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Showdown at sundown


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Nasty Nate, nattily attired in black from his hat to his boots, swaggers in and leans against the wall at the back of the room. He adjusts his 10-gallon hat, opens his jacket to expose the butt ends of sinister chrome-plated six-shooters, sneers, draws, twirls the pistols, then slams them back into his holsters. He stands, hands on hips, cigarette dangling from his lip, ready for action. At the front of the room the councilpersons, all wearing goodguy white hats, cower behind their desks. They glance at each other resignedly. Another ambush by Nasty Nate. Steely eyed, Nasty Nate peers at his favorite target, Councilwoman Pollyanna Priss. He fires from the lip. "You been playing fast and loose for a long time, councilwoman. You promised that garbage would be on the agenda tonight. So where is it? I want to see the Garbage Ordinance, and I want to see it now." "Yeah, he wants to see it now," challenges Nate's side-kick, Dolly Doolittle, as she saunters in the door, dressed in low-cut, red frilly dance-hall regalia and joins her partner. Together they insolently twirl their revolvers like gamblers shuffling stacked decks. Councilwoman Priss sneaks her derringer from her boot and craftily fires back, "The City Council is not at your disposal, Nasty Nate. Garbage will be on the agenda when the draft ordinance is good and ready." In response, Nasty Nate and Dolly stomp out a high stepping, synchronized dance number, managing to make it look menacing. Spectators join the leg-kicking, foot-pounding hoe-down. Mayor Malcolm Muchley bangs his gavel, shouting, "Order! Order!" City hall is in an uproar. For sheer live entertainment, an action-packed reality show that tops anything you can see on television, nothing beats a government meeting. State meetings, county meetings, city meetings, school meetings. Given the choice between watching the insipid offerings of the tube and real live thrills and excitement, town hall should be bulging on meeting nights. It beats flipping channels and you don't have to fight over the remote. Meetings about bridges, water, sewage, roads and finance. Transfer stations, landfill, recycling, lift stations, sewer lagoons, filtration and chlorination, budgets. This is the real deal. Drama and comedy, outspoken opinion, challenges and defenses, struggles, deadline pressures and at times, smoke and mirrors. This is good stuff. These folks are into action. They get things done. This is grass roots citizen government, government by the people. It is participatory theatre. When you show up, you are a member of the cast. Meanwhile, back at city hall, tension mounts as Nasty Nate, whose natural nature is negative, launches a second attack. "What about the #*#%# pot-holes? If I break an axle on my pick-up," he shouts, "I'm going to sue the city." He lets out a stream of profanity that would smoke a duck. Folks in the audience huddle behind their chairs, terrified. Suddenly Councilwoman Pollyanna Priss, intent on heading off Nasty Nate at the pass, climbs onto the table. She reaches into her handbag, extracts an ancient blunderbuss and lights the primer. She thrusts her arm into the air. "Let's raise his taxes!" she shouts. "Aye." "Aye." "Aye." "Aye." In quick succession the votes are counted. Nasty Nate, riddled full of holes, collapses in a heap on the floor. "I'll be back," he rasps. Mayor Malcolm Muchley bangs his gavel, "Motion carried. Meeting adjourned." (Ashton graduated from Harlem High in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after recently returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at htt/montanatumbleweed.blogspot. com.)


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