Will Green Shirleen be able to tackle eminent domain?
Green Shirleen called me to a downtown rooftop via a hushed request over a tenuous cell phone connection last week.
‘“It’s me,’” she said, her drawl broken up by technical caesurae. Or maybe she was chewing gum. ‘“We got to talk, babe.’“
I got there first and watched the opening strains of a glorious pink sunset from on high. I never heard her land on the gravelly rooftop. She laid an arm across my shoulders and we watched the atmospheric symphony to its conclusion in silence.
‘“Got a bad storm brewin’,’” she said when it was done.
‘“I thought ‘red at night’ meant ‘sailor’s delight,”” I said.
‘“What the hell you talkin’ about, son?’” she asked. ‘“Ain’t you heard?’”
‘“I hear lots of things. At the office we’re talking about the possibility that Tom Cruise and a bunch of Scientology whack-jobs kidnapped Katie Holmes and brought her to a compound and made her watch All the Right Moves until she thought she was in love with the little guy. We think Travolta may have been there. Heard that one yet?’”
She looked at me with irritation and a slight sneer.
‘“I heard Mayor Holliday is gonna do a reality show about his reelection campaign.’” I said. ‘“They’re gonna call it ‘Mayor’d.””
She shook her head sadly.
‘“Is that what you morons talk about all day?’” she said. ‘“Y’all ought to be ashamed of youselves. I’m talking about the highest court in the land, son. I’m talking about the Supremes.’” She leaned down a bit ‘— Shirleen is a good foot taller than I ‘— and whispered in my ear. ‘“They just took away the American Dream.’” Her breath smelled like mint juleps.
‘“You’ve been drinking,’” I said.
‘“Hell yeah, I been drinkin’. I can’t stand to see it. You know what they’ve gone and did?’”
‘“Yeah,’” I said. ‘“They basically extended eminent domain to include not just public use but private interests. Now people’s land can be taken for things like strip malls and condo developments even if they don’t want to sell.
‘“I’m working on something about it,’” I added defensively. ‘“It’s a pretty tough subject to tackle.’”
‘“He’s working on something about it,’” she said to no one in particular. ‘“Well work on this, darlin’: That call they made, that’s gonna trickle right down here to Greensboro in short order.’”
‘“How do you mean?’”
‘“He wants to know how I mean,’” she said, again to no one in particular. ‘“I swear, honey, sometimes you can be as dumb as a Moon Pie without the marshmallow.’” One of Green Shirleen’s powers is to catch glimpses of the future ‘— some call it ‘the sight’ ‘— and she can get impatient with others who do not share her gift of foresight. ‘“You been paying attention to what’s been doin’ around here the past few years?’”
‘“Sure,’” I said. ‘“We got a new stadium. We’ve got some new roads. We’ve developed downtown and big swaths of farmland. People are opening businesses, buying houses, putting gas in their cars. We’re rockin’,’”
‘“Yeah, we rockin”” she agreed. ‘“But what we’ve had up to now has been more or less what you call ‘organic development.’ You got a bunch of empty land and people who got a need, for stores or homes or what-have-you. Or maybe you got some property that suddenly becomes valuable and you got a chance to cash in and do you a happily every after. Or maybe you already got one of those and you want to keep things right as they are, then you can keep your house and let all the hoopla go up all around you.’”
She paused and buffed some fingerprints from her shiny breastplate with the heel of her gloved hand. I didn’t ask how they got there.
‘“Point is,’” she continued, ‘“before you had a choice. Now The Man can take away your house if he wants as long as he keeps crying, ‘Economic development! Economic development!’ Folks can’t even make a stand anymore and it makes me sick.’”
Indeed, she looked close to tears. I suddenly sensed her conflict ‘— Shirleen is well-known (in my imagination, anyway) for using her powers of organization, tidiness and super-strength to aid Greensboro’s real estate developers when she’s not fighting crime. If people around here attempted to take advantage of the Supreme Court decision, it would only be a matter of time before they approached Green Shirleen to help them with their plans.
‘“So where does that leave you?’” I asked.
‘“Somewhere between a prickle bush and a pile of crap,’” she said. ‘“I can’t sit back and let people be evicted from their homes when they don’t wanna go. That’s not what I signed on for. But if it’s the law of the land’….’” She unleashed a huge sigh that blew me back a few steps on the rooftop and ruffled my hair with a nearly hurricane-force gale that still smelled of whiskey and toothpaste. Her mighty shoulders slumped.
‘“I swear it’s getting so confusing these days,’” she said.
‘“So how you gonna handle it?’” I wanted to know.
‘“Got to protect the little man,’” she said. ‘“That’s what superheroing is all about. ‘Cepting Iron Man, of course, but he’s all suit and no muscle anyway.’” She made her forearm go taut and it strained against the mysterious fabric of her sparkly purple opera gloves. ‘“So I’m gonna have to keep people honest. Ask all the right questions. Shine light on the injustices.’”
‘“Kind of like we do at the paper.’”
‘“Oh get over yourself,’” she said, and then squinted towards the skyline. ‘“Dang,’” she said. ‘“Looks like one of the bulbs is out on the JP building’s little scoreboard up there.’” She pulled a replacement bulb from somewhere on her belt. ‘“Gotta get on that.’” She squinted again to the dominant peak. ‘“Could probably use a dusting up there, too.’”
‘“But what about the little guy?’” I asked.
‘“Oh don’t you worry about him,’” she said. ‘“Everything’s gonna be just fine.’”
That’s her superhero catch phrase, you know. Only she didn’t sound so sure of herself this time.
Then she launched into the air and made for the blinking display in the sky.