Reader Mailbag

Meditations on Happy Hollow, the late Sprankle, and Rep. Dunn's next bill

Some still insist that the Sprankle was in terrible shape, irreparable, undevelopable. Home Federal could have saved themselves the whole headache if, four years ago, or more recently, they had called the preservationists' bluff. Offered to sell it to a developer, insisting, in legalese, "Okay, hotshot, let's see what you can do. You assume the liability. If it doesn't work, we'll take it back in 12 months and demolish it." Since the bank's not even planning to build anything on the site until 2007, such a deal would have been no skin off their nose. If they're as confident as they said they were that the building was not worth fixing, they would have proven to the world that they were right, and would have suffered no public-relations headaches.

I had no idea there was such antipathy for the consumption of shrimp—there's even a website devoted to it—but shrimp and other shellfish do seem to be forbidden in Leviticus 11. "All that have not fins and scales in the sea...they shall be an abomination unto you," the same word used to describe homosexuality. Deuteronomy repeats the warning, with the slightly lighter condemnation, calling shrimp "unclean." It's a rule kept by orthodox Jews, but overlooked by most Christians. Perhaps banning the consumption of shrimp in

Tennessee

should be the next Bible-based Dunn bill.

After my piece about the Time Warp, located in the once-notorious section of town called Happy Hollow, one reader was reminded of a couplet, in roughly trochaic tetrameter: Way down yonder in Happy Holler / Get all you want for half a dollar.

Anonymous, circa 1950.

Got a good deal of response to my obituary for the Sprankle a few weeks ago. Most agreed, with varying degrees of indignation, that it should have been saved.

I couldn't help but notice that among people who come downtown enough to know which building the Sprankle was, the sentiment for saving it was largely generational. Those over 65 were mostly against saving it. They speak with confidence that the building was "not historic." There are several exceptions to that rule, including some architects.

Younger people, especially those under 45, were overwhelmingly in favor of saving it. Some tend to be extravagant in their sentiments, calling Home Federal "vandals in suits," "esthetic terrorists," even "Home Qaeda." Some thought my column was too polite. These under-45s are the majority of the people who are paying top dollar to live in historic buildings downtown. Now there's one fewer.

These two generational factions both seem not to have met each other; both in fact seem astonished that the other side even exists. And both suspect that the other side is motivated chiefly by spite.

The preservationists have lost a lot of battles lately, more than they've won—but some are taking comfort that most of those who oppose preservation for all but the most eminent landmarks are approaching retirement age, or past it.

The syndrome afflicts all of us. In 2002, when I proposed razing the weird shiny-green circa 1960 former KUB building, at the corner of Gay and Church, just to build something better looking, I was surprised to hear from several people who like it, some who even want to live in it. All of them, I couldn't help noticing, were much younger than me.

A generation comes, and a generation passes away. Maybe I'll be the flabbergasted curmudgeon someday. I hope I'll at least be interested in hearing the other side's case.

Some still insist that the Sprankle was in terrible shape, irreparable, undevelopable. Home Federal could have saved themselves the whole headache if, four years ago, or more recently, they had called the preservationists' bluff. Offered to sell it to a developer, insisting, in legalese, "Okay, hotshot, let's see what you can do. You assume the liability. If it doesn't work, we'll take it back in 12 months and demolish it." Since the bank's not even planning to build anything on the site until 2007, such a deal would have been no skin off their nose. If they're as confident as they said they were that the building was not worth fixing, they would have proven to the world that they were right, and would have suffered no public-relations headaches.

Some respondents seemed to imply that Home Federal does so much for the community that we should bow to their wishes, and never embarrass them by criticizing their architecture. It's true that Home Federal has done much for worthy causes, most recently bailing out the Bijou Theatre. But I don't want to live in a city where any one entity is so powerful it is regarded to be above reproach, whether it's Home Federal, or Pilot Oil, or Metro Pulse . This ain't Pottersville.

Is it?

If architecture is ugly or boring or cheap, it deserves to be criticized. I don't care if Phil Fulmer built it. Or even Dolly Parton. Bad architecture reflects on all of us and I, for one, am tired of hearing every visitor from John Gunther to Bill Bryson call Knoxville "ugly" in national bestsellers. All the dozens of travel writers who have dissed Knoxville in the national media may well be snobs, but we can't just keep saying, "Well, I never ," as we've been repeating, like a mantra, for the last 75 years. We've to accept some responsibility for the fact that we've never made architecture and planning a priority.

A few weeks ago, I asked for your nominations for more Biblical legislation for our own Biblically inspired Rep. Bill Dunn to take to Nashville. As you will recall, he recently mounted a Constitutional ban on gay marriage, based on carefully selected Bible verses.

I got a range of responses Rep. Dunn may find inspiring. A lot of them came from Leviticus, one of the religious right's favorite sources of ammo against gays.

I had no idea there was such antipathy for the consumption of shrimp—there's even a website devoted to it—but shrimp and other shellfish do seem to be forbidden in Leviticus 11. "All that have not fins and scales in the sea...they shall be an abomination unto you," the same word used to describe homosexuality. Deuteronomy repeats the warning, with the slightly lighter condemnation, calling shrimp "unclean." It's a rule kept by orthodox Jews, but overlooked by most Christians. Perhaps banning the consumption of shrimp in Tennessee should be the next Bible-based Dunn bill.

Others brought up rules concerning menstruation which I won't go into, but if enacted in the Tennessee Code Annotated, would call for the forcible expulsion of hundreds of citizens daily. The rule to "not sow your field with mixed seed" came up; one reader was particularly concerned about whether his lawn, sewn with Rebel fescue and Kentucky bluegrass, should be abolished. He prefers a following line, "Nor shall a garment of linen and wool come upon you," because he doesn't much like the feel of that anyway, and wouldn't mind Rep. Dunn legislating that.

One reader likes the idea, also in Leviticus, that adulterers be put to death. Of course, adultery in the Old Testament was a different sort of a thing than what it is now; in Leviticus, it wasn't really adultery unless the woman was married. That definition allowed for plenty of extra wives and concubines. So, I guess it may be a dilemma for Rep. Dunn and his colleagues to decide which sort of adulterers to put to death in Tennessee. Send it to a subcommittee.

One reader asked me if, when I brought up the troublesome fact that Jesus expressly forbade marriage after divorce, I knew that one of Dunn's anti-gay-marriage colleagues was about to be remarried, herself. No, I did not.

We're all personally responsible for our own interpretations of the Bible. I'd be willing to bet that the number of interpretations of the Bible in this state is roughly equal to the number of citizens who live here.

We hear a lot about Southern fundamentalists. Fundamentalists have a noble tradition. The Amish are fundamentalists. The Hasidim are fundamentalists. They follow the rules, and they follow all the rules, not just the ones that seem easy to them personally.

I have never met a fundamentalist in Tennessee. It's not fundamentalism if you just pick the rules that you like, especially when you use them to flog people you don't like. There's a different word for people like that.

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.