Friday, September 24, 2010

Crime of the Century (A Rose by Any Other Name Division)

EAST HANOVER TOWNSHIP, Pa. -- Last July, a man who goes by the winning moniker of David Kliss posted two protest signs in the yard of his house at 436 Pheasant Road, in East Hanover Township.
   That each featured the word "CRAP" drew a swift and sound rebuke from the township enforcement agency, according to a Sept. 21 report on, the Web site of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
   Mr. Kliss, not one to take any "CRAP" lying down, recently filed suit, in the U.S. District Court in Scranton, Pa., against the town for denying his constitutional rights to freedom of speech, press, petitioning government and due process. 
   Will a major legal shit storm follow? It is difficult to imagine otherwise. 
   The township contends that the signs violated a zoning ordinance holding that, "No Loud, Vulgar, Indecent or Obscene Advertising matter shall be displayed in any manner." 
   (This is a direct quote from the Inquirer. Presumably, staff writer Peter Mucha lifted it from the actual ordinance. To capitalize any words other than the sentence-launching "No" seems an odd if endearing affectation. Maybe it dates back to days when Some words Were Given prominence by Capitalizing Them. It is possible that this grammatical oddity was even applied to words and phrases having to do with Tangy butt Nuts.)
   The Inquirer reports that the brouhaha began when the township mandated, for residents, a sewer tie-in. Not being familiar with the processing of keester cakes, we here at First of All have no idea what that is. But Mr. Kliss knew it would cost him thousands of dollars. 
   In response, he posted the signs, which read, "$10,000 TO TAKE A CRAP." The following week the butt driblet-like township enforcers not only notified Mr. Kliss that he needed a zoning permit to post the signs, but also that the signs were, as the Inquirer put it, "illegally attached to trees on a right-of-way property."
   The township enforcers appear to possess a stupefying level of pettiness. Even casual observers might be hard pressed not to consider them a bunch of ass-sneezing sewer serpents.
   This may not, however, be a surprise to anyone familiar with East Hanover Township. It is a smallish place - thirty-nine square miles - with a population of just 5,400. So notes the town Web site, which also contains this historical nugget: "East Hanover Township was part of the original West Hanover Township in Dauphin County. In 1842, West Hanover Township was split into three separate municipalities; West Hanover Township, East Hanover Township, and South Hanover Township." 
   Is it us, or is it getting dizzy in here? 
   The area was settled by Scotch-Irish and German people. Their descendants, at least those on the township enforcement agency, appear to be upholding the possibly unfair cliche, endemic at least to our Germanic friends, of having a penchant for humorless, niggling oppression. 
   Mr. Kliss, apparently no slouch in dealing with these types of corn-eyed butt snakes, relocated the signs to his lawn and painted over the word "CRAP." The Inquirer notes that "[H]e resisted the urge to use a synonym, such as dump, leaving the sign to read, '$10,000 TO TAKE A.'" 
   Perhaps the admirably law-abiding Mr. Kliss would have flown in under the township enforcement radar had he written, "$10,000 TO DROP SOME FRIENDS OFF AT THE LAKE," or "...BLOW MUD," or "...DROP A BLACK BANANA," or "...SQUEEZE OUT A FEW ASS GOBLINS," or "...SERVE A BOWL OF TOILET STEW."
   Mr. Kliss' suit contends that the township ordinance does not adequately define "vulgar," "indecent" and "obscene," and that the signs featured no offensive or graphic images. 
   His attorney, a man named Aaron Martin, has devised what at first appears an inspired legal strategy.    
  "In my brief," he told the Inquirer, "I used an episode of Seinfeld from 1993, in which the word 'crap' was used four times in fifteen seconds, to demonstrate that our society does not view that word as unspeakable."
   This strategy, however, is risky. It is arguable, and we will argue it, that Seinfeld, as a show and a cultural phenomenon, had all the appeal of a commode overflowing with hardened fudge nuggets. 
   The township, for its part, is playing things cool at the moment.
   "I don't think we're going to have any comment," township solicitor Scott Wyland told the Inquirer. "The matter is under review." 
   It is incidental, but for that no less thrilling, that Mr. Wyland is employed by a law firm with the stirring name of Hawke McKeon & Sniscak. It is comforting to know, in these chaotic times, that some law firms still sound like they exist in a Marx Brothers film. 
   Would that the East Hanover Township enforcers had such a jolly approach to life, rather than being content to stink up the place like a household bog swimming with blind eels. 

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