SAN FRANCISCO. Alton Birdsell, Jr. will admit that what he was doing on Fisherman’s Wharf last night wasn’t exactly appropriate for a public street, but it was something that had to be done. “I always forget to clip my fingernails before I go on vacation,” says the community banker from Leavenworth, Kansas, here for a convention. “They seem to grow faster as soon as I leave home.”
Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco
Birdsell purchased a pair of fingernail clippers with an embossed image of the Golden Gate Bridge on the leatherette holster at a souvenir store and had begun to clip his nails over a trash can when he was “accosted,” as he puts it, by an aggressive mime imitating his actions. “Frankly, I was embarrassed as hell,” he says. “It made me mad. It’s none of his damn business what I do on vacation.”
“Why don’t you try these clippers, banker boy?”
But the mime, Jack Tressel, thinks differently. “These people come into one of the most beautiful cities on earth and act like they’re back home in their bathrooms,” he says. “Mimes can be the first line of defense against offensive public behavior.”
“He’s going to the movies later–that’s why he was picking his seat.”
But the San Francisco Convention & Tourism Council became concerned that so-called “mime-sliming,” as the artists describe the practice of holding a mirror up to habits that non-mimes practice in public but should keep behind closed doors, was driving away business. “The endoproctocologists cancelled,” says Herman Stone, executive director. “Then the chiropodists backed out before I even had a chance to look up what the first group did,” he notes with exasperation.
So beginning October 1st, vacationers will be able to wander in and out of designated mime-free zones around the city where they can pick, scratch, tell offensive jokes and otherwise enjoy themselves while away from home without fear that they will ridiculed by a mute artist in whiteface.
Moscone Convention Center
Convention goers say they are willing to give San Francisco another try this year based on the new policy, but won’t make the sort of commitments for the future that municipal convention authorities count on in making capital spending plans. “Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery,” says Vernon “Chip” Thomas, Midwestern Vice-President of the Soybean Growers of America, which will meet for a plenary session at the Moscone Convention Center in November. “But I still don’t like it.”
Mime Not a mime.
San Francisco has the highest number of mimes per capita of any American city at 7.96 per 1,000, followed by Seattle, Boston and, in an apparent rounding error, Glasgow, Missouri. “We appreciate the attention, but they made a mistake,” says Glasgow Chamber of Commerce President Danny “D.J.” Green. “They counted our white-faced cattle, who for the most part do not practice theatrical mimicry.”