How many bureaucrats does it take to change a light bulb?

LEXINGTON, Mass. — I live in a pretty fancy town. It’s the birthplace of the American Revolution, a place known for its good public schools and high test scores.  It’s also known for its high taxes, so much higher than some neighboring communities that we’ll likely be forced to move when we retire.

So why has it taken the town more than four months to change the bulb of the street light across from our house?

I personally don’t much care.  Oh, I do walk Murphy, our vacuum-cleaner of a golden retriever, each night, tugging at his leash as he inhales sticks, dirt, discarded bits of food, grass and just about anything else.  But I don’t need to see for this mission. He pulls the leash. I pull back. It’s a standoff, in the light or the dark.

My neighbors, Dan and Marcy, however, are another matter. Dan is getting a little older and his step has slowed in the last few years. He walks gingerly, sometimes with a cane. And both of them have to navigate down several pretty steep stone steps from their front door to their car.

This is where a functioning street light, directly in front of their house, would come in handy.  It went out sometime in January, when Kathy and I were in New Zealand. This was a rough winter, snow storm after snow storm, and the light stayed out as snow and ice froze and thawed on Dan and Marcy’s steps.

Marcy told Kathy about a month ago that she and Dan had called the town repeatedly.  They learned that subcontractors fix the street lights, and that they only get to certain areas at certain times.  In a town where the taxes on our modest three-bedroom, bath-and-a-half house are pushing $9,000 a year, that’s the lamest excuse I’ve heard in a long time.

Marcy asked Kathy if she might call, too. She did and was routed to an answering machine at the Department of Public Works, which asked for the light pole number. Kathy provided the address: There is no number on the pole.  A month later, no one has called back and the light is still out.

May is a busy month for both Kathy and me.  But for us, both teachers, June opens up. And so, consider this blog the first salvo in my campaign to change a light bulb.  Soon I’ll take my message directly to the town council.  Then maybe I’ll put together a sandwich board sign and stand in front of town hall for a few days, alerting appropriate media outlets before I go. Should be a fun summer.

It’s ironic, I believe, that Lexington is the birthplace of the American Revolution.  We still have regular re-enactments of how a bunch of farmers, fed up with taxation without representation, took it on themselves to begin a war that drove out the better trained, better fed and better equipped British.

I don’t want to get too dramatic here, but I’m beginning to feel that I, too — a liberal, whose national politics are decidedly not Tea Party — am facing taxation without representation.  Wonder what would happen if I just stopped paying my property tax?


About jerrylanson

I teach, write, coach and sing, though you're not required to listen to the latter. I'm a journalism professor at Emerson College in Boston. My third book, "Writing for Others, Writing for Ourselves," was published in November by Rowman & Littlefield Publishing. You can read a sample chapter at My passions are politics (generally liberal in outlook), music, mountains, golden retrievers and my grandchildren, though not in that order. Please stop by and mix it up with me. I always answer those who post.
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