Silly String: Menace and Mayhem

Erik has been traveling this week, so we are reprinting a column from August 2004. Ah, how we miss the heady days of 2004, when our biggest concerns were the indiscriminate use of silly string.

First nuclear weapons in Arcata, now silly string in Los Angeles. Slowly but surely, California politicians are making sure their state is safe from weapons of mass destruction and aerosol-based party favors.

The Los Angeles City Council will consider an ordinance on Friday, August 6th, 2004 that will ban the use of silly string in public places, at least during Halloween. That's because, according to Councilman Tom LaBonge, it can clog city sewers, which can ultimately harm marine life. It can also endanger police, especially those on horseback.

The proposed legislation would only allow stores to sell silly string, not street vendors who sell it from their backpacks. Also, people would still be allowed to use silly string at parties, but not on city streets or in public parks.

They did not account for special silly string sections at airports and bars. And there probably won't be any TV commercials about the danger of second-hand silly string.

In other words, the city whose main source of plastic is the Beverly Hills plastic surgery industry is worried about silly string getting into the oceans. We're talking about California, right? The state that banned smoking while their biggest city has the highest smog rate in the country? The state whose Democratic politicians whined when the world's most macho governor called them "girlie men?"

While I applaud Councilman LaBonge's concerns before making a few pot jokes about his name, I'm thinking the second biggest city in the United States probably has a couple other sources of ocean pollution besides plastic string.

But at least the Los Angeles City Council is focusing on something as crucial and important as silly string, rather than a complete time-waster like, oh I don't know, murder, drugs, and prostitution.

Police officer: Hey you drug dealers, that better not be a can of silly string.

Drug dealer: Umm, this? I was just holding it for a friend.

Police officer: That's it, dirtbag, you're under arrest for possession and intent to discharge silly string. Oh, and also the 80 pounds of cocaine in your pockets.

What sort of penalty will silly string scofflaws face? A stiff fine? A severe beating? Five year in solitary?

Hardened Prisoner: What are you in for?

You: Silly string.

Hardened Prisoner: Look, I don't want any trouble. I'll just sit over here and mind my own business.

It reminds me of when, many years ago, Boston wanted to ban Super Soakers after a teenager was shot and killed because he soaked another teenager. Rather than actually banning handguns, they decided to go after Super Soakers instead.

"Hmmm, we can ban the thing that gets people wet, or we can ban the thing that actually kills people. What to do? What to do?"

(Editor's note: It's been 15 years, the problem has gotten worse, but this question has never been answered.)

I shouldn't be too surprised however. All this is happening in the same state as Arcata, the small city in northern California that banned Nuclear Weapons from the city limits in 1989. They even have signs that read "NUCLEAR WEAPONS-FREE ZONE" at the entrance to City Hall and other public places.

At least that's what it says in Section 5907 of the Arcata Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Act.

In fact, by an amazing coincidence, the 15 year anniversary of the ban is on Friday, August 6th -- the same day the Los Angeles City Council will decide whether LA is a silly string-free zone.

I can only hope they will show the same commitment as Arcata, and put up big signs at the entrance to City Hall and other public places. After all, nothing says "courage of one's convictions" better than a sign at the entrance of City Hall.

Unfortunately, I had no idea the Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Act anniversary was this week when I started this column, so I didn't have time to hit the Arcata City Council up for a couple of plane tickets out to California. I could have helped them celebrate the historic event.

If only I had some sort of aerosol-based party favor I could use to show my appreciation.

Photo credit: Steve Isaacs (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)

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