A number of people have sent me links to the various Harry Baals stories of recent weeks, perhaps in the belief that I had not heard of it. Readers, I have. I lived 20 years in Fort Wayne, and of course I knew we’d had a mayor in the past named Harry Baals, although I did not know he was the longest-serving in the city’s history, so there’s one thing I learned this week. Fort Wayne is not New York City, and Baals was no Fiorello LaGuardia, but it seems he needs some recognition.
Lately a website run by the city asked for suggestions on what to name its new city/county office building, currently called Renaissance Square, although elderly residents persist in calling it “the ol’ Wolf & Dessauer,” after the department store that was an institution for so long. Nothing institutional changes quickly or easily in Indiana, but sometimes it can change with a certain amount of style, or try to. And the option to change the name of Renaissance Square to the Harry Baals Government Center has been the runaway favorite since the question was posed a few weeks ago, and in the last days, since the story went national? As of last reload, it now has 21,410 votes. Its closest competitor, another wiseacre choice (“the Thunder Dome”) has 1,774, and the one after that, which doesn’t seem to have any hidden testicle or action-movie jokes in it, the Chief Little Turtle Center, stood at 866.
What were we just saying about our inner 15-year-old? You don’t have to tell me there are plenty of snickering jokesters in the Fort. Baals has had some official honor for a while now; there’s a street named after him, although it begins and ends in a city park, so no one has to put it on their nice letterhead or anything. The street signs are stolen so often that in recent years the replacements have read “H.W. Baals Drive.” And as I recall, one of the city’s brewpubs has had a Harry Baals Irish Stout on the menu, and that sound you hear is the rumbling of Harry turning in his grave whenever its name is invoked, because of course Baals is a German name, and he would probably prefer a lager.
The story finally broke out this week because the city announced it didn’t care how many votes the proposed new name got, the building was not going to be named for Harry. Here’s a glimpse of what drove me insane about life there: The deputy mayor, when pressed for a reason by a TV reporter, said that Baals was mayor of the city, and the building would be for both city and county offices, and it wouldn’t be properly respectful of our rich heritage in the county, blah to the blah, etc. I like to think that in Detroit, someone would go on the record saying, “No, we’re not going to name our building after testicles. Grow up.”
But then, of course, the reporters had a sturdy news peg, and a great headline — City scratches Harry Baals, etc. — and it went straight to the late-night talk-show monologues, and that brings us to today. I guess I should take a position, and it’s this: Name the building for Harry. Open a shop in the lobby selling every kind of branded tchotchke anyone can think of — T-shirts, beer-can cozies, keychains, whatever. Trademark everything. Play it cool here, if you like; a simple HARRY BAALS GOVERNMENT CENTER is fine, no need to roll in the gutter, as much as you might be tempted to go with I WENT TO THE HARRY BAALS GOVERNMENT CENTER AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY TEABAG.
I remind you the Lansing Lugnuts turned around with a renaming, and the revenues brought in by their branded merchandise were nothing to sneeze at. In fact, I think they’re a business-school case study now. The New Normal in government is, if there’s a revenue stream, stick a straw in it. They’d be fools not to.
And it’s not like there isn’t a precedent right down the road in Muncie. Ball State University was named for its benefactors in the home-canning company (now expanded into “one of the world’s leading suppliers of rigid metal packaging products and services, primarily to the beverage and food industries”). While there’s a fair amount of snickering over Testicle Tech and certain cheers at the football games, everyone’s learned to live with it.
So now that we’ve dispensed with that [brushes off hands], here’s the whiteboard in the classroom where I held office hours yesterday:
I can make out “open = freedom = puppies = milk = America!” and that note at the lower left is intriguing, “gubmint motors” balancing with “Eminem imported from Detroit.” I’m sorry I missed this lecture. Sounds like it was a good one.
So, bloggage? Sounds like CPAC was a hoot. Someone called Dick Cheney a war criminal? I assume that unwise soul was hustled out for some waterboarding. Roy tried to blog it for a while (scroll down) but finally decided life was too short. Can’t blame him. Donald Trump showed up? Are you kidding me?
Not much else, but here’s something I found via Hank, the sort of personality profile every newspaper with ambition used to run all the time, now confined to a few of the bigs and writer’s paradises like St. Petersburg: Meet the sheriff who has appointed himself the country’s smut police.
And with that, I think I’ll head on out. Have a great weekend, all.