How mimes and hillbillies could save Seattle

Mossback's low-cost, low-impact solutions to chronic civic problems.
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Panhandling in Seattle. (Seattle Channel)

Mossback's low-cost, low-impact solutions to chronic civic problems.

In this time of tight budgets, we need to get creative in solving civic problems. Mossback offers the following ideas and strategies for solving some of our most nagging problems, not with tax increases or vexatious new nanny laws, but with simple commons sense.

Problem: Ridding city parks of nuisance people

City Council candidate Jessie Israel has made public safety a top priority and would like to clean up our urban parks. Mayor Greg Nickels has proposed to ban guns from city parks. Westlake is an example of a park that's been taken over by surly, seedy youths with lots of luggage. How do you flush out downtown parks and make them safer?

Solution: Invite hundreds of out-of-work mimes to drive away the homeless.

And everyone else. When I lived in San Francisco in the '70s, Union Square had the same problems, but small, determined armies of white-faced clowns filled the park, mocking passersby by imitating their walks and gestures. Shields and Yarnell cleaned the park out better than Mark Sidran ever could. People began to avoid the place like the plague. Seattle has a long history of combatting "street" problems by rendering public amenities useless (the unsittable metal seats at downtown bus stops are a good example). A mime infusion would reduce need for park security and maintenance, plus it supports the arts and positions the city to lead in a national mime revival, furthering Lesser Seattle goals. Call it a win-win-win.

Problem: Aggressive panhandling

City Councilmember Tim Burgess has rebuilt and hitched horses to the old "civility" bandwagon and is gearing up a new set of laws to keep desperate panhandlers and beggars in check.

Solution: Dress like the homeless.

I think it can be said that Mossback tends to dress rather casually, but I didn't realize the genuine wisdom of doing so until the other day. I wore a suit and tie to a speaking engagement and realized that this look was like catnip for aggressive downtown panhandlers. In fact, a crack whore practically tried to mate with me on First Avenue. It was a more awkward encounter than when Sammy Davis Jr. unexpectedly hugged Richard Nixon. I fled for the comfy confines of the Rainier Club when it hit me: Instead of another round of Sidran laws, if Seattleites dressed down, way down, as I do 360 days a year, everyone would look homeless and such harassment would cease. The thrift-store look could re-establish the city's egalitarian sense. Not to mention it's recycling. A win-win at least.

Problem: Big problems

Seattle and the region are faced with huge problems: recession, collapsing budgets and dams, too many taxes and too much tax resistance, competitors plotting to steal our lunch and assembly lines. How do you motivate people to care? Electing a mayor who never votes is one way, of course, but there's another tried and true method.

Solution: Declare an apocalypse.

If we build the Big Bore tunnel? A financial black hole, exclaimed Mike McGinn! If we don't? "Municipal suicide!" declares one local elected official. King County's budget? So near collapse that even some Republicans are begging for more money. If Boeing moves a 787 production line to South Carolina? Doomsday. Tim Eyman's latest initiative? If it passes it'll make Ragnarok look like a picnic. Nothing mobilizes the troops or op/ed writers like an end-of-the-world scenario. There's no cost involved, just a flat declaration that the world as we know it will change forever. Call it a lose-win scenario.

Problem: The cost of Seattle's labor force

Government officials and business leaders complain about the unions and the cost of workers in Pugetopolis. People here make too damn much money. We don't want businesses to flee. What do we do? Until the next bubble we can't give everyone in the "creative class" a raise, so ...

Solution: Import hillbilly labor from South Carolina.

Forget the "creative class." Seattle is always boasting about its smarts, its college achievement level, its book-buying habits, its abundance of knowledge workers. If you believe Boeing, we're pricing ourselves out of the competition. Do we really need people with knowledge building our planes? Why hire an Einstein to put together the next generation of Greyhound bus? City Council candidate Mike O'Brien says Seattle needs to attract "smart" people, but the evidence is to the contrary: We will only flourish economically if we import more dumb ones.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.