We hope everyone who came for the Final Four has had a nice time. It’s probably too much to expect thank-you notes, but that would be appreciated. They could go something like this:
“Dear Random Citizen: Thank you for opening up your city to us and not gouging us like Oedipus’ eyeballs the way some cities do. It was nice to go to a bar and not be charged a ‘hinge tax’ for using the door to get in. We especially appreciated the Ferris wheel on your Nacolet Mall, and will hereafter associate basketball with revolving slowly in the sky.
“Perhaps next time when we come back your Nacolet Mall will be finished, and the blight that destroyed all those evergreens will be fixed! The vendors were nice, but it looks like a basement floor before the carpet arrives.
“Respectfully yours, the people who parked where you usually park so you had to drive around for 30 minutes.”
There are two points here that should be addressed if we want the Final Four back. And of course we do! We’ve been told that it adds billions of dollars to local coffers. Don’t know where the coffers are, exactly; possibly in the basement of City Hall.
Point No. 1. The Mall. You can’t blame visitors for thinking it’s unfinished, because it looks less like an urban showpiece than a slightly drunk runway. It undulates a little, mostly keeps its balance, has a few objects that look like they could be art, and since they do not appear to have any functional use whatsoever, probably are art.
It will look nicer when the trees add some green, but for now it resembles an enormous piece of conceptual art based on the emotional mood of a Swedish widower at 2 a.m. in February. I’ve tried hard to love it, but it’s like trying to pull a heavily starched blanket over your head when you’re cold.
If I had my druthers — I keep my druthers downstairs, next to my coffers — I would line the entire thing with shrubbery to compensate for its current state of utter unshrubbedness. I’d go with one of those varieties that stays green all year round.
Which brings us to:
Point No. 2. The thank-you letter writer mentioned the blight that killed the evergreens, and while she is fictional and made that comment because I wanted her to, it still is a valid comment. This is the time of year when everything looks raw and wan and beaten; no new green shoots, no pastel tulip heads poking up. The planters everyone set out with evergreens over the holidays are now full of dead vegetation, and visitors might have thought we sent all our Christmas trees to the guillotine and put the decapitated tops in pots as a warning to insubordinate fir trees.
To be fair, it’s been a hard winter for them. We lost several domestic firs at our house. I have no sympathy for any of them. The other day while taking down the Christmas lights, I noticed that two smallish green trees had died. They were arborvitae, which I think is Latin for “live tree.” Really narrows it down there, Cicero.
They were arbor but not vitae. They had the lousy brown of a 1974 leisure suit.
“You’ve got one job,” I told them, “and that’s to be green. I’m not expecting lurid. I’m not expecting golf-course green. ‘Anemic frog’ is fine with me. Even ‘wan moss’ is OK. But something.
“I mean, isn’t this what you guys in the fir group are supposed to do? Survive? I’m sorry I didn’t swaddle you up in a blanket and tie you with twine so it looks like I have a row of Hannibal Lecters along the fence, but I figured you could handle it. What did you do before people came along? Expect giant white storks to cuddle you all winter?”
Then again, maybe the brown firs in the pots downtown — coffers are pots, now that I think about it — were dead to begin with, and we’re at that point where we’re so used to the inert world that we don’t give a thought to brown fir tops everywhere. The lawns are brown. The trees are bereft. In short, inviting the Final Four to visit the first week of April is like having company come over on the day you’re doing laundry and haven’t picked up after the kids since last week and the sink is full of dishes.
Between the Final Four and the Super Bowl, it seems that the world comes to visit only when we’re cold or barren or both. It’s time we hold a big event in the summer, like, say, the World’s Fair Olympics. We could spend a huge amount of money for something that will momentarily impress people who confuse us with Indianapolis.
Yes, it would be a drain on the coffers, but maybe we could pass a hinge tax.
That sounds too blunt, though. Call it an “ingress assistance fee.”