In Walla Walla, people have a habit of parking opposite to traffic when they leave their cars curbside. In Walla Walla, a resident fond of chainsaw sculpture has set something like 20-odd statues around his Alder Street lawn. In Walla Walla, people construct chicken coops in their back yards, or leave crumbing old cars on the street while they take years to get around to restoring them, and nobody bats an eye. One of the effects, perhaps, of living in the land of the libertarian is a stubborn inattentiveness to city code. So when the owner of the Inland Octopus, an old-fashioned toy store, moved a few blocks west on Main Street and commissioned a mural be painted on his store front, I would hazard a guess that he never thought anyone would come after him over anything as esoteric as ordinances.
And yet, that’s at issue. His mural, which wasn’t exactly painted overnight, has been deemed illegal by the city. Even letting the image burn into one’s retinas for more than two seconds is punishable by a fine. Okay, I’m exaggerating. But only a little.
Of course Bob Catsiff, the store owner, reviewed the city code, he says. Walla Walla City Council says his mural is four times the size allowed by code. Code, code, code. Since when does Walla Walla care about code, I ask? How many houses have I seen with jury-rigged electrical systems, leaning additions, or railings that looked like they were designed to entrap objects the rough shape of toddlers’ heads?
The Council is hearing public comment today about whether residents like the mural or not. Oh, if only I were there. I would love to see who steps up to the microphone for each side, like we’re conducting a Capitol Hill hearing on migrant farm labor. Is anyone going to say anything that changes the facts of the issue? Either the mural should get a waiver or it shouldn’t.
I suppose that this isn’t as simple an issue as it sounds. It goes to some other things, like how do residents really feel about the four blocks of downtown Walla Walla? Does it go against the wine tourism there? Can we groove to its cartoonish aesthetic or not? What is the purpose of art? There are all kinds of random statues in downtown already, presumably none of which are offensive in the way that some residents say the mural offends. Here are just a few of them:
Sure, there’s a rhyme and reason here. All of the inductive reasoning in the world can’t come up with a pattern to the art in town. That’s not a bad thing. But surely there’s room in people’s hearts for a purple cephalopod. And if not, then let’s get on all of the city codes and ordinances.
Park the right way on the street, people!