One of my favorites is the Lebanese Food Festival at St. Elias’s over near Glen Iris. You know their tabouleh and baklawa and homus must be authentic, because they don’t spell it tabooli, baklava and hummus. What’s more, there’s authentic Lebanese music under the tent outside. It must be authentic. Who else books a Lebanese band?
Perhaps the most eccentric fun will be had at Birmingham’s historic Oak Hill Cemetery Saturday, where necrophilic Anglophiles will apparently be getting together to watch the royal wedding while enjoying high tea just the way the Queen Mum might if she were not, you know, dead. How the big screen will be erected and where the samovar positioned in Oak Hill is rather more than I can comfortably ponder just now, but seating is limited to 25, so you’d best contact StubHub pronto.
On Sunday, as you’re attending the Jimmie Hale Mission Dedication or the Alabama Miss Plus America Pageant finals, you’ll doubtless wonder, “How can I keep the weekend fun rolling during the week?” My answer would be attending a real party with a purpose: the trial of Ms.Verna Gates next Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m. in Municipal Court, 801 17th St downtown. For jawdropping hilarity, this fete will be hard to beat.
Ms. Gates lives in the neighborhood of Crestwood South, “a Dynamic and Diverse Community of Neighbors”, according to the neighborhood association website, which also says that Crestwood South has evolved in a new, human way, “learning the values of diversity, tolerance, acceptance and equal rights.” Ms. Gates, for one, has learned some slightly different values living there. She’s looking at a 30-day jail term for what seems to be excessive gardening.
Despite Birmingham’s long and laudable reputation in the annals of law enforcement, one branch of the constabulary with which you may not be familiar is the Environmental Police, a shadowy cadre of local gumshoes tirelessly dedicated to enforcing the provisions of municipal ordinances governing the maintenance of private property.
I say “shadowy,” because I could find no reference to “environmental police” anywhere on the official City of Birmingham website or in the 2011 municipal budget. I was told that these police do not report to Chief Art Roper, but in fact to the mayor’s office, though, again, I could locate no one willing to go on record with me pertinent to this speculation. About all I could verify is that a) there is a set of ordinances to be enforced, b) a court downtown does indeed adjudicate environmental charges, and c), a cash-strapped city could, er, clean up if it charged full boat for every violation it has listed in its punitive list of putative offenses.
About the actual Birmingham Environmental Police, you may have to take Ms. Gates’s word for it. She says the clearly marked car comes by her house almost every Monday morning around 10 a.m.
Ms. Gates ran afoul of the BEP in November 2008. While she was out of town, three blue-and-whites pulled up at her home on Eighth Avenue South to notify her that, ostensibly on the complaints of nearby residents, her wildflower garden would have to be trimmed down to four inches high to cease being a nuisance to the neighborhood.
What’s instructive to know is that Ms. Gates is no ordinary trowel jockey. A member of the Alabama Environmental Council and past president of the Alabama Wildflower Society, she is a respected ethno-botanist whose home is a refuge for a variety of exotic plants, some protected by federal law as endangered. She grows plants native to this region, sustainable in our climate without the need of chemicals. She knows Latin and is unafraid to use it in the defense of flora.
Cooler heads prevailed that time, but the BEP raided Gates’s digs again in November 2010, again citing her grounds for unkemptness. Claiming grounds for dismissal, the petite petal pusher demanded her day in court and gets it this Tuesday.
There is a serious side to this garden of legal delights. In the process of coming to trial, Gates has heard from other Crestwood residents ticketed for an unwashed car or for having furniture out on the porch for a Salvation Army donation truck pickup. In a particularly disquieting instance, a 79year-old cancer victim suffering from dementia and financial indisposition was nearly imprisoned because she couldn’t take care of her yard. “I was appalled that a little old lady might go to jail for gardening,” Gates said, offering her own lawyer to represent her fellow resident.
Too, shouldn’t we consider the ultimate value of nonconformity? There are regimented communities in this area where residents pay a premium to have their residences all look alike; God’s speed to them. However, in communities such as Crestwood South, I would suggest that learning to live with other people’s foibles truly has salvaged a transitional community.
Malvina Reynolds wrote in 1962 a wonderfully sanctimonious song called “Little Boxes”— you may know it as the theme for Weeds—which contained these thought-provoking lyrics:
Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes made of ticky tacky, Little boxes on the hillside, Little boxes all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one And a blue one and a yellow one, And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.Crestwood South doesn’t look like that now. Let’s hope that this Tuesday the Birmingham Environmental Police can be constrained from making it look like that, ever. Power to the petals, right on.
Courtney Haden is a Birmingham Weekly columnist. Write to email@example.com.