posted on Wednesday, December 14, 2011, 8:39:36 PM | fractalbob
My parents have started pimping me out as wheelman to everyone who needs a lift to Houston. It’s just 80 miles away, not even a real day trip, not such an imposition, is it? And what can I say? I’m a thirty-something man living rent free in my old bedroom, where the faces of tiny trophy ball players judge me.
I don’t know, or didn’t think I knew, the gentleman who was my charge Wednesday morning. He looked like a cross between Harry A. Waxman and Margaret Thatcher, rather also like Vernon Dursley. In other words, a politically conflicted Muggle whose nose hairs needed trimming. And he was rude to me when I arrived to pick him up. Maybe I deserved it. I’m sure my lip curled as soon as I set eyes on him in his tweed coat and bow tie.
I didn’t say shit to him as we headed south, still pissed at the rough treatment he gave me at first. But at New Waverly, Dr. Waxman-Dursley finally broke the ice. He asked if I knew who had been New Waverly’s most unusual former resident.
“Tex Watson?” I ventured. Of the Tate-LaBianca Watsons?
“William S. Burroughs,” he said, “Of the ‘Naked Lunch’ Burroughs.”
“I’m sure he would still feel right at home in the meth-lab dotted hillsides of contemporary Walker County,” I said.
Casting a sidelong glance at me, Waxman-Dursley sighed with relief. “Oh, good. I thought I was going to have to turn on NPR.”
With the ice broken, I learned all I ever wanted to know about Dr. Waxman-Dursley and his family’s association with mine, including a charming story about our first meeting thirty years ago at a picnic during which he “pulled me out of a bayou.”
I didn’t remember a thing — not being pulled from the chilly, nightmare-black waters of a fast-running creek or hearing tell of it after the fact. But a much younger, thinner and more agile Dr. Waxman-Dursley is the one who saved me — “Ask your father” — and I’m sure I clung to one of his nose hairs as he pulled me to safety.
“You really had all those picnic ladies, your mother and the rest of them, wrapped around your little finger. Those big eyes of yours. And you could cry at the drop of a fucking hat, just like a little bitch,” Waxman-Dursley said fondly.
“I can still do that,” I said.
I drove Waxman-Dursley to the Wells Fargo building and then roamed the tunnels underneath downtown while he met with his cronies. I drank coffee, read a book and then, at the appointed time, I rode the escalator back to the surface of the earth to meet Waxman-Dursley for lunch. His treat.
What did I think of the tunnels, he asked as we walked to the restaurant. It’s just like a big mall down there, I said, but scary past the stores where it’s nothing but concrete. Like a Nazi bunker.
“I like the lighted maps,” he said, stopping to remove his tweed jacket in the heat. “At first glance they look like stained glass.”
He complained about the unseasonable pre-Christmas temperatures, but I had begun to enjoy this outing, buoyed by the flow of urban energy.
“And how in the world did you get so interested in Huntsville politics?” Waxman-Dursley said after we ordered our lunch and cocktails.
“When the neighbor told me she made calls as part of her church’s phone tree telling people who to vote for in the City Council election,” I said.
“That’s so pretty I almost hate to dig into it,” Dr. Waxman-Dursley said just before plunging a knife into a sculpted dollop of butter.
“I should stay out of it,” I said. “My mom and dad are happy with the way things are, and I keep reminding myself I have no dog in this fight.”
“City government is a lot like those tunnels. After the storefronts, it’s just a little civil engineering, a pinch of legalese, and a shit-ton of concrete. Only someone with an overactive imagination like yourself is going to try to give it significance beyond that,” the Muggle doctor said.
But it must mean something, I argued, if not at least in its application of our vaunted Constitutional principles at the most personal level of government.
“And yet, the public process at even this level is often mysterious,” Waxman-Dursley said with a theatrical wave of his hand.
I looked into his two massive dark nostrils, mysterious cave openings filled with an impenetrable brush. For the first time since I heard the story, the memory of being washed helplessly down a rain-swollen bayou came back to me. I finished my drink hastily as the food arrived and asked for another. Then I described for Waxman-Dursley the strange item up for second reading on that Tuesday’s Huntsville City Council agenda — an exemption of the tax code allowing cities to tax “freeport goods.”
“There’s nothing strange about it,” Waxman-Dursley said. “It’s a tax on stuff in some fulfillment center, like books in an Amazon warehouse. If an online retailer were to open a warehouse in Huntsville, you’re not going to see a dime of sales tax, but you can tax the stuff in their warehouse. It helps level the playing field for big bricks-and-mortar retailers that charge sales tax. Like Target.”
“So it’s just what Mayor Mac said — it’s a revenue generator as well as an incentive. Those sounded mutually exclusive to me at the time.”
“It’s an incentive for traditional retailers,” Waxman-Dursley said. “It would generate tax revenue from an online retailer.”
“But we don’t have any warehouses like that here. What’s the big hurry?”
This is John Otto’s thing, this tax exemption, and he’s Huntsville’s new representative, he said. “I assume your City Council was trying to show him they’re on top of this Amazon warehouse bullshit. And Huntsville is late to the party. Other cities smaller than yours have already adopted goods-in-transit ordinances.”
It was funny enough for little ole HTX, still close enough to HOU to be a contender. “Which cities?”
“Farmville, for one,” Waxman-Dursley said.
“Yes, birthplace of Tex Watson.” (Fer shizzle.)
That made me laugh, which made him laugh, which made his nostrils flare. Oh, God.
“City Council turned thumbs down to a John Otto joint. But it’s a little one, not a big one. Nothing to fret over,” he said. “Of course, all of this is just a guess on my part. Don’t quote me on any of it. I’m not party to their off-camera discussions.”
Nobody voted down the measure, I said. They ran out the clock. Council had to OK the ordinance Tuesday or wait another year; Ron Allen questioned the need for it; and Fitch wanted to ask a question about it. But the rest of them tabled it. And that means no more questions and no discussion until next year.
“Why didn’t they want Fitch to ask his question?” I said. “Why would they rather table it for a year than let him ask his question?”
“Maybe it wasn’t worth fucking with,” Waxman-Dursley said. “Maybe they’re going to cut bait on anything that’s not worth the fight so they can maintain the appearance of unity.”
“Or maybe,” I said, pulling up the goods-in-transit ordinance on my iPhone, “they knew what Fitch’s question was. There’s nothing in the language here that seems to distinguish ‘in transit personal goods’ from my junk in a storage shed owned by a former mayor, the same one who ran again against Mac in November. Maybe that’s what Fitch was going to ask.”
That makes no sense, Waxman-Dursley said. Their Ed Sandhop Award Winner also owns storage sheds. “No city attorney in the world can write a smart-ordinance that targets enemies while sparing friends in the same exact business.”
In my head, tiny Fractal Bob, loose in an underground HTX, ran from tunnel to tunnel looking for an answer that wouldn’t sound barking mad to Muggle ears.
“Maybe your Council simply doesn’t want to plant any more seeds in manure-rich minds like yours,” Waxman-Dursley said. “To a lawyer, I’m sure there’s all the difference in the world between ‘freeport goods’ and your snow skis and washing machine.”
“Well, where is it? Transparency should mean the average voter can read a City Council ordinance and understand what it means.”
Waxman-Dursley threw back his head and guffawed, which made the bow tie at his throat bulge and wiggle. “The water’s rising and the twigs and branches are breaking off in your hands. You’re going under, kid!” Amused by my frown, he waved his stubby hands. “Oooo, is the little bitch going to cry again?” Or something to that effect.
Then he started coughing, clutching at the bow tie with one hand and grasping for his water goblet with the other. I could have handed it to him. But where’s the fun in that?