An Inclusive Litany


In New York, forty-year-old Joyce Brown (a.k.a. Billie Boggs) was observed for several months urinating and defecating on the street, running into traffic, burning money given to her by passers-by, and shouting racial and sexual epithets, mostly at black men (she herself was black). City authorities picked her up and admitted her to Bellevue's psychiatric ward, where she was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.

After arriving at Bellevue, Brown contacted the New York Civil Liberties Union. Robert Levy, who became her lawyer, disagreed sharply with the Bellevue diagnosis, calling her "very intelligent" and "extremely lucid, extremely articulate," despite the fact that she had been off the street for a while and had been treated with psychotropic drugs. "I didn't think I'd spoken to a mental patient," Levy said after his first meeting with Brown. "She sounded more like a board member of the civil liberties union."

Following a fierce legal battle with the city, a judge ordered Brown released, and she went to work briefly as a receptionist for the NYCLU, who had championed her cause. She left, by their account, because she was unable to cope with the job. She appeared on the "Donahue" show, but not before producers bought her $300 in clothes and paid $200 for a new hairdo—once hair stylists removed the lice from her hair. Then Brown hit the law school lecture circuit. Sixteen days after she spoke at Harvard Law School, she was on the street again, panhandling and swearing at black people.


In Bartow, California, students are required to chew gum ten minutes a day ever since a school official read that chewing sugarless gum helps prevent tooth decay.


The Alhambra, California, city council enacted a rule that 50 percent of each front yard in the city must consist of live vegetation. Many homeowners were thus caught in a strange position: water authorities prohibited them from watering their front yards, and zoning authorities fined them if their grass died.

The city of Pasadena, California, proposed banning residents from having weeds in their yards.

The city of Herndon, Virginia, requires developers to post a bond with a government planning agency to be forfeited if the shrubs or trees a developer plants die within two years.


In San Francisco, a youth who admitted beating up a homosexual man called a gay-crisis hot line hours later and asked whether there was any chance he had contracted AIDS in the attack.

From an article by Luella Adams, who teaches an adult education course in "Finding an Apartment," in the Village Voice, July 21, 1987:
It is February, 1978, and I've been in New York for two months when I take over the apartment from Sarah, who has been subletting from Graham, an actor away on location in L.A. It is one room, five flights up, and the rent is $212, which I am told is a steal. Since in L.A. I was paying $165 to share a four bedroom house with a view of the beach and a bathroom three times as big as the new apartment's kitchen, it does not seem like a steal to me... Graham will be back in six weeks, but... I have nowhere [else] to go.

After two months, Graham calls from California to say I might as well stay on. After seven months, the landlord grows restive, but that is all right, because Graham, who is back in New York, has decided to move in with his girlfriend Annie. I sign a lease...

When summer comes, I am unemployed and want to go west. I sublet the apartment to April, a 19-year-old from Queens, who cuts my hair. The summer goes well for me, but not for my neighbor, Jack, an unemployed actor who has sublet his apartment to spend the summer with his family in Hawaii. When he comes back, his tenant has changed the locks on his door...

By next summer, I have bought a new bed and... sublet the apartment to Nikki, an editor, who is divorcing her husband, and go to L.A., where I sublet an apartment from Ginger [and] fall in love with Dan...

I decide to move to L.A. to be with Dan. The rent on the apartment is now $326.72, which is such a steal I can't even think of giving it up. Instead, I... sublet to Karen, a copywriter, who is being evicted from a downtown sublet...

In the fall, I spend a month in the apartment. I sign a new two-year lease, then sublet to Jeffrey, a writer who lives in New Jersey and needs a pied-a-terre. Jeffrey stays four months [and] bounces three checks... He is followed by Leann, a filmmaker, who comes via Pat, a childhood friend who now lives in New York, moving from sublet to sublet. She stays a year...

I interview many people to take Leann's place. I choose Jose, a reporter whose girlfriend is kicking him out. Jose stays five months... and leaves... an unpaid phone bill...

At first there is no one to take the apartment, but then Pat, who is a photographer, decided she can no longer live with the lover who has put her up since her last sublease ended... I sign another two-year lease, even though I am still living with Dan in L.A. The apartment floor has begun to warp and slope, the formica in the kitchen is cracked, the stairs outside have not been painted in years. The rent is now $372.45. It is a deal for which one might kill. I spent a month there and remembered how much I love it. The Con Edison bills come addressed to Graham. Letters arrive for Leann, who lives in Brooklyn. Phone calls in Spanish come for Jose... Graham has become a successful actor. Dan wears his shirts.

A panhandler who solicits handouts in a posh area on Manhattan's East Side makes about $450 a day. Other panhandlers include one who asks for $200 for a wine-tasting course, another who stuffs whatever money she is given into her Gucci handbag, and one who returns any offering under $5.

Fifty tax experts, hired by a financial magazine to figure the tax returns of a hypothetical family, all using the same set of earnings and deductions, arrived at 50 different results, some of them almost double the correct amount.

An Indiana woman charged with writing a bad check claimed that her civil rights were violated when police forcibly prevented her from eating the evidence.

The CIA spent $200,000 to commission a sculpture for its headquarters. The sculpture features an encrypted message that can be decoded only by the President, the CIA director, or the sculptor himself.


Chicken farmers engaged in a five-year regulatory battle to be able to label a chicken as "range fed," "allowed to go outside in a fenced area and graze," or "stress free." The Department of Agriculture maintained that words such as "range," "outside," and "graze" are too imprecise and that there was no scientific way to measure "stress" in a chicken.

ABC's Mike Lee on the grim prospects of Albanian refugees on "World News Tonight," July 14, 1990:
These refugees have been told little about the realities of life in the West, including the fact that some people sleep on the street.... They will soon learn that jobs are hard to find, consumer goods expensive, relatives in Albania will be missed. Many refugees, according to experts, will suffer from depression, and in some cases, drug abuse.


Protesting a 1990 visit by Vice President Dan Quayle to Portland, Oregon, a group of more than 20 artists calling themselves the Reverse Peristalsis Painters publicly vomited in red, white, and blue colors. The group called its action "a work of public art." In a flier, the painters said: "Look at the medium. Think about why it was chosen over conventional paint. Think about why Dan Quayle is visiting Portland. Look at our painting. Think about your government. Throw up your values." The colored vomit was created by ingesting mashed potatoes with either red, blue, or no food coloring mixed in. Then all took ipecac syrup or plain vinegar. One problem with the vomit was that for some reason the blue actually looked more greenish.

Muttering that "being Chief of State is an extremely thankless job," former Emperor Bokassa I of the Central African Republic went on trial for homicide, infanticide, embezzlement, treason, torture, theft and cannibalism.

After a 1987 Northwest Airlines crash in Detroit, The New York Times reported that an enterprising "runner" for a law firm dressed up as a priest in order to mingle among grieving families.

In Ohio, it is illegal to advertise beer if you are wearing a Santa Claus suit, including if you are a dog.

A Texas gubernatorial candidate, informed that his "ten-point educational program" contained only nine points, replied, "You just pointed your finger and emphasized the problem we're trying to solve."


A Wisconsin judge ruled that "offensive body odor" could be considered a handicap under the state's Fair Employment Act.


Desperate to improve crop yields, the Russian Agriculture Ministry invited "the nation's leading psychics, magicians, and representatives of small enterprises that deal with weather control" to a conference, according to Komsomolskaya Pravda. Unfortunately, the paper reported Agriculture Minister Viktor Khlystun "expressed dissatisfaction that the psychics, magicians, and weather controllers are acting in an uncoordinated manner, causing thunderstorms and rain at random sites."

The California town of Santa Cruz—which has announced itself a "free port of Nicaragua," bars visits by U.S. Navy ships on the grounds that they are "part of the Pentagon war machine," and refuses to host the Miss California contest because it is "sexist"—jailed a local woman because she fed homeless people. The town's official policy is to discourage the homeless from staying in the city.

The town of Floosmoor, Illinois, enacted a zoning regulation that banned pickup trucks from both its streets and its private driveways.


In the Utne Reader, November/December, 1989, Jon Tevlin reports from a seminar conducted by Dr. Shepherd Bliss, who helps men recover their lost male essence by, among other means, "joining the world of the four-leggeds":
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Shepherd coming toward me, head down, tufts of white hair ringing a bald spot.... Meanwhile I felt a slight presence at my rear, and turned to see a man beginning to sniff my buttocks. "Woof!" he said.

[Ed.: I presume the name "Shepherd" is just a coincidence.]

A New York City tour company advertised a special $40 bus tour of neighborhoods "that tourists do not get to see." The tour includes the South Bronx, described as a "burnout wilderness."

Among the job titles in the District of Columbia's public school system are "Employee Development Specialist," "Community Coordinator," "Interagency Liaison," and "Position Classification Specialist."


The Singapore government established a "Loo Patrol" to police citizens who don't flush public toilets. Chewing gum is also illegal in the small city-state.


From a genuine conversation overheard on the streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts:
"I wisssshhhh to ooooowwwwnnn my own paaaaiiinnnn, and I don't choooooose to sha-are it in such a set-ting."

An exasperated mother to her young son in a bookstore:
"You don't need another set of Tarot cards!"