Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
We live in rough times. No doubt about that.
We love to think of ourselves as sophisticated, smooth, highly evolved and all that. But the truth of the matter is simple and ugly: We beat each other, trample each other, kill each like rough beasts. (Sorry to all you actual beasts. No insult intended.)
And make no mistake about it, we haven’t gotten any nicer, any more civilized as time has passed.
In the roiling aftermath of the tragic shootings in Arizona last month, it was noted that back in the deadly “Wild West” days of the Gunfight at the OK Corral, Tombstone had stricter gun-control laws than Tucson does today.
Back then, when men were men and the West was free, you had to check your gun with the sheriff when you got to town. Now – when we’re so much more civilized – it has been decided that it’s really better if everyone is packing heat at all times.
Only a danged fool would go grocery shopping at the strip mall without a six-gun strapped on his (or her) hip.
Why has the world gone so directly to hell in a hand basket?
Personally, I blame the damned hippies. Everyone said the hippies were destroying the fabric of civilization back in the ’60s and everyone was right. Having been one of those damned hippies I am definitely in a position to know. And all I can say in our defense is: It was sure was fun!
But let’s not dwell too long on that direct connection between “peace and love” and the need to arm yourself before going to church. (“… in the name of the Father, the Son and the AK-47, amen! Lock and load and go in peace.”)
What I want to touch on today is the commendable efforts of the Aspen law enforcement community to take us back to gentler – more genteel – times.
Let me start by mentioning, oddly enough, a story that ran in The New York Times on Oct. 28, 1909.
That story, which ran a little more than a hundred years ago, reported events that took place on the streets of Pittsburgh, Pa.
As the Times tells it, a man named Norman Bradley called out “Oh, you kid!” to his wife, to get her to wait for a moment while he talked to an acquaintance. A passing stranger, George B. Stacy, was so offended that anyone would shout such words to a woman in the street he immediately slugged Bradley. A fight ensued in which “both men were badly used up.” (I just love that phrase.)
Eventually, the two combatants wound up in court, where a judge ruled that Mr. Stacy had acted properly in assaulting Mr. Bradley.
According to the newspaper, Magistrate James D. Walker decided that “any man who shouts ‘Oh, you kid!’ at a woman in the street, even though she should be his own wife, should be whipped. The Magistrate said he would not fine any man who administered the whipping.”
Now in our current rough times, when people shout unimaginably nasty things at one another on the street – and, for that matter, on television – that court decision probably seems charmingly and hopelessly old-fashioned.
And that brings us directly to The Aspen Times story last Friday about a local man who was arrested a year ago, in January 2010, after he called an officer of the law a (gasp!) “douche bag.”
Oh my golly gosh.
In 1909, Mr. Stacy defended a young woman’s honor by resorting to fisticuffs; in 2010, an Aspen lawman defended his own honor by resorting to handcuffs.
Sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can get you busted.
I think that’s sweet.
And I also think it’s sweet that, a mere seven months after the original event – the shouting of names, the clinking of handcuffs – the district attorney cleverly upped the ante by raising the charges against the foul-mouthed citizen (“douche bag”! He called the cop a “douche bag”!) from “disorderly conduct” to “obstructing a peace officer.”
That new charge makes it clear exactly how terrible it was to call the innocent young cop a nasty, nasty name.
As far as I can tell from the newspaper story, the evil defendant’s only offensive action was the shouting and name-calling, so the “obstruction” charge forces us to recognize the tragic impact of that kind of verbal assault.
Personally, I can only imagine that the cop in question crumpled to the ground at the invective and probably needed a good dose of smelling salts before he could rise and slap the cuffs on the offender.
And the arrest already seems to be having a salutary effect on the Aspen citizenry. In the “comments” about that story on The Aspen Times website, one man, taking the cops side (already clearly a good citizen), referred to the offending term as “do**he bag.”
Even one commenter who made it clear he thought the cop and the DA were way out of line referred to the insulting term as “d-bag.” So obviously the arrest is having a good effect on local manners.
Another commenter declined to mention the term at all, but expressed his personal outrage that “the word in question is so offensive that this guy got arrested for it and here the [Aspen Times] has this offensive word in their headline. … Your credibility as a quality newspaper continues to decline.”
Yet again, I think that’s sweet.
Now I am sure that some of you radical “civil liberties” types might want to start shouting about Freedom of Speech and the First Amendment and all that.
Sure you do. And that’s why civilization is collapsing. (You probably think people should be able to insult the Prophet Mohammed too. Admit it. You do.)
But that kind of ACLU-inspired nonsense might be acceptable in the Big City, we won’t stand for it here in Aspen, Colorado. No siree, bub!
We don’t use that kind of language in this here town.
And anyone daring to shout “Oh, you kid!” at a passing woman will be horsewhipped.
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