BY JARED BREY
There are certain phrases that linger from our elementary school years as clear as day, even as those years increasingly fold themselves together and recede into one more-or-less uniform, unspecific memory.
Among the clearest is this, uttered by a 2nd or 3rd or 4th grade teacher we can’t confidently identify: “It’s your own recess you’re wasting.” Mrs. Whatsername would bring this threat out when the class was acting up during what was supposed to be the time for learning. Perhaps a few of us were passing notes, or giving unserious answers to questions, or the maybe classroom was just engaged in general crosstalk when it was the teacher’s turn to speak.
The phrase still resounds because of its extreme compression. Here, in six short words, was a tripartite rhetorical powerhouse, at once an admonition of our bad behavior, the promise of something desirable, and the threat that we wouldn’t receive it at all. Keep up the bullshit and see what happens. Knock it off or you won’t get your supper. It’s you’re own recess you’re wasting.
The threat was reawakened in our memory this morning when we passed a bench, outside of a pharmacy in South Philly, with an eerily similar warning. “IF YOU CONTINUE TO LEAVE YOUR TRASH BEHIND THE BENCHES WILL BE REMOVED.” We were initially waylaid by a misreading of the message. We assumed the problem was that people were leaving trash behind the benches, but then the rest of the message seemed to be missing something. When we finally inserted a mental comma after the word “behind,” it all came together.
This is a succinct expression of the sense of neighborliness and public feeling in our city: Here is the possibility of a nice thing. You’re welcome to enjoy it. But the moment you smackasses fuck it up, it’s gone.