The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I THINK THAT I SHALL NEVER SEE...: It may have escaped your notice; I know it escaped mine and I have less excuse than you do—I actually live here, after all; but the National Arbor Day Foundation, in its infinite institutional wisdom, has bestowed the title of Tree City USA upon our happy little burg for the tenth year in a row. I don’t imagine that means very much to you; frankly, it doesn’t mean much to me, either; but it’s an excuse for local politicians to get their faces in the newspapers and engage in some good old-fashioned American home town boosterism.

Now the National Arbor Day Foundation has standards that any city desirous of the coveted designation of Tree City USA must meet. This is no mere giveaway like the Golden Globes or second place in the archdiocesan spelling bee, category grades 6-8 (yes, thirty years later, I am still bitter); no indeed, the folks at the National Arbor Day Foundation are people of taste and discrimination, connoisseurs, if you will, of civic forestry on a grand scale, and they are not prone to handing out this award to every municipal Tom, Dick, and Harry who comes a-wandering down the pike carrying the dwarf bonsai tree their Aunt Matilda bought on that VFW tour of Japan she took with Uncle Mel back in 1981. No, a candidate for this prestigious honor must demonstrate that their city has a department tasked with taking care of the local tree population, that there’s a tree ordinance on the books, a forestry program spending at two dollars per capita annually, and there must be an annual Arbor Day observance and proclamation. Then, and only then, when all of these requirements are met, can you proudly say that you are a citizen of a Tree City USA.

Are there any advantages to being a Tree City USA? I don’t know, to be honest with you. I suppose someone from the foundation goes to City Hall every year or so to present the certificate announcing our happy little burg’s high standards of arboreal awareness to a mute and uncomprehending world, the mayor and the City Council will make several short speeches patting each other on the back and extolling each other to the high heavens for their enlightened leadership in this oft-neglected area of municipal life, and a dyspeptic photographer whose ambitions of equaling the achievements of Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa vanished with the arrival of the wife, the kids, and the mortgage will take pictures before everyone settles in and chows down on the free doughnuts and coffee brought in especially for this august occasion.

To my mind, there is an incredible amount of chutzpah here. There may even be enough chutzpah to choke a horse on, provided we’re talking a smaller horse or maybe even a pony, and not one of the Budweiser Clydesdales, for example, or some other breed of draft horse like the Percherons. Perhaps we should move away from the horse metaphor altogether, with the proviso, of course, that we are talking about enough chutzpah to choke a smaller sized quadruped, and that the quadruped in question is not necessarily a farm animal.

That being said, I should point out to those of you who have not already guessed that our happy little burg, this seat of municipal munificence and contentment, is in the northeastern United States, specifically in that portion of the northeastern United States wherein the inhabitants, good stout yeomen that they are, all believe to the very fabric of their beings that behind all of humanity’s manifold ills and afflictions you will find someone connected in some fashion to the Boston Red Sox, and that the sooner the wroth of God lays waste to Fenway Park, the city of Boston, and as much of New England as it will take to finally rid the earth of the monstrous noisome pestilential horde known as the Red Sox Nation the better. Anthropologists interested in this sort of thing, as opposed to anthropologists interested in the much more interesting subject of the culinary preferences of New Guinean cannibals from that island's Central Highlands(no Presbyterians, if you please, according to the latest Gallup poll; Latter Day Saints and Seventh Day Adventists with salt, butter, and a little garlic are the entree of choice, and some ice-cold Coke Classic to go with your roast leg of Mormon and sauteed onions; it leaves a peppy theological aftertaste akin to eating a ham sandwich on kosher rye bread), classify the Native American tribes who lived in this region, friend and foe alike, under the broad rubric of Eastern Woodland Indians. The anthropologists tagged our local Indians with this designation because, as you may well imagine, the one thing we’ve got lots of around here are trees. In fact, the trees outnumber the people here by a factor of ten to one.

So it is with no small measure of amazement that one hears of the mayor’s and the city council’s leadership when it comes to trees. There’s just something about watching people take credit for things they had nothing to do with that just raises the hackles of many an ordinary citizen who has nothing else to do with his time. The city does not maintain a forestry program out of the goodness of its heart or to display our environmental awareness to all and sundry; we have a forestry program because if we didn’t the entire city would revert to forest in a couple of generations, including City Hall and the Dunkin Donuts franchise on the other end of town, and then where would the cops go for their sugar fixes? This sort of thing happens at every level of government, of course. I remember President Clinton saying a few years back that he had to get back to his job of growing this economy, as if politics was just something he did in his spare time between raising cash crops and running the farm down yonder in Arkansas (purely as an aside, you understand, but did you know that the word Arkansas appears on the state flag of Arkansas so that the people in Arkansas will know where they are?). Listening to Bill, you couldn’t help but get the impression that he thought the business cycle was a dial on the White House washing machine and he could just set the thing to gentle agitation and the American economy would come out of the wash forty minutes later with its whites whiter and its colors brighter than bright.

On the down side, politicians are seldom around when the bad news arrives, so I don’t think I can get away with blaming the occasional local outbreak of Dutch elm disease on City Hall. That’s a pity, though I suppose they could say the Dutch elm outbreaks aren't their fault; if they had their way, all our tree diseases would be patriotic American tree diseases, made right here in the good old U. S. of A., by American union workers, God bless them, and not some wimpyassed imported Dutch tree fever. Buy American and save American jobs, that's the way to go!


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