By Rosalie Tirella
This past Tuesday’s (March 10) Worcester City Council meeting played like something straight out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie, say, “The Birds.” It was Worcester’s own thriller, teeming with horror: bizarre flying creatures who seemingly come out of nowhere to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting community; horror-stricken town (or in this case) city inhabitants fighting for their precious way of life; mock terror-stricken, pandering politicians who try to give voice to the townspeople’s fears but end up demagogue-ing the crisis to death. And finally, a local mad-scientist type who tries to explain THE BIG PICTURE to everybody in the community – what the Attack of the Asian Long-horned Beetles is really all about.
First up: District 2 City Councilor Phil Palmeri, who nicknamed our big, winged nemesis. He called the death-bearing bugs – they have killed 17,000 of our Greeendale and Burncoat area trees, after all – “the ALB,” short for the Asian Long-horned Beetle. For Phil, it was “ALB” this and ALB that. It sounded sort of cool, actually. Like the movie Men in Black – MIB. At this City Council meeting, Palmeri got all emotional about the ALB. He got up and told the audience he recently went to visit a local family, the Monahans. They were a family up to their eyeballs in the ALB. Mrs. Monahan – horror-stricken at the toll the bugs have taken on her yard – called Phil, her district councilor, to tell him the federal government (the feds are responsible for ALB eradication) wanted to rip down a precious tree in her yard – a tree she loved. A tree that wasn’t even an ALB host tree! How did she know her tree had zero ALB larvae? Phil didn’t say, but his story was filled with foreboding … .
Next up: City Councilor at Large Kate Toomey. Toomey, who has gone through several hair styles over the past few weeks, should have been wearing the hairdo she sported three meetings ago – stringy, haggard, yellow strands of hair plastered to the side of her head. At that city council meeting, Toomey was sweaty and a ghastly shade of pale. To put it bluntly, she looked like hell -a look that would have been perfect for this city council meeting, Attack of the Killer Asian Long-horned Beetles! Aurgh!!!!! It was as if Toomey had just been chased into City Hall by a swarm of the big bugs! I can imagine her movie dialogue: “They attacked my head! They’re attacking our people! The ALB must be stopped! Argh!!!” Toomey could have been our blond-haired Tippy Heddren – only about 15 dress sizes bigger.
At this city council meeting, however, the now carefully coifed Toomey explained to the city council that she had recently been in Boston, and all the people she met who had heard about Worcesteer’s plight wanted “to help us.” Toomey said wherever she went concerned folks “wanted to help.” People all over the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are reaching out to us …
Next Mayor Konnie Lukes opened the discussion to the people in the audience, and a Worcester resident got up to speak. Big mistake, Konnie! This resident – Mr. Evans from Randolph Road – was a nut. Of course, it’s always a natural disaster like the ALB that brings out the nuts in any movie, er, community.
When I was a little girl, my relatives lived around Randoph Road, off Burncoat Street. It used to be a road filled with no-nonsense families – people who, if the federal government told them they had to lose some trees to save a region, would have said: We are sad to lose our beautiful trees, but we will do our part to ultimately save the environment. After all, you are going to plant new trees – trees that won’t be attacked by the ALB, trees that our grandchildren will be able to enjoy someday.
Well, that is not the Randoph Road of today – 2009. Mr. Evans, wearing some kind of mock safari jacket, got up to speak and began to … pontificate. He went on and on and on – used very big words and seemed awfully proud of himself for doing so. His vocabulary was impressive – though he did stumble over the pronunciation of “ignominious.” But that’s ok! In a movie that verbal stumbling would have only made Mr. Evans seem more human, more fragile. It would have won the viewer over! Speaking before the city council, in Worcester’s very own horror flick, Mr. Evans clearly relished the limelight! He intimated that the federal government is not being honest with Worcester, that, did we all know, for instance, that besides places like Chicago and New Jersey, the ALB has attacked places like … Long Island and Toronto! Oh, my! We did not know that! Mr. Evans also intimated that there may be other ways to kill the beetles – ways that don’t involve felling trees. But the feeds are holding out on us!! Well, if Evans knows what any of these new state of the art scientific methods are, we wish he would call the U.S.D.A.’s scientists and share his discoveries with them. We wonder what kind of science degree Mr. Evans has. We guess zippo.
Then Mr. Evans made it all crystal clear. He leaned over the microphone on the polidum from which he was blathering and intimated that this whole ALB mess was CAUSED by the US government! Maybe, just maybe, the federal government had unleashed the Asian Long-horned Beetle on the good, wholesome, unsuspecting citizenry of Worcester. It was all part of a communist plot to … takeover Worcester!
Take over Worcester?
We can barely get MassPort to take over our freakin’ airport!
We have a dead mall, a moribund downtown, a projected $18.3 million municipal budget deficit … Why would anyone want Worcester? What could anyone possibly want to do with her?
Then the rest of Worcester’s city councilors decided to get in on the act and reward these suffering people – the people whose lives have been ravaged by the ALB. They threw money at the problem. that is they gave these Worcesterites a huge tax break on their homes! Their beautiful homes were once worth something! Now they are not worth as much! Their neighborhoods are now shells of their former selves!
Time for a reality check: most of the ALB “victims” are not so downtrodden. They live in great neighborhoods and are comfortably middle class – even upper middle class. And they are Worcester’s most active voters (read Worcester’s most powerful citizens). It’s true the middle and upper middle classes tend to get their way with politicians because 1. they vote, 2. they can organize people to vote against you and 3. they have deep pockets and deep connections. So any politician who wants to get reelected and/or grow his/her political career better give these people their tax breaks – or else.
If this were a movie, this is the moment when someone stands up to enlighten the good people of Greendale and Burncoat neighborhoods. For cripes’ sake, people, get a grip! You have gotten crazy over these bugs! What about Worcester’s poor neighborhoods – places where there have been too few trees for many, many years? Poor people have lived in denuded areas for decades! Neighborhoods with three or four trees. You folks in the Greendale and Burncoat area have beautiful houses, good jobs, plenty of money. So you’re down some trees. Get over it!
And finally: Wouldn’t it have been nice if Worcesterites and our politicians would get upset over issues like hunger, poverty and homelessness in our city? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if during a city council meeting a person got up and said: Let’s stop the hunger! Every time a kid goes hungry, we stunt his growth, his mind, dim his chances of future success. In other words, CUT DOWN his life.
And what if the politicians went wild and agreed and vowed to do everything possible to prevent this beautiful young life from being chopped down?
What kind of movie would that make?