PROVINCETOWN — Town meeting is, of course, the hottest event of the season. Special town meeting — well, it may not be the blockbuster of the year, but on the evening of Oct. 23, there was a turnout to rival the audience at the Joan Baez documentary at Waters Edge during Women’s Week.
Before it began, town personalities ambled down the aisles, greeting friends and figuring out where their foes were sitting, perhaps so they could see how they would vote on the pièce de resistance of the evening, a proposal to purchase $2 million worth of property for affordable housing.
Town Moderator Mary-Jo Avellar called the meeting to order, telling the crowd that the Provincetown schoolchildren who were meant to be present to recite the pledge of allegiance were stuck on a school bus. “At least they beat Nauset,” she said to applause. (The school’s co-ed Fishermen won 5-4 against the Nauset Middle School soccer squad.)
In her role as town Mom-erator, Avellar warned that if “anyone swears or is disruptive in any way, I will ask the town officers to remove them.” Some members of the audience gasped dramatically.
A preponderance of flannel shirts among the nearly 500 voters at town hall suggested a local fashion trend. Two people, sitting side by side, wore marigold baseball caps. Everybody in the crowd made two small holes in their shirts thanks to the chic pin-on pink voter and purple nonvoter badges. As for other accessories, one person who asked not to be named admitted, “I snuck a High Noon in, just like I sneak one into Tea.”
A feeling of civic superiority reverberated through the evening at the expense of some neighbors a few miles up Cape. “Thank you all for becoming registered voters and doing it the right way,” Avellar said, a sly reference to allegations of voter fraud in Truro.
And yet this sense of being the procedurally correct town didn’t stop residents from jeering at comments they disagreed with. When David Abell asked if short-term rentals have been detrimental to the town, dozens shouted “Yes!” When he asked the question a second time, the yeses grew cacophonous.
Amid the chaos, Avellar showed her mettle with a lucid flashback to another time. In a discussion of fractional ownership of homes, Christopher Snow, a local attorney, referred to an incident with a man named Maurice Goldman from a 1985 lawsuit in Brewster. Goldman v. Giroux, he said, dealt with condominium ownership. Avellar was sent back 40 years in a flash. “Aha!” she exclaimed. “Nobody remembers him except me.”
All in all, the meeting moved along agreeably, and spirits were high. After all, it’s not every day that you get to see your friends, enemies, and frenemies all in one place.