Thank God for Disorderly Behavior (March 18, 1998)

Here Lies the Good Citizen. He Died Bitter and Frustrated but He Obeyed the Rules, Damn It.

Even if I’m wrong in assuming that yet another out-of-town, laugh-all-the-way-to-the-bank consulting firm is involved with the currently circulating survey on “disorderly conduct” in Port Townsend, the concept is still ludicrous. This is the only place I’ve ever lived where beady-eyed, money-grubbing merchants and half-wit fuddy-duddies team up, right out in public, to wage war against youth.

Teenagers here, like everywhere, dress “oddly” and hang out. And like everywhere, we have the occasional transients. The new crop, called “beer punks” or “death hippies,” dress exclusively in black and camo, and often have ratty dogs on clothesline leashes. I’m 51 years old and neither these nor the regular local kids have ever bothered me. Sure, I’ve been panhandled a few times. They were always painfully polite, almost obsequious about it. Once I gave a beer-punk girl a few bucks and watched from a distance what she did with it. She went to the grocery store and came out with food, which she shared with two or three others.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two kinds of elderly people. The kind who remember their youth, who have had some fun in their life and are still alive in the best sense of the word; and the kind who don’t remember their youth, probably because they never had any fun even then, and are the ones you see doddering cluelessly about, pinching their checkbooks and looking suspiciously at you in the supermarket, or tailgating you in their Lincoln Town Cars, their unhappy half-dead Republican faces glowering like trapped animals in your rear-view mirror. Maybe the street kids smell the fear on these people and that may be where the “abusive language” in the survey comes from, but it’s equally likely they're so insulting in their condescension towards the kids that they force a reaction.

It’s the latter, half-dead group who are in league with Main Street, the association of downtown business owners, in this business of surveying the local population about how to deal with “disorderly conduct.” This whole nasty little affair is indicative of much greater ills hereabouts than oddly-dressed youth behaving in ways that do not meet the approval of the starchy, priggish and blindly self-absorbed among us. Domestic violence is rampant here, and I wonder how many “pillars of the community” who complain about “street kids scaring away tourists” go home and beat their own children and wives. This is a “Victorian” town and it’s very Victorian to do unspeakable things in private and then do something like punish kids for loitering.

An odd thing is that politically conservative elements are behind all this, the same types that make all the noise about “family values.” Well, all this anti-youth business seems to me to run contrary to family values.

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