This city can't accept fabulous

It was just after 8 on a Friday morning, a spectacular June day, when Deputy Chief Marshall Segar drove past New London's just refurbished Parade plaza to make sure everything was in order for festivities there later that day.

"It was such a beautiful day and I saw the flowers and the whale tail and it all looked like a million bucks," says Segar. "It just looked fabulous."

But as the deputy police chief looked closer he spotted a shoeless, shirtless man showering himself beneath the stream of water flowing over the whale tail sculpture there.

That incident, on June 3, has sparked much conversation about the city's Parade plaza and whether undesirables are spending too much time there.

Deputy Chief Segar ordered the man, who was cited for disorderly conduct and taken to Lawrence & Memorial Hospital for evaluation, out of the water. Because the man had soiled himself, public works crews were called to hose off the plaza and put additional chlorine in the pool of recycling water that runs off the whale tail.

Yes, it was a sordid affair, but the story has grown to mythical proportions since that time, resulting in last week's closure of the fountain.

When two citizens raised questions about the incident at last week's City Council meeting, mayoral candidate and Councilor Michael Buscetto III matter-of-factly stated that people have been using the fountain to urinate, defecate, bathe, and wash blood from themselves.

So much for fabulous. Apparently fabulous is an impossibility in New London.

By the Monday after the disgusting Friday incident, stories were swirling about how the fountain's water could be a source of hepatitis. Seriously? And otherwise reasonable people were passing tales of men lathering beneath the whale tail stream with bars of soap and other fables of riffraff regularly vomiting there.

So much for accentuating the positive. The plaza project is now known around-the-world as the "$11 million bathroom."

Nonsense like this is why New London can never get ahead of its unfair reputation. Some of the people who proclaim to care about the city knock it every chance they get. Whatever is good in New London is never good enough.

I'm with Deputy Chief Segar, I think the Parade plaza looks spectacular. And I am profoundly disappointed that New London has once again made itself the butt of a joke.

There is a legitimate issue with a handful of homeless people misbehaving downtown and near the Parade plaza, and that shouldn't be tolerated.

Officials are working to address the problem, and perhaps they need to work faster and harder. The redesign and rebuild of the plaza was intended to make the area the city's town green - its public meeting place - and as such it should be treated respectfully by everyone who uses it.

Whether people have a permanent roof over their heads or not, they have a right to visit the Parade as long as they obey the laws and act responsibly. Homeless people have been a part of New London's fabric - every city's fabric - for as long as people have populated cities.

But making a spectacle out of a problem involving a clearly disturbed homeless person who did something despicable is counter-productive to all the other good that's happened in New London. And that is just pitiful.

Ann Baldelli is associate editorial page editor.

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