ARMED with white roof sealant and three choice words, a Ridley Township couple has bypassed bureaucracy and taken their grievances straight to the top - of their roof - in letters 7 feet tall:
"F_ck U F.A.A."
Mark Twain once said: "When angry, count to four, when very angry swear." Michael Hall said he tried the counting. He even counted past four to 20 - the number of times he said he called the Federal Aviation Administration's noise-complaint hotline. But each call, he said, was met with the same response - an automated message telling him the complaint mailbox was full and could no longer accept new calls.
Since the FAA's new departure headings out of Philadelphia International Airport went into effect last month as part of a massive restructuring of the airspace over the congested corridor from New York through Philadelphia, Hall said the noise level at his home on Fairmount Avenue near Ladomus Circle has been unbearable.
"I'm p----- off," he said. "I have to sleep with earplugs at night in my own house."
Hall, who has owned his home for 10 years, and his live-in girlfriend, Michaelene Buddy, brainstormed ways to get their complaints heard.
They finally resorted to the one true expression of anger and frustration - profanity.
Two weeks ago, on the black flat-topped roof of their one-story ranch home, it took the pair about an hour and about a gallon of the roof sealant to paint the incendiary three-word sentence, along with "No Fly Zone" and a symbol for "no planes."
"I wanted to have little things that were shooting the plane down, but my girlfriend thought I would get arrested, so I settled for the picture that's up there," Hall said.
Many of Hall's neighbors said that they didn't agree with his choice of words but that they understood the frustration.
"I wouldn't write anything like that, but I'm a 75-year-old woman and it might be difficult for me to jump up on the roof," one neighbor said.
Hall's mother, Anne, who lives two houses down from her son, wasn't as concerned with the picture of the plane as she was with her son's use of one of the most controversial and universal words in the English language.
"It is freedom of speech; I guess you can say what you want to say," she said.
But Anne E. Howanski, Ridley Township manager, isn't so sure Hall has the right to invoke that particular word on his own house, even if it isn't visible from the street.
"I will have to check our ordinance on this," she said. "It appears to be an obscenity and we will be in touch."
Both Howanski and neighboring Ridley Park Mayor Hank Eberle said they've received numerous complaints about the new flight paths over their respective municipalities, as has the Delaware County Council.
U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., who represents most of Delaware County, has been an outspoken foe of the redesign plan since its inception.
He said he feels the pain that drove Hall and Buddy to their unusual graffiti.
"I think it is an understandably frustrated response to an arrogant FAA bureaucracy that for 10 years has never listened to what experts and citizens have been saying is a flawed process," he said.
The plan has triggered a lawsuit from Delaware County, which is arguing that the FAA's environmental-impact study violated federal regulations and that the new flight paths will only marginally reduce airport delays.
In the meantime, Hall will wait and hope that a pilot or passenger of one of the low-flying planes that pass over his house will see his message and say something.
"I did this two weeks ago, and I haven't heard anything from the FAA yet and I doubt I will," he said. "Just doing it made me feel better, but I'd still like to say what I wrote directly to the idiot head of the FAA."