Saturday, November 13, 2004

Wheee !

Nothing in civic life from the largest scale to the smallest scale seems to be making sense these days.

It took us, oh, maybe ten or eleven years to finally take the plunge and buy a house in 1998. It's not that we didn't look. I grew perversely fond of the mild voyeurism of attending real estate open houses. Of spying on people's wierd stuff. We went to a million of 'em. To this day, DK and I can cruise the local neighborhoods and reminisce about seeing this house or that house. "Our houses," we call them, as if we were real estate magnates. It took getting our apartment of 13 years sold out from under us to get us to budge. Which was an excellent piece of serendipity, given that the real estate market went acutely berserk shortly thereafter and as a result we probably could not afford to buy this big, old, dilapidated house today.


During one of our more intense house searches we briefly entertained the notion of buying a duplex with another couple, a pair of very blond Scandinavian musicians, colleagues of my husband, younger than us, who were looking for a house in which to start their family. We actually found a big old joint, rather perfect we thought, in Newton, the town where we were living at the time. "Great schools" goes the conventional wisdom about Newton, though, like all conventional wisdom, it virtually cries out for a snarky, debunking blog entry.

Now, Newton's a pretty hoity toity town. Way upscale. Our apartment was right next to Boston College on a little cross street of modest duplexes, an island of real estate sanity amidst broad avenues and winding tree-lined side streets of ridiculously big and breathtakingly beautiful Victorian and tudor-style mansions.

"Who lives in these joints," DK and I would speculate on our long evening walks down these dark, deserted lanes, "and what third world country did they exploit to afford them ?"

Anyway, our friends ultimately decided against moving to Newton.

"It's not diverse enough," they explained, invoking the cultural education of their eventual babies. OK. We could dig that. No problemo. We could picture them -- and us for that matter -- in Jamaica Plain or Cambridge or Roslindale, in a city that more resembled the world-at-large than Newton.

Except for one thing. They immediately moved to Lexington. Possibly one of the most WASPy towns on the face of the planet. Real John Updike territory. As in a town where the influx of two Swedes probably up-ticked the "diversity" scale into the red zone.

Which brings me to the "small scale civic life not making sense" thing that is the destination of this ramble through the whackily undiverse landscapes of suburban Boston.

Massachusetts has a new statute that designates police and fire stations as "safe havens" for unwanted newborns that desparate parents might otherwise be abandon to the elements and certain death. It seems that although the head of Lexington's "historical commission" is all for the concept, the idea of actually placing signs on these municipal buildings indicating exactly where to bring the infants is prohibitively "inappropriate to history"

Lexington's Baby Haven advocate is a fellow named Michael Morrissey. He apparantly worked tirelessy to get the statute passed, and was eager to facilitate its implementation. According to the Globe,

This month, he proposed a black-and-white, 9-inch-by-12-inch sign that says ''Safe Baby Site" in English and Spanish, and shows a drawing of a baby. Knowing that his local fire and police stations are located in the town's historic district, near Lexington Green, Morrisey appealed a week ago for the commission's approval. To his surprise, they said no.

Joann Gschwendtner, head of the nine-member commission, said she did not object to the appearance of the signs, but worried that if the commission approved Morrisey's signs, it would have to do so for every advocacy group.

"Pretty soon the front door will be like the bulletin board of a grocery store," she said.

Huh ? (Cue sounds of mind boggling.)

Is she setting up a straw man or simply taking the "slippery slope" argument to disingenuous, NIMBYesque extreme ? Or both ? How does allowing a sign on the door of a municipal building anouncing one of its new, important functions necessarily lead to an unstoppable flood of signs for "every advocacy group" ?

The local paper quotes Mr Morrissey:

     "It's not as though we want to do something that hasn't been done before. The reason the signs are there is to literally direct somebody to the right door or the right place rather than have a baby left in the cold, or the heat for that matter, which can be extremely dangerous," said Morrissey, noting that the standard signs are generally 9-by-12 inches. "Visually, these signs attract somebody when they're in a panic situation and aren't always thinking clearly. These will provide some very simply instructions."
     The Lexington advocate has no problem adhering to the HDC's potential size and color demands for signs because he doesn't want to be "inappropriate to history," but he made it clear that he does still plan on putting them up at the Police Station and the fire stations on Bedford Street and Massachusetts Avenue.
     "We're going to push to do this anyway," said Morrissey. "We're not trying to be inappropriate to history, but sometimes you have to look at what history you are making. We don't want history to show that somebody left a baby outside a doorway and something disastrous happened."

I happen to know that Waltham's Willow Street Hysterical Commission (cue picture of ME waving wildly and pointing at my chest) absolutely adores our sagging, snow-covered Kerry sign, our flamingo garden and our scrofulous weedlawn.

And today I declare this old house a certified Baby Blue State Safe Haven for anyone who has been abandoned by history and seeks refuge from civic nonsense from the smallest to the largest scale.

And just wait until you see my sign.

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