The Strip was witness to the event as it attended a smelly old time at one of the final evenings of the Shakespeare Festival in Southmoreland Park. It was a Saturday night, and this chuck steak had planned on a pleasant evening taking in Julius Caesar while sitting on a lawn chair. But the prime section of lawn-chair seating turned out to be one big mud field.
And worse, it smelled like raw shit.
All night, this perturbed porterhouse watched folks try to trudge across the standing cesspool. Each time, they'd take a few steps in and then look down and grimace at the stinky black goo that had seeped over their sandals and between their toes.
We sat right on the edge of the swamp, and as our neighbors settled in, we eavesdropped. One woman barked into her cell phone, "Bring baby wipes! It smells awful!"
"What is it?" another woman asked, crinkling her nose.
"Probably a broken pipe," a man replied, shaking his head.
The Strip tried not to bust out laughing as everyone around it made the best of sitting in a shit puddle. Folks nonchalantly unpacked wine and semisoft cheese from their wicker baskets and tried not to let on that their evening of high culture was being punctuated by the pungent aroma of poo-poo.
As this meat patty's edges started to turn brown from the burning stench, we wondered whether a sewage pipe in the city's century-old shared-drainage system had burst or something. We decided to investigate; two festival workers told us the lawn gets muddy every year but added that this was the worst in memory. No, we were told, it wasn't sewage.
"Then what stinks?" we asked.
We were told that the rancid pudding was caused by hay that workers had spread on the grass to soak up the water. But hey, we've laid down hay in our mostly failed attempts at gardening before. It never smelled like shit after a big rain. It just smelled like hay.
Then we noticed the Cleavers making their way to the Strip's section. They approached the ass-swamp, which we continued to suspect was really caused by the city's crumbling infrastructure, which Cleaver's administration didn't do a whole hell of a lot to repair.
"I'm going to march right through!" announced a woman in Cleaver's entourage.
"No you're not," a smart aleck nearby answered.
And sure enough, the Cleaver crowd ended up doing what everyone else had done: taking a couple of confident steps, cringing at the squishiness under their feet, then tiptoeing back to solid turf. Last week, the tacky temporary memorial to Precious Doe was finally dismantled, 3 years after the little girl's headless body was found and at least 2 years after people living in the neighborhood had grown sick and tired of the display.
In past columns, this righteous rib has described the frustration of residents who lived near Hibbs Park, where the shrine had been placed at the corner of 59th Street and Kensington Avenue. Cynthia Canady and others who lived close to the eyesore blamed the Precious Doe Committee for steadfastly refusing to take down the ratty collection of mildewed teddy bears.
Canady was fed up, but it was Alonzo Washington, the hyperactive comic-book activist, who had the harshest words for the committee. Washington claimed he was the first one to suggest a memorial, but he'd come to believe that the Precious Doe Committee just kept it up in an attempt to validate its own existence.
The memorial is down, but Washington is still spitting fire. When he heard reports suggesting that there was no money to replace the impromptu shrine with a permanent memorial, Washington took aim once again at the groups that have been trying to keep the Precious Doe story in the news.
What happened, he asks the Strip, to the $10,000 he raised?
Washington says he raised the money from people in the community in the days after the girl's body was found and turned it over to Move UP. That group put the money into a reward fund that later grew to $13,000 (and was matched by other groups -- there's now a $33,000 reward offered for information leading to an arrest).
By now, Washington says, it's obvious that no one is coming forward to help out in the case -- the girl still hasn't even been identified. Now he'd like to see that money used for a real memorial.
But that won't happen, he says. "I think they really pimped this child," Washington says. "I just think they're trying to keep the money to put into Move Up."
Move Up's president, City Councilman Alvin Brooks, lets out a sigh when we tell him that Washington is talking such smack.
"I keep hearing about the $10,000 he raised. But as I recall, there were a number of people with buckets on street corners that helped us raise that $13,000. And it's still in an escrow account for the reward fund."
Brooks says he thinks it should stay there, and several groups, including the Parks and Recreation Department and the City Council, are meeting to figure out how to raise much more than $10,000 to do the memorial right.
As for Washington's accusations, Brooks won't take the bait. "My mother told me, you never make yourself look good by trying to make someone else look bad."
Besides, the 3-year-old memorial looked bad enough. Washington should just be happy it's gone.