Sunday, July 14, 2013

Of Dogs and Cigarettes

My parents have not smoked since I've been alive. I think they smoked in younger times, but I seem to recall the story saying they had given it up by the time I was born. I bring up this story, because the ash trays in the cars I grew up in were clean. Except for the occasional gum piece us kids put there, or wrappers to various candies that ended up collected there.

It was like a secret hiding place! Usually out of the way but still reachable when bucked in, they'd be in the doors or the armrests or in the dash, just waiting to be flipped open and closed with little spring-mounted doors. A roaring trade was done in daring brothers to put a finger in, then trying to snap it closed. Everyone then got a rush of realizing how close they had come to DEATH!

In fact, I once burned myself on a cigarette lighter (cars used to have cigarette lighters in them, back in the day). I pushed it in and was fascinated that it gave off a weird smell. And being in St. Louis in August, everything was hot: the seats, the metal frame, the seat belt buckles. So the lighter didn't seem particularly hot until I stuck a finger against the coil. I learned the lesson after the first time.

I remember riding in someone else's car and absently playing with the ash compartment. But this one had something in it! Like dirt on my fingers, only it didn't smell like any dirt I knew about. And having rearranged the drainage patterns in the side garden a few times, I *knew* about dirt.

The reason I started all of this is because I have new downstairs neighbors. They keep largely to themselves, although I've passed both of them on my way to run in the park. I don't know what they do or what they like, but I do know that they have dogs. Dogs who have abandonment issues. Or at least I think they do, because they tend to bark at shadows if the owners aren't home.

Anyway, this afternoon I looked out my window and a yellow lab bouncing happily through the grass. As I watched, the dog squatted and dropped off a small pile of turd. Frowning because I already suspected the answer, I wondered if the owner would come walking into frame and dutifully pick it up. Shifting to a different window, I saw the lady owner standing in a black sweatshirt and baby blue sweatpants. Hands in pockets. Not rummaging for a bag. Just standing and looking unpleasant, which is impressive that she was able to convey that: I couldn't see her face or emotions.

She had the two tiny dogs on leashes while the bigger lab just bounced happily around again. Eventually, after every dog had done his duty, they all walked back inside. I'd been noticing that the sheer poo quotient had been increasing markedly in the area near my front door. I walk across the green to have access to the sidewalks and parks I'm using on my exercise routes. Each time, I have to pay closer and closer attention that I don't accidentally find a land mine, especially on the return trip (wouldn't want it in my house).

I know picking up dog droppings isn't a fun task. But what irks me is that people don't seem to realize or care that it is part of the continuing duty set for owning a dog (hehe, I said "duty!). [That joke doesn't work nearly as well when typed out.] I once asked a dog owner why they didn't pick it up. "I don't have a bag, and it's totally recyclable."

Setting aside that I think (HOPE) she meant "biodegradable," I don't think that's an acceptable answer. I don't have a pet, and I still end up with poo on shoe sometimes. That is not something that I attribute to the general malheur universel -- "Drat it, stepped in poo. Oh well, into every life a little rain must fall." No, I rather attribute it to the lady who lives downstairs and doesn't think it matters if she brings a bag or not.

It's the same unconcern for other people that motivates smokers to dispose of their butts out of car windows or flicked off into the wind when standing at storefronts. As with the dogs, I confronted a friend about it. "What? They're totally biodegradable." When I pointed out that lots of things were biodegradable (including human bodies), they rolled their eyes and made dismissive noises with their mouths. His point was that he produced a near-unmanageable amount of them in a day, and couldn't possibly be bothered to find ways to deal with them. "After all, ash trays fill up," is what he said.


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