to wit

Posted June 13, 2012, at 7:09 a.m.

Belly dancer

By dancing emmet

You had to be there.

I read with great interest the contretemps (street fight) at the Rockland City Council last week. As I understand it, Mayor Brian Harden was condescendingly explaining the parliamentary process regarding executive sessions to Councilor Liz Dickerson. She didn’t like his tone and said so. He threw his hat at her and she dumped a (full or empty, depending on the source) coke can in the aforementioned hat.

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The council incident was fully covered in the reemerging newspapers and website.

I had to laugh. I am an expert at Rockland City Council sessions, since I spent about 30 years there as a NEWS reporter, bored to tears. I had a certain pain at the same spot in my stomach as the councilors droned on, year after year. At least I had companions during my travail, like Larry Ouellette of the Portland Press Herald, a boon companion.

Larry was born on Bastille Day. When his thirtieth birthday approached way back in 1983, someone (who shall remain nameless unless the bribe is overwhelming) suggested we hire a belly dancer for his birthday.

But wait. His birthday, Bastille Day was also the date of that month’s city council meeting. After a few moments of consternation someone else (again, only with a severe bribe) suggested we send the dancer in to the council meeting to dance for our boy Larry.

You must understand that those city council meetings were dreary affairs attended by only the councilors and those poor devils who were about to be affected by that night’s agenda, plus the unwashed members of the media.

Why not?

I am not an idiot. Well, not all the time. I approached the city manager (who shall remain nameless) and gave him veto power over the suggestion. “I know nothing,” he said. I approached the Mayor (nameless, too) and ran it by him. More tacit approval.

Everyone in the newspaper “biz” chipped in to hire the dancer and we awaited the birthday-council celebration.

But wait.

It seemed that Councilor Richard Warner, a noted firecracker, chose that exact meeting to air two of his hot-button issues, banning Dobermans from Main Street and banning the removal of shopping carts from grocery stores. You may not believe it now, but these were huge issues in the city and when we got to the meeting with the dancer, the council chamber was packed.

Decision time.

We had Larry, we had the birthday and we had the (paid) belly dancer. What to do? Well, we certainly were not about to stop now. The belly dancer said the room was so crowded that someone had to bring a turban and place it on Larry’s head so she would know for whom the dancer danced.

Now who would be stupid enough to walk into that jammed council chamber and place the turban on Larry’s head?


Since I was not covering that meeting, I walked in, placed the turban on his head, and said “This is from your friends.” The belly dance music started (she brought her own) and she whirled into the room.

The place went nuts, some screamed, some clapped, and some just gaped. After all those boring nights in that abandoned railroad station, it was like an exorcism. I laughed so hard that I thought the top of my head would come off. One woman (could have been Warner’s mother) said “I never knew these meetings were so much fun. Now, I am going to come all the time.”

We thought it was all great fun, until Councilor Warner said in the next day’s paper that the incident “violated the sanctity of the process.” Then the editor of the local paper wrote my editor and suggested I start selling used cars for a living. Apparently, he did not know that more than one of his employees contributed to the dancer’s fee.

The humor faded even more when my editor wrote me saying that additional activities that harmed the reputation of the newspaper would cause my termination.

There was more.

A few months later the esteemed Columbia Journalism Review awarded me a “dart” (not good) for my “lapse of occasional judgment.”

Why me?

I was almost innocent, except for that damned turban. It came close to costing me my job.

But in retrospect, it was a hell of a lot more fun than a coke can in a hat.

You had to be there.

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