr. Rogers request. He (once again) brought out the fact that he is a lawyer from New York City, that money is time, time is money, and that he knows, and will always know, more than anyone else in this one-horse town.

I am unexpectedly reminded of some homespun advice. “A boy who won’t wait for a girl while she decides on the right dress for the dance - isn’t going to get any better.”

It does makes one wonder, if the Wampanoag’s are putting this much pressure on Middleboro now, what will the future offer – when the Town comes to rely on the Tribe to meet it’s every financial need.

Mr. Bond, with characteristic pretension, informs Mr. Rogers that, in this modern era, one needed to be able to ‘chew gum and walk downstairs at the same time’.

We all waited patiently for Pat to cave.

And that’s when it happened. The Honorable Middleboro Selectman Patrick Rogers said, “No.” He’d prefer to wait.

This was no longer the Middleboro Town Hall. It was Tiananmen Square, Beijing, China, 1989, and a man stood alone in the path of approaching tanks prepared mow him down. And certianly this board has less mercy than the Red Army.

Mr. Bond offers a compromise date of July 28th, and spun an analogy likening this process to that of a speeding car. Mr. Rogers politely submitted his own analogy – that a speeding car wasn’t exactly the safest place to be. And it might be best, right now, to apply some brakes. He was only asking for a week, after all. This was hardly unreasonable. Stand tall, Tank Man.

Mr. Bond then took a moment to pontificate on the concept of ‘evil’. He insisted there was nothing inherently evil about a casino, and therefore no reason not to invite one to Middleboro’s swampy shores. Listening to selectman Bond attempt to define the difference between 'good' and 'evil' is sort of like watching Tom Cruise insist he is an expert in psychology.

Marsha calls a vote. We all know that she, Mr. Bond, and Mr. Perkins are all for the 28th. The sooner they can vote, the sooner all this casino buissness can go away and they can go back to voting on zoning variances. Three enthusiatic thumbs way up for the 28th. A moment later, one could hear the sound of Mr. Spartaro’s spine snapping as he too, voted to keep the meeting in July, leaving Mr. Rogers the only dissenter.

But, though he had been out-voted, I felt a sense of hope. Because after the recall election, when there are three more real patriots on the board, and good sense can once again claim a majority, democracy will be restored in Middleboro.

So, if you should see Pat ‘Tank Man’ Rogers around, go shake his hand, slap him on the back, buy him a drink. Better yet, call him and tell him you appreciate that he understands this process needs to slow down. That he would prefer to make a good and measured decision on your behalf.

Later that evening, as I stood in the town hall parking lot anxious to taste the free air of Bridgewater again, I was startled as fireworks began shooting into the night sky. I stayed and watched, reminded, as I always am when watching fireworks, of those famous lyrics, “And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.”

Keep holding onto that flag Mr. Rogers. And make a good decision.

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