Five days before Christmas, Cincinnati gets its annual black eye for the holidays. The Ku Klux Klan's cross returns to Fountain Square.
The cross is set to be there for 10 days. As in past years, most passersby will do the right thing by this perverse display. They'll ignore the cross and the hate-mongers behind it.
Others might not be so passive.
If protesters and defenders clash over the cross, it'll be national news. Again.
And, the city's fragile image of itself is sure to suffer. Yet again.
We have no one to blame for this but our lazy selves.
It's easy - maybe too easy - to get something on the square.
It's only a phone call away.
Telephone the department of public works. Ask for Kandy Schulz. She's the administrative assistant in charge of accepting applications to place displays on Fountain Square.
At this most wonderful time of the year, her duties also include taking abuse.
When the first Klan cross went up for an extended stay in 1992, she took 5,000 calls of protest.
''People called me a bigot, a racist and a Klan member,'' she says.
They also gave her Christmas greetings that you'll never read in a card from Hallmark.
Rules are rules
She anticipates more of the same this year. And she'll tell them the same thing she did last year.
''I am not being paid to take this abuse.''
That shuts them up. For a second or two.
''They apologize - most of them don't realize they were using profanity. Then, they go on. But they watch their tongue.''
At some point in the conversation, she tells them the bitter truth:
''I'm sorry. We have no control over this.''
The Klan is just following the rules. She is just doing her job.
Those same rules could keep the Klan off the square. And Ms. Schulz would have no choice but to do her job.
The list of rules governing displays on the square runs four pages. It makes for interesting reading, especially rule No. 3:
''Should there be permit requests for the same dates and times, the Director may issue up to three concurrent permits.''
No advertising is permitted on any display. Only non-profit groups may apply.
This holiday season, two organizations have filled out the two-page application and reserved Dec. 20-30 to put temporary displays on Fountain Square.
St. Joseph's Carpentry Shop has built the square's Nativity scene.
The Free Inquiry Group intends to set up its ''Wall of Separation'' as a reminder of the separation of church and state.
The Klan has reserved the Dec. 20-30 slot. But the group has yet to fill out the forms.
''In reality - if their display meets our engineering specifications - they could do that a day or two before the cross goes up,'' Ms. Schulz says.
''It's done on a first-come, first-served basis. And, they did reserve the dates. We have to honor that.''
That's the rule.
Just in case the Klan fails to follow through, it might not be a bad idea if another non-profit group were ready to step forward. You wouldn't want the square to have any empty places at Christmastime.
Plus, filling out the application form doesn't cost anything. Or, take that long.
''Ten minutes, tops,'' says Ms. Schulz.
The display doesn't have to be too big or too elaborate. Its basic structural requirement is that it doesn't blow away.
''A temporary display on the square,'' says senior city engineer Kevin Sigward, ''has to be able to withstand a 60-mph wind.''
Not to rush the season, but if the Klan comes through this year, there's always next Christmas.
But don't delay. St. Joseph's Carpentry Shop has already reserved Dec. 20-30, 1997. The Nativity scene will be back.
The two other spots remain open.
So, rush to your phone.
Give Kandy Schulz a call. Reserve those dates now.
Keep the Klan off Fountain Square and its hate out of the holidays.
Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.