Tuesday, April 4, 2017

45 - Before the Council, Part 2

“Council members,... Council President Tompkins,... I... uh... well, I would like to speak against the continuing of the community garden at 447 Warwick Lane. I... uh, well,” Ned stammered as he read from a prepared statement. He gazed into the back corner of the chamber, hoping to find support from his boss who had insisted that he present this statement against the garden and the development of food policy at the threat of losing his job. Ned thought that his boss, Gerald, didn't realize that Bartholomew was his friend and that Ned had helped him start this very garden. Ned knew that he was actually one of the community gardeners until he broke up with his girlfriend and found it awkward to hang out with their mutual friends.

Gerald, with his son, Xavier, sitting next to him, just smiled and chuckled and waved his fingers at Ned as if to say, “continue.”

Ned scanned the room and saw many angry faces in the crowd. Most of the chamber was filled with garden supporters. He felt like he was about to get run over by a truck. Ned avoided Bartholomew and his friends, turning his gaze back toward the council and continuing. “The garden is obviously a menace due to the growing of marijuana, the attracting of wild dogs, and... and the unseemly look of it. It obviously is run by a bunch of anti-establishment hippies who are trying to... support their own...” Ned paused and glared into the back corner of the chamber, “...drug habit. The existence of this garden is a violation of city code. If the council allows the garden to continue, everyone will start illegal projects and then ask forgiveness later. Is this the kind of chaos we want in our society? Do we want a council that doesn't know how to stand on its own principle? Do we want a council that flip-flops on upholding the law it has created? And why would this favor be granted in this instance but not in others, like the establishment of another Donkey Burger at Grand and Wellesley, which was denied.” Several council members peered into the back corner of the chamber and rolled their eyes.

Bartholomew couldn't believe what he was witnessing. Ned, his friend, was actually presenting against the garden he helped to create! How could he? What about all the time they had spent together talking about girlfriends, music, computer games and life in general? Bartholomew thought there must be some reason for this betrayal. Ned wouldn't do this of his own will. But why? Bartholomew's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of heavy breathing from Claire who was sitting next to him. She was seething at her ex-boyfriend who now stood at the podium. Under her breath, he heard her repeat the word “idiot” over and over.

“As for food policy. I am against food policy as the development of gardens and even urban food production would lead to the loss of jobs and businesses. Restaurants and grocery stores would have to be shuttered. You will find long lines at the food shelves and the unemployment office. Homes would be foreclosed, bankruptcies would skyrocket.” Ned continued reading without even comprehending what he was saying. He just wanted this to be over. “With the fragility of the current economy, any policy that would encourage local growing of food would lead to a collapse of the food system. People would starve, there would be rioti...”

“Ned,” interrupted Council President Tompkins, “does the rest of your presentation continue much longer?”

“Uh, no, sir,... uh ma'am,...uh, Council President Tompkins. Just a little more... rioting in the streets. Therefore, I urge you to consider terminating the community garden at 447 Warwick Lane and the development of any food policy... and reconsider the licensing for the Donkey Burger restaurant at Grand and Wellesley. Thank you.”

Ned quickly gathered his note cards and vaulted away from the podium. He did not sit down with Gerald and Xavier. He left the chamber.

“Is there any one else who has anything to add against the garden or food policy?” queried Council President Tompkins, hoping that no one else would stand up. No one moved. “The council is now open for discussion.”

The council members quickly determined that Bartholomew's request had two parts. The first part was allowing his garden to continue. The second was the development of city-wide food policy. Bartholomew found it hard to gauge the discussion about his garden. Some council members argued that there had been too many problems and violations for the garden to continue. Other council members argued that the plot was un-buildable and that a community garden was a fine use of the land. They thought, if there was just a little more coordination, the garden might do better and be an asset to the neighborhood. The split seemed fairly even. Bartholomew could not tell which direction the vote would go.

As for food policy, most council members seemed ill-prepared to discuss it. They seemed to have not read the research Uncle Jeffrey had sent them. Bartholomew noticed when a council member made a comment in favor of the food policy, Gerald would clear his throat. Then the next council member to speak would be against the development of food policy, often repeating some of the claims made in Ned's presentation. This pattern started to become obvious to other people in the chamber. In response, other people in the crowd started making noises in support for or against statements. A negative comment received a “tsk, tsk” from a large woman in the front row. A supportive comment received an “Amen!” from a short man behind Bartholomew. Gerald and Xavier, not wanting to be drowned out, started clearing their throats louder and making hand signals. The council members (that Gerald had influence over) wanted to make sure they understood what he wanted and started snorting, wretching and making hand signals back to him. Others joined in and soon the whole chamber was a raucous soundtrack of side comments, finger snapping, throat clearing, toe stomping, coin jingling and whistling. Bartholomew thought he heard someone bleat like a goat. At a particularly outrageous claim (that community gardens were the cause of the Bubonic Plague) an entire row of people did the “wave,” standing up and raising their hands above their heads.

RAP! RAP! Council President Tompkin's gavel came down hard on the desk. “PLEASE! Everyone stop with these noises and comments! The council will continue discussion without any sounds coming from the chamber. If anyone else makes a noise or comment they will be escorted from the proceedings.” She shot an icy cold glare at Gerald and pointed her gavel handle at him. She had hit the desk so hard the gavel head had come off.

The discussion continued a little longer with only one incident of a man sneezing and being removed from the chamber. Bartholomew didn't think he sneezed on purpose.

“All right, we will now bring the first item to a vote,” announced Council President Tompkins.

“Those in support of allowing Bartholomew and his friends to continue the community garden at 447 Warwick Lane?” There was a pause. “Those opposed?” No one said “aye” or “nay.” Each councilmember pushed a button and then the clerk seeing the results on a computer screen read them to the chamber.

“Six in favor, six opposed. One not in session. It is a tie. It's a shame Councilmember Lovett broke his kneecaps and couldn't be here.”

Gerald and Xavier gave each other a high-five and chuckled about Councilmember Lovett's kneecaps.

“It seems obvious to me,” continued Council President Tompkins, “that the issue of developing food policy should be tabled until next week's session. In the meantime, I will ask department staff to prepare a statement about what it would take to develop food policy and what that budget might look like. All in favor of tabling the development of food policy? Those opposed?”

“Six in favor of tabling. Six opposed. One not in session,” read the chamber clerk.

A groan rose from the crowd.

“Votes are a matter of record,” said Council President Tompkins. “Could you please read those who voted to allow the garden and those opposed?”

The council clerk read the names to the chamber.

“Could you please also read those who support tabling the food policy and those who opposed?”

The council clerk obliged. The names for and against tabling the policy were the same as those for and against the garden.

“C'mon Alice,” yelled someone from the crowd. Councilmember Alice pinched her face into a sourball, as if to say, “Mind your own business.”

“Yeah, c'mon Jerry,” yelled another audience member.

The crowd started harassing the “against” councilmembers. “Let them garden!” “They ain't hurting nobody!” “We need healthy food, Albert!” Some started chanting “Healthy food, not Donkey Burgers!” This greatly distressed Gerald who started whistling and making exaggerated hand signals to the council members. Xavier stood up on his chair and mimicked his father’s gestures. Others started standing up and throwing paper wads at the council. Council President Tompkins went to hammer her gavel, but with the head missing, all anyone heard was a slight tap, tap, tap.

“STOP!” she yelled. “ORDER IN THE CHAMBERS!”

But no one listened to her. A uniformed court officer tried to make people sit down but they just stood back up again. Suddenly, shoes and hats were flying through the air as the crowd got louder. “WE WANT OUR FOOD!” they chanted.

The chaos was so great that no one noticed a young girl enter the room. She had on a simple clean white dress. On her head was a mass of hair that seemed to have a life of its own. Her eyes were slightly yellow, like her teeth, and she sported rather large nostrils in an upturned nose. She walked quietly and confidently to the podium. The chaos continued until Gerald saw her. He froze in his tracks, or more correctly, he froze standing on his chair. Xavier, wondering why his father stopped whistling and motioning, spied his sister, who had been missing for six months, ready to address the chamber. He froze standing on his chair, too. With Gerald and Xavier frozen, several council members were not sure what to do. Then they saw Geraldine, in her simple white dress at the podium. The crowd slowly quieted and sat back in their seats. Geraldine waited.

Before speaking, she beamed over at Bartholomew whose mouth was hanging open. She blinked at him with eyes that were supercharged with life. Her whole presence was radiating. Everyone had to stare at her.

“Do you have something to say?” asked Council President Tompkins.

“Council members, Council President Tompkins. I am Geraldine, daughter of Gerald.” Gasps went up from the crowd for they knew that she had been missing. “And I am friend of Bartholomew.”

Bartholomew could not stop staring at her. He watched her lips pronounce every word. When she said “friend of Bartholomew” he felt a happiness in his heart. His sense of dread, that something was going to go wrong, completely disappeared. It was the same feeling as when The Nanny would touch him. With Geraldine here, somehow, he knew everything was going to be all right.

“I would just like to say that the council should support the garden that Bartholomew has created. No one loses with this decision. It is those who protest the garden too much who give away their allegiance to my father and Mayor Dick. Gerald was behind the destruction of the garden. See, one of my brothers tried to break into Bartholomew's house, but instead, fell out of Bartholomew's tree and died. This, along with other things, turned my father against Bartholomew. My brother Xavier discovered the marijuana and they used that as an excuse to destroy the garden. My father and my brothers are selfish, arrogant people who have no problem hurting others. In fact, they thrive on it. Just ask Councilmember Lovett.”

Another gasp went up throughout the room at the accusation that Gerald injured Councilmember Lovett.

Bartholomew heard one council member lean over to another and say that Councilmember Lovett was the one most opposed to the licensing of the Donkey Burger at Grand and Wellesley.

Gerald was speechless. He still did not understand how it was that his daughter was alive in front of him. He could not comprehend that, after six months, Geraldine could still exist. Being a violent man, he assumed someone had taken her and killed her, or at least had imprisoned her while doing unspeakable acts against her. This couldn't be true. Gerald couldn't accept that he could be wrong. She could not be here.

“Devil!” yelled Gerald. “My daughter is dead! Why have you come here to deceive us?!”

Geraldine giggled at the silly accusation. Her giggle ended in a kinda cute snort.

“Devil, I say!”

To Bartholomew, Gerald actually seemed scared of Geraldine. He climbed over people to get to the door. The council officer reached the door first and grabbed Gerald by the arm. He radioed for help, and Gerald was taken away and held until the accusations about Councilmember Lovett could be verified. Xavier stayed in his seat until his father had been taken away. Then he quietly left out the side door.

“Well,” said Council President Tompkins as people began to quiet down. “In light of these circumstances, should we have another vote?”

“Yes!” yelled the crowd.

“All those in favor of tabling the food policy discussion until next meeting? Those opposed?”

“Eleven in favor of tabling. One opposed. One not in session,” read the council clerk.

“All those in favor of approving the garden? Those opposed?”

“Eleven approve. One opposed and one not in session.”

A commotion was made as people wondered which council member voted against the garden. Councilmember Alice blushed and tried to act preoccupied.

“Alice?” said someone from the crowd.

“I just think this city is filthy,” she said as she hastily gathered her papers and scurried out of the chamber.

Council President Tompkins, with a great big smile, announced “Council will table discussion about food policy to next meeting, and the council approves the garden at 447 Warwick Street. This meeting is adjourned!”
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Mark Granlund

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