Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Whattaya Got In The Bag?

Phish--"Dog Log" (mp3)
Billy Bragg (w/ Michael Stipe)--"You Woke Up My Neighborhood" (mp3)

In a neighborhood like mine, you see people walking down the streets in early morning, if you're lucky enough to get home for lunch, and all the way up until twilight, carrying plastic grocery bags straining under the concentrated weight of their hefty contents. Your first thought is that, like Charles Bronson in the first Death Wish, they are carry bags filled with rolls of coins that they can use to beat down any potential mugger. Or maybe an orange, to add nutrition to a healthy stroll.

But no, the luggage they carry is far more odorific. They are travelling the streets of this clean, upstanding neighborhood carrying sacks of (what, at least, once was) steaming hot poo. Dog poop, to be exact. I think.

If they were carrying their own poop around in a bag, we would suspect them of either dementia or of watching too much Borat. But instead, it's perfectly acceptable, out of politeness, respect, and the social contract, for well-dressed, well-groomed people to carry bags of dogshit around with them, carrying them for, perhaps, blocks, until the poo has cooled and firmed up, until the dog has done everything there is to do, and until they have to decide what to do with their treasure back at home. If they stop in conversation, both they and the person they are talking to know that rather than a purse or a sandwich or even a cigarette, one of them is lugging around doo-doo and trying to act casual about it. Because that's what polite people do.

Chances are, in an effort to be casual, while the poop-laden one is standing there chatting away, he or she is swinging that bag with a condensed turdpile in it around like it's a bunch of keys at the end of a lanyard. Or at least, its gravity causes it to follow their every hand guesture. God forbid they have to get a phone from their pocket or something and have to say, "Here, could you hold this for a second?"

If you've ever taken a big, skidding, sliding step into a moist pile of the excreted stuff, you're probably grateful for this unspoken law of Suburbanland. Especially if you're the kind of person who scurries out to get the morning paper off the lawn in a bathrobe and bare feet. Cutting grass is bad enough without have to smell what's on the bottom of your shoe as you push the mower around your yard. And, it is your dog's crap and it is their yard, so it's a little hard to defend leaving it there. But, oh, the indignity of having to bend over with your hand inside of a bag turned inside-out and sort of claw up what feels like a toxic plop of hot mashed potatoes. With an after-odor, of course.

This voluntary or required cleaning-up after one's dog is a fairly new phenomenon. In our fair city, the City Council has only passed ordinances involving picking up poop in public places and O.P.P. (other people's property) within the last four years. The fine for a police citation in a city park is $50. Whether someone can make a "citizen's arrest" for a neglected pet pile, I don't know. Since I don't technically live in the city, I also don't know whether my neighborhood practices voluntary self-enforcement or whether it has its own separate "log" laws.

I also can't decide whether cleaning up after your dog is common sense or much ado about nothing. My guess is that most other people don't have a strong opinion either, until they get right into the problem. Cleaning up after ourselves certainly seemed like a no-brainer, but it took both laws and a raised national conscience generated from public service announcements just to get littering to its current diminished-but-not-gone state (which is way better than it was in the 60's, I'll tell you). So maybe cleaning up after our dogs is just as significant, despite the biodegradability of said "litter" and inability to enforce control of any other animal or bird offerings.

It just seems to me that addressing this inconvenience gets far more attention and self-policing than any number of other societal indiscretions. Like aluminum siding or blue Christmas lights. That is probably because people don't like to be caught and they don't like to be embarassed, and when a dog is ready to do his business, everything comes to a halt and there you are standing in broad daylight not knowing whether Mrs. Kravitz is lurking behind the curtains in one of the houses around you or not while steam rises from fresh doggie defecation like smoke signals.

Me, I'm not in this game, though, by law, I should be. My little chihuahua's droppings are so small as to fall beneath the height of the grass blades. They can get lost under a leaf or two. The careless might mistake them for Tootsie Rolls. If you get one stuck, you could probably clean it from the bottom of your shoe with a twig instead of the paint spackler that the big dogs' smelly smears require. So, yeah, under that greatest of excuses, "Out of sight, out of mind," I do not abide by the laws of the hood.

There are many pleasures to owning a smaller dog; in today's world, this near-invisibility of his ordure may be the greatest one. Though even if I had a larger dog, I'm pretty sure I would walk him after dark.


troutking said...

I'm not a dog person and stepping in dog crap this weekend with BOTH feet didn't do much to change my mind. On this subject and many others I believe Jerry Seinfeld says it best:

On my block, a lot of people walk their dogs and I always see them walking along with their little poop bags. This, to me, is the lowest activity in human life. Following a dog with a little scooper. Waiting for him to go so you can walk down the street with it in your bag. If aliens are watching this through telescopes, they're going to think the dogs are the leaders of the planet. If you see two life forms, one of them's making a poop, the other one's carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?
I say, if this is where we're at after 50,000 years of civilization, let's just give up. I'm serious, let's pack it in. It's not worth it. Let's just say the human race as an idea didn't quite work. It seemed good at first, we worked on it for a long time, but it just didn't pan out. We went to the Moon but still somehow wound up carrying little bags of dog doody around with us. We just got mixed up somewhere. Let's just give it over to the insects or whoever else is next in line.

Billy said...

@Trout - I love that.

Bob - What's most ironical in our "green" modern times is that people can walk their dog through a natural environment -- even in such an enlightened place as Central Park -- and be expected to take a biodegradable substance that actually promotes natural growth as fertilizer, pick it up with a plastic bag, and place the item in a garbage can to be carted to an already overfull landfill. Shouldn't there be some kind of Drop Spot where these items can be reused the way nature intended?

I realize this would create an area of the park that smelled atrocious, but you could just encourage all those granola types who only bathe once a week and think shampoo is a farce to hang out over there. The poo would mask their body odor.