Friday, November 20, 2009

Speaking truth to power

We are in Madison using a free hotel night before it expires because Lord knows it's better to drive 90 miles and buy meals than to let something free go to waste. I will write about Driving Mr Crazy later. Yes, SH let me drive, which is a nightmare for the both of us because of course I do not Do It Right and I hate to be bossed around by the Driving Nazi but he had a conference call and as much as he would like to think he can multitask, he cannot, especially when it comes to using a computer while he drives, heck he can't even have a conversation while he drives or answer a simple question like, "Don't you think that's a cute outfit on that girl over there?

For now I want to write about our supper with my Peace Corps friends Joe and Joyce, who live here. Joe's great-niece is married to Robert Downey Jr, which was always my fantasy (before SH of course), but without the heroin. That's not relevant to this story, but it's good if you know me and need a connection for the Kevin Bacon game.

The boat in question.

Joe and Joyce joined the Peace Corps six years after Joe retired from the University of Wisconsin wood research lab. He is a big-time expert on wood and has lectured on wood around the world.

Joe is in his mid 80s. He is about 5'4" and always wears a frayed flannel shirt with rolled-up jeans and boots. He has twinkling blue eyes and a ready smile. You would think you could steamroll over him but you would be wrong.

Joe built this wooden houseboat that he has parked in his driveway. A neighbor complained that it was unsightly and Joe got a citation for something. "Unsightly premises," or something. Neither SH nor I can remember.

A building at the University of Wisconsin.

The moral of this story, before I get much further into it, is don't mess with a retired wood expert.

Joe went to court. He tried to subpoena everyone involved. The city attorney wouldn't let him subpoena his accuser, but would let him subpoena the building inspector, who is supposed to be the only one with the authority to issue such a citation.

Joe challenged the citation on two grounds: what is "unsightly" and what was wrong with his boat.

A classroom on campus. We walked around to see what our tax dollars were being used for and also to get to Babcock Hall, which youse Cheeseheads know is where the DAIRY STORE is.

The woman from the building inspector's office claimed that the green on his boat was from algae, which was proof that his boat was rotten and deteriorating.

Wrong, said Joe. Algae does not rot wood, fungi does. And the green was from paint. Ha!

Then the woman said the boat was unpainted and hence unprotected.

Oh no said the wood expert. Paint does not protect wood [insert wood expert stuff here].

Joe won his case. "Last I heard," he said, "that woman isn't working for the Building Inspector. Now I am trying to get that law rescinded. The people on the City Council go the other way when they see me coming. But look at my gray hair. I got nothing better to do."


Melissa said...

I hope you have been enjoying yourselves! Having two little ones (one who takes 4-hour power naps every afternoon) doesn't allow me to visit the "big city" as often as I would like.

State Street is so much fun -- get down there if you have a chance!

Anonymous said...

You MUST eat at Ella's Deli on E. Washington!!! I always stop there where I'm in Mad-city!!! The croutons on the salad are AMAZING!!! They have the most fascinating mechanical toys/displays flying overhead in the restaurant....SH would love it!!!

LPC said...

SH can't multitask because his brain circuitry models the stuff he designs. As in, channels. If the neurons are going one way down a channel, you can't make them back up and go in a different direction...

Anonymous said...

Okay--that houseboat is super
U-G-L-Y!!! Your friend should be ashamed to have such an eye sore where neighbors have to look at it.

class-factotum said...

Anon, ugly is not illegal. And I would rather look at a wooden boat that blends into the landscape than a big ski boat any day. :)