Minutes of the Last Meeting
by Daniel B. Meltzer
followed by Q&A
The meeting of the Committee on Committees was called to order on Thursday, June 2nd at 7:02 PM, according to the Chair’s wristwatch.
Before getting down to the evening’s business, there was a brief discussion and unanimous agreement to request of the Facilities Committee that the wall clock in our meeting room, which had stopped at 11:17 five months ago, be repaired or replaced. Committee member Anthony Marcotricciano, who is also co-chair of the Facilities Committee, said that he would present the proposal to his committee at their next meeting, which would take place in September, after our summer recess for July and August. He reminded us all that any purchase, should that be recommended, would also require the approval of the Budget Committee.
Attendance was taken. In attendance: Chair Helen Rubin Santiago, Vice Chair Morgan Jones, committee members Anthony Marcotricciano, Ruth Pinsky-O’Gorman, Sheldon Foster, Ellen Fisher-Fenster, Joel Liebowitz, Mort Spielman, Ann Schwartz, Kwame Harrison, and yours truly, Richard Sam Kaplan, Recording Secretary.
It was noted with general sadness by the chair that Member Hu Sin was absent, still in mourning for her pet python, Lucinda, who had unfortunately swallowed a four-foot long battery-powered toy crocodile last week that someone had carelessly or maliciously left on Hu Sin’s fire escape. A motion was introduced by Ruth Pinsky-O’Gorman and approved unanimously to send a sympathy card. Pinsky-O’Gorman volunteered to excuse herself to go to the Duane Reade around the corner to purchase the card and return with it for all to sign. She was excused by the chair and then left.
Chair Helen Rubin Santiago called for approval of minutes of the previous month’s meeting.
Member Kwame Harrison objected and proposed (as he has at every meeting since joining the committee a year ago) a public reading of the full minutes at all meetings. A motion was put forth by Harrison and seconded by Ann Schwartz, but a majority of members present voted eight votes to two to approve the minutes without having them read aloud, Members Harrison and Schwartz being the two yea votes.
Member Harrison requested that it be entered into the record (again) that, for the enlightenment of members of the public in attendance, he requests that the committee schedule a special meeting to address this issue in the near future.
For the record, there were three public attendees seated in the meeting room on this occasion. After Kwame spoke, two of the three public attendees stood up and left, apologizing for having believed there was to be a screening of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Gold Rush” here this evening, with accompaniment by a pianist from the local music academy. It was in fact screened on Saturday Night as a presentation by the Special Events Committee.
The third public attendee raised her hand and requested to address the committee, but was told that she would have to wait until the public session following the conclusion of the Committee’s business session.
A brief discussion followed concerning whether the misinformation regarding the scheduling of the Charlie Chaplin film might have resulted from a miscommunication by the Communications Committee or a slipup at the Scheduling Committee or at the Special Events Committee itself. Notification of the chairs of all three committees was agreed upon unanimously and Recording Secretary Richard Sam Kaplan volunteered to report the problem to all of them.
Kaplan then noted that Harrison’s motion regarding the minutes would, in any case, more properly be the business of the Rules Committee and, after some discussion, it was agreed that it be taken up by a special joint session of Rules and Committee on Committees, to be scheduled by the Scheduling Committee as soon after the summer recess as possible, and after consultation between the two committee chairs. A motion to approve the joint meeting for this purpose was introduced by Member Kaplan, seconded by Harrison, and approved unanimously. Kaplan graciously agreed to communicate the request with the Scheduling Committee.
Having thus dispensed with Old Business, we next turned to New Business.
The sole item on our agenda was the ongoing effort to consolidate and/or eliminate some of our committees, members having been complaining about redundancies and having to attend too many meetings. All agreed there is enough overlap to warrant some cuts and consolidation.
Chair Rubin-Santiago asked for suggestions for committees that may be merged with others or eliminated entirely, and a lively discussion ensued.
Member Kwame Harrison proposed elimination of the Facilities Committee on the grounds that issues requiring immediate action so simple as replacing a light bulb, or a printer cartridge, or true emergencies such as the overflowing toilet last fall during a meeting of the annual Interfaith Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanza Dinner Dance sub-committee of the Events Committee, become impossible to address, owing to the mandatory checks and balances that were established after Ruth Pinsky-O’Gorman, who is also co-chair of the Outreach and Community Relations Committee, took it upon herself two years ago to invite Tony Bennett, whom she had met on a cruise to the Bahamas, to perform at the Dinner Dance, to which she said he had agreed and for which the Board soon received an invoice for $35,000, payable in advance. Ruth was compelled to write to Bennett’s agent to apologize for the misunderstanding and to cancel her request. There was then a threat of a lawsuit from his agent over Bennett’s loss of income, the singer having cancelled another lucrative engagement during the busy holiday season to accommodate us. A cousin of Bennett, who happens to live in the neighborhood and plays squash with the chair’s husband, fortunately agreed to mediate, and the matter was resolved without any cost to us.
There was then an extended exchange around the table about the night of the toilet overflow incident during a session of the Events Committee, when phone calls were placed to all Facilities Committee members in order to satisfy the quorum requirement, as mandated in our bylaws. Arguments ensued over a vote to repair immediately, or to defer the matter until a quorum of the budget committee was also reached and connected with the quorum of the Facilities Committee via conference call. This endeavor failed when the battery in Henry Waxman’s cell phone went dead one minute into to the call. Attempts to reach the members of both committees a second time using Sheldon Foster’s new I phone were unsuccessful when all the numbers he attempted to reach responded with voice mail or a busy signal.
The cost of the ensuing cleanup and replacement of bathroom linoleum and meeting room carpeting unfortunately consumed the budget for the summer picnic, forcing its cancellation. There was also the expense of renting a meeting room at the Y for two weeks while ours was re-tiled, carpeted and “aired out,” so to speak.
A rumor soon circulated that Mildred Kendall, who owns the Coffeeteria and sits on the Fall Dinner Dance Subcommittee of the Events Committee, had engineered the flood by wedging a bran muffin into the toilet tank’s egress, causing the overflow, and that she had done so out of revenge for the Events Committee’s having voted to put the catering for the affair out for competitive bids. But the allegation was never proven. Her husband Charles, the investment banker, who sits on both the Facilities committee and the Budget committee, threatened to punish the perpetrator of the rumor in a manner and in language which decency and respect for all of our devoted members prevent me from dignifying here in print.
Ellen Fisher-Fenster suggested that Ruth Pinsky-O’Gorman may have done it to get back at those who had ridiculed her for presuming, without prior authority, to invite Tony Bennett to perform at the Fall Dinner Dance, causing all that embarrassment and the threat of a lawsuit from a celebrity we all admire, with the implication that Ruth’s shipboard encounter with the crooner had amounted to more than just a friendly dinner table conversation, as she had described it. General chatter and speculation around the table ensued for more than two minutes, until Chair Rubin-Santiago rapped her gavel and called for order and reprimanded us all for engaging in idle gossip about one of our own when she is not present to refute the insinuation.
Back to the business at hand. A general consensus on the understanding that the Board could not properly or economically function without either a Facilities or a Budget Committee, and that merging the two might compound the confusion of who was responsible for what was reached and a motion to table the matter for further discussion until after the summer recess was approved by unanimous vote.
Member Mort Spielman then proposed that the Committee on Committees itself be dissolved, as it has neither approved a new committee nor found itself able to eliminate one or to bring about a successful union of two or more committees in its entire four year existence. He had been complaining for the past two years that not only do we accomplish little or nothing worthwhile with our discussions, but that Monday night is an important night for pro football telecasts, and that he has missed the first half of every Monday night game so far this season. A lively discussion ensued. Member Fischer-Fenster suggested that Mort not be so cheap and order TiVo so that he can watch his game any time he pleased. Mort demanded she take back the “cheap” comment, and she did. He said watching a game after you know who has won it defeats the entire purpose of the experience. A lively discussion ensued, which the Chair’s gavel eventually brought to a close.
In any case, as every other evening of the week is taken up with meetings of the other committees, the unavailability of the meeting room presents a serious impediment to this proposal.
Member Kaplan graciously offered his own living room for meetings any other evening of the week, but two members (Schwartz and Fischer-Fenster) being allergic to cats and the obvious problem of competing with other meetings that our members are obliged also to attend on those evenings rendered the suggestion moot.
All agreed to the Chair’s proposal that the best thing to do would be to defer the matter until such time as a joint meeting of the Committee on Committees and the Scheduling Committee could be arranged as soon after the summer recess as possible. The proposal was approved unanimously.
Member Marcotricciano then noted that member Pinsky O’Gorman had been gone for more than an hour on her mission to purchase a sympathy card for member Hu Sin on the occasion of the passing of her pet python Lucinda, and had not yet returned. Anthony requested permission from the chair to be excused so that he could go down to the Duane Reade to see what might be keeping her. General concern was expressed around the table, Tony was excused, and he left the meeting room.
At this point the sole member of the public who was seated in the public seating area raised her hand and asked again to address the committee. Chair Rubin-Santiago informed the woman that as we were still in the New Business section of our meeting, her question would have to wait until after we had completed our Committee business, at which time she might speak during the public session.
Various proposals were then put forth over the next half hour or so, suggesting, among other things, that the Events committee be absorbed into the Scheduling committee. But a defense of the independence of the Events Committee was vigorously argued by Vice Chair Morgan Jones, the interior decorator and Chair of Events, on the grounds that Events serves a creative function, whereas Scheduling is merely administrative.
Joel Liebowitz, the CPA and chair of Scheduling, took issue with Jones’s assertion that Scheduling was “merely,” in Jones’s words, administrative and demanded an apology, asserting the challenge of accommodating the many needs and demands of various members, including Jones himself, who refused to attend any meeting on Thursday evenings because it’s his bridge night, or on Wednesdays because of his group therapy sessions. Voices were raised and both men needed to be restrained after rising from the table and appearing to be about to engage in what we used to call fisticuffs. The chair’s hammer, drowned out by the shouting of the two men, eventually brought the meeting back to order.
At this point, we witnessed the return of Members Marcotricciano and Pinsky-O’Gorman, the latter leaning heavily on the former’s arm and appearing to be rather intoxicated. Tony reported that he discovered Ruth at the bar in Downey’s Pub, which is next door to Duane Reade, in conversation with a roofing salesman from Wisconsin. Ruth said she couldn’t find a card expressing sympathy for a dead python and had just stopped into Downey’s to use the lady’s room, but got into a conversation with a very charming gentleman from Wisconsin who had (quote) “Paul Newman’s amazing blue eyes,” upon which she dropped into her chair and immediately fell asleep.
The Chair requested that Tony Marcotricciano escort Ruth home by cab and to put in for the expense to the petty cash fund after the summer recess.
No other business being on the agenda, The Chair rapped her gavel and declared the meeting adjourned. At which point the woman seated in the public section raised her hand and began rapping the floor with her cane.
“May I speak now?” she declared in a booming voice and as thick an Irish brogue as this Recording Secretary had ever heard.
“Yes, of course. The public session is now open. Would the speaker identify herself and ask her question. Committee members will kindly reseat themselves.”
“My name is Rose-Marie Finn, and that’s with two n’s if you please, and I had also been expecting to see the Charlie Chaplin flick, but what I was wanting to tell you for the last two hours or so is that there’s a serious amount of water gushin’ forth, if you please, from under your bathroom door out there in the hallway and somebody here should be callin’ a plumber, as my own husband Frank happens to be, before you find yerselves all up there on that table o’ yours in the middle of a flood.”
Phone calls went out immediately to members of the Facilities and Budget Committees. Failing to raise the required quorum for both bodies, Chair Rubin Santiago declared the meeting adjourned at 9:16 pm and all members and the sole public attendee exited by the fire stairs.
Faithfully recorded and respectfully submitted by Recording Secretary Richard Sam Kaplan, DDS.
Daniel B. Meltzer lives in New York City. He has written for the Baltimore Sun, Albany Times Union, the Chicago Tribune and Associate Press Syndicates, and CBS News. His plays are published by Samuel French, Inc. He has taught at NYU and Penn State University (not in the athletic programs). Stories and memoirs have appeared in Confrontation, Southern California Anthology, Fourth Genre, Gettysburg Review, and other journals and magazines. His new fiction collection, Outsiders, is to be published in 2012.
Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: "Minutes of the Last Meeting" is based on my own experiences with community organizations and on various committees.
Q: What writers do you consider to be your primary influences?
A: Sophocles, Shakespeare, Moliere, Freud, Wodehouse, Bierce
Q: What’s your ideal place to write?
A: The French Riviera. Or in my kitchen.
Q: Who plays you in the movie?
A: Brad Pitt or Clive Owen, depending on who is doing the lighting.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: My first memoir: Nothing Happened Here, Volume I, also The Complete Contrarian, A Contradictionary