by Mike Todd

Mike Todd discovered when he needed a zoning variance that zoning boards are just like the panel of judges on "American Idol" or "The X Factor" with one "good cop" and one "bad cop." The zoning boards also have one mean judge (like Simon Cowell, seen here) who thinks almost every zoning change proposal is atrocious and one (like Paula Abdul, seen here) who thinks that almost every zoning change proposal is as wonderful as warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. The only difference is that when Mike Todd's zoning change was approved, no one gave him a million dollars.

As I approached the podium, I could feel the TV camera following me, broadcasting every movement to the cable boxes of television sets across the county. Fortunately, this was a public access channel covering a zoning board meeting, and we were up against American Idol, so my bald spot probably only graced the TV screens of any nearby living rooms where a cat had stepped on the remote.

The guy who went in front of the board before me didn’t say a single word. He’d just stood at the podium while the zoning board, comprised of four unsmiling faces behind a raised table, mumbled incomprehensibly about ordinances and sideline variances, stopping occasionally to take turns saying, “Aye.”

“Aye. Aye. Aye. Aye,” they said, and that was that. The guy turned from the podium and walked out the door, presumably to start building a shed too close to his property line.

“I hope ours is that easy,” I said to our contractor, David, who’d come to help convince the board that my wife, Kara, and I should be allowed to transfer lots of money to him.

“The guy on the left didn’t like us last time,” David whispered.

At the previous meeting one month prior, Kara and David had gone before the board to get permission to build a screened porch on the corner of our house, to protect our family from the Predator-drone-sized mosquitoes that can often be seen picking off squirrels in our backyard.

We thought it would just be a formality to get permission from the zoning board, since our proposal only required a variance of a few feet, and the neighbors on the other side of our backyard had agreed that the new structure would in no way impede our mutual ability to NOT know each other’s names.

Instead, the board grilled Kara and David as if they were terrorist suspects while throwing out some of their own ideas on the project.

“I think you should put the screen room somewhere really stupid instead,” the guy on the left said, in effect.

“Aye,” the others agreed.

After we’d spent months deliberating and being meticulous about every consideration and detail, the board liked its own solution better, which it had drafted in 45 seconds without ever having seen our house.

“Are they trying to turn us into libertarians?” I asked when Kara returned to give me the news that the board’s decision would be deferred to the next month’s meeting.

If libertarians ran things, we could build a skyscraper in our backyard if we wanted to. Then we could run clotheslines out of every window and put sheds on every corner of our lot, with screen porches on everything. And we could let the grass grow wild, which would help hide us from the roving hordes of cannibals.

Anyway, David and I were hoping for a better result at the next meeting, and Kara had enthusiastically embraced taking her turn staying home with our son. We could have both gone and brought our son with us, but toddlers these days just don’t appreciate municipal proceedings like they used to.

When our turn came up, David and I stood at the podium and waited for everyone to get done saying, “Aye,” so that we could start discussing our proposal. The guy on the left rolled his eyes when the discussion started, and I realized that he was our zoning board’s mean judge, who would probably have a British accent.

Fortunately, we also had a Paula Abdul, the soft-hearted one who had come to our house in the intervening time and vouched for our plan. David and I hardly needed to speak. After a minute of discussion, the board said, “Aye. Aye. Aye. Aye.”

I turned to David. “Hey, that’s great … ”

“Aye. Aye. Aye. Aye,” the board interrupted. We gathered our papers and left, while the board only had ayes for us.