A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.
Țuică is plum brandy, and sweeping generalizations tend to be insupportable. Seeing as I’m in no mood to be dainty, let's have a drink of the firewater and stumble into the breach.
As human beings go, the late Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu (1918-1989) was a regrettable and unfortunate piece of work.
Yes, Ceaușescu was canny and possessing the survivor’s keen animal instincts, but offered few redeeming qualities otherwise. He was brutal, long-winded and poorly educated, though slightly brainier than his wife, Elena, a semi-literate bumpkin who built her own cult of personality around pretending to be a superstar scientist.
To read about the despot Ceaușescu nowadays is to constantly find yourself asking, “How could this nondescript dullard of a rural functionary be called the Genius of the Carpathians?”
Even apart from Ceaușescu being an installed and pliant cog in a closed international geopolitical system, itself constructed to institutionalize precisely such non-ironic chicanery, the very thought is breathtaking – and almost surely he believed every word of it.
While shaving each morning, the Conducător (leader) gazed into the mirror not unlike Wile E. Coyote, and paused to admire the length and breadth of his genius.
And why not? A quasi-feudal collection of stooges, sycophants and “yes men” surrounded Ceaușescu, assuring him constantly that he was every bit the ranking luminary ever to have emerged from the dark, forested Transylvanian mountains, overshadowing even the legendary Vlad Tepes – historical basis for the character of Dracula.
In turn, these assurances became the substance of propaganda, including press clippings about himself that Ceaușescu read eagerly over his daily breakfast of luxury foods generally unavailable to his subjects, as well as ubiquitously placed visual reminders of his presence.
Propaganda was the source for parroted and fluttering expressions of fealty on the part of those Romanian citizens who grasped the obvious, and cheerily rebroadcast the boilerplate from a desire to stay out of prison – and of course some of them ended up there, anyway.
What a vicious and dreary fraud, that Ceaușescu.
For 25 years, he was a veritable anchor of vapid tastelessness, mired in the mud flats of the Danube River delta, surrounded by clueless henchmen and corrupt vandals who enriched themselves at the expense of the common man.
Hmm. I’m not sure what made me think of all this, but did I tell you there was a ceremony at the amphitheater on Tuesday morning?
As we enter Year VI in the Chronicles of New Gahania, the only major surprise is that Mayor Jeff Gahan hasn’t yet designed a logoed scepter.
On Tuesday morning, Gahan – our Genius of the Floodplain – bounded to a podium hastily erected at the underused amphitheater, chosen for this occasion because the river looks so “cool” behind it, though it remains unfit for the dashing Team Gahan otherwise.
Giggling and gesticulating in a paroxysm of agoraphobic ecstasy, Gahan thanked the Horseshoe Foundation board members who he’d either had appointed or strong-armed, or both, and accepted a check for $5 million from the only Floyd County politician whose compliance really mattered, his neighbor and arch-rival Mark Seabrook, who from this moment forward will be utterly forgotten as Gahan claims full credit for the foundation’s largess.
Gahan proceeded to run down the list of previous multi-million dollar quality-of-life luxury improvements, praising the investments while never revealing their true cost in terms of municipal subsidies and post-ribbon-cutting maintenance.
Verily, Gahan’s done it all; laid the bricks, moved the dirt, smoothed the asphalt, sold hot dogs and swept the floor. It was repulsive and sickening, and within a few seconds it became evident to me as never before that short of getting caught in bed with a known book reader, Gahan has emerged as the odds-on favorite to serve indefinitely as New Albany’s de facto mayor-for-life.
The list of baubles, glitz and glitter – of bright, shiny objects that function as Potemkin facades, suggesting municipal progress while obscuring the ongoing rot proceeding apace underneath – has become as lengthy as Shane Gibson’s arm.
Concurrently, Gahan’s increasingly pedestrian press releases clearly indicate that he’s efficiently cured our city of the social ills that plague the remainder of the planet, apart from a handful of Scandinavian towns and the acreage of various Disney properties.
We have no crime, drug abuse, homelessness, poverty or red lights being run by speeding vehicles. Litter? It isn’t really there, you know. Perhaps you imagined it.
It is left to vicious scandal-mongering dissidents like Jeff Gillenwater to challenge the status quo.
With what's potentially the most significant political upheaval in several decades currently taking place, New Albanians can take solace in the fact that both city and school corporation leaders have ensured an equally significant lack of flexibility going forward with hundreds of millions of dollars in debt payments coming due over the next two or three decades. If you're planning on having any good civic ideas in 2027, tough cookies.
The problem for Bluegill, and for me, and for anyone else who pays close attention, is that in the main, New Albanians seem perfectly content with the Ceaușescuist tendencies of King Gahan.
After all, in 2015, roughly 14% of the city’s eligible voters opted for the anchor, and as with Donald Trump nationally, they’re getting exactly what they deserve – good and hard.
It’s increasingly difficult to imagine a scenario in which Gahan loses a third term in 2019. Try as he might, Seabrook won’t ever be able to shake the ignominy of smiling weakly while handing Gahan what amounts to five million free clams to campaign for re-election.
At the same time, the current crop of potential Republican challengers has largely chosen to play along with Gahan’s beautification-over-substance shell game.
Granted, the rules of this game have been written to exclude elected officials and empower political appointees, and there isn’t much the minority party can do, but when push comes to gag, the nominal opposition will be depicted as having been complicit.
Just remember: The Bicentennial Boondoggle was very bipartisan.
Consider one of Gahan’s chief acolytes, self-important councilman Bob Caesar, who formerly served as nominal Ceaușescu of the Bicentennial Commission.
Most readers are aware of my two-year-long struggle to wrest public Bicentennial Commission financial records, first from Caesar and then the city itself, only to be dismissed with supreme condescension by both.
To repeat: The celebration of New Albany’s two-hundred-year birthday cost several hundred thousand dollars, and was funded in part with taxpayer funds. I’m a citizen of New Albany. Caesar refused to show me the records, and the city attorney Gibson said the city doesn’t have the records to show.
In short: Go peddle your papers, insufferable peasant.
This is amazing, and it should be unacceptable; absolute power corrupts absolutely, and any mayor who takes seriously his obligation to enforce the law shouldn’t allow it.
However, I’m happy to announce that the Green Mouse has obtained these Bicentennial records. Fascinating revelations lie within, and copies currently are in my possession, illustrating plainly that while Caesar and Gibson may not have lied outright, they certainly have acquiesced in a cover-up, and are guilty of consciously subverting the intent of state laws governing freedom of information and public access to records.
This should disturb all of us, and both should be cashiered. If they’ll resort to evasions and subterfuge to obscure Caesar’s handling of relatively paltry Bicentennial funds, just think what they’ll do to obscure the leakage from the many yearly millions going toward feel-good, beautification projects.
And yet … you’re bothered, but only a bit, and not enough to rock the boat, right?
The newspaper doesn’t ask these questions, does it?
In more candid moments, it may seem like smoke and mirrors, but just enough of that magic pixie dust is being spread around to encourage acceptance.
And you’re fine with it, aren’t you?
The fact is, if I were to spend 40 more hours of my own time, gratis, to sifting through the records the Politburo has denied exist, in order to show that lots of Bicentennial bucks were hemorrhaged this way and that, often straight to community pillars and/or political party stalwarts who nuzzled up to wet their beaks – as I'm completely confident I could – nothing at all would happen, would it?
They wouldn’t concede error or apologize, would they?
You wouldn’t expect it, would you?
And this is a slight problem, isn’t it?
I’m not ruling anything out, or in. I might take the time to sort through those records, or maybe use those precious hours to drink beer and watch documentaries about tin horn dictatorships the world has known.
But there isn’t much one person alone can do to prevent Jeff Gahan from redesigning New Albany in his own beige image, and as the sainted Bob Knight once implied, if tacky Disney totalitarianism is inevitable, then we might as well escalate plans for a new barroom in order to have somewhere to seek refuge from the sheer indignity of it.
That's exactly what I'm working to achieve, and when it finally comes to pass, I promise to place portraits of Ceaușescu and Gahan right where they belong, at the entrance to the toilets.
Or better yet, inside them.
March 23: ON THE AVENUES: Cataloguing my consciousness on a warm spring day.
March 16: ON THE AVENUES: It's all so simple, says Jeff Gahan.Remove the impoverished, and voila! No more poverty!
March 9: ON THE AVENUES: Never preach free speech to a yes man; it wastes your time and annoys Team Gahan.
March 2: ON THE AVENUES: Breaking up is hard to do. Just ask the Reichstag.