Thursday, April 15, 2010

Excuse Me While I Go Take My Top Off

Boulder, Colorado is an interesting place. Husband and I lived for a few years there while he went to the University of Colorado. Both girlies also attended CU -- Daughter #2 works at El Loro, a wonderful jewelry/incense/shoe boutique on the Pearl Street Mall. (My level of jewelry sophistication has increased by leaps and bounds as a result. Thanks, Petunia!)

I used to work at the Daily Camera, Boulder's newspaper, and often ate lunch out on the mall. It wasn't uncommon to see every level of homeless person wandering around. (My favorite: the guy in the kilt who fished out pizza crusts from the trash, then peaceably ate them next to the latest tourist enjoying their current slice.) Buskers -- entertainment artists who did everything from play instruments to tightrope walking -- were common, as well as your usual mix of suits and shorts, tourists, students and businesspeople. Odd clothes, wild hair, strange tattoos? Sure, you betcha. Individuals whose cookies weren't in the same jar? Absolutely. There were some bizarre happenings, but generally I was ok.

Daughters' friends have been way more involved with things I do have trouble with -- drugs and alcohol, especially. I have seen far too many people's lives and futures destroyed because they got bombed, did something stupid, and got caught. Even if it was done just once, they pay -- and pay -- and pay.

I had a good friend in high school who smoked pot regularly. In my freshman year, he was clever and bright -- I couldn't wait every morning in homeroom to see what smart remark he would make. Junior year, he just sat there like a lump. By the time we graduated, the only future he seemed to have was -- more drugs. I promised myself, watching him deteriorate, that I would never try them. And I never have.

How then could I believe that Boulder's casual attitude about the use -- and overuse -- of drugs and alcohol would be the right thing to do?  

Now a new twist to this uninhibited Boulder approach: enter Catharine Pierce, a woman who enjoys gardening in thong and garden gloves -- nothing else. She says it's part of her religion, that she's 'worshipping.' (Incidentally, her husband enjoys a similar unclad status.) One could argue that she wasn't doing anything wrong, but she doesn't want to garden out back this way -- she prefers out front. Yes, the Pierces' home faces a public street. Kids live on the block. An elementary school and park are nearby.

People complained. A patrolman who dared to suggest she put a top on was reported as violating their civil rights. The Boulder Housing Authority, who owns the couple's place, threatened to evict them -- but backed off, because she is not totally nude. (If you're asking if this is low-income housing, subsidized by our tax dollars, I'm pretty sure you're right.)

Boulder has had a pretty blase approach to nudity in the past -- the occasional zoned-out junkie, streaker, and so on. (There's even a website dedicated to all the weird things in Boulder, some of them done naked.) The crowning moment is the annual Pumpkin Run around Halloween, wherein college students strip to the buff and tear down the street with carved pumpkins on their heads. (Don't ask. Daughter #1's buddies have been part of this merry band. Warning -- don't watch this video unless you don't mind lots of 'bouncing bits.') Only in Boulder would this statement be made, after Halloween 2009, when Boulder's police chief threatened to arrest runners as sex offenders:

     Runners and their fans are outraged. This is not the free-spirited Boulder they know and love. "It kind of reminds me of what's happening in Tehran," says Andy Schmidt, a lawyer. "They're pre-emptively outlawing a gathering."
The American Civil Liberties Union has fired off a letter accusing the police of violating citizens' constitutional rights to express whatever it is they're expressing when they slip hollowed-out pumpkins over their heads and race buck naked down the Pearl Street pedestrian mall.

(In case you're wondering, 'Free Speech' took a hit last year. Instead of 2008's hundred runners, only three ran, and their naughty bits were covered by 'censored' signs. Which was just fine with the cops.)

Well, the Boulder City Council has spoken on the Pierce issue, and the word is this: it's not illegal to go topless (male or female), provided genitals are covered. That covers everybody from geezers to kids ages 10 or older. (Poor old Pierce's husband -- he has to cover up whatever thrills he can provide!)

I don't think of myself as a prude. In fact, I know WAY more than I want to about other people's bodies, strange hobbies and sex habits than I really want. I'm not shocked by the Pumpkin runners. (Though it's amusing that the prancers are 20s-something types -- where are the equally free-spirited professors through all this?) Kids do weird stuff...but it's usually brief, and soon regretted.

What does bother me, though, are the instructions. If you're bothered by this show of nipples, "just don't look." What's next? Ignore the couple having sex on the park bench? Step around the guy who's ODed on the front lawn? Dismiss the guy who's beating his girlfriend to death with a baseball bat? (After all, it's not my problem.) When someone else's right to expression and privacy infringes on my own, does that mean theirs gets the upper hand?

Apparently in Boulder -- yes.

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