Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Trial of Mr Biggs - Witness for the Defence (Me) Speaks Up

I’ve never been what you’d call a big committee person. 

Don’t get me wrong. I like committees; I just don’t like anyone other than me being on them. It’s why I wouldn’t like to be on a jury. I know I’d enjoy the law side of it, but unless I was the foreman (do people say forewoman? You see? I’m arguing already), I’d have to plead sickness, else go for a quick “They must be guilty if they’re in court in the first place” approach that would get us all out of there damned sharpish.
But last night, I found myself part of a very big committee indeed – well, a “community board”, to be precise, CB4, which represents the Hell’s Kitchen area in which I live. I’d been asked to attend by one of my favourite local bars, Mr Biggs, as the owners want to open another place close by. They asked those of us who are fans to support them and, if possible, speak.
I never need any encouragement to speak, especially when it’s in public. In fact, so much do I enjoy speaking, I am sure I will be punished in my next life by being sent back as a deaf mute.
The meeting took place in a conference room at Mount Sinai hospital and I immediately signed up for opening my gob on the subject of opening a bar. The only subject on which I could ever be even more vociferous would be that of never closing a bar.
There was a lot to get through before the rent-a-gobs got to take their place at the microphone. I learned a lot about free astronomy courses at the Intrepid museum (oh, please stop me from rushing out to buy a telescope before I’ve even tried a class), and even more about stairwells in new apartment blocks. They now have to be wide enough for eight people and, I discovered, the World Trade Centre had stairwells that were wide enough for just two.
Several people who appeared to have signed up to Stairwellgate declared that they had put their names on the wrong form (why would anyone want to talk about steps when there are bars to be opened?). Then, a woman who had signed up properly for something else decided that she had rather a lot of say on the subject of stairs – so much, to be honest, that had there been a nearby flight, I would happily have pushed her down them. 
Another woman was very unhappy that a building was going to be pulled down; another that a building was going to be put up. Geez . . . it was going to be Last Orders at Mr Biggs at this rate. Move it, people!
We were called in groups of five to the microphone and, as always happens in these circumstances, I had to stretch my neck to giraffe like proportions to reach it. I said my bit – fulsome praise of the bar, the owners, the management, but nerves encouraged some really weird things to come out of my mouth. Come on, it was the first time I’ve ever spoken in the US, and while it might not be Congress, it’s a start (give me time).
At one point, I found myself saying “Of all the worlds I’ve lived in . . . “ before realising that I have, as far as I know, lived in just one. The correction provoked a laugh, and I talked about the importance of a woman (and one of a certain age) feeling safe in a bar environment. 
Loads of other people spoke up in favour of Mr Biggs. Heck, it was so encouraging, I thought they would be granted permission to build a hundred new bars, let alone convert just one. 
Then the women with cardigans got up. I know from the UK that where there’s a woollen cardigan, there’s going to be trouble. Suddenly, there was an army of cardigans. Would there be cabaret? What about the noise? How would local residents sleep? Could they enforce a 2am rather than 4am closing time (even the latter is waaaaaay too early for this European)? I tell you, I reckon we were a hair’s breadth away from talking about how wide the stairwells would be.
I left the meeting before the vote and went to Mr Biggs where, it turned out, I later learned that the application had been turned down. I hope it wasn’t because the committee didn’t think they wanted aliens from other worlds inhabiting their planet.
It was incredibly disappointing for the owners, who really are a great bunch of guys who, given the success of their other places, I, and their other supporters, know would do a terrific job.

I’ve no doubt they’ll take it to the next level, at which time they will have to put their case to the State. Just point me in the direction of that microphone. 

Failing that, just tell me who I have to sleep with.

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