I was naïve. There I was, attending the University of Miami and trying my hand at brotherhood by pledging at the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity when it dawned on me that despite the sprawling fraternity row of houses there wasn't a single sorority house to be found.
Why were the sororities relegated to tiny suites on campus while the frat houses dotted San Amaro Drive? I couldn't believe the answer. I was told that, apparently, there was some old statute on the books in the city of Coral Gables that considered it illegal if a certain number of unrelated women were living in the same house because it could be considered a brothel. A brothel! I laughed it off and asked someone else. Same answer. Really?
To this day, I still don't know if the passage is true or simply urban coed folklore. I should know better. I live just a block from the school now and I am a member of the University of Miami Community Relations Committee. Coral Gables can be a pretty stringent place to live, but, come on now, a brothel?
Laws of gravity
I'm not alone. Quirky laws are everywhere. According to Sheryl Lindsell-Roberts' Loony Laws & Silly Statutes it is illegal to park your car in Milwaukee for more than two hours unless it is hitched to a horse. Set aside any romantic urges in Cleveland because you are not allowed to drive a car while sitting on someone's lap. Your guess is as good as mine as to why an automobile can't impersonate a wolf in Macomb, Illinois.
That's just the beginning. Robert Wayne Pelton's Loony Laws That You Never Knew You Were Breaking points out that if you are caught adjusting your stockings in Dennison, Texas, you could serve up to a year in jail. Skating instructors aren't allowed to date their students in Ohio or Indiana. Ride an ugly horse in Wilbur, Washington? That's a $300 fine, chum.
Many of these laws were naturally written a long time ago. Many sexist ordinances, like one in Corvallis, Oregon, that prohibits women from drinking coffee after 6:00 p.m., are obviously the handiwork of archaic, if not downright unsophisticated, times. Whether they were scribed by folks with a sense of humor or just the product of a small, chummy legislature with an ax to grind in simpler, ignorant days, they probably never banked on having these ordinances scrutinized and ridiculed on this side of the millennium.
Why are they still on the books? It could just be the sloppy, time-consuming process to overturn these laws that are no longer enforced. Would a police officer really fine a woman $25 for flirting in New York City? Can you picture a South Dakota woman over 50 being sentenced just because she went out and struck up a conversation with a married man over 20?
But if they are laughably unenforceable and the legislature is too swamped with current events to rectify the cobwebbed statutes by striking them from the legislative record, will they always be on the books?
Fact or fiction?
It is illegal to hunt for camels in Arizona. Or is it? Forget the fact that you would be hard-pressed to find a camel in the state in the first place. That's one silly statute that has often made the rounds online. Yet the well-researched urban legend busters at Snopes.com point out that the claim is bogus. The site also debunks other alleged city-specific Arizona laws that claim it is illegal to do things like wear suspenders in Nogales or drive a car in reverse in Glendale.
However, the site does verify that Texas did once pass a resolution honoring the Boston Strangler. Yet the 1971 move was done more as a cruel statement, embarrassing legislators by singling out how easy it was to get something by them.
But it bears noting that it's usually the most farcical of loony laws that wind up being true. While some of the inane statutes that are circulating in print or online may have never existed or were repealed ages ago, many remain for all to see. But what am I talking about? No one would dare scribe anything remotely ridiculous today. Right?
Loony laws today
Despite all of the accusations of slow-plodding governments, many laws are passed quickly as knee-jerk reactions to current events. Right now, it's hard to argue anything has tightened up the legislative leashes more than Janet Jackson's revealing moment in February's Super Bowl halftime show. Nipplegate has gotten the corporate world worked up and it's not just Viacom
In St. Petersburg, Florida, the city council is looking to pass an ordinance that will fine concert promoters $500 for every obscenity uttered onstage at a public park. The impetus was a recent randy show by rapper 50 Cent. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but if St. Pete has its way, a dirty word might soon be worth a thousand 50 Cents.
In our Folly in 50 States discussion boards, every state has its own forum to shine given its particular nuances. Bizarre laws can be a disgrace or a humorous badge of localized lore.
As investors it's easy to scoff at everything from wash sale rules to blue sky laws but there is ultimately some nugget of logic in their origin. But that real world out there? I tell you, it can get pretty nutty.
In the end is it little more than trivial amusement or are we talking about a serious breach of legislative entitlement? I mean, it's undeniably funny stuff sometimes, but don't laugh too hard. If they think you were tickling someone's chin with a feather duster in Portland, Maine, you would be so busted.
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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz doesn't want to run from the law, but sometimes he can't help but chuckle as he jogs past it. He will be chronicling even more silly statutes over at LoonyLaws.com. Rick's stock holdings can be viewed online, as can the Fool's disclosure policy.