“Not far from the pyramid is a ‘cenote’ or, as we term it, a sinkhole. Tourists pay to swim in it and, not so long ago, the Mayans would cast sacrifices into ‘cenotes.’ Which got me wondering why we put up billboards for lawyers, inviting us to file lawsuits when our houses fall into one of these things? And . . . why the sacrifices?” Cusper Lynn
The Occidental Ape
by Cusper Lynn
SARASOTA Florida—(Weekly Hubris)—7/9/2012—My car has taken to expressing opinions about the places I go and the locations I would have it parked. Resisting the temptation to anthropomorphize a 2003 Saturn Ion, I have had several mechanics look at it. But, like the child at the doctor’s office, my car refuses to reproduce any of its peculiar symptoms in the presence of a professional. While the mechanics invariably conclude that the problem is a cable controlling the ignition switch, none has been able to reproduce the actual problem and so I refuse to shoulder the expense of repairing it.
The problem, to be stated precisely, is that the car will refuse to let me have my key. Back.
When I have let my son drive it, the car without fail allows itself to be parked and gives him the key.
For a while, I concluded that I suffered from some defect in my operation of the vehicle. I tried to be more temperate in my driving. This changed nothing. Still, the car would, at seemingly random intervals, refuse to give me back my key.
So I would be forced to move the car back and forth, twist the steering wheel, stomp the break and fiddle with the transmission until it yielded.
The length of these battles varied. But I still resisted the idea of granting my car the quality of sentient functions.
That is, until I noticed that there were specific places it would park and yield the key without complaint. For example, in front of my office. In my driveway. At my local grocery store. It would, however, refuse to be parked behind my office, on the street near my home, or at several of my clients’ offices.
After considering the questions of the quality of the road, and the grade or angle at which it rested, I was forced to conclude that there were simply places my car did not wish to be. These caprices could not be explained by identifiable circumstance of terrain. So, grudgingly, I had to accept that my car was, for reasons known only to the gods eternal and infernal, expressing some independent views or
Returning home from lunch today, I found myself in my driveway, cursing at the vehicle, as I could see no rational basis for its refusal to allow itself to be parked. I was, and it was, in what appeared to be its favorite spot. I had pulled in at its preferred speed. But it stubbornly refused to allow itself to be parked and give up its key.
I considered this for a moment.
Nothing much had changed in my neighborhood. While there were five cement mixers currently parked on the street, this was not significantly different from the dozen or so trucks parked along the street over the previous two days. Did my car have an aversion to cement mixers? Was it shy around larger vehicles? I did not care. I had a quick errand to do and it was important. I twisted the steering wheel and cursed.
After a five-minute-long battle of wills with my Saturn, I was finally able to retrieve the key. I snorted at it as if I had mastered it through sheer determination, then I retrieved my package from the passenger seat and walked to the front door. It was as I stepped onto the verandah that I first noticed what I immediately realized my car must have seen as we were arriving.
“Cusper,” the voice said in a distinct drawl.
“Frank,” I returned the greeting.
“Got a minute, Cusper?” Frank asked.
I certainly didn’t have a minute and certainly not a minute for Frank “Slim” Simons. Looking over, I saw him stretched out in my chair, his cowboy hat tilted forward and low over his brow, his boots resting on the rail.
“I’ll make it worth your while,” he said, tilting his head up to meet my eye and flashing me a smile.
“Why are you here?” I growled, noting that he had a cigar clenched between his teeth.
“Well, Cusper, haven’t been able to catch you at your office.” He grinned, repositioning the cigar to the far corner of his mouth.
I narrowed my eyes: the cigar looked suspiciously like one of my Don Lino’s. “Really?”
“Got the feeling that your receptionist was giving me the brush-off,” Frank said, getting to his feet.
Sheila actually being efficient? The thought boggled the mind.
“Then she gave me your home address.” He smiled again. “So I figured you were really not in.”
“Sounds about right,” I grunted and unlocked the door.
Frank came in behind me, his boots ringing against the wood laminate flooring.
“Your place?” he asked.
“Renting,” I said, not wishing to discuss the last few years’ financial debacle or my much-reduced circumstances.
“Ah, a pessimist,” he said and pulled out a chair at my dining room table.
“Do you mind?” he asked, already settling himself in at the head of the table.
“Suit yourself,” I said, and set my package on the kitchen counter.
There was a clattering sound as it landed.
Frank gave me a quizzical look.
“Marbles,” I explained. “It appears I’ve been losing mine.”
He shifted the Don Lino again . . . and gave me an appreciative smile from over one of the cigars from my office humidor that Sheila had no doubt given him along with my address, social security number, driver’s license and registration information.
“Cusper, I am here to talk to you about a project we are working on,” he said.
“The Clearman Commons,” I said.
“Yes, well, Cusper, we would like your help,” Frank said; then retrieved a folded paper from his vest.
Inwardly I groaned. Frank “Slim” Simons, like the rest of the bipolar real estate developers that populate this state, only operates in two modes: manic and irrational.
The Clearman Commons was another mega-mall development that had been negotiated with an “Affordable Housing” requirement. The requirement was that Simons group build 50 housing units priced so that they could be purchased by teachers, firemen and police officers. At the time, teachers were commuting 70 miles round trip because they couldn’t afford to live in the districts where they taught.
Frank had sued to have the clause removed, based on the fact that there were so many houses now in foreclosure that any additional home building was pointless and wasteful, and that the objective of the clause was already being met by the prevailing realities in the housing market. He, of course, won his suit.
“Frank, first of all, I am not a lobbyist. Second, I do not know anything about real estate, except that I do not wish to own any . . . ever. Third, why are you here? Really?” I crossed my arms.
“Cusper, we have a problem,” Frank said, looking down at the paper.
This was the only good news I had heard all day.
“And?” I asked.
“We think you can help,” he said, and placed an index finger on the paper.
I looked down to see that he had laid out a plat map and his finger was resting on a small state road.
“Yes?” I said looking at the spot where his finger lay.
“You are familiar with the McClintock Rider, that there has to be a State road west of here before we can develop this land?” Frank said.
“Yes,” I answered. It was known to nearly everyone in the state.
“Well, perhaps you know that the Council just passed an order that this area will never have a road,” he said, casually.
“Yes, about a month ago, I believe,” I answered, looking closely at the map.
“Well, we have a 15-acre parcel that we plan to use as part of the project. But we can’t. We’re looking at some options,” he said, moving the tip of his finger about vaguely over the map.
“You mean lawsuits,” I corrected.
“Among other things,” he conceded, “but the problem is I don’t have a handle on the motive.”
“Motive?” I asked.
“Rulings like this don’t just happen,” Frank said. “There is a reason.”
“You don’t believe in legislative cock-ups?” I said, smiling.
“You mean like the state ‘Healthcare’ package or the ‘Affordable Education Act’?” he responded, grinning.
I shrugged. These were two of the state legislature’s more interesting laws of the past year. The first left a four-month loophole in the law allowing insurance companies to make no reimbursement whatsoever, and the second cut funding to three of the state’s nationally ranked research universities, froze tuition rates and started another college project . . . the net results of which were that universities were cutting staff and services, while insurance companies were dancing naked in the street singing, “We’re In the Money.”
“I have a feeling you might be able to get a handle on this for us,” Frank continued.
I walked to the window and looked out at my neighbor’s backyard, where a dozen workmen were pouring concrete.
“Frank, do you know who the developer was for this development?” I asked, crossing over to retrieve my marbles from the counter.
“Is it important?” Frank said, his tone betraying curiosity and irritation.
“It is to me,” I said, and started setting my marbles in small grooved pieces of wood around the room.
Frank paused and cast his eyes skyward as if in recollection. “Would probably have been Gordon Emory, I expect.”
“You expect right, Frank,” I said, making a small mark on the wood into which I had just set a large green marble. “This was one of Gordon’s early developments.”
“You ever been to Cancun?” I continued, cryptically, as I set about placing more marbles.
“Sure, hell, been damn near everywhere,” Frank said, his agitation growing. “What about my problem?”
“The two are related,” I said, setting my last marble in place. “If you head west across the Yucatan there is a Pyramid located at what was once a center of Mayan life. I refer of course to Chichén Itzá.”
“Yes, thank you for the geography and history lesson, but I have a land deal that has been monkey-wrenched,” Frank snapped.
“Not far from the pyramid is a cenote, or as we term it, a sinkhole. Tourists pay to swim in it and, not so long ago, the Mayans would cast sacrifices into cenotes. Which got me wondering why we put up billboards for lawyers, inviting us to file lawsuits when our houses fall into one of these things? And . . . why the sacrifices?” I sat down opposite Frank, who looked frustrated.
Frank pivoted the cigar about in his mouth a few times, chewed on it, then tipped it downward. “I suppose they were killing lawyers?”
“The thought had occurred. But then I realized what had really happened. They were sacrificing developers for building where they shouldn’t have,” I smiled a vicious smile.
“Cusper, I haven’t got time for this crap,” Frank said, taking the cigar from his mouth and pointing it at me in a manner I found offensive.
“Gordon Emory developed this area from farm land that his family owned. It was never meant to have houses on it. Surveyors knew about the water erosion, the caves and the lack of bedrock. So now my neighbor’s house is sinking,” I said solemnly.
“Cry me a river,” Frank said, folding up his paper.
“Well, it is an underground river of sorts,” I said to him as he rose from the table.
Frank grunted and stormed off toward the door.
“I will tell you something for nothing, Frank. Gordon has a grandson . . .” I called after him.
Frank stopped. “Yeah, Seth Emory.”
Frank turned, faced me, and asked “So?”
“McClintock’s cousins own the land near your property. That is why McClintock put the original restriction in. He didn’t want you getting ahead of his family. Seth’s family owns a large parcel three miles southeast of your project,” I observed.
“So, he’s trying to cut into the Clearman Commons Project?” Frank asked, skeptically.
“No, he wants to make sure that McClintock’s cousins don’t get any money. In case you haven’t heard, McClintock is running for office again next year,” I said.
“What is the beef between the McClintocks and Emorys?” Frank “Slim” Simons formerly of Bayonne, New Jersey asked.
“Well, McClintock made his money suing developers over sinkholes and one of them was Gordon.” I flashed him a toothy smile.
“Even if that is true . . .” Frank began exasperated.
“It is.” I said, cutting him off.
“I can’t take all of that to court. I need something simple, or leverage to get Seth to change it.”
“The only leverage I have right now is my home which I think is tilting,” I shrugged.
Frank let out a long disgusted sigh. “You know I will have to sue the council.”
“Yep, and you will win. In a year or two,” I said, softly.
“Damn, Cusper, I knew you would know why but I thought it would be something . . .” Frank trailed off.
There was the sound of something striking the floor in the far side of my house. “Useful? Sorry. No. Right now, all I have is my marbles, and I appear to be losing them . . . again.”
“Thanks, Cusper. Do I owe you anything?” Frank said, and stepped back to the door.
“Except for a cigar, no,” I said, rising from my chair to see him out.
“Thanks,” he said, slamming the door behind him.
I heard another marble landing on the far side of the house. My car was definitely showing better judgment than I was of late.