Alan Michael Parker is an old friend and colleague from my stint as the McGee Professor of Writing at Davidson College in North Carolina. (Coincidentally, we have two Davidson graduates who appear frequently on Numéro Cinq—Contributing Editor Gary Garvin and Cynthia Newberry Martin of Catching Days.) Among his many claims on my affection, Alan had the good taste to marry a Canadian, the painter Felicia van Bork. He is a prolific poet and a novelist, a poet-novelist, a wry, energetic presence with a gift for teaching and satire. His most recent book of poems is Elephants & Butterflies (BOA Editions) and his most recent novel is Whale Man (WordFarm Books) which is due out February, 2011. It’s a great pleasure and delight to introduce him to the pages of Numéro Cinq. These three excerpts are from a new novel in progress, The Committee on Town Happiness.
All Swimming Pools
No diving. No skipping. No three-legged competitions. No talking to the lifeguard from behind the lifeguard stand. No eating in the shallow end. No keys in the water. No unlabeled towels. No food dyes.
All swimming pools are to be skimmed daily with the use of skimmers attached to telescopic poles, those good ideas made better. All swimming pools are to employ regulation geometric symbols: triangles for fish, circles for rescue rings, squares for the Snack Hut, rectangles for chaise lounges, etc. Color coding may apply. Primary colors may apply, given the recent popularity of goggles.
No hiking boots inside the fence. No pets in water six inches above their heads. All swimming pools offering consumer services shall employ kitty corner entrances and exits—the latter through the gift areas, to encourage community. When we buy together, we are together. No indecency. No metal belts.
All swimming pools shall appoint a Wildlife Officer who shall successfully complete Level Three Wildlife Training. All swimming pools shall post the hours of All Swim. All swimming pools shall offer shallow ends and deeps, to remind us of our progress in life, with demarcations clearly marked in graduated units, to remind us of all we trust.
In case of emergency, all swimming pools shall be prepared to accept displaced persons; all Snack Huts must be equipped with sleeping bags and hurricane lamps. Sterno and a flare gun, safety cones. One torch per every three employees. In case of inclement weather, T-shirts may be awarded. “I Survived…” slogans are acceptable. No underwater lighting. No realistic inflatables.
The Marching Band
Petitioned by the Active Mothers in Support of the Marching Band (AMSMB), we considered previously undirected funds. Granted, the timing of the request seemed carefully timed, raising more than one eyebrow, our fiscal year concluding, earmarked monies marked for non-displaced expenditures and needing to be spent. We saw there were expenses, naturally: the unfortunate state of the glockenspiel, for example, and the need for eighteen sets of snap-on straps. No one mentioned the excessively woolen caps. Was it all so serendipitous? Is serendipity to be believed? We wondered, when the AMSMB was joined in an amicus motion by the Pre-Holidays Happiness Sub-Committee (M. Barriston, W. Weiss). Of course, every petition has petitioners, every dollar its admirers.
If only. In the subsequent filing period, the “cooling off,” due diligence and discoveries. Around the practice field, an empty trombone case, a bell. Two uniform shirts balled in the trash behind the former Sewing Notions store (now boarded up with cardboard, tightly X-ed with tape). Then there was the unfortunate bassoon that no amount of cleaning would unclog. And the note intercepted from the clarinetist: such antipathy between a first and second chair.
After four, we could still hear the muted, brassy airs from far away, drums quick as a rabbit’s heart. Not that anyone would deny a child music, but. Who was that playing, considering the recent losses? The AMSMB appeared perplexed. So we voted, 5-2, to wait. “Maybe they can march in place,” quipped F. Czerniwicz, not all that helpfully.
Report from the Committee on Town Happiness
It would not have been feasible to keep adding members to our ranks, even though we had our feelings and our losses, so we voted, 4-2, not to open up the rolls (S. Avumito and W. Weiss abstaining, since they were so new). When the vote was tallied, we were wide-eyed. There was the outside prospect of a pall.
But on to business: the Committee on Town Happiness has been thinking about the Community Garden. All those mirrors of our personalities; who grows the cukes, who the cosmos, who the daffodils, who the ornamentals; who comes to dig at night rather than go home. Who composts, who sprays and with what. Who shares. We have voted, 6-1 (M. Barriston recused, due to her portfolio) that Community Garden plots shall hereby be awarded based on the applicant’s commitment to the Community Garden Market. We have voted, 6-1, to establish a Community Garden Market, staffed by volunteers who already work for the town. Not strictly “in this time of need,” although the phrase was entered into the minutes.
We think that growing and marketing vegetables and flowers together will bring us all together. Our bodies are what we have in common, after all. The organism business, the willingness to participate as people. We voted, 5-3, to recognize the relationship between togetherness and happiness—and maybe, as M. Espinoza said, the tightness of the vote was telling, but maybe not.
We, the Committee on Town Happiness, would like to thank the three representatives from the Community Garden who came so promptly despite the sirens, and who shall henceforth be recognized as the three representatives of the Community Garden Market. We thanked them formally, 8-0. The smiles accompanying our unanimity were what we most encouraged all to see.
–By Alan Michael Parker
This is intriguing and I am curious about the rest of the pieces. Am reminded of Gass, “In the Heart of the Heart of the Country.” A look back?
Are you still in Davidson? I got on Herb Jackson’s (Davidson prof and artist) email list somehow, and it appears he has done very well — just saw the piece on him in the Charlotte mag. I took several studio classes from him, way back when.
A few years ago, I went back to Davidson (first time in 25 years!) with my son and was surprised to see on main street a shop full of gnomes — Tommy “T-Bird” Clark! Another memory from those years. (Gnomes?)
Still in Davidson, yep, and collaborating with Herb too. He’s great.
Gass was my teacher at Wash U–that’s cool that you’d see the connection–and I love that work.
Thanks for the shout out.
Alan, in my full-time line of work (landscape architect and freelance design writer) I attend a lot of community meetings… a LOT of community meetings. You capture the at once innocuous and powerful tenor of these meetings. I like this a lot.
Incidentally, have you heard of the work of photographer Paul Shambroom. He did a whole book of photos of town councils, printed large scale on canvas. They look like the Last Supper, though populated with the average citizens of Wherever, USA. His point (as I expect yours is, to some degree) is that these people have real power, surprisingly so…
You can see some of Paul’s “meetings” photos at http://www.paulshambroom.com/art/meetings%20revA/index.html
I do know that work! A couple of people have suggested that he and collaborate, or that at least, one of his images be cover art. He and I have a lot in common….
I am interested in how this format will flow into a full novel… will there be a specific narrative threaded throughout or imbedded in the committee notes?
Save the marching bands! Has a Millhauser-esque feel to it.
My favorite lines:
“Then there was the unfortunate bassoon that no amount of cleaning would unclog. And the note intercepted from the clarinetist: such antipathy between a first and second chair.”