South Beach Mothball Poisoner






“What is that awful smell?” I asked my next door neighbor when I reached the outdoor landing to our apartments on the second floor.

“I put mothballs on the ground around my motor scooter,” she said, pointing to her scooter next to the mailboxes downstairs.

“Why? It is nauseating.”

“So the cats will go away. The manager of the building over there said it is a good idea. She will do it too.”

“I thought you liked cats. You were feeding them up here by your door.”

“They peed here,” she motioned to her doorway, “and they peed on the cover of my motor scooter downstairs, so I put the mothballs all over.”

“What kind of mothballs? Some are poison to humans.”

“I don’t care.”


“I don’t care. I have to protect myself. They peed on my cover and I got a rash when I handled it.”

“I am getting a headache,” I declared, and went inside, where I did a little research, and texted her.

“I shall see if I can find another way so the landlord does not get fined and people don’t get sick. There must be something else.”

“Find something good because I need to take care of myself with the cat urine.”

“I shall try. There could be big fines and you might get sick too.”

“I’m already sick with cat urine.”

“Should I have Animal Control call you?”

“You call them and tell them about the cat. I do not want to be involved. Please.”

“See if your mothballs are marked SAFE for humans.”

She did not reply to that text, so I linked her to Florida’s animal cruelty statute Section 828.08 providing up to a year in jail for putting poison out in public areas, and informed her that I did not want to call Animal Control because the police might be called in to arrest her.

I also linked her to an article on mothballs and how they can harm children—a little girl often visited her father in the apartment right above the area she had poisoned.

“I feel like you are mad at me. I just try to protect myself.”

“I’m not mad. I am trying to protect you. It is a crime.”

“Whatever. Everything is a crime. If you care you call Animal Control and deal with that. My life is busy. I have no time for that.”

I then linked her to an article on using cayenne pepper to keep cats out of gardens.

“Cats HATE cayenne powder,” I texted. “Cayenne makes them sneeze, run away. I tried black pepper once. Only cayenne works.”

I went to the Publix grocery store and purchased some cayenne for her to use.

“I put cayenne bottle on your door, I texted. “If it works we can buy big bottle. Put some also around door landing.”

When I went outside, I found she had thrown the bottle on my doorstep.

“You don’t want it? I can make soup,” I texted. I did, and I felt like a pressure cooker as blood rushed to my head.

The horrible odor diminished. The cats were still around, including the black-and-white cat I call Sylvester because he is a very smart cat, careful to avoid strangers, especially anyone carrying a cage.

The cats walked right by the mothballed area, but eventually stopped coming around so often. The neighbors in the downstairs area said the cat excrement and urine around their doors was indeed a nuisance.

Landlord Refuses to Repair Central AC

I sent the poisoner an image of a pregnant tawny cat perched on a window air conditioner—the no-maintenance landlord refuses to fix the central air conditioners. I joked that Castro might drop mothballs from planes onto her homeland.

Landlord refused to fix central air conditioners and replace appliances
I was watching my favorite cop show, Da Vinci’s Inquest, a month later.  I became nauseated, and not at the sight of the bodies. I had my window open because the landlord had refused to fix the ground air conditioner that serves my studio.

I stood up, was dizzy on my feet, and then I realized that mothball fumes were wafting in my window. I went outside. The smell was such that it might knock a man down if he stayed a few minutes. White mothballs were all around the poisoner’s scooter and the mailbox area.

Not realizing that the poisoner was at home because at that hour she usually works at the health center nearby, and my taps on her door went unanswered, I texted her as follows:

“Too much poison making me sick. I have no AC and need windows open.”

I waited, and I received no reply. She had been warned, and she obviously did not care about anyone but herself. For some people there is only one number, Number One, around which the world turns, and all the other numbers are of no consequence if they do not serve Number One.

I called the police, informing the operator of the situation, and saying that I was reluctant to call because the landlord might evict me if he is fined, but the poison is dangerous and making me sick.

I evacuated the premises. Several men drinking beer out front scrambled when I told them the police were on the way to deal with the poison.

“Whew, I can smell it out here,” said Officer Garcia, Badge 705, as she stepped out of her patrol car. “You are lucky. I happen to be the department’s only animal cruelty officer.”

“I was watching my favorite cop show and was poisoned.”

“Now you can watch real cops.”

A towering cop, a quiet and very serious looking fellow, got out of another squad car to accompany her. He agreed that Da Vinci’s Inquest is a very realistic cop show.

I showed her my texts to the cat poisoning woman.

“You know your stuff,” she said.

I stayed on the street, nearly vomiting as the officers went and repeatedly banged on the poisoner’s door. She was indeed at home. A loud conversation ensued. She lied, and said she had not put the mothballs out before, and that she put them out because raccoons with rabies were around, and that no children lived on the premises.

A neighbor from a back unit happened to come by, and said that she had been sickened by the moth balls a month prior, and had to visit the doctor.

The officers made the poisoner pick up every mothball. Officer Garcia gave her a thorough education on the law, and made arrangements for Animal Control to come out and care for the cats. The neighbor in back promised to care for the pregnant tawny cat.

The fumes lingered after the mothballs were removed. When you smell the fumes, your lungs are actually being poisoned.  I asked Officer Garcia if the fire department should come over and wash the yard down. She said that should not be done because the poison would stay in the soil. She said she had a headache from being near the poison.

Officer Garcia noticed the broken lock on the front gate, and I mentioned that neighbors bring their dogs onto our yard to defecate.

I stayed in front for quite awhile, then went inside and kept my windows shut although it was very warm due to the unusual winter heat wave in South Florida this year.

Three days after the police visitation, the neighbors got together and fixed the locks on the gates at our expense because the landlord had refused to do it for several years hence the yard is overrun by undesirables.

I advanced the poisoner’s share for the keys because she was not home, and is not liked by the neighbors because she calls the police on everyone for making the slightest noise, which is fine by me because I like peace and quiet although I offered to speak with them so she would not have to call the police.

She did not repay me for the keys, and I said nothing, just smiled and greeted her pleasantly when I saw her. But she is not speaking, and passes me by stone-faced without a glance. I supposed that her ex-husband was correct when he told me that she loves to make enemies.

I am an understanding fellow, bear her no malice, and would prefer to be a friendly neighbor, which is rather untraditional in this old crackhood in chic South Beach.  But what can one do? I warned her four times, she had made two people sick, she actually asked me to call the authorities, we refused to bring criminal charges against her, and now she treats me like poison.



When Truth is Defamatory






“Defamation” generally means using words to hurt the fame of a person (de bona fama aliquid detrahere: “to hurt his good fame.”) A person’s fame is his common or widespread reputation.

Spoken words may be easily forgotten, whereas writings may be preserved and referred to indefinitely. Defamatory words when spoken are slanderous, and, when written, libelous, although that legal distinction has been rendered obsolete in jurisdictions such as Australia. Indeed, the legal definition of defamation varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Presently, in the United States, the scandalous words must be false, or, if true, must have false implications. So it is said that the perfect defense against a defamation suit is truth. Elsewhere, depending on time and place, hailing back even to ancient Rome, statements injurious to reputation may be either true or false. That is, true statements can be defamatory, sometimes with the exception that they are allowed if justified as necessary to protect the public.

Some persons are more famous than others. The public order may depend on the good reputation or majesty of its leaders, especially when the leader happens to be a virtual god, say, a Roman emperor, or a king, say, of England, who rules by divine right, notwithstanding that any singular god is apparently both good and evil despite theodical caviling that attempts to explain how a presumably absolutely good and omnipotent god can countenance evil.

To publish a detraction of a majestic sovereign who claims to be the supreme or divine representative of the people would be a seditious libel whether its propositions were true or false, providing that the sovereign powers deemed it threatening to the peace of the state.

Some sovereigns have thinner skins than others, especially when envious nobles i.e. “known” or famous persons including “equals” are vying against one another and their ruler for fortune and power. Today, where the people are sovereign, seditious libel involves the publication of words designed to incite the violent overthrow of government.

Tiberius Claudius Nero, the emperor who ruled the Roman Empire as a virtual dictator from 14 AD to 37 AD, allowed that almost any offense against the law was an offense against his majesty and therefore treasonous. That allowed common informers known as “delators” to aid and abet rivalries and thus obtain wealth and titles by accusing or informing on people against whom they or advocates would bring action in the Senate, ostensibly presided over by the emperor.  Tacitus relates (or delates) in his Annals that:

“If anyone impaired the majesty of the Roman people by betraying an army, by exciting sedition among the commons, in short, by any maladministration of the public affairs, the actions were matter of trial, but words were free. Augustus was the first who used to take cognizance of libels under pretence of this law, incensed by the insolence of Cassius Severus, which had prompted him to asperse distinguished persons of both sexes by coarse lampoons. Soon after, Tiberius, when Pompeius Macer, the praetor, consulted him ‘whether trials should be had under this law’ answered,’ said ‘that the laws must be executed.’ He also was exasperated by the publication of satirical verses written by unknown authors, exposing his cruelty, his pride, and dissensions with his mother.”

Of course experienced advocates or lawyers were more likely to be successful in taking a denunciation to trial, and senators disgraced themselves by acting as delators, exposing even one another and their own families to depredation, banishment, and death.

“This was the most pestilent calamity of those times, that the first men of the senate performed the office of the meanest informers: some openly, many in secrecy; nor could you observe any distinction between kinsmen and aliens, friends and strangers,—whether the acts imputed were recent, or fetched from the obscurity of past times : equally for words spoken in the forum,—at entertainments,—upon whatsoever subject,—the speakers were accused, according as everyone hastened to get the start and point out the culprit : some did it for their own protection, but the generality infected, as it were, with the malady and contagion  of the times. “(ibid)

A prominent, reputable person and his family might be defamed and ruined by a charge that would be considered trivial today, such as consulting with an astrologist or palm reader for advice as to what a judge will decide in a pending case. They were banished or executed and their estates confiscated. Suicide prior to judgement was for a time a way to save family and fortune. Tacitus tells us of a case brought under the imperium of Nero:

“A charge of recent date involved the daughter in her father’s (Soranus) peril: it was, ‘that she had distributed sums of money among the magi.” Such was the fact, it must be admitted; but it arose from the filial piety of Servilia, for that was her name, who out of affection for her parent, and with the simplicity natural to so young a creature, had merely consulted them “on the safety of the family: whether Nero would be disposed to mercy, and whether the investigation before the senate would issue in anything of a formidable nature”….  The accuser then questioned her, “whether she had not sold her bridal ornaments, and even the chain off her neck, to raise money for the performance of magic rites?” At first she fell prostrate upon the floor, and continued for a long time bathed in tears and speechless; afterwards, embracing the altar and its appendages, she said, ” I have prayed to no malignant deities: I have used no spells: nor did I seek aught by my unhappy prayers than that you, Caesar, and you, fathers, would preserve this best of fathers unharmed. With this view I gave up my jewels, my raiment, and the ornaments belonging to my station; as I would have given up my blood and life, had they required them. To those men, till then unknown to me, it belongs to declare whose ministers they are, and what mysteries they use; the prince’s name was never uttered by me except among the gods. Yet to all this proceeding of mine, whatever it were, my most unhappy father is a stranger; and if it is a crime, I alone am the delinquent.’ …. Thrasea, Soranus, and Servilia were indulged with the choice of their mode of death….” (ibid)

The reader should keep in mind when reading Tacitus that he tended to repeat what amounted to gossip, that his accounts of Tiberius were frequently contradictory and at variance with other historical narratives. The reader may consult The History of that Inimitable Monarch Tiberius (1811) by Reverend John Rendle for a scholarly exposé of Tacitus’ history and the elevation of Caesar Tiberius into virtual sainthood.  Of one thing we can be sure, the empire was pestered and plagued by common informers.

Anyone who reads the law at length today might notice that the law especially case law or casuistry is irrational, and he might therefore resort to an astrologer for advice on cases. Americans prefer their laws in writing, but then lawyers i.e. licensed delators plead cases for fees, judges interpret it for salaries. The adjudications add to the vagaries of the “unwritten” or common law, which they all are wont to say is perfectly reasonable, protecting a profession that virtually rules every walk of life.

The more sophisticated Roman delators developed some rather absurd but winning arguments at trial to prove their cases. One interesting plea, a charge of defamation, is related by Tacitus, who as a historian is a sort of common informer or denunciator since his every writing constitutes an indictment of the ruling elite of the age. He certainly was interested in defaming emperors, who were creatures of their time and culture, some of which seems to persist to this day as the Cosa Nostra or what is popularly called the Mafioso.

Here is the legal tactic: Good can be found without evil in every man and the gods he projects. When prosecuting someone for slander, testify that he pronounced all the known faults of a person, not mentioning the virtues. People who know the person will believe those things were said about him because they are true.

“Granius Marcellus, praetor of Bithynia, was prosecuted for high treason by his own quaestor, Cepio Crispinus; Romanus Hispo supporting the charge. This Cepio began a species of avocation, which through the miserable times and the daring wickedness of men afterwards became very common and notorious; for, at first needy and obscure but of a restless spirit, by creeping into the good graces of the prince, who was naturally cruel, by secret informations, and thus imperiling the life of all the most distinguished citizens, he acquired influence with one, but the hatred of all, and thus exhibited an example, by following which men from being poor became rich, from being contemptible became formidable. and, after bringing destruction on others, would perish by their own arts. He accused Marcellus of “holding defamatory discourses concerning Tiberius,” a charge which it was impossible to repel, when the accuser collected all the most detestable parts of the prince’s character, and framed his accusation with reference to them; for because they were true they were believed to have been spoken. To this Hispo added,” that the statue of Marcellus was by him placed higher than those of the Caesars, and that having cut off the head of an Augustus, he had in the room of it set the head of a Tiberius.” At this (Tiberius) flew into such a rage, that breaking silence he cried out, that “he would himself, in this cause, give his vote openly, and upon oath,” that the rest might be under the necessity of doing the same. There remained even then some faint traces of expiring liberty. Hence Cneius Piso asked him, “In what place, Caesar, will you give your opinion? If first, I shall have your example to follow; if last, I fear I may unwittingly dissent from you.” Deeply affected by these words, and by how much the more indiscreetly he had let his passion boil over, by so much the more submissive now from regret that he should have committed himself, he suffered the accused to be acquitted of high treason. “(ibid)

So Tiberius shamed himself, and the truth set Marcellus free. But that did not have to occur. If the sovereign had not acted so shamefully as a person at the trial, Marcellus might have been convicted of insulting the sovereignty itself, strangled and hurled down the infamous steps to rot; and likewise anyone who begged askance or who loved him enough to shed tears. By the way, the other charge, that of peculation, was referred to a court of justice with jurisdiction.