Annoying people: There ought to be a law

It’s clear that Americans are irritated by some of our annoying, stupid, idiotic laws.

Like the law in Galesburg, Ill., that makes it illegal to burn bird feathers within city limits. And one in Fort Thomas, Ky., that prohibits house pets from “molesting” passing cars. There are laws for this and laws for that, but the problem is that what’s annoying to you might not be annoying to your neighbor.

John Kass2

That’s why I was so thrilled to hear about the so-called Annoying Law of Grand Rapids, Mich.

If there’s one thing this country needs, it’s a law against people who are annoying. And jail time, to give the annoying people something to think about as they cool their heels in a cell.

Sadly, the town of Grand Rapids has decided to get rid of its Annoying Law.

The culprit is one Catherine Mish, the city attorney, who has been on a crusade since last summer to clean the city code of what she considers to be antiquated, unworkable and annoying laws. She combed through the more than 5,000-page city code and found them.

Like the one that makes it illegal for anyone other than a police officer to “molest” a bird’s nest (again with the molesting). They also threw out the one that sent habitually late library book borrowers to the pokey. OK, let’s throw that one out and be merciful.

But they’re annoying the heck out of me by getting rid of the Annoying Law. Enacted 38 years ago, it included a jail sentence of up to 90 days.

“I don’t believe the court would ever have allowed us to try and enforce this,” Mish said in a telephone interview. “If there’s an ordinance that you know isn’t enforceable, we should just take it off the books.”

The reason the law was unworkable is that the town fathers of Grand Rapids forgot to specify just what constitutes annoying behavior.

On Tuesday, city officials struck the Annoying Law from the books. They’re also preparing to erase the ban on molesting birds’ nests.

“Bad things can happen when you leave antiquated things on the books because they can be used against people,” Mish said. “We hate to leave any tool for selective enforcement in the code. If we can weed them out, we certainly try to be proactive about this sort of thing.”

Well, I certainly hope you’re happy, Catherine Mish. You and your whole dern posse of proactive lawgivers up in Michigan should take a bow.

But when America is overwhelmed by wave after wave of annoying behavior and some sociologist asks me why, I’ll just say, “It’s Grand Rapids’ fault. Blame Catherine Mish.”

Mish and others opposed to the Annoying Law keep referencing some 200-year-old document with a Bill of Rights and other stuff. Apparently, it’s a pamphlet that annoys many Washington politicians, so they ignore it while insisting they’re not taking away our liberties as much as they’re trying to protect us.

“We really can’t jail someone for being annoying,” said City Manager Gregory Sundstrom.

You can’t? What an outrage!

Clearly, Grand Rapids doesn’t have the guts to decide what is annoying. The problem is, if we open this question up to public debate, the lawyers will stick their noses in, and politicians, and nothing will get done.

So I’ve decided, in my wisdom, to define what’s annoying in America. And anyone who violates this new law will spend 90 days in the pokey, subsisting solely on bologna sandwiches or, if religious issues are involved, sardines and crackers. Maybe fruit wraps too.

Henceforth, anyone who repeatedly cracks his or her knuckles within earshot of another human being (especially if he’s your father and you’re my son) will be dubbed “Annoying” and spend 90 days in jail.

Also defined as annoying are:

— People who make “air quotes” with their fingers in conversation.

— The guy in front of you at a red light looking at his smartphone, and when the light changes to green, he’s still sitting transfixed by his screen, and when you beep, he flips you off. Ninety days.

— Movie talkers. Obviously annoying, and that goes for anyone flashing a cellphone in a theater. That’s 180 days because it ruins the movie.

— That waiter you have to all but beg for a second cup of coffee.

— Those tourists who stand in the middle of a bridge to take a photo.

— Snort laughers — don’t forget them. Is there anything more annoying than those who snort while they’re laughing? No. Ninety days.

— Same goes for fast-food-order takers who roll their eyes when a portly columnist says “easy on the mayo.”

But what about elected officials?

Any politician who says the words “much-needed revenue” rather than “we’re taxing the heck outta you ’cause we can” gets 90 days. Minimum. Likewise if they say “we must invest in the future” rather than “I’m buying votes with your money.”

There ought to be a law.

(John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who also hosts a radio show on WLS-AM. His e-mail address is: [email protected], and his Twitter handle is @john_kass.)

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