Let me cut to the chase. The city council listened intently to the report and when called on by the soft-spoken mayor to comment, each first deferred to the representative from my area by acknowledging his remarks and then offered up some singular point of view to add to the mix of ideas. To my great relief, none of them called for any specific action or immediate decision about the fate of the pool and each professed a strong interest in hearing from the residents before any further considerations were made. One city council woman simply stated with some measure of pride, “That is what we do in Flat Rock Creek, we listen to our citizens. That is the Flat Rock Creek way.”
And that may be, in part, what led the mayor to invite the handful of residents in the room to come forward to the microphone to speak. My eyes widened as I realized that my worst nightmare was coming true. I thought this was to happen at the next meeting, the one where the public gets to air their views. Not tonight, not when I am dressed as my son later noted, like my teenage daughter, in leggings and a tunic, the kind of apparel I have not worn since I was a young teaching assistant in 1988 and quite possibly should not have left my house in now. Not when I haven’t a script, a shred of copious notes, or even a skeletal outline of what to say. Not when my city councilwoman who isn’t here had emphatically assured me that there was not going to be so much as a whisper heard from us tonight.
Yay, I think, for an open city government that genuinely cares what its residents think. But as I tried really hard to listen to the tall man from the neighborhood who disclosed his residency in the city next door, I felt my pulse start to throb and my saliva evaporate. He made good points about how recent city improvements had occurred in other areas not ours. He raised concerns that the city would abandon the property altogether and leave it sit in disrepair, though that prospect seemed unlikely to me. When I realized he had finished speaking, I knew I had to act regardless of how ill-prepared I was to make a statement. Without so much as a key word scribbled on a post-it-note to cue me, I raised my hand indicating a desire to speak as the mayor nodded in my direction.
My blood froze solid in my veins and my heart began pumping triple time to get it moving. I walked up to the lone podium in line with the tables and was asked to give my name and address. You would think that 20 years of making presentations on teaching to college faculty, notoriously the toughest and most skeptical audiences on the planet, would have steeled me in this moment. It did not. It was like being your own lawyer in a high profile criminal case. Standing alone in a room full of strangers before a governmental body is just as daunting if you are pleading your case in Mayberry or in New York City.
This is probably where having taken a public speaking course might have paid off. But my fear of taking such a course in college was so profound, I chose to sing opera for credit as an alternative. I looked up at the panel staring at me from atop the raised platform and I began to speak in a stream of consciousness into the super sensitive, pencil-thin microphone that protruded from the lectern above a laptop on which still hung the final Powerpoint slide. Only my words didn’t come out as eloquently as a stream or even a trickle of consciousness, but more like a rapid-fire blurting of semi-consciousness.
In situations such as this, I can feel the blood gush to the surface of the skin on my face. Not, mind you, in a pale pink hue confined to a 2-inch radius near my cheekbones as is conjured through cosmetic intervention, but rather in a deep scarlet swath that runs from my neck to my temples like a mask covering my entire jawbone. For added visibility, a bouquet of crimson splotches erupts across the clavicle area as if the blood in my cheeks had overflowed and spilled onto my upper torso. Anticipating such overt signs of distress, I usually sport a turtleneck to speaking engagements.
Aside from my cracking voice, the only other audible sound in the acoustically rich perfection of the chamber was that of my knees banging together. Sprint should film their next commercial there or the council should rent this space as a performance site between meetings. Seriously, you could hear just one of the angels dancing on the head of a pin drop onto the carpeted floor.
My blurting, however, was nothing if not passionate. From every fiber of my being, what poured forth haltingly from my lips was raw emotion, belying any apprehension of the reasoned discourse I had spent my professional life cultivating. In this moment, I knew that I was not representing anyone but myself, having barely discussed the few known facts of the case with anyone before this meeting.
And as me, I channeled not the understated courtroom moxie of Atticus Finch, but, instead, the 10-year old girl who looked like Scout and rode her bike to The Dime Store in Edgevale to buy candy or walked around the corner to Arbor Villa Park to play tennis or hiked up the block to Southwest library to check out an armful of books. Yeah, that ordinary kid who grew up to be an ordinary mom, but one who sought and found for her family in Flat Rock Creek a neighborhood with the wonderful sense of community she had known as a child. ( Before Her Time, On Going Home, Christmas Joys).
Here’s some semblance of what came tumbling out of my mouth:
First of all, please realize that most residents don’t even know about this yet. I only learned about the possibility of the pool closing by accident from a friend whose son is a lifeguard. No one I mentioned it to knew a thing about this. So people have not had access to the information at this point. And while I can’t speak for others, but I don’t know anyone on my block who would want to see the pool close.
When my husband and I had the opportunity 15 years ago to choose between two comparable houses for the same asking price exactly 5 blocks apart, we chose the one in Flat Rock Creek rather than in the bigger city next door because we saw public tennis courts, a walking trail, a park with a playground, and two swimming pools within walking distance and saw these as perfect family recreation opportunities. But we chose to live in Flat Rock Creek not so much because we were looking for amenities but because we were looking for a place to raise our family, we were looking for a community.
I grew up in Edgevale and this was as close to Edgevale as I could find in this county. And we just spent considerable money last summer investing in our 30-year-old home. Yes, our homes are aging, just like the pool. My husband and I spent all summer renovating our entire kitchen and the summer before that we installed new energy efficient windows all over our house and a new garage door. (Renovation Inspiration) Other neighbors are also investing in their homes, updating and renovating to keep this area stable and maintain the homes as they age.
One thing I have heard other people say at the pool in recent years is that they don’t want to see it turned into another water park. The city already has those. Just keep this pool up and people will be happy. It doesn’t need water slides and all of the other special features and added amenities you talked about. A couple of diving boards and some decent deck chairs and we’ll be happy. People go to this pool to swim and play and get together and visit and interact. Whether the pool ends up looking different or you raze it and start over, please just invest in us and our area as we have invested in our homes in this city.
Not as compelling or articulate as I would have liked, but it did come straight from the heart. I hope I remembered to say thank you, but I’m not sure. I returned to my seat as one more resident rose to speak. The mayor adjourned the meeting and as I stood to leave, the parks and recreation director thrust his business card in my hand and encouraged me to call him if I had any questions or concerns. I floated over to the small huddle of other residents where the city clerk had me sign my name and address on a sheet. Several council members stopped by to say they were glad to hear from us and appreciated our perspectives.
I became faintly aware that my chest felt squeezed like it was in a vise and that I was working to keep myself from doubling over even as I feigned lucidity and coherence while conversing. The small group of residents inched toward the front entrance, trying to digest and interpret the council members’ remarks and some of the agendas revealed in the report. We finally landed at the edge of the parking lot and after about another 15 minutes or so, parted ways with some sketches of next steps to take in alerting the neighborhood. They represented the elementary school in our immediate area and were going to work to ensure those families were apprised of what was up.
The entire time, I felt intensely nauseous to the point I wasn’t sure I could drive myself home. I prayed that I would not throw up in front of city hall or on these nice folks from the neighborhood whom I had just met. I stumbled to my car, plopped down and still wondered if I should drive. I desperately craved a Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat beer in a frosted glass with a lemon slice straddling its lip, but knew that it was probably the last beverage I should consume at this time. Strangely, it still sounded good as I was frantically trying to subdue the palpable stress permeating my body.
I miraculously remembered we needed milk for morning, so I decided to make a stop at my grocery store, only two blocks away. I walked in and grabbed a cart to use as a walker even though I was just getting a gallon of milk. Dairy was on the back wall and, frankly, I didn’t think I could make it that far without the aid of a rolling steel brace. My fingers clutched the handle with a death grip and I hunched over the basket, slouching toward dairy.
I’m certain I was well above the legal limit for driving while nauseated, but I found my way home anyway. I was still folded over, not sure whether I should sit or stand, eat a saltine, or just go to bed. I did all of the above. Then, to decompress and before I passed out of my flight phase straight into sheer fatigue, I called my good friend and neighbor, yet another Mary, and recounted the entire evening to her from start to finish. To help distinguish between us in conversation, her husband had christened us Mary North and Mary South as our homes bookend our long block which ends in a cul-de-sac on one end and at the pool on the other.
Well, enough about my auspicious first brush with city government. As you might well guess, tomorrow is another day with many more stories of Flat Rock Creek Pool to tell. Look for details on the very different vantage points surfaced by city council members and how the city might have gotten to this point in my next post. In the meantime, think about what the recreational venues in your life, like a pool, have meant to you. I’m going to need to know.