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Impulses and Prohibitions

One day last week a man - a regular man, neither a decided proletarian nor a typical bourgeois - but just a man was walking along. He was dressed in average clothes, he was shaved and carried a suit case and didn't look out of work and was evidently going somewhere.

He was walking along with this suit case - it was on Larkin near McAllister about two o'clock on one of those superb days of last week - and he came to a place where there was a stretch of grass near the sidewalk. I think he was hot and the suit case was getting heavy. . . .

At any rate when he saw that grass, tall, dark green and fragrant, he immediately lay down on it, pulled his hat over his eyes and, I expect, went to sleep. It sounds so free and easy written down. Which makes it no less significant.

First, it was significantly Western. An Easterner or a Middle Westerner would have thought it over first. Then the fact that the man was so average made it significant. If he had looked like a vagabond it would have been not even an incident. It is we who are respectable who are fettered by Grundy. It was a logical thing to do and natural and terribly human, but most of us can't do the logical thing and natural even if inside we do feel terribly human. Especially these spring days. Today at noon I would like to have gone up on the grass in Union Square and taken my shoes off. Why didn't I? Not because of the police - but Grundy.

Now a Piute Indian woman could have done it. Her stockings too. A Piute Indian woman when she's tired she sits down right in the street, right where she's tired. But you and I, when we are weary we may sigh - "Wish I could sit down." But we can't, not until we've gone down the street and up in the elevator to some particular place where Grundy says we may sit.

The most significant thing about that man on the grass was that he was in the heart of a great city. Cities are like homes. Some you're comfortable in - some you're not. Now, San Francisco, it is a real city, with all the metropolitan lares and penates, dignified and vividly active. And yet there is no city in the country whose children may be as "at home" as here. It is the only city I know of that has forgotten to provide itself with nasty little "Keep Off The Grass" signs. It will probably never be an altogether prohibition town.

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