Friday, August 24, 2007

reprinted with permission



While I was in Houston this past weekend meeting local DG playwrights and attending a fascinating festival of short plays by the really talented members of Houston/ Scriptwriters, something smacked me in the face - hard - and it wasn't the legendary humidity (though I have to say, that knocked the wind out of me more than once). I'll play the scenario for you. It's 5:00 a.m and I'm checking out of the hotel I've stayed in. A sleepy desk manager presents a bill to me. I scan it, look closer, review it one more time to make sure I'm reading it right, then look up to the hapless, sleepless desk manager and bark - and I do mean, bark - "This has got to be a joke, right?"

"What joke, sir?" asks the desk manager, managing to come to life.

"A sports tax? What's a sport tax? You're putting a 2% sports tax on my bill? What sport did I play while here?" I insist to know. I could barely say it without spitting it at the same time, and in this moment I feel every ounce of my identity as a New Yorker.

Now the desk manager clearly has a challenge: how can he keep a potentially explosive, sleep deprived, New York Southern Transplant with fire in his eyes from getting loud and unruly in the otherwise quiet lobby. He makes a questionable move: he decides not to fight me, but placate me.

"I know it seems odd, sir, but Houston passed a city ordinance in 1997 that allows a tax on hotel rooms and rental cars to help pay for new sports stadiums, which in turn, keeps our sports teams here."

"But I don't care about your sports teams," I blurt out.

"I understand," he assures me. But he can't understand; not really.

"I don't want to pay it," I posture.

"You don't have a choice," he counters.

"I should have a choice," I posture.

"But you don't," he counters.

"They're rich enough! They don't need my money. I can give you a list an arm's length long of people who really need my money."

"I understand," he quietly offers.

Now I want to strike him. He can't know in that instant I'm heart-broken thinking about all the theatres I know all over the country that are closing because they can't afford to pay their electricity bill; he can't know I'm thinking of dramatists who can barely afford a ream of paper to print a script on. He couldn't possibly understand that my rage is historical; I have spent years thanking artists with love and affection for their immeasurable hours of work because there isn't a spare dime to pay them for their efforts. He couldn't possibly know that my fury turned further inward on myself and my own community for not finding a way to convince every city council in the country that an arts tax on hotels and rental cars is AS important as a sports tax. And yes, I know the sports/arts argument: I've lived it all my life. But I foolishly, unabashedly want parity. I want to see a puzzled linebacker at a front desk, questioning his hotel bill and saying, "An arts tax? You mean, I have to pay for someone's musical?"

ggarrison at

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