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Dec 26 2013 9:45am

Scofflaws Empty Chamber Pots Out Windows

Tim O'Neill says that, in the Middle Ages at least, people didn't much, because there were onerous fines against it, as people thought at least the odor had something to do with illness.

However, from the Telegraph, covering a BBC Two history series called Filthy Cities (which can be seen online):

In medieval London, there were no pavements - people had to walk on the bare earth. Except, unfortunately, it wasn't bare earth - the ground was covered with the excrement of both people and animals, as well as animal entrails and rotting food...

Eventually, many streets became impassable, so muck-rakers were hired to clean them as best they could. Though the job was abhorrent, the muck-rakers were paid much better than the average working man.

Could fines against window-emptying matter when the streets below were basically paved with the stuff? Streets like Shiteburne Sherburne and foul brooks were colorfully named for the filth.

Christine A. Powell's essay “A Matter of Convenience” says that from 1550-1750 (the insanitary centuries) in England and Scotland, the practice of emptying waste out windows, and leaving it everywhere else besides, was ubiquitous enough to gross out the court of Charles the Second while summering in Oxford.

So, illegal but lightly enforced? Illegal but ignored? Finally, here's a legal mystery we don't care if we ever get to the bottom of—yuck.

Mar 17 2012 10:00am

Crime Takes a Holiday: Erin Go Gag.

You think holidays are about vacations or sales binges? Oh, but they’re so much more. Each offers its own opportunity to commit what on any other day would be a crime.  Consider St. Patrick’s Day. While public drunkenness could get you hauled to the hoosegow on, say, March 16, wait a day and you’re simply celebrating. 

That’s why, circa 1982, it was the worst day of the year for me to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The museum is on New York’s magnificent Fifth Avenue, the route of the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Its broad steps create a popular spot from which to view the passing panoply of dignitaries, bagpipers, marching bands and such. 

Yet the museum’s immediate neighborhood isn’t the place to grab a celebratory green beer. Watering holes suited to hoisting a few pints to the old sod are few and far between. So parade goers well-primed to warble boozy renditions of “Danny Boy” have mostly traveled there after already drinking in other parts of Manhattan, the outer boroughs, or the suburbs.

With no thought about the parade when planning my visit for that day, I found myself threading past alcohol-fueled revelers on my way up the steps and into the museum. I was there to visit my friends at the Costume Institute, where I had served as in intern back in the mid-1970s. The space was a basement-level rabbit warren, but the institute’s workrooms included a band of huge windows about six feet off the ground. From them, plenty of light shone across a table where I recalled mending a gossamer gown once worn by Katharine Hepburn, preparing it for the show “Glamorous and Romantic Hollywood Design.”

While chatting with my former colleagues, the sounds of the parade bounced betewen the Museum and the Hotel Stanhope across the avenue, people’s voices and laughter filtering past the booming of drums and humming bagpipes. Several men hooted aloud, probably sharing a joke and, tapping on the large windows, waved to invite our attention.

Before we had time to do more than wonder why they’d bother inciting a quartet of museum workers to look up at them, they’d arrayed themselves in a line and, quick as leprechauns, unzipped their pants to unleash their synchronized streams—six arcs of greenish, steaming fluid splashing the windows.  This prolific display didn’t soon enough dissolve into a half-dozen erratic rivulets as they nearly fell to the ground laughing.

Public urination, on any other day a misdemeanor, on March 17, 1982 became a six-man salute to the man who chased the snakes out of Ireland.

Erin go gag.

Image via NJ.com

Jun 28 2011 8:45am

Black Humor: Rottin’ Times for Snowmen

SnowmanTimes are rotten for snowmen, and not just because it’s summer!  It seems that cocaine, now commonly cut with a veterinary de-worming drug, has the effect of inhibiting surface skin’s blood supply, mimicing the dramatic effects of flesh-eating bacteria.

ABCNews reports:

“Eighty-two percent of seized cocaine contains levamisole, according to an April 2011 report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Why dealers would stretch their stash with levamisole instead of the more traditional fillers, like baking soda, is unclear, although studies in rats suggest the drug acts on the same brain receptors as cocaine. So it might be added to enhance or extend the cocaine’s euphoric effects on the cheap.

Despite the widespread contamination, not all of the country’s cocaine users experience the flesh-rotting reaction. ”

Well, that’s a comfort, what with the holiday weekend coming up.