From Minsk With Love

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a absent

By some miserable miscalculation, some monstrous mismanagement of my calendar, some moronic misreading of my schedule, I have managed to be here, where I am, rather than there, where you are.

Yes. It is outrageous, but it is true. I will be absent for one of the most cherished of all of life’s events — right up there with the birth of your firstborn, or your first-ever taste of a Taco Bell Burrito Supreme.

I refer, of course, to Ipswich’s beloved Town Meeting.

Tuesday evening, you’ll have to carry on without me.

To my endless regret, I shall find myself not seated in the front row of the Ipswich Performing Arts Center (a.k.a. the Ipswich High School auditorium), not eagerly awaiting the Town Moderator Tom Murphy tour de force, not hanging on every word of every selectman about every Article, and not sketching (as is my habit) a bad caricature of every individual who has the temerity to speak on any subject.

Instead, by some mammoth mistake, I find myself sitting at #8 Karl Marx Street in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, in the former USSR.

Why? you ask.

Well, for the past decade-plus, my wife Kristina and I have led a charity called NewThing.net; it’s now the biggest humanitarian operation in Belarus, bringing in 225 tons a year of donated food and goods for distribution to the needy. How we came to establish such a mission is a long, complicated story, for another day.

For the moment, however, even though I am far away from Ipswich, my thoughts are there, with you. In fact, I’m actually finding a number of inspirations, here in Belarus, which could be seamlessly applied to our Town Meetings in Ipswich, to the great benefit of our fine townspeople.

For example:

While the Belarusians don’t have Town Meetings, they do have meetings. Meetings here, however, feature certain components which I don’t observe at Ipswich’s Town Meetings. A really successful meeting in Belarus will almost certainly have some sliced sausage, and tomatoes and cucumbers, and probably some grapes. And some mineral water. And some vodka. I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have attended my share of Town Meetings, and I have never once found sausage, or tomatoes, or cucumbers, or grapes, or mineral water, or vodka available to attendees. There’s room for it! You could set up a booth in the lobby. You could make it an Ipswich cheerleaders benefit. And you’ll be able to tell which attendees drank too much, because their letters to the editor in the following week’s Chronicle will be even more incoherent than usual.

Also, consider this: In Belarus there is no constitutional freedom of assembly. So if you’re going to meet on a regular basis, you’re required to register with the government, and they assign you a KGB agent, to make sure you don’t cook up anything dangerous. Ipswich has the opposite problem: People aren’t required to attend Town Meeting, so they don’t. But then afterward, they complain about the decisions that were made in the meeting. So I suggest we set up our own version of the KGB. These agents would monitor Facebook for anyone who fails to attend Town Meeting but then complains online. When they catch you, they haul you off to Ipswich’s own version of the gulag. I refer, of course, to Little Neck.

Finally: When I attend a meeting here in Belarus, I have an interpreter, someone who speaks both Russian and English. This person translates whatever I say into Russian, for the benefit of the Belarusians, and translates whatever the Belarusians say into English, for my benefit. This same strategy can be applied to Town Meeting. We could employ someone who speaks both Sense and Nonsense. When someone speaks Nonsense, the interpreter would translate it into Sense for those who only understand Sense. When someone speaks Sense, the interpreter would translate it into Nonsense for those who only understand Nonsense. In order to avoid making anyone feel discriminated against, we would not require people to sit in certain “Sense” and “Nonsense” areas of the auditorium. This would have the additional benefit of allowing married couples to sit together.

Please email and let me know how these new tactics work out. And please, don’t thank me. It’s a privilege to be of service to the town I love.

 

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