There are advantages to living near the Rock. It’s a useful landmark for visitors, and we can check out its ever-changing appearance daily. We’ve even painted it ourselves twice, which is not as easy as it looks. It’s hard to get the right leverage and height, and it’s pretty bumpy. So I can see why many Rock painters extend their efforts to a flat, easy-to-reach surface nearby … the public sidewalk that surrounds its small, triangular block.
That’s the disadvantage to living near the Rock: wet paint is as slippery as ice. About eight years ago my elderly mother-in-law set off to our synagogue on Hill St. only to return fifteen minutes later, her lovely outfit covered in a weird shade of hot pink. She had slipped on the freshly painted sidewalk by the Rock. She was ruffled but otherwise uninjured.
My husband took his mother’s ruined outfit to Mayor Hieftje during his weekly office hours. The mayor tut-tutted and then shrugged, saying that the city was not responsible.
Since then I have scolded and sometimes yelled at people painting the sidewalk in front of the Rock–to no avail.
We learned to be alert when walking that particular patch of sidewalk. But a few months ago, as I walked past the Rock on a lovely evening, I was distracted by the sky, which was turning an amazing shade of dark blue. And suddenly there I was, on my tuchus on a freshly painted sidewalk. The girls who had just painted it erupted in cries of “Oh my God! Are you OK?” One picked up my hat, and another helped me to my feet.
Back home, after a lot of scrubbing, I put on fresh clothes, grabbed my camera, and headed back to the scene. The perpetrators were gone, but had helpfully painted the name of their sorority over three squares of pavement. I sent the photos, and another of my paint-covered clothes, to the university’s director of Greek life, asking for a modest $25 in compensation for my ruined skirt and top. The director responded that someone from the sorority would be in touch and send me a check.
And sure enough, I heard from the sorority’s advisor–requesting a receipt from a dry cleaner. “It is standard policy that all student organizations abide by the Student Organization Account Service (SOAS),” she emailed. “So if you can bring in a receipt we can have the check issued.”
This seemed ridiculous. I work full-time, and my clothes–Walmart’s finest couture–were beyond a dry cleaner’s help. I suggested that one of the sorority sisters could pick up the clothes and oversee the forensic investigation.
In my naivete, I assumed the sorority would welcome the chance to resolve the matter–after all, we were only talking about twenty-five dollars and a trip to a dry cleaner, not a broken leg or concussion. But I’d underestimated the obstinacy of the university bureaucracy. “[S]ince you will not provide documentation,” the advisor emailed, all she could do was offer to pay me out of her own pocket.
I wrote back and suggested the sorority could send the check to Make-A-Wish Michigan, and a note of apology to me. And that’s the last I heard. No donation, no letter.
Soon after my accident, city council voted to crack down on people who don’t clear their sidewalks of snow and ice. I guess wet paint is different: my emails to the mayor’s office and my ward representatives got no response.
One day someone is going to be badly injured on the sidewalk near the Rock, and someone is going to be sued. Until then, I recommend walking on the grass.