Enter Stage Left

The city strikes back: Scenes we’d love to see

Every so often, something in the Chronicle requires a second reading, not because of it’s world-shattering insights, but because it’s so ridiculous, you can’t believe it’s true.

To discourage public urination, the city has sprayed popular walls in town (dare we dub them “watering holes?”) with a chemical that throws the urine back onto the legs of the offender. Yes, in a sort of stick-the-tongue-out chastisement of people peeing where they shouldn’t, walls will now spit back. Does an audio recording of “NAH-na-NAH-na-NAH-NAH” play when the return volley commences? Seems like it should.

Yes, public urination is quite the visual and olfactory nuisance, not to mention the fact that such flagrantly deposited liquid has been found to erode the bases of various lamp poles around our city.

But imagine: You’re some poor guy drunk or simply unable to find a bathroom, unburdening yourself against a convenient wall, and it splashes vindictively right back at ya! So now, you’re not only drunk, exhausted, and homeless, you’re soaking wet as well, and smelling wretched. Of course, only men are inconvenienced by this new punishment because women’s ability to project is limited.

Anyway. You get the point.

San Francisco is striking back, hoping, I suppose to teach the miscreants a lesson. The problem? Public bathrooms are scarce, so where should they pee?

But that’s another column.

Then it occurred to me there might be ways we, as a civic body, could combat other inconveniences foisted upon us by the thoughtless, resource-less, or just plain tasteless; ways we could publicly yet anonymously, correct the social evils of others. San Francisco could become a leader in the field of civic correction. Strike a new path, score one for the home team in the area of public chastisement, and in the process have ourselves a sweeter, cleaner, and more attractive city. I propose the following:

1. The we-don’t-want-it-you-can-have-it antilittering campaign. I was taught early it was bad to throw candy wrappers on the ground. Being called a litterbug was like being accused of willfully stepping on the family dog. Consequently, I’ve always had to restrain myself from screaming, “Litterbug!” whenever someone tosses empty drink cups or lit cigarette butts onto sidewalks. Often I’ve wanted to add, “Didn’t your mother raise you better?” but usually (usually, I say) I’ve remained silent and picked up behind them. What if the junk tossed on the ground came right back at the people who tossed it? Some jerk tosses an inconvenient sandwich wrapper, it touches the ground, and — whoops! — there it goes, flying right back up into the slob’s well-fed face. Whether San Francisco would do this with another ingenious spray paint, or some more mechanical device embedded in the concrete itself, I don’t know. I’ll leave that to cleverer minds.

And of course, the city would have to put out more actual trash receptacles, so the offender would have somewhere to put the returned projectile.

2. The let’s-all-acquire-better-taste-in-public effort. Someone leaves for work in the morning having mixed stripes with polka dots, wearing mismatched socks, with pants too tight or skirt too short, unbrushed hair, and he or she walks by a reflective window. Immediately, a loud “Tsk-tsk-tsk!” broadcasts from that window. The problem is noted across a digital display on the window, so the offender would know to rush home and correct the faux pas. Yes, we’d have to establish standards for tasteful dress, but I’ll volunteer. Come to me. I’ll tell you how people should look. No problem.

3. The initiative to stop the invasive use of electronics. It may take more police on the streets, public transportation, and inside theaters, or it may require an ingenious sort of new robot, but the idea is that whenever someone offends with too-loud music on a listening device, or starts texting on a smart phone when watching a live play, or worse yet, when deciding to hold private conversations loudly in public, the offender’s device is summarily snatched and pulverized! Or tossed into the nearest large body of water. Patti Lupone recently stopped her Broadway show midspeech to confiscate a cell phone from a texter’s hands, and Benedict Cumberbatch has asked London audiences not to snap cell photos of him as he performed his demanding Hamlet live onstage.

I’m with them.

But broaden the punishment to all who live by their devices and impose it on us.

There are more ways I’d police our world, and I’ll share my ideas willingly, just write and ask me.

But for now, a warning: Watch where you pee in this city unless you want an odiferous and sopping surprise.

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