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Lovely people, no doubt, but ...

Jun 6, 2013 - By Clair McFarland

For the better part of a year, I have been eager to write on the subject of local vagrancy that appears so often, both in this paper and within my list of mama-related concerns.

Despite my best intentions and -- as the editor may attest -- multiple attempts at capturing this issue fairly, my previous efforts have all been half-baked. (Here I will not make a joke about some of the subjects within the vagrancy issue also bearing that adjective. That would be based merely upon suspicion and not on fact. Seriously, no pun. Ahem.)

The problem which has prevented me from addressing a city-wide issue that is forever in my "to write" docket, is in employing the sort of literary political correctness that can label one's fellow man an "obstruction" without undercutting him. So let me clarify ...

Dictionary.com defines "vagrant" as "(1) A person who wanders about idly." To this I must add a few qualifiers based upon the local tendencies associated with the word: "(2) A human being, yet also an obstruction on the bike path;

"(3) Beloved by his or her peers, no doubt, yet also an obstruction in common play areas at the park;"

And for the zinger that makes all of this a legitimate concern: "(4) In general, a visual epitome of 'public intoxication.'"

Note that no vagrant has ever harmed my family or me physically. This is against the norm. However, the children and I have encountered many people who fit the above definition -- while out at play in our beloved town. The ones we have encountered are simply asking for change, pretending to be corpses, staggering into the side of our bike trailer, and -- yes -- posing obstructions.

Given the lack of physical assaults in the vagrant realm heretofore, you'd think this columnist wouldn't take the issue to heart so much as to make it public writing fodder. However, as a mobile security system with two babies in tow, it is my job to overestimate the potential for the zombie-like behavior of which one is capable when saturated with a tub of alcohol and, in some cases, Lindsay Lohan's private reserves.

The children and I are fairly hardy. We've braved the park in January. We've pushed the stroller through snow. During these times, my kids face bundled immobility of "A Christmas Story" proportions.

But to us, it is worth it. Why? Because we never get accosted by the down-on-their-luck and drunkenly inarticulate during the heart of winter. We treasure the peace, in the winter. (Mind you, I'd be happy to help a drifter in need, if his or her need wasn't expressed in tones and scents of rampant lethargy.)

As summer draws nearer, our encounters with these individuals occur almost daily.

In the Riverton City Council, there is a movement to renovate City Park -- aka, Vagrant Headquarters -- to eliminate the issue. Because everyone knows people hate acting like corpses and/or becoming obstructions in renovated parks.

I'm not a politician, and I'm not a water fountain sculptor, but I'm pretty sure some nicer facilities will neither deter the human obstructions, nor turn our fine skater crowd into a Narnian park-defense army.

It is not in my power to deal with this issue myself, and even if it were, I don't have nearly enough rolling pins to equip either the housewife population or the skater boys for self-defense against possible zombie manifestations within what I'm sure is a lovely (albeit obstructive) group of people.

I wish, however, that those with the kind of influence that extends beyond the scope of a light-hearted column could be our Narnian army.

Not for me, but for the 3-year-old who knows the word "vagrant" and experiences real dread whenever he encounters one. For the family who will probably never set foot in City Park.

And for the children who may have to confront the baser aspects of humanity long before they are ready to understand them.

In the meantime, we're going outside... to play at tiny parks whereat nobody has set up camp recently, to bike down Broadway instead of the Rails to Trails Bike Path (where a sign should read "Bikers Beware!"), and to carry our pepper spray -- just in case our fellow man ever does go zombie on us.

See you out there.

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