In the operation of my not-for-profit real estate business, I have the opportunity to visit a number of county courthouses throughout the Midwest and South. Now please understand this involves me undertaking painstaking research and does not mean that I visit court-rooms. Instead, I hang out in assessors' and recorders' offices, trying to figure out what you own and how much you overpaid for it (you did—by A LOT). I do this not to enhance my chances of making money. I simply do it because, by virtue of an intrusive piece of Federal legislation called the Freedom of Information Act, I CAN.
During the course of my research, I've observed that signs play critical roles in the typical courthouse decorating scheme. Besides the usual signs you see in courthouses, things like "Exit", "Prosecuting Attorney," "No Weapons," and "We're Closed On Every Holiday Known to Man, Including Cinco De Mayo," I've noticed some other interesting and informative signs which are worth mentioning here.
A recent business junket which took me to several courthouses in Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa uncovered a disappointing discriminatory phenomenon—most men's bathrooms are in the basement. To make matters worse, one county courthouse in Iowa, which shall remain nameless because I can't remember where it was, blatantly reveals that the so-called "gender gap" is alive and well. While pleasantly referring to the ladies room as the "Ladies' Restroom," this courthouse's signage simply refers to the men's bathroom as the "Men's Toilet." Why not just call it a latrine or "the head?" We men have feelings too, you know!
A second observation, apparently uniquely problematic in Missouri, is that the number one public safety issue is not handguns or knives or reality television. The number one problem plaguing Missouri courthouse is in fact chewing tobacco. Now I haven't been in every courthouse in Missouri, but in at least two counties I visited last January the issue commanded a good bit of signage.
Consider this ominous posting observed in the Livingston County Courthouse in Chillicothe, Missouri: "Please do not spit chewing tobacco on the floor." Perhaps well meaning county commissioners, when enacting the legislation behind this signage, didn't realize that banning spittoons from county buildings in 1957 triggered this problem. Return the spittoons, I say. What's a fella supposed to do, swallow?
Down in Dallas County, Missouri, at its courthouse in Hartville, one must go into the men's bathroom, er toilet (the head) before discovering that chewing tobacco is alive, well, and NOT swallowed. Consider this intimidating sign observed in the men's bathroom: PLEASE DO NOT PUT CHEWING TOBACCO IN THE URINALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For the sake of accuracy, I have typed 18 exclamation points after this request, in the exact same manner as the sign's author.
The above sign is understandable. I've witnessed this problem. Chewing tobacco definitely compromises the standard issue courthouse urinal's ability to effectively flush chewing gum, cigarettes, and handguns. Indeed, eschewing chew in the loo is overdue and should be pursued.
Let's assume that the average patron of the Dallas County Courthouse men's room (which by the way is not in the basement) tries to abide by this command. Well, he probably feels a little confused, bewildered, and like he just plain can't win when he reads the sign over the paper towels (this assumes he has washed his hands). This sign offers a contradictory message: "PLEASE EMPTY ALL CONTAINERS BEFORE PLACING IN TRASH. Thank You! (Note 1 exclamation point; "Thank You" not in caps).
So what's a guy to do here? Let's say after several minutes of anguish he's decided not to spit on the courthouse floors. So, he goes into the bathroom to spit out his dip or chaw. He's confronted with "the sign" then decides he better spit everything out into his styrofoam coffee cup. Then he goes to dump the cup in the trash can but instead washes his hands. At that point he is directed not to place the cup into the trash without emptying its contents. So he goes back to the urinal and is beaten over the head with sign number 1. Then he walks back and forth from the trashcan to the urinal; the urinal to the trashcan; the trashcan to the urinal, and so on for what seems like an eternity. It seems like he's found himself in and endless computer loop until he sees the traditional toilet. He then proceeds to swallow the contents of his cup to avoid walking the extra fifteen feet.
But problems in courthouses are in no way limited to certain counties, or regions or even states. Take Wilson County, Kansas for instance. Public enemy number one in that county's courthouse (found in the city of Fredonia) is none other than begging. Its courthouse signs boldly warn: "NO BEGGING." Perhaps county officials there are tired of the citizenry begging for a personal stimulus package.
And how about Warren County, Missouri? A sign at its courthouse in (surprisingly) Warrenton, greets you at the front door cautioning: "No Concealed Weapons." Presumably one can brandish a .357 Magnum while entering the front door as long as it is in plain view. But Warren County, in the true courthouse sign spirit, saves its most intriguing and insightful signs for the bathroom. Outside the restroom doors in the courthouse annex, signs plead: "As a courtesy to others, please do not tie up the restroom by making personal phone calls." After reading these signs, I couldn't tell what the true issue is. Is the real problem that employees were tying up bathrooms, forcing co-workers to jump up and down outside the door while waiting for the bathroom to be vacated? Or, is the real issue that personal phone calls were being made in the bathrooms, rather than from the office phones where everyone knows personal phone calls are supposed to be made. Would the same outrage exist if the restrooms were being tied up because of an overuse and abundance of business phone calls? Don't bet on it!
I can tell you're begging me to wrap this up, so I'll just tell you to go read the sign in Fredonia, Kansas. But I actually don't mind your begging, just as long as you don't spit that nasty chaw on me. Spit it on your office floor while making a personal phone call.