- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Cleveland Ray, a camera-toting inspector with the Department of Public Works, slipped into my neighborhood in broad daylight last week.

He stopped in front of my place and snapped a photograph. Proof of his handiwork came to the house by certified mail three days later, along with a violation notice that indicated a “failure to maintain the abutting public space in a clean condition.”

The quality of the photograph was not bad, although I probably would have taken the shot at a different angle. But that is quibbling. Cleveland is obviously a creative person, and I would not want to be the one to stifle his creativity.

I am looking forward to working with Cleveland on this project. It is not an immense project, as projects go in the city. It is a $35 project. Cleveland snapped a photograph of the “abutting public space,” and now, the city wants $35 from me.

That seems excessive, considering I did not solicit Cleveland to take a shot of the “abutting public space.” If he felt so strongly about the project, he could have knocked on the door, and maybe we could have worked out something.

I would have elected to be in the shot; I know that. I would have pointed to the weeds with a smile and the “failure to maintain the abutting public space in a clean condition.” We probably could have found a neighbor to take a shot of “Cleveland & Me,” with both of us looking intently in the direction of the overgrown patch of land around the parking sign.

As you can see, I am trying to work with Cleveland on this matter.

I called the Department of Public Works, and a woman explained that the “failure to maintain the abutting public space in a clean condition” is a growing problem in the city.

I can accept that. There is nothing like an overgrown “abutting public space.”

But here’s the thing: Who owns the “abutting public space?”

“That is the city’s property,” the woman said.

I see. Yet it is my job to maintain it?

“Yes, that is right,” the woman said.

That leads to a number of unsettling issues, namely the manhole cover lurking near the “abutting public space.” What if the manhole cover goes airborne one day, as manhole covers have a tendency to do in the city, and crashes into a neighbor’s kitchen?

Is it my responsibility to go into the neighbor’s kitchen to retrieve the manhole cover, apologize for the inconvenience and then return it to its rightful place?

Or do I wait for Cleveland to return to the neighborhood with his camera to take a picture of the missing manhole cover? Do I then wait a few more days for the certified mail containing a violation that indicates a “failure to maintain the manhole cover in a public space?” I have requested a copy of the public-space responsibilities from Cleveland.

He seems like a good guy by voice mail.

I am starting to dislike the parking sign in the “abutting public space” and am thinking of moving it down the street. It is just a parking sign, but if “Cleveland & Me” are going to do the beautification thing in the neighborhood, we might as well go for it.

Oddly enough, the next-door neighbor’s section of the “abutting public space” also was overgrown but somehow managed to escape Cleveland’s keen eye for detail.

Cleveland, it seems, works in mysterious ways, as creative types often do.

He knows a “failure to maintain the abutting public space in a clean condition” when he sees it, and it is not my place to wonder why one house receives a $35 donation request from the city and the other does not.

When “Cleveland & Me” get around to expanding our relationship, I will ask whether the city sends a picture frame after receiving the $35.

It is not a bad shot, it really isn’t. I bet Cleveland shoots weddings and stuff like that.

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