"The Couch" Uncovered

"The Couch" Uncovered

When The New York Times' "36 Hours" travel piece on Knoxville hit the Internet last Friday (the print version was in Sunday's paper), the Knox blogosphere immediately attacked the opening line: "Knoxville is often called ‘the couch' by the people who live there." KnoxvilleTalks, KnoxViews, No Silence Here, and denizens of KnoxBlab all wondered about (and mocked) the mysterious reference: Where'd those Yankees get that crazy idea?

The writer of the article turns out to be our old colleague Allison Glock. Award-winning author of the memoir Beauty Before Comfort, Glock (who currently lives in Florida) is well-known for her magazine work. But until about three years ago, she lived within walking distance of Litton's, one of the restaurants she recommends. So we decided to ask her: Why the couch?

"When I was given the assignment to write about Knoxville—a town I love—for The New York Times, I could not have been happier. Making a living as a writer is difficult, and if you want to put food on the table, you often have to write about things you wish you didn't. Cellulite, for example. Or Tony Robbins.

"I have lived in Knoxville off and on for many years. I hope to return permanently someday. I have close, amazing friends there, and the city has always felt like home to me. I took my first real job in Knoxville, at Whittle Communications, 15 years ago, choosing it over a more lucrative offer in New York City simply because I adored Knoxville that much. It was then, during my job interview, that I first heard the city referred to as "the couch."

"I took this to mean that the place was just that comfortable, a town that you came to and never wanted to leave. It was then, and remains now, an affectionate description. After that first mention, I heard the expression often, usually from locals who were trying to warn me that if I grew weary of the place, it would be harder to disentangle myself than I might think. My boyfriend at the time, born and raised in Knoxville, warned me of 'the couch' and its adhesive properties. But I never did grow weary. Not of Knoxville anyway.

"When I wrote my piece, I thought, at last I can share my admiration for Knoxville in a broader market. I can show people how great the city and its residents truly are and give strangers a list of reasons to visit. I said nice things about wonderful places, and I wrote, 'Locals tend to be not just friendly—a given in most southern towns—but chilled out, too.'

"And then Couch-gate happened, and the requisite blogging began, and all the good stuff was eclipsed by misplaced outrage over a description that not everyone had heard, a description that, again, was positive. Who doesn't love a couch? It's not a wicker settee we're talking about.

"Anyhow, I guess I stand corrected. Not about the couch. (Then I would sit corrected.) But about the notion that most Knoxville residents are chilled out. Next time I suppose I'll just write about Pigeon Forge."

No Slush Here

In a preemptive strike against an expected audit of Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale's hospitality fund, his office sent a letter to a selected list last week explaining the situation, especially to new County Commissioners.

The letter, sent by Dwight Van de Vate, urges recipients to disregard misleading comments "you may hear or read" and to remember the hospitality fund was not "a slush fund" or "liquor fund."

The fund was for various summit meetings, honoring the University of Tennessee and ORNL dignitaries and for staff development and economic development meetings, according to the letter.

Two key points, it says, is that the fund provided private money for public events and that donations ultimately exceeded expenses. The fund, which was opened in a bank account under former finance director John Werner's name, with a check book under his control, was eventually moved to a county dedicated account. It has drawn criticism for being outside normal county accounting procedures.

The letter concludes that many of the events listed sponsors in signage or recognized them at the event, including media sponsors "such as the News Sentinel."

Strangling Lumpy

Imagine a movie that opens with County Commissioner Greg "Lumpy" Lambert being elected mayor of Knoxville. (As far as we know, it's not a horror movie.) He uses a variety of tax increment financing and payment in lieu of tax incentives to locate a major media company with the understanding they hire 50 percent of their employees locally.

That's the premise of a local independent movie in which Lambert plays Mayor Ronald Thompson. The mayor discovers the media mogul is not living up to his bargain and threatens to go to the governor and blow the whistle. While he is threatening the media mogul on his cell phone, the Lambert character is stalked by and then strangled by a hit man. And that's just the first scene.

The movie, called Be Ye Not Afraid, is currently being filmed in the area. The Lumpy strangling occurred in an office in the First Tennessee Bank building last week. The director explains in an e-mail to Lambert that "we did not want an actor faking being a personality, we want a real personality to open the movie."

Lambert is a movie fan and is a member of a local film society. Meanwhile, he stars in a local reality show called Knox County Commission, in which he argues for county funding of the local film commission.

Demo Blow Up

Knox County's Democratic Party enters the August elections with $25,000 in the bank, a headquarters in Fountain City, and in better shape than any year since 1990, according to long-time party members. So naturally the chairman has resigned and the party is in disarray.

Don Daugherty, who has frequently been at odds with his board, quit the job and turned it over to vice-chair Alex Smith. Smith has said he is unable to serve, so a new chair will be picked at a meeting June 19. Local labor leader and veteran party operative Sylvia Woods has sent a letter to members soliciting support for the job.

Daugherty, without support from his board, moved the annual Truman Day dinner to the Knoxville Convention Center and recruited rock-star political consultant James Carville as speaker. The high-profile event raised money and created media buzz. But Daugherty has been at odds with various "progressive" elements of the local party since his election last year. He said in his resignation letter he wanted to do big things and has been "continuously frustrated with the ‘smallness' of what we collectively believe we need to accomplish"—winning against the GOP.

Daugherty said the party's by-laws work against a strong chair and "make the board of governors and executive committee the actual decision makers."

Rather than draw the various factions of the party together, Daugherty said he had become a polarizing influence and could not do anything further to help "our candidates."

The Democrats have six County Commission candidates and five countywide candidates for the August election.