By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
So if East Dallas is Cool Dallas, then everybody in East Dallas must be cool with each other, right? But in fact it's a strange law of human nature that nobody gets more un-cool with each other than cool people.
Yeah, and that is exactly what I am telling myself this evening as I sit here in a very uptight, closed-door, military-style tribunal of some kind held to determine the burning East Dallas question of all East Dallas questions:
Is Avi Adelman an asshole?
It's night outside. We are locked inside the "main hall," I guess you'd call it, of the Camp Fire Girls Building on Skillman Avenue. I feel like the Camp Fire Girls Building is sort of the Reichstag of East Dallas, but then again in this part of town we all tend to be just way too sensitive. The Camp Fire Girls do have uniforms, but Reichstag? I should get a grip on myself.
Someone checked my "credentials" on the way in—how embarrassing, because I don't really have credentials. I managed under glowering duress to produce a previously laundered business card from the linty pit of a cargo pocket.
This is an official hearing of the Dallas Homeowners' League (DHL) to determine whether it should allow the Belmont Neighborhood Association (BNA) to become a member. The BNA is a breakaway neighborhood organization that used to be part of the Lower Greenville Neighborhood Association (LGNA).
Personally I think it's embarrassing that everything in East Dallas winds up sounding like a dispute between schismatic Polish trade unions, but I guess that's why they call us the Eastern Bloc. LGNA, which is a member of DHL, doesn't want DHL to allow BNA to become a member, so DHL is holding a hearing at which representatives of both LGNA and BNA will make arguments to a panel of DHL board members. Got it?
The terms and conditions for this tribunal, negotiated (wouldn't you know it) over eight months, include official provisions such as, "BNA & LGNA may be represented by up to four speakers, and only speakers from LGNA and BNA will be heard at this hearing. Members of the print press and up to two representatives of current DHL member organizations will be admitted to the hearing."
After I found the business card stuck to the bottom of my cargo pocket, a member of the DHL board took the card into another room for a special consultation with other DHLivites on whether the Dallas Observer is "print press." I was ready with my own argument: "Ah, yes, you see, because we have print, and we do indeed press it." But they let me in before I had a chance to argue.
Avi Adelman? I do forget. You may not hail from the Eastern Bloc. Those of us who live behind the Tattoo Curtain know who Avi is. Avi is a Philadelphia-born one-time-Israeli Yankee carpetbagger who thinks he owns Dallas—in other words, a pretty typical East Dallas guy. But he's also an East Dallas hero.
As the proprietor of the "Barking Dogs" Web site (BD), Avi is something of a national pioneer in the business of marrying an in-your-face Internet presence with an actual in-your-face face in order to get things done politically. During the last decade he has used both his very aggressive Web page and his very aggressive self to fight for the survival of a terribly embattled neighborhood.
We're talking about the area on Greenville Avenue below Belmont, from the Whole Foods down to Ross Avenue—kind of the East Bank of East Dallas, always teetering between what seems to be a bright future and what was definitely a tough recent past.
Away from this meeting I talked on the phone with Diana Souza, who is president of BNA (Belmont Neighborhood Association, remember?). She told me about coming back in 1992 after decades out of Texas to the house just off Greenville where her family had lived for three generations:
"When I came back it was still the Wild West over here," she said. "I was finding bullets in the garden. One night I heard gunshots, and I came down and asked my dad, 'Did you hear that?' It was kind of late at night. And he said, 'No. Was it in our driveway?' I said, 'No.' He said, 'Well, go back to bed then.'"
The battle against that kind of total social entropy in this part of East Dallas has been enormously successful. The crime rates are way down. Developers are jamming in cheek-by-jowl to put up expensive townhomes for young cosmopolites who want to be near the club scene. And in the war to save this area, no one has been more dedicated or effective than Avi.
The problem we consider tonight is that Avi has been successful in large part because he's such an over-the-top, two-fisted, relentless and courageous asshole. Everybody knows that. I was in the Blockbuster next to Whole Foods one night several years ago. Avi started to come in the front door, and the off-duty Dallas cop working security ran to the front of the store yelling "Asshole!" over and over again at Avi like Paul Revere sounding the alarm. I sometimes wish I had a recording of it that I could carry around with me for emergencies.
LGNA (Lower Greenville Neighborhood Association...I'm not going to keep reminding you) is arguing that DHL should not admit BNA into membership because Avi is very active in BNA and Avi is an A-H. Of course, they are not putting it in those terms, because LGNA is represented here by several very genteel and well-spoken persons, one of whom happens to be another giant hero of mine, Maxine Aaronson.
Maxine is a Yankee carpetbagger who thinks she owns Dallas, so, of course, she fits in too. In the early 1980s she worked with fellow lawyer Michael Jung and future city council member Larry Duncan to rezone the entire city. The three of them used sheer smarts and a whole lot of political savvy to outfox the Dallas Citizens Council and make it possible for neighborhoods to save themselves from bad development.
Later, in the early '90s, Aaronson was instrumental in a political redistricting effort that basically rescued the East Dallas city council district from total dismemberment. So it would be safe to say, I think, that if it were not for Maxine, we might not even have an East Dallas to fight over here tonight.
Oh, and by the way, the principal political organization that she, Jung and Duncan worked through in that early '80s rezoning was DHL (do not tell me you don't remember what that is), so the Dallas Homeowners League is sort of a hero of mine too.
Let me tell you, for me this really sucks. I genuinely like and admire everybody here. It's a moral quagmire. I would leave, but they have locked the door to the Camp Fire Girls Reichstag, and I physically cannot get out.
Luckily for me, Avi and Maxine hate each other, so I will have something negative to write about. Their animosity goes way back too. It has legs, in other words. So I'm OK. And thank you for your concern.
Maxine tells the DHL panel: "I am here to talk to you about the Belmont Neighborhood Association and its alter ego. The Belmont Neighborhood Association is inextricably linked with 'Barking Dogs' and with Mr. Adelman."
Then she hands out a bunch of print-outs from "Barking Dogs" with wonderful pearls of Avi-ism such as, "This is the kind of scheme only Mad Maxine Aaronson could create," and "When you consider that Mad Maxine Aaronson is their attorney, as well as the attorney for LGNA and Hudson Heights, you gotta wonder just how honest they are about anything, as long as they get their way."
In one item, Avi talks about how he infiltrated an LGNA meeting: "A fly on the wall would have enjoyed this load of poop immensely," he says of the meeting.
Here in the peanut gallery at the back of the room, the guy behind me is reading the Avi quotes, shaking his head somberly and whispering, "Terrible, terrible." But then all of a sudden he starts giggling.
Avi. What can you say?
Souza and a lawyer speak for BNA. Their whole pitch is that Avi, while a hero of the people, is not BNA, and BNA is not Avi. BD (come on...I'll give you a hint, the B is for Barking) is not BNA. It would be unfair for DHL to allow LGNA to bar BNA from joining DHL by falsely equating BNA with BD and making BNA out to be an A-H. Even though BD has done a lot of good. As has BNA. And, you know, LGNA for that matter. To say nothing of DHL. In fact, even A-H has done a lot of good. But BNA is not Avi.
So Avi gets up and gives a speech which I will paraphrase as follows: "I am Avi. DHL, LGNA, BNA and BD are but particles of me. I am the Alpha and Omega of the Eastern Bloc. I am the whole damn alphabet, and don't forget it."
After two and a half hours, the doors are unlocked and we are released from the Reichstag. I'm really sorry to leave you hanging, but it looks as if the DHL will need several weeks to concoct a ruling. Many chickens must die so that their entrails may be read. I will let you know as soon as I know.
It's not just East Dallas. The whole inner city is so great. Where else could you find people with this kind of bones in the ground, fighting this passionately over how to save their city? This isn't New Urbanism. This is Real Urbanism. It's good. Really good.
As for A-H: Takes one to know one. I know him well.