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Nina In New York: No Shirt? No Problem - Plus More Strange New York Laws

A young professional's take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.

By Nina Pajak

Last week, a story was reported about a local artist who is fighting for his right to paint nude models in Times Square. He won, sorta, in the sense that he's now allowed to do it only after the sun has gone down. You know, for the children. Think of the children! The children, who either aren't sexually aware and don't understand why nudity is very very bad and wrong, or those who are sexually aware and probably already figured out how to get around NetNanny. And plus it's art! Or whatever. Anyway, that really isn't my point.

What is interesting about this case is that it has led to my discovering that female toplessness is legal in New York City, so long as it's not "in a commercial context." Because of that whole prostitution thing, which naturally exists just a hop and a skip across that extremely fine line.

This made me wonder. What other bizarre laws and ordinances exist in New York these days? I don't mean the silly, oxymoronic ones like "it's illegal for blind people to drive cars," (um, good), or "the punishment for jumping off a building is death" (fair). I mean the ones that, were they better publicized, might be of some use to some (questionable) people. For instance:

Adultery is a Class B Misdemeanor! I mean, get outta town. That's right ladies and gentlemen. If your spouse philanders AND you're not actually deceased, you could (try to) throw the cheater in jail for up to three months OR (attempt to) collect up to $500. Seems handy, if for no other purpose than for use as a standing threat. Threats keep marriages healthy!

Another Class B Misdemeanor is fortune telling, believe it or not. Here's the rub: "except that this section does not apply to a person who engages in the aforedescribed conduct as part of a show or exhibition solely for the purpose of entertainment or amusement." Ah, clears up a few things, doesn't it? Perhaps this would be helpful knowledge for those who allowed themselves to be scammed out of their life savings by someone claiming to be a psychic.

Ladies, do you know how sometimes men ogle and do double-takes on the street in that gross, lecherous, cartoon-wolfish way? Well, it's illegal. Specifically, a man is not to turn around on the street and look "at a woman in that way." Oh, you know the way. The first time the chump does it, hit him with a $25 fine. But if that doesn't teach him to put his eyeballs back where they belong, second-time offenders are sentenced to wearing horse blinders when out on the prowl. I like that. That's some Hammurabian justice right there.

Okay, a few more quickies:

It's illegal for a stranger to throw a ball at your head for their own amusement, which is good because a person who would bean a random citizen in the head for fun is most likely a dangerous psychopath. Also, the next time you are forced into a game of dodgeball, just know that the law is on your side.

Body-hugging clothing for women is a no-no too, which I imagine was passed in support of the topless law.

Finally, my favorite. "While riding in an elevator, one must talk to no one, and fold his hands while looking toward the door." Why didn't I think of that? Of course elevator small talk should be against the law! I may print that and keep a laminated copy in my pocket for quick reference. Or perhaps I'll photocopy it in bright colors and post it in every elevator in my office building.

This is fun. If they taught a class on obscure, antiquated and frivolous laws which are still on the books because no one cares enough to have them removed, I may have actually gone to law school. Maybe! No, not really. That's silly. But it would be kind of fun to become a lawyer who specializes only in the enforcement of outdated and long-ignored laws. I'd be like a quirky vigilante superhero, and instead of handcuffs I'd carry horse blinders.

And also handcuffs, for those who dare to chat about the weather during the morning elevator ride.


Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I'm always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.

Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.

The Nina Archives:

BlackBerry Crisis

The Doctor Is In. And He Totally Hates Women.

If Only Manhattan Were Toontown

Jokes On You, Criminals!

iHeart You, Steve Jobs

A New Yorker's Visit Below The Mason-Dixon Line

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