HOW MUCH menace is in a trellis? Quite a lot,to judge from the recent campaign to rid Manhattan of hundreds of irksome community gardens and turn them over to hungry developers. No longer need urbanites suffer the torment of pollen-filled air, the distraction of tulips and peonies shaking their blowsy petals at passersby, the trap of winding footpaths that ensnare impetuous courting youths. The developers and the mayor claim they have no plans to uproot the gardens and pave them over, but as far as city gardeners and lilac-sniffers are concerned, the darling buds of May are on death row.

The assault on floral bowers began roughly two weeks ago, at about the same time that the lust for Viagra, the virility-boosting tablet that has men and stocks bounding over town, inflamed the city. Alone in the multitude of Viagra enthusiasts, Mayor Rudy Giuliani turned a cold shower on the miracle drug, announcing that a city bureau would crack down on any malefactors who hawked the aphrodisiac for over-inflated prices, and warning that men shouldn't get too dosed up on it. It was as if he wanted to decree that, be it flora or be it fauna, nothing in this town was going to grow without his hand on it.

On the list of pressing concerns that agitate every adult in this town, Viagra and floral over-abundance clock in at about number 2,004 and 3,006 - just under Spice Girl ticket woes and just ahead of the excessive cost of pet-adornment. No matter; under the watchful eye of the mayor, no worry escapes notice and commentary, no misbehaviour escapes reproof. In recent weeks, as part of a campaign called "Operation Civil Village", barriers have been erected in the Village to pester passing motorists. As traffic clots, cops stop drivers at will and ask for identification, and even if they don't bark, "ihren Pass, bitte!", villagers grumble that the neighbourhood has become a police state. They don't grumble loudly, though, because anyone who creates "unreasonable noise" gets a ticket.

People who leave their cars and walk find themselves tailed by detectives and issued summonses for jaywalking, and those who ride bikes can find no legal place to park them. A recent initiative to install more public bike racks failed when city officials sank three bike racks in concrete at one perilous intersection, entirely surrounding a traffic island and forcing pedestrians to jaywalk or risk being crushed (although the traffic slowdowns kept cars from life-threatening speeds), and leaving no means of access for cyclists. Meanwhile, over the last weeks, the mayor has proposed that men who walk into peep shows be photographed as a means of shaming them out of their seamy leisure habit, and has begun to issue starry-eyed young musicians hundred-dollar fines for pasting up posters for their gigs. Ostensibly, the musicians are being penalised for marring New York's impasto of already-postered walls, but some believe that the fines are actually a tax on fun. If the mayor has his way, the fines will increase five hundred percent.

For most Manhattanites, the mayor's battle for "quality of life" is as amusing as it is irritating, an endless subject for wrathy discussions and indignant hard-luck tales. But for one group of New Yorkers, the "zero tolerance" campaign amounts to a policy of harassment. New York's 24,000 taxi drivers feel they are being exploited by fine-hungry traffic cops much as arctic wolves prey upon snow-bound mice. At every crossing, cops keep their eyes peeled for for the tell-tale glimmer of yellow, pounce, and get a cabbie. Seatbelts not visible? They get a fine. Cab not clean enough? Fine. Too much incense? Fine. Nosing through the light too late (arguably)? Fine. All of this is not fine for cabbies, who have to either pay the fines, or pay a lawyer to contest them, which costs even more. When seventeen new sets of taxi laws were proposed by the city two weeks ago, multiplying existing fines and imposing several new demands, cabbies went on strike for a day. Rudy Poppins refused to give in to their pouting. Instead, he scolded them and blustered that they cluttered the roads in any case, and if they pulled any more naughty tricks he would ground them one day a week for eternity - so there. England's nanny state has nothing on New York City; our mayor will not rest until he has left his mark on every aspect of public life-and sent everyone who flouts his will off to the nursery with a rap on the knuckles and no pudding forever. All of this, of course, is for our own good, and hurts him far more than it hurts us.

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