Unwonk - Episode 18: Sketchy

On this episode of Unwonk, we learn that children are horrible, what kinds of neighbors are worst neighbors (part 2!), and what makes you a sketchy person. 

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Please enjoy the links to additional information relating to the questions on this episode - for people new to our show, these quotes and links may not make much sense until you actually listen to the episode:

"There's no such thing as a tough child - if you parboil them for seven hours, they always come out tender.” - W.C. Fields

"Tinted windows are sketchy." - State legislatures

"Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man." - Benjamin Franklin

[Episode Keywords: sketchy, Smoky Pete, Fish Stew Friday, Manhattan traffic, kids' menus, old people eating death]

Episode Transcript


Hi, friend. This is a rough transcript of this episode of Unwonk. What's that mean? It means that we're just pasting the original script for the show plus unvetted transcripts of any interviews. So, you're likely to see content that maybe didn't make the final cut, maybe not see some content that was in the episode but not the original script, and run across a few typos. 

As with everything on Unwonk, the transcript below is for general informational purposes only - this is not legal advice - if you need to have a legal question answered, please seek legit legal representation. 

On this episode of Unwonk, we learn:

  • That children are horrible,
  • What kinds of neighbors are worst neighbors, and
  • What makes you a sketchy person. 

This is Unwonk. We respond to your legal questions with relevant and useful information. If you would like to submit a question, please visit our site at
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Even though the  general information on this podcast is provided by actual attorneys, you’d be an idiot to think it is actual legal advice, and you’d also be the type of person who decides to vote for a presidential candidate because they’re the type of person you’d like to have a beer with. You know what, of all the people I actually have beer with, i’d like none of them to ever be president.
And now, our first question.

My husband and I took our kids (4 years old and 2 years old) to a restaurant in Las Vegas when they opened at 5:30 - we always take them early because it's less crowded and they won't bother many people. The restaurant refused to seat us, saying that they don't allow young children. Is that even legal?

No question, there are two kinds of restaurant patrons. Those who have kids and those who don’t. 

People who don’t have kids exude a tangible dread and pissedoffedness upon seeing a family walk into a restaurant. It’s visible - you can see them tense up, just waiting for one of the untamed children to throw food or feces, scream something, or unleash a torrent of puke. It’s also one of the only times I actually see strangers roll their eyes in public. From their annoyed and apprehensive reactions, you’d think that Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition just rolled into the joint.

It’s really just generally childless people I’m talking about.

Parents who are dining out with their kids pretty much don’t care.  If there is throwing, screaming, or puking, they’re more likely  to toss a sympathetic look over to the struggling family. HOWEVER, this only applies before 7 pm. That’s the magical time that restaurants go from being family friendly to not-very-good-places for children. And it also doesn’t apply to families that just don’t give a shit, letting their kids go all Lord of the Flies all over the place. 

And I sense that you fall into the responsible parent category. I take my kids to eat at a restaurant as soon as it opens. That way, you avoid the eye-rolling childless people. And you know exactly what they’re thinking: That you should have left those kids at home until they’re able to eat in a restaurant. You know that’s what they’re thinking because that’s what you thought every time you saw kids in a restaurant before you had kids. It’s not until you actually have kids that you discover the best way to make kids able to eat in a restaurant is to actually take them to eat in restaurants. It’s called practice and learning, and it’s a revelation to learn that it applies to pretty much everything in life. 

My M.O. is like yours: show up early. Kid plates and utensils onto the table, sippy cups onto the table, quiet toys onto the table, order, pay the check when the food arrives, eat, clean up the food now blanketing the floor, leave. Done. Of course, the main problem of eating with kids at 5:30, is that’s when old people eat. And old people - although nice to kids on the street - hate, HATE noise and distractions in restaurants. They really don’t know how many dinners they have left in their golden years, and they’re not going to have a bunch of meddling kids ruin it for them if this is the one.

All that said, there are clues to determine whether a restaurant is expressly or implicitly family friendly:

  • The existence of high chairs
  • They have crayons
  • There are kids menus
  • They have a self-serve soda machine that kids can use to add a little bit of each beverage to their cups
  • And finally, there’s a trademark symbol in the restaurant’s name on the sign - dead giveaway that you’re in a chain restaurant that just doesn’t give a shit about anything.

Here are some subtle clues that indicate a restaurant is not family friendly:

  • They have a tasting menu
  • They have a sommelier
  • They have a sign that says no goddamn kids.

But is that legal? Certainly, you say, you can’t discriminate against someone for their age? Well, yes, you actually can. And it’s presumably based on the doctrine of I don’t have to serve someone who is presumed to be an obnoxious half-person that’s going to kill the experience for the rest of the restaurant and lead to fewer precious good Yelp ratings and such. 

The fact is, Deborah, that in Nevada - which is where I understand Las Vegas is - restaurants - and any place of public accommodation - can impose age limits up to 21 years old. That means they don’t, in fact, have to serve your brood, presumably for fear of what I just discussed above. They’d rather just preempt the embarrassing act of asking you and your mess of a family to leave because your kids are making it rain oyster cracker crumbs from their filthy mouths onto the adjacent tables. 

But don’t worry, the same law allows you to file a complaint up to 300 days after an incident you suspect to be discrimination. It also allows restaurants to offer special pricing for kids and senior citizens. Kind of weird that kids and senior citizens get lumped together like that, and it’s probably not just because they’re at the same level on opposite ends of the lifecycle diaper bell curve. 

Anyway, the restaurant did no legal wrong here. I hope you found solace at an Applebee’s or whatever close by. And what the hell were you doing with your kids in Las Vegas to begin with? 

I was driving from my hotel Manhattan, New York to a friend’s apartment downtown and got pulled over. I wasn't speeding - the cop gave me a ticket because my window tinting was too dark. Thing is, I was just visiting - I live in and have my car registered in Florida, where my window tinting is legal. Can I fight my ticket?

Let’s start at the end of that, Tony. “Can I fight my ticket?” Of course you can fight your ticket. You can fight anything in this life. Human existence is, if you think about it, is a prolonged series of fights interrupted by periods of non-fighting, usually underscored by low level tension and suspicion - at least, that’s my life. So, yes, you can fight it. The question is, can you win? 

Also, let’s talk about driving in Manhattan. You don’t just drive in Manhattan. Sure, you can drive into Manhattan. You can drive out of Manhattan. You could even have the one-off driving somewhere to pick up something special, like some choice street furniture after checking it for bed-bugs. But, in Manhattan, there’s very little casual taking a car from Point A to Point B. So, Tony, I can’t help but wonder if you could have avoided the risk of a ticket if you had minimized your driving time while visiting by taking the three most common forms of Manhattan transportation: Walking, Subway, or cab/Uber. Yeah, there’s the bus, but odds are, you’re not going to need it. 

Every single state has laws about tinted windows. They’re pretty much all different, too. Except for New Jersey and Colorado - neither of them allow ANY window tinting. Any. Which means the only way you’re going to have privacy while picking your nose at a red light is to pretend you’re bending down to pick up something off the floor and then drilling down to nasaltown while you’re down there - that is, until you realize there’s someone in your passenger seat.

Why are there laws regulating window tinting? Because tinted windows are sketchy, and states have found a way to quantify exactly how sketchy is too sketchy. Think about it. Have you ever pulled up next to a Honda Civic with blackout windows and thought “Hm, nothing suspicious or sketchy going on in there. 

We all have experiences with sketchiness, so it’s subjective and we each set our sketchy levels in different ways based on this. Here are a few things that have contributed to mine:

When I was 15, I took Amtrak to San Diego to visit a friend who was in college. The train car was mostly empty. Across the aisle from me was an older business man - at the time, he looked like he was in his 70’s, but with the hindsight of age, I now think he was in his 50’s. He started chatting with me, said he was an entertainment attorney with a house in Malibu. That’s where things started getting. Sketchy. He very subtly began massaging his thighs, moving his hands to the inside, not breaking eye contact. Then, after some more chit chat, he said in a stage whisper “Want to get on a train back north and head to my place? I have a hot tub.” Ping. Broke the sketchy barrier. Spent the rest of the train ride in the snack car. Also, I don’t like hot tubs.

I had a neighbor in New York who was completely normal in every way, except that she belonged to some kind of health cult that sold vitamins - excuse me - nutriceuticals, the goal of which was to extend your life by 10 years. Never really figured out how that worked. The sketchiness there was much more subtle, but it oozed out during every conversation, every interaction - this nutriceutical thing wasn’t just a job - her sole purpose in life was to befriend you only to have you purchase her bullshit nutriceutical things, eyes wide with some kind of endgame only she could see. So, not sketchy in a hiding-in-the-shadows way, but sketchy in a cheery culty way.

One final one: The San Francisco Jake Walk. For a city that’s barely a city, San Francisco has a high sketchiness factor. Luckily, this factor often comes with a tell that’s like a cat wearing a bell. A little backstory on this one. During prohibition in the US, people got a buzz on however they  could. Jamaican Ginger - also known as Jake - which was sold as a medicine - had a lot of alcohol in it. So people drank it. And got drunk off it. What they didn’t realize is that it one of the ingredients bootleggers used to fool government tests on the concoction was a neurotoxin, resulting in nerve damage that gave users a high-kick stumbly walk, which became known as the Jake Walk. Most other cities I’ve lived in are not an issue walking at night. San Francisco, though, has always had an ominous feel to me after dark, the kind of place where you need to be watching a block ahead. And often, you’ll see in the darkness a shadowy figure slowly stumbling down the sidewalk, doing what I call the San Francisco Jake Walk, a distinct slow motion stumble, arms either balancing or grasping at something invisible in space. High sketch factor. The first time I encountered this after moving back to the bay area, a San Francisco Jake Walker stopped 10 feet in front of me, raised a finger, screamed, and then proceeded to tear open the garage door he was standing in front of, slitheredinside as the closing door pulled his pants down to his ankles. Another San Francisco Jake Walker stopped upon seeing me, and then charged like a zombie smelling fresh brains, only to stumble over a large invisble sofa or other large object. If you ever see the San Francisco Jake Walk coming your way, cross the street, becasue you never know what’s going to happen. Sketchy.

Wait, I’ve just been informed that window tinting laws have nothing to do with sketchiness, but about safe visibility levels for the driving.

Or, sketchiness.

Back to your question.

Now, if every state has a different law, how could you ever go to another state without getting a ticket? Usually states have laws that respect other state’s laws on tinting. That’s right, states have enacted statutes that cover window tinting to essentially put in place the equivalent of the U.S. consitution’s full faith and credit clause for window tinting. That’s how sketchy darkly tinted windows are: your state governments took time to enact a law to respect other states’ decisions on acceptable levels of interstate sketchiness.

New York law on window tinting specifically doesn’t apply to a motor vehicle owned by a non-resident of this state, provided that the owner shall have complied with the provisions of the law of the state of residence relative to equipment of such motor vehicle. 

Based on my reading of that, New York law says that as long as you’re complying with the tint level of Florida law, which can go as low as 28% of natural light coming into your vehicle, then you can’t get a ticket for breaking New York’s window tinting law, which only goes as low as 70% of natural light. New York has a much lower tolerance for sketchy activity than Florida. This is to the surprise of nobody.

In short, my sketchy friend, you probably have case. However, if you’re planning on fighting from Florida, it may not be too convenient. As a high level window tint person, however, I’m sure you have a defense lawyer already on retainer, so that’s probably the best route for you.

I live in an apartment building between two other apartments. The neighbor on one side smokes. A lot. Cigarettes, weed, and maybe even cigars. And the smell comes through to my apartment and also the hallway. It stinks up my place and aggravates my allergies. The neighbor on the other side cooks some kind of seafood fish stew every Friday - I don't know what exactly it is, but it smells like a fish graveyard at low tide. My landlord has not responded to my pleas for help. Do I have any legal remedy here?

We get an unbelievable amount of questions about neighbors. Neighbors are always doing the worst, most horrible things you can possibly imagine. Flinging dog poop, stomping on the floors above, stealing packages, and always, always, playing really loud music at really bad times. I’m surprised most law schools don’t have a class called “Shitty Neighbor Law,” since half the questions I get from people in real life, are also about neighbors. Or maybe half the people who ask me questions may be the shitty ones - it’s really a one-sided story when I hear it. 

Anyway, I think I had that neighbor of yours, The Fish Stew Friday people. Least pleasant thing to come home to, with the smell permeating both public and private spaces. Do you know how hard it is to mouth-breathe three flights up a walkup? And it’s not just the immediate smell. It also gets into your upholstery and even your clothes. You never had a neighbor with the opposite issue, someone who cooks amazingly delicious things all the time. I’ve never shown up to work, had someone get a whiff of my jacket as I pass by and ask “Hey, what smells like freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in here?” Or, “Have you been bathing in cinammon apple strudel cakes?” “Can I lick you?” “Please, let me lick you.” 

OK, that wouldn’t happen.

But let’s not start there. Let’s start with the smoker. And I’m not going to judge on the fact that your neighbor is a smoker, which is very bad for you but sometimes can smell nice after I’ve had a few cocktails and miss the days when I smoked. I am going to judge on the variety of things he (and we’re going to assume it’s a he) smokes. Cigarettes, weed, and cigars? Amazing. That’s commitment to combustion diversity.

Now, first things first - and we’ve addressed this with bad neighbors before on the show - have you talked to the neighbor? That’s the first step. Is your neighbor a dick? How is the smoke coming through? I remember having an apartment where there was a passive vent between my bathroom and the neighbor’s bathroom - if you looked at it the right way you could actually see the neighbor’s bathroom ceiling. This led to various smells and… sounds being exchanged between the bathrooms. Sealing it up helped with the privacy issues. Have you sealed up the door to your apartment? Some weatherstripping could help - that’s how I fixed my in-apartment problems with my fish stew fiesta neighbor.

Now, if you’ve talked to your neighbor and tried some easy fixes to no avail, and if it’s really causing you aggravations, you could look to your landlord and/or you can look at legal action against your neighbor, Smokey Pete.

Does your landlord have a no smoking policy in place? A California state law passed in 2011 made it explicit that landlords could ban smoking from rental units. You could either work with your landlord to have them enforce the ban, or put one into place - these often only require 30 days notice for existing renters.

If working with your landlord and the neighbor fails, and you really feel strongly about it, you could in fact try to go after your landlord for something as simple as negligence (since the landlord has the ability to enforce non-smoking) or as big as breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment that the landlord owes to you, or even constructive eviction.  And you have an arsenal of usual claims against a neighbor like this: negligence, battery, infliction emotional distress, nuisance, and even trespass. The question is, are you going to get an expensive lawyer to do all of this? If it’s landlord tenant court, you probably can represent yourself. You can also try a hand in small claims court. Also, it’s harder to prove smell than sound without special equipment. You can easily record a noisy neighbor, you can’t easy capture smell, unless you plan on hauling into court a collection of neatly labelled mason jars, each with a smell you’ve captured.

As for Fish Stew Friday, I really would try to seal off my front door and any other obvious entry points for stinky fumes. Just from personal experience, that worked for me. If that doesn’t work, and you’re dead-set on staying in what sounds like a poorly constructed apartment with two shitty neighbors and a deadbeat landlord, you could also try to sue the Fish Stew Friday for nuisance, or whatever, but at that point, it kind of becomes a question of judgement for the judge - just because you don’t like the fish smell, doesn’t make it bad or unacceptable. It just might make you a dick that’s incapable of living around other human beings. Or, move out to the suburbs.

Thanks for listening to this episode of Unwonk.
Look out for some exciting new features coming up on our site, including a contest, which we’ll be announcing in the next couple weeks.
And don’t forget check out our deadspin column by clicking on the link at our website.
On the next episode, we learn:

  • About a statute in a utah town that makes it illegal to check that your fly is closed by subtly touching it while pulling up your pants in public,

  • Which letter of the alphabet is patented and licensed to the public by a shadow organization, paid for by tax dollars, and

  • 6 vegan macaroni and cheese recipes. And the cheese there is in quotes. Because vegan. Macaroni’s in quotes, too. But i’m not telling you why.