Well, there was another Downtown Development hearing tonight in Clearwater and Jeff Jacobsen wanted to attend so I tagged along. Who should be there when we arrive but Al Buttnor sitting toward the rear of the house.
There were very few sets left and about the only available ones were right next to Al. Now, I'm no religious bigot so I'm happy to share a row with Al. We took our seats and Al immediately got up and moved a few rows ahead of us. I would take this as a snub but I'm sure the Reverend meant nothing by it.
In attempting to open lines of communication, I went up to Al and asked him if he knew anything about the Scientologist who was electrocuted Sunday morning in an underground chamber on the Scientology compound. He looked at me and replied "Why don't you disappear?"
I took that as a "no comment" and an improvement over the "Why don't you just GO AWAY!!!" which he said to me last time we spoke. An improvement because he didn't say it with as loud a voice or as big a snarl as before.
I believe the chill is starting to thaw and in a few more decades he may accept my invitation to lunch.
I went back to my seat and suddenly the couple sitting next to Al came racing back to sit next to Jeff and me. The wife explained that she turned to Al after my question and asked him what that was all about. Al told her I was part of a hate group against his religion. She asked what religion and Al said "I'm a Scientologist." At that point she and her husband leapt to their feet and came back to join us. We had a pleasant conversation in the remaining moments before the start of the presentation.
When it was time for questions, one fellow said it looks like the developers are going to own Clearwater with the sweetheart deal the city is giving them.
A short time later, I stood to speak and addressed that point. "To the gentlemen who is concerned that the developers are going to own Clearwater...you don't have to worry. The city is already owned by Scientology."
This got a thunderous round of applause and laughter.
"About a month ago I spoke with a businessman who tried to lure a movie chain to the downtown area a few years ago and the chains all turned him down because of one word...Scientology. Do you have concrete commitments from a movie chain and restaurant chains who will definitely be part of this redevelopment?"
He said yes, the Crown chain of theaters has committed to downtown Clearwater.
With this the woman holding the mike ran off and was glad to be rid of me even though I had a few follow up comments I had wished to make..
Later another woman brought up Scientology and her concerns that Scientology would be profiting from this plan. The developer wanted to take some time to address this issue and explained that he viewed Scientology as the competition since they own so many of the empty buildings and he felt they would undercut him when he went to lease his space.
I spoke from the back without benefit of a mic, "Yet you've been working closely with the Scientologists. One newspaper article wrote how pleased you were that Scientology was bending over backwards to sell their property to you to make this happen."
He explained that he had more dealing with the Baptist Church and really dealt with Scientology's attorneys for most of their interactions.
By now I had worn out my welcome and should have kept my mouth shut...
...but I didn't.
I had earlier wanted to bring up Jeff Jacobsen's photos of cameras aimed at the citizens of Clearwater and explain what this meant to the population but was cut short. So I took this moment to shout, "They have surveillance cameras..." and was loudly drowned out with a chorus of "SO WHAT" 's.
A skilled actor knows when he has the crowd in the palm of his hands. That was ten minutes earlier. Now I was Tom Arnold on a really bad day.
After the meeting, Jeff and I went out to dinner and laughed about my eloquent explanation of the cameras. I have a feeling that for years to come, the phrase "they have surveillance cameras" will produce gales of laughter around the office.
Someday Al Buttnor will laugh with us too.