I’m drawing up plans to construct an outrage meter. Granted, I’ve never seen one nor even heard of one before, but why should that stop me? This is what happens when one polar vortex after another rolls in, dropping temperatures into the single digits or lower. Normally sane, even-keeled individuals (I count myself amongst them, but don’t ask my family), trapped indoors day after day while trying to maintain body temperature, go off the deep end and end up envisioning impossibly complicated endeavors.
My outrage meter is one such project. I imagine it as a freestanding sign on which I project my progressive outrage at a world run amok with social injustice, income inequality, empathy deficit, and unnecessary hunger and violence. I see it as my own visual bully pulpit. I’ve pledged to myself that no outrage will be spared—be it local, national, or international.
I expect my outrage meter to inspire full-throated pushback here in the historic, upstate New York village in which I live. First, there’s the issue of my deviance from the (mostly) conservative politics of my neighbors. Second, the meter, which will be an unprecedented structure in the historic district in which I reside, will be subject to review for historic appropriateness. (And as those of you who have dealt with historic commissions know, the pace of historic review is certain to threaten the projected completion of my outrage meter before the first thaw.)
Pragmatist that I am, I know I’ll have to design my meter with a deft hand, employing subtlety and even a bit of subterfuge. I expect to forgo a flashy LED display and compromise on the shut-off hour. I expect I’ll be asked to turn off the lighting on the outrage meter no later than 9:00 pm, even though I plan to make an impassioned case that outrage never sleeps. Size will be determined by precise calculations based on the expanse of my home’s façade, as per historic standards. To satisfy the local historic commission I’ll need to submit dimensional drawings showing the changing display of outrages appropriately sized and, I expect, hand-lettered in elegant, serif fonts painted in muted tones of the most costly buttermilk paint. The fonts will be expected, of course, to reference the handful of extant locally produced, historic broadsides (of which era will surely be up for ad nauseam debate).
Besides the manner in which outrages will be displayed, I expect the materials used to construct the backing surfaces to be controversial as well. I predict that my local historic commission will require that I source late-18th or early-19th century repurposed, local, hand-cut wood lathing matching in dimensions, thickness, and 100-year faded coloration the strips of lathing hiding behind the plastered walls in my house; patina-embellished antique iron hardware for supports; and lighting fixtures deemed historically correct (preferably, I suspect, nothing less than open-flame, whale-oil carriage lamps). Ideally, the outrage meter would be installed on my front lawn with historically appropriate setbacks from the street.
Documenting that my outrage meter meets the commission’s standards for historic precedent might prove challenging—if not impossible. Hopefully, since to my knowledge no one seems to have thought of constructing outrage meters in the 18th or 19th centuries, the commission might show leniency and give me a bye on historic documentation.
I’m a dreamer but I’m also a realist. I expect design and construction to cost me a large chunk of change. Costs will most likely soar when the commission rejects my ad-hoc design and instead requires the hiring of a recognized team of faux-historic, outrage-meter architects.
(Ignoring my pleas for mercy, I predict I’ll be forced to fly in the only architects in the U.S. who specialize in outrage meters. They’ll make their way north from either the Deep South or Texas, two areas of the country where they’ve been able to make a decent living since Obama took office.)
I’ll expect to pay my architectural team royally to draw up schematics, present them, and then revise them, perhaps a few dozen times over, depending on the ensuing uncertainty of how many shifts in debate might unfold over such a delicate and unprecedented request. Seasons will go by as members of the commission disappear for months on end searching dusty archives for historic precedents and debating amongst themselves the appropriateness of size, materials, and font choice.
My meter might be a never-before-seen feature in the landscape of my sleepy village, but outrage itself certainly is not. I may not always share the same outrage with my neighbors, but I know that all of us feel the emotion with the same strength and fervency. I know this because I have attended many a local community meeting where the issues at hand stir up primal emotions not seen since the end of the Pleistocene era.
I predict that some of those same neighbors who may object at first to my outrage meter will end up admiring the audaciousness of the project. They might even be inspired to construct a meter of their own. I can see it now: Outrage meters cropping up on lawns like dandelions in spring. No topic of outrage would ever again find itself neglected nor lacking for public debate. Outdoor wood burners, installations of sewer systems, water pollution, fracking, construction of industrial-waste facilities, pesticide use, military engagement, health care, Social Security benefits, corrupt politicians, unequal taxation, gun regulation—all might, at long last, have their full airing out here in the sun.