Being the Big Kahuna

I held the gavel suspended in mid-air. It was my last meeting as Chair of the St. Petersburg Urban Detritus Society (SPUDS). I held fire on gaveling the annual membership meeting to an end because I knew I was about to receive a plaque recognizing my unstinting volunteer service to SPUDS. My Vice-Chair cleared her throat and advanced, plaque in hand. Waves of applause and huzzahs resounded in the room. I blushed appropriately. Great leaders should ooze with humility. I accepted the hunk of polished wood with inscribed metal plate, posed for a picture to go in the monthly newsletter. Through my mind raced visions of an article in the Tampa Bay Times extolling my ground-breaking work with SPUDS. Maybe the city would name a building for me. Something not too showy but substantial, in the Mediterranean Revival style favored in St. Petersburg. Or, if that was too much, I’d go along with my name on a paved alley. OK, unpaved, shouldn’t over-reach.  As I left the meeting room with the plaque tucked under my arm, a new member of SPUDS who had been doing Sudoku during the entire meeting, stopped me. “I’m new here. You know where the men’s room is? Hey, where’d you get the cool plaque?”

There was no article in the Tampa Bay Times. The guy taking the picture for the monthly SPUDS newsletter cut off my head. My name tag was chucked in the trash when the janitor found it on the floor after the meeting.  

I had become a PIP – a Previously Important Person.

Most PIPs accept their lot and gracefully fade into oblivion. They might save their plaque, setting it on a shelf, intending to hang it eventually. There it would rest, gathering dust until they downsize to a condo, when the plaque goes clanging into the dumpster along with an old pair of Etonic golf shoes and a broken George Foreman Grill. But there are those for whom PIPhood is unbearable. Napoleon fretted and kvetched in his exile at Elba in 1814. He plotted to regain the French Crown, saying the Austrians and perfidious Brits had cheated him out of a perfectly good Empire. Which brings us to The Donald, in exile at Mar-a-Lago, now plotting his return to greatness. He is amassing a shock troop of New York lawyers dressed in Brooks Brothers suits (advised to take their retainer fee in cash, upfront) trailed by an army of alternate electors.  Next, we give you Tom Brady, the Greatest Of All Time, a poster child for PIPSs who can’t hang it up. His exile on Davis Island lasted a biblical 40 days before he swaggered back onto the Buccaneers’ practice field. For the coda to our list of PIPs who are drawn like moths to the flame of office, we give you St. Petersburg’s favorite son Charlie Christ. In order of offices held: Florida State Senator, State Education Commissioner, State Attorney General, Florida Governor, almost US Senator (bad decision to leave the comfort of Tallahassee), US House of Representatives, and now running for Governor, again. Like Nixon in ’88, “He’s tan, rested, ready!”

We can see where Napoleon was coming from in wanting to shuck the Elba gig. As Emperor, he got to ride a cool white stallion while crossing the Alps so Jacques Louis David could paint him. He managed to invade Germany, Austria, Egypt, and Russia (lousy idea) with 2.8 million Frenchmen, fueling them with wine and pain au chocolat. As Emperor/President The Donald had West Pointers at his beck and call and had a lock on the red MAGA hat market. He got to nosh on the White House Executive Chef’s burgers, fully dressed, with fries. Tom Brady got to drop back and pass behind 1,500 pounds of beef intent on protecting him, ensuring his GOATness.

These fellows had a reason for craving to return to glory. Power is an aphrodisiac. Which brings me back to SPUDS, where power is not an aphrodisiac, more like saltpeter in your Brussels sprouts. As Chair I would nod benignly through late afternoon board meetings while the salaried Executive Director recited statistics on urban detritus successfully observed and documented during the past month. One day, near the end of my reign, my bliss was shattered by Fred. There is a Fred on every board, the guy who knows he is the smartest person in the room. His hand shot up. “What we need is a strategic plan!” My stomach churned. This meant special day long meetings with lunch ordered out: wraps made of chicken bits and limp lettuce with Lays potato chip bags, finished off by cookies made of ground up hockey pucks. We would vision, we would wrangle over a mission statement, we would have goals. Should we expand our reach beyond detritus on the ground? Dare we consider air-borne detritus? Napoleon, The Donald, Tom Brady, did they do visioning? Or did Napoleon simply wake up one morning and say, “Looks nice out, I think I’ll crush Austria today.”

A week after I was defenestrated at SPUDS, I got a call from the new Chair. She said, “Marshall, I have a favor to ask. How’d you like to come back and head our Capital Campaign?”

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