The axe in the ceiling
There was, according to an old English fable, a daughter sent to the cellar by her parents to fetch a pitcher of beer from a barrel to refresh the gentleman visiting upstairs who was courting her.
While drawing the beer, the daughter glanced at the ceiling and noticed an axe stuck into an overhead beam.
She immediately imagined what might happen if she married the gentleman, they had a son, and the son was sent to the cellar, as she had been, to draw a pitcher of beer. And what if, she imagined, the axe fell out of the ceiling and killed her future son. She dropped the pitcher and began to sob.
Shortly the daughter's mother appeared, wondering what was keeping her. The weeping daughter explained to her mother the future danger of the axe in the ceiling and both began to wail.
In time the father arrived, wondering what happened to his daughter and wife. He found them crying, they related the danger, and he too fell to his knees in tears.
The gentleman upstairs, possible father of the hypothetical future son whose life was conceivably endangered by the overhead axe, soon wondered what was keeping everyone and went to the basement to see.
When the hysterical trio explained the horrible fate that might await the future son, the gentleman burst out laughing, reached up and wrenched the axe from the ceiling, laid it at their feet and hurried off, shaking his head in wonder at such fools, never to be seen by them again.
That fable comes to mind as we reflect on what seems like similar hysteria surrounding the creation of an ad hoc committee to explore policy options for assessing future big-box and chain stores that might be considering a move to Sonoma.
Depending on where you're sitting in the audience for this melodrama, the axe in the ceiling could either be the committee, which might concoct a socialist plot to stifle free enterprise in Sonoma; or the big-box/chain store threat, which might descend on our fair city in a wave of corporate capitalist greed.
We find each scenario equally unlikely. The fear expressed by some about a chain store invasion strikes us as a little like a four-car family complaining about all the traffic on the street. Look around. The chain store invaders are already here and we invited them in.
Those who see an anti-business conspiracy behind formation of the ad hoc policy committee vastly exaggerate the power of a purely advisory body charged with nothing more than exploring policy options, and comprised of members covering the political spectrum. That's a threat?
But in the unlikely possibility that there could someday be a WalMart knocking on Sonoma's door, is there not some logic in discussing how and whether the city should prepare itself?
Meanwhile, we would not be surprised should Staples, playing the role of the gentleman suitor, shake its corporate head in wonder at our foolishness, pack up its plans for a new store here and exit the town, passing as it leaves various chain restaurants, banks, drugstores, gas stations, supermarkets, hotels and one genuinely big-box home improvement store.