Curbing the Public Nuisance (Part 1)
He's been around since the dawn of humanity. His profession is even older than the world's oldest profession. He's been loathed and reviled by politicians, bureaucrats and hot dog vendors.
I am speaking, of course, of the public nuisance.
He was that slithery dude in the Garden of Eden, taunting folks to shoplift. "Go on. Take a bite of the apple. The grocer will never know it's misssssing."
Even in caveman days, the public nuisance was the one who would always have a practical joke to play on somebody. "Hee, hee. Thag not looking. I go paint his fire green so it look like bush. He no be able to find fire. Hee, hee. OUCH! Ooh. Ooh. Yowwww. That hot!"
He is the opinionated loudmouth who can't keep his trap shut. "I told Caesar the Coliseum should be built on the west side of town. 'Caesar,' I said. 'The Coliseum should be built on the west side of town.' But did he listen to me? No-o. Did he build the Coliseum on the west side of town? No-o."
"So...that's why the lions are drooling on the other side of that door?"
"Ah...well, yes, actually."
The public nuisance is that whiner who can't stop complaining about the weather. "Aw, c'mon Leonardo. Why don't you invent something useful, for a change? Like better weather."
"What's wrong with the weather?"
"What's wrong? What's wrong?! It's too cold when I want it to be too hot. It's too hot when I want it to be too cold. It rains when I work in the fields. It gets dry when the crops need rain. And did you see how the wind blew the other night..."
The public nuisance has been with us throughout the ages, playing music too loud in public places.
"What's that racket?"
"I think some teenagers are playing their lutes a little loud."
"Well how's a middle-aged lady supposed to get any sleep around here?"
"But what can I do?"
"You're a knight, for goodness sake. Get your horse and your lance and run them down. "
But, like all good things, even the public nuisance has been transformed by technological advances. We no longer rely on manual labor to provide public nuisance services to the population. Machines supply all the disturbance we could possibly desire.
Automation of the public nuisance was inevitable. As cities expanded, it was getting harder and harder for the public nuisance to be everywhere at once and provide adequate disturbance to the entire population.
It was also very inefficient to have individual public nuisances repeating the same tasks in each part of town.
And then there was the issue of quality control. Who would
ensure that all the public nuisances were serving the community to the same standards? Who would ensure accountability and integrity? Some public nuisances have been known to take payola.
"Hey. You. What's that stench?"
"I'm just cracking a few eggs to throw at your house."
"Why at my house? What did I do?"
"Nothing. But you have a fancy house and I figured you would be most willing to provide me an incentive to throw them somewhere else."
"What!? This is extortion!"
"I see. Well, Smithers down the road has been way too uppity this week, so here's a little something to go be a his public nuisance tonight."
"Thank you, Sir. It's been a pleasure disturbing you."
I was stumped. I really had no idea how to end this column. "Maybe the public nuisance should be a she," I mused
"Why a she?" my wife asked.
"Because people complain if I just assume my characters are "he". The trouble is, whenever I make them "she", somebody wants to know why I'm picking on women."
"They would if you make the public nuisance a woman," my wife observed.
"Are you saying women are never nuisances?"
"Everybody knows that you men cause all the public disturbances," my wife poked me.
"That's because men get bored you women try on more clothes and more clothes and more clothes. We are just trying to keep things interesting"
"Men have such a short attention span..."
Suddenly I knew how to end the column: In our household, we have no need for a public nuisance - automated or manual. We each have our own private nuisance, whom we love very much.
"That's no way to end a column," my private nuisance insisted. "Why not tell them about how you would get rid of public nuisances once and for all?"
"Shhh. Don't tell them. That's next week's column."
David Leonhardt is a freelance writer
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He is author of Climb Your Stairway to Heaven
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