Show Them You’re Friendly

Falling through the universe at the speed of life

By David Glenn Cox

I’ve never lived in Mississippi, but I’ve lived right next door. I saw all the shenanigans that went on that don’t recognize state boundaries anyway. Jackson, MS, fresh on the heels of a water crisis, now faces a garbage crisis. The hauling company had signed an emergency contract with the mayor on, ironically enough, on April Fool’s Day. “You thought you were going to get paid? April Fools!”

After six months, the company has yet to receive a nickel for their work. And, as nice as folks are down South, that’s just about the limit. Jackson is a big town by local standards, just as Montgomery or (Mungumry to the natives) when I lived there. A big, small town with a dilemma. It would be a lucrative contract if; one could get paid. But it’s not so large that outsiders would be tempted to make the large investment necessary to move in. Given the customers checkered payment history.

But that getting paid part, it isn’t like Newark, Atlanta, or Jacksonville there’s only so many vendors. Too big for a small company and too small for the big companies to risk on. I had a friend that repaired heavy equipment for the city of Mungumry, long ago. He joked that before he quoted the city a price. He called his banker first to ask “how much would it cost to borrow that much money for 90 days?”

They just didn’t get in a hurry, that they worked at a proscribed pace determined through generations of being a small town. They worked their stacks diligently, just as their forefathers had. They were famously slow pay but would always pay whatever amount you asked, because most vendors were largely self-eliminated by their insistence on prompt payment. And by their refusal or inability to play the game. Understand Charlie Brown?

Obviously, when Jackson signed an emergency contract, there was an emergency need to pick up the garbage. (apologies to Arlo) But, but, but lookee here, ya’ll. We are the town council and you can’t just go sign any ole contract you like. Emergency or otherwise, without it first be approved the full council at large. After we have some prolonged study, say a year or so.”

The tyranny of the majority, until even turning on the lights becomes a point of contention. In Mungumry, African American members of the city council wanted to rename a stretch of Cleveland Ave. (Not in Cleveland) that ran through predominantly African American neighborhoods to “Rosa Parks Drive” (World famous Montgomerian). The council wrangled about that one for several years.

The White majority was able to stifle the measure down when it didn’t amount to hill of beans, just let them rename the street, for Christ’s sake! The White city council members and the mayor were showing the rednecks and Billy Bobs. That they weren’t about to be pushed around by these African American council members, making their incessant demand after demand!

“Let us vote, let us ride in the of front the bus! And now, they want to tell us to change the name of our streets? Yuck, yuck, yuck.”

What finally tore it, was when the mayor at an eleven o’clock city council meeting, proposed renaming an aging four lane drag and road out of town, for a retiring Republican Congressman. The citizens went to bed naively thinking they lived on Federal Drive. And woke in the morning, like a fairy Princess had done it, living on “Congressman William L. Dickenson Drive .”

Or the shortened and more friendly abbreviated version “Cong Drive.” (Much Better, thank you! We can all remember the late congressman with that.) But still, for someone of my generation “Cong” has nothing to do with Congress. You can’t make this stuff up. Because if you could, Mungumry would beat you to it.

Folks are funny, if you go renaming the road in front of their house in the middle of the night without asking first, they can get downright ugly. But it was a fait acompli, the street signs sign were already printed and being installed as they spoke. It was firestorm to be muffled, until they thought.

“Ah ha! I’ve got it! Let them have their precious Rosa Parks Dr. then! Wait until they see the public backlash, like we got. So sure, you can rename it Rosa Parks Dr. if in you want to. You want too? Yuck, yuck, yuck.”

But the struggle had become like the bus boycott a generation before. It no longer mattered what they named the street, it was the fight over changing it was at all that mattered. So, when it was finally changed, that was that. The tempest evaporated from whence it came, and all was right with the world again.

Power bases jockeying for power, “Now Luther, you can’t just go reading the minutes from the last meeting, until I say you can. Luther? Could you read the minutes from our last meeting for us, now please?” I object, those transcripts aren’t certified! We haven’t said the pledge of allegiance yet, let alone had the opening prayer! I demand to be heard! Jesus is Lord!

So even with my eyes closed, I think that I part way at least, understand what is going on. You can’t do your job unless we say you can do your job. And we won’t say you can do your job unless you do what we say. So, the issues don’t really matter all that much, just so much peripheral damage in blood fight for power. The Old South and the New South wrestling for power in the ruins for control.

The old guard and the young radicals, each with just enough power to stymie the other, until not much gets done and there’s a big fight over that.

The Conservative Republican majority on the Mungumry City Council used (Liberal) Community block grant development money to refurbish and old National Guard Armory. And turn it into a state-of-the-art ballet center.

Only one small problem with the plan, the armory was located in the hood.  Exactly! That was the idea. By building a state-of-the-art ballet center in the hood, that the hood might become a little less hoody. Come on everyone! Turn those frowns upside down! “Pirouette for the nice gangbangers dear! Show them you’re friendly.”

It seems no check of the demographics of the surrounding neighborhood had been done, prior to spending several million dollars refurbishing an old building. Because apparently, the locals in the neighborhood had little interest in ballet, yodeling or weaving with Yak wool. And those people who did, liked doing it better on the other side of town.

It’s like I was telling you that you can’t make it up. Because if you could, Mungumry would beat you to it! Brett Farve’s got nothing on this town! Baby, they were wasting tax money on pet projects for little well connected white girls, while Brett Farve was still in his drawers.

It’s what Bruce Hornsby was trying to tell you about, that’s the way it is. The scent of magnolia in the breeze and down-home insanity.

 “Sure, we spent a few million dollars sprucing up an old building. But a lot of nice folks and personal friends of mine, got paid to do it. And that should be enough.” Each working for themselves and against each other as was done in the previous generations, the trench lines haven’t moved much in some places. Only the tactics of the warriors fighting in the New/old, Cold Civil War.

“Everything I did, I’ve had to do with one hand, because I’ve had to fight with the other.” –  Huey Long

The way it is.

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