Tuesday, March 30, 1999

A few dirty, unkind words about spring

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Don't you just love this time of year? The flowers, the sun, the warm weather, the long days. Really, spring would be almost perfect if it weren't for the noise and the mess.

        Teen-agers will crank up their boomboxes and roll down their car windows, playing music that to the untrained adult ear sounds very much like horrible noise. The bass will creep into your chest cavity and try to crowd out the stuff that belongs there. Your heart, for instance.

        Now that the snow has melted, we will have the opportunity to notice just how many dogs have passed our houses. The grass is coming up, but still isn't long enough to hide the McDonald's wrappers.

        The taggers will be limbering up their graffiti arms and shaking their aerosol cans of Krylon. Those who do not smoke will be noticing those who do, the haze and the butts.

        In short, spring is when we can no longer ignore each other.

Cruel and unusual?
        A judge in Fort Lupton, Colo., has been sentencing those who violate the city's noise ordinance — mostly for playing their stereos too loud — to a dose of music selected by the court. Anguished teen-agers have been assaulted with the Barney song and tunes by Tony Orlando and Wayne Newton.

        “There's something annoying for everyone,” said a police officer assigned to DJ duty.

        Really, wouldn't we rather annoy people instead of letting them just open their wallets? And wouldn't it be more satisfying, revenge-wise, if the punishment fit the crime? In Maryland, a man who was convicted of selling bogus insurance to horse trainers was sentenced to duty with a rake and shovel in Baltimore's mounted police unit stables.

        How about smokers, for instance. If they're not afraid of lung cancer and heart disease and obscenely expensive tobacco products, they are hardly going to be deterred by a modest fine. They are hardy souls, toughened by time spent huddled in alleys during the rain and cold.

        Besides that, we don't hate them. We just don't want to smell like them or clean up after them. Butts are everywhere. And, as a recovering smoker myself, I say this with some sympathy. When I smoked, the world was our ashtray. We weren't banished to street corners. We blew our smoke everywhere we pleased, and if somebody didn't like it, well, he was just a bad sport.

        Everyone obligingly placed ashtrays everywhere, even in doctors' offices. We had no excuse for flinging our butts all over the place. Today's smoker has to work a little harder to find a place to put out his cigarette.

Litter patrol
        The Cincinnati Department of Health now has a seven-member litter patrol squad that will issue warnings and citations. Cincinnati Health Commissioner Malcolm Adcock says his crew will mostly be targeting businesses, “and we'll be trying to encourage building managers to provide outside receptacles for cigarettes.”

        If smokers don't use them, it could be expensive.

        Linda Holterhoff of Keep Cincinnati Beautiful says there's a get-tough campaign planned right after the Great American Cleanup on April 17. (Call 352-3711 if you want to join the cleanup in your neighborhood.)

        “Once we've got it cleaned up,” Linda says, “we're going to keep it clean.” She says highway patrol, sheriff's deputies and Cincinnati police will be issuing tickets for “everything from a cigarette butt on up.”

        Ohio law is simple, she says, “You litter. You pay.” The fine is $100.

        What about spray paint? She's after the graffiti artists, too. “They're vandals, pure and simple.” Some have been sent to jail. Some have been sentenced to community service. Some have been fined.

        “This is the worst time of year,” she says. “Or maybe we just notice it more.”

        It could be worse. It could be winter. And we could be listening to Tony Orlando.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. She can be heard Mondays on WVXU radio and on NPR's Morning Edition and InterMedia's Northern Kentucky Magazine. Her book, I Beg to Differ, is available at (800) 852-9332.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com