Josh Shaffer

August 17, 2014

Shaffer: Urinating vandals spoil Internet in Elm City

The tiny Wilson County town of Elm City shuts down its Wi-Fi at night and on weekends after teens soil a library hangout.

At first, it sounds like an unforgivable act of vandalism, a slap at decency and a knock at all that is valued by an upright society.

Teens in this tiny Wilson County town habitually urinate on and around the public library.

Drawn by free Internet service, they loiter in the recessed storefronts on Railroad Street and relieve themselves freely after the librarians shut the door. It’s enough of a nuisance that the Town Council nixed the library’s Wi-Fi connection past closing time, cutting out a rare connection to cyberspace.

But put aside the risk to public health, the disrespect for literacy and the evident lack of hygienic education among the youth of Elm City, and you’ve got to admit that this whole kerfuffle is – come on – droll.

The Wilson Times had some fun with its headline: “Teens put damper on Elm City Internet service.”

Online commenters who read that article somehow blamed the White House.

“Thanks Obama!” wrote someone named Luigi. “These hoodlums now feel entitled to do as they please.”

“Obama has changed America folks!” echoed James Davis. “Ain’t it great!”

Others joked, as I will:

“It is just a wee problem,” wrote one, and, “This is why we can’t have anything nice,” said another.

How did this town of roughly 1,200 people come to such a stinky pass?

I drove an hour east to investigate on Friday and discovered this truth, which I will deliver with apologies both to town natives and to Samuel L. Jackson in “Pulp Fiction”:

Elm City is deader than fried chicken.

Not only is the library closed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but you can’t find a single human being on the entire block. I could have brought a llama to relieve itself on the library’s front door and nobody would have noticed.

The nearest building to the library’s left is padlocked. There’s a sign offering a reward for arsonists.

To the right is Library Park, which consists of a bike rack and a yard’s worth of grass.

The rest of the block offers locked doors, a busted window, an active hornet nest and a sign warning me that I was under video surveillance.

By whom? I knocked on every door and couldn’t rouse a soul. The most exciting thing that happened in an hour downtown was the Amtrak train passing by. It didn’t slow down.

I’ll go out on this limb: Urinating on the library might be the most fun you can have in Elm City.

Kids have it easy in Raleigh. There’s a festival every weekend, parks and pools every 10 feet, free museums downtown, skateboarding ramps, greenways running all over the city, libraries with weekend hours ...

If you’re bored here, it’s your own fault.

But in the towns an hour outside the Triangle, thick with cotton and tobacco, where the gas stations still have metal numbers on the pumps, where Piggly Wiggly is the biggest grocery store, there’s nothing but imagination to keep a kid company.

I know. I grew up in a place just like them.

I called the Elm City librarian Sue Young, who declined to comment Friday, and Town Administrator Jonathan Russell, who is out of town until Wednesday, then knocked on the door of a town councilman and rang the phone of the mayor. No luck finding anybody to discuss the library urination.

So while I’m taking potshots at this little town, which does have a fitness trail and a fall car show, let me say it’s no wonder teens are peeing on the library. There’s nowhere else to go. Maybe a porta-potty, or some crude public restroom?

If you don’t build it, they will go.

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