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Mardi-har-har 

An old college roommate stopped by my house the other night. Not old as in "80 years old," but old as in "he was always asking for money, and it got really old." I couldn’t remember his name, but fortunately he started talking first when I answered the door. "Hey, Shredder Man, I need a favor."

I blanched at the nickname and started to hide my wallet.

“No, I don’t need money,� he said. “Actually, I do need money, but that’s not why I stopped by. Actually, that is why I stopped by, but I also need your advice. Have you looked at your paper lately? Have you seen the Mardi Gras ad?�

I had to admit that I hadn’t. While I often write about stuff I learn about from other people who work here, the last time I actually picked up a copy of New Times was sometime in 2003, and that was to swat at a moth that had come inside and then decided it wanted to be outside, but couldn’t figure out how to open the screen door.

Turns out my former roommate was worried that he might never see his mom again, which is a dilemma that certainly wouldn’t keep me awake at night. Still, he hadn’t asked for money again, so I tried to keep him off the subject as long as possible by asking why he was so concerned. I furrowed my brow like I see people do on TV when they’re listening intently.

Seems New Times ran an ad last week saying that out-of-town visitors wouldn’t be welcome on Mardi Gras weekend, which is when his mom was planning to stop by. She was driving all the way from Redding to see him, and he was worried that she would get turned away at the top of Cuesta Grade and would never forgive him or speak to him again, which was awful, because he needed money.

Nonsense, I said, cursing myself for letting the subject get back to finances. I furrowed my brow a little more so he could see that I was genuinely concerned. It worked.

“Look what else it says,� he said. He handed me a copy of the New Times so I could read it myself, then proceeded to read it out loud to me, over my shoulder, which really bugs me, even though I do it to people too: “Gatherings on streets, sidewalks and parking lots near campus and downtown will not be allowed.�

Oh dear. Furrow, furrow. An ad’s running this week, too, on page 11.

“My mom and I were going to round up about a dozen of my cousins who live around here and we were all finally going to see ‘Sideways’ at the Palm. We agreed to meet in front of the library and then all walk down together. Do you think that constitutes a gathering? The last thing I need right now is for my 84-year-old mother to get pepper sprayed or shot with a beanbag. I saw those pictures last year of the girl with the black eye, and she said she wasn’t even doing anything wrong. What should I do?�

I had stopped listening about his concern for innocent bystanderism because I started reading the ad myself. Violation costs will be tripled citywide. Student violators face possible expulsion. The ad doesn’t say which violations are expulsion-worthy, but you can bet that violations of SLO sensibilities, which are sometimes so uptight they make common decency look like porn, are high on the list.

What really got me, though, was the note at the bottom, which attributed the message to “The Community of San Luis Obispo.� I certainly don’t remember anyone asking me what I thought, and I’m a part of this community. I’ve been a part of this community for much longer than most parts of this community, I’ll wager.

At this point, I was so upset that I rolled up the newspaper and shooed my former roommate out the door like he was a moth. “Your mom is welcome to stay here,� I said, before I realized what I was saying. I’ve got to stop doing that.

“But she doesn’t need a place to stay,� he said.

“Well, then that’s settled. Good luck with the police.�

I booted up my computer and went to check out the web site also listed in the ad: MardiGrasSlo.com. Aside from some really tacky design work, I didn’t see anything intended to deter out-of-town visitors from visiting. What’s up with calling them out-of-town visitors anyway? There aren’t out-of-town residents or in-town visitors. I was really steamed.

I can’t imagine what downtown business owners think of this attempt to keep visitors from pouring into town on one of the biggest tourist weekends of the year. Actually, I can imagine what they think, but I can’t print it here because I don’t want to get thrown out of town for using bad words and violating heightened moral principles if someone finds and reads this column on the one weekend it’s not okay to do so.

The ad also says that violence and property damage will not be tolerated. As far as I know, SLO police, and most police everywhere for that matter, hardly tolerate even the appearance of violence and property damage throughout the year. That’s why they take down people indiscriminately in riots. If you didn’t want to get hurt while trying to exit a scene that unexpectedly turned ugly, you shouldn’t have been hanging out with people who make trouble and raise rabble in the first place.

Parading nearly 400 law enforcement officers around town that weekend seems like a bad idea, unless they need that many to check IDs to make sure everyone on the street has a San Luis zip code, which I doubt. I’m not saying alcohol and disrespect aren’t contributing factors to past problems, but the “everyone’s a felon� attitude some cops have certainly doesn’t defuse any tension, nor does transforming SLO into a police state.

The theme of this year’s celebration is “metamorphosis,� however, so maybe it’s the image they’re going for. Everyone will stay home and be quiet in their little cocoons, and the few stragglers who just don’t get it will flutter in to be shooed back out or squashed flat.

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