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For the first few minutes of our awkward phone conversation, Tom Day thinks I’m pulling his leg. In fact, the Department of Public Works inspector doesn’t so much acknowledge my desire for valuable municipal data as chuckle in anticipation of one doozy of a punch line. Finally, the city worker lets loose a deep, throaty laugh.
“Who is this?” Day asks.
OK, so I’m calling the man about dog dooor, more specifically, the regulation that requires proper scooping of said doo. And yes, perhaps the issue of pet poop isn’t weighted with the same life-or-death DPW seriousness of, say, trash disposal or pothole repair. But apparently, Day thinks I’m one of the Jerky Boysor at least Crazy Larry down the hall who’s always screwing with his workmates. The genial inspector fails to realize that I’m not just a writerI’m a victim, too. I try to explain in between his hearty guffaws….
That fateful Saturday evening in Augustthe night I became obsessed with, well, turdsstarted out perfectly: A rogue breeze had chased the chokehold humidity out of the summer-in-D.C. air, the Orioles had managed a rare victory, and, through the magic of renegade banking, none of Tuesday’s checks had bounced. A simple man with simple pleasures, I just about bounded out of my Dupont Circle digs on the way to meet friends. Life was good.
So perhaps I was humming a tune, or maybe even whistling a jingle, when I jauntily strolled down P Street, took the wide turn up 18th Street, ran a confident hand through my hair, andgorp!touched down in a liquidy pancake of pumpkin-colored dog shit. Spinning horribly out of control, I committed to a crap-induced funky-chicken (arms waving, knees buckling, eyes bulging) just so I wouldn’t fall on my ass. My body not used to athleticism of any kindespecially that utterly ridiculous Olympic-judge-pleasing Mary Lou Retton splitI even pulled a muscle.
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I mean, really: What the hell? What was I supposed to do then? Go back to my apartment and stink up the joint with a quick scrub in the tub? Beeline into the nearest bar and pray that the john had a lock? Or continue to a friend’s house and sheepishly ask for an old fork? With one fateful misstep, I had ruined my nightnot to mention a really cool pair of black leather Skechers. Life sucked.
Pissed almighty, I searched the sidewalk for not only more canine bombs but a sturdy stick with which to de-potty my deep-treaded boot. I squished down Church Streetpeering into curbside gardens and steering clear of peopleand finally found a strong branch…with prickers on it.
So now: I was smelling like an overcrowded kennel, I was limping with a bad hammy, I was leaving conspicuous poo prints in my path, I was losing blood, and I was officially tardy for the night’s once-promising festivities. All because some asshole had conveniently left the pooper scooper back at the ranch.
After being given only the broad synopsis of this sad storyand subsequently catching on to my journalistic intentInspector Day stops laughing. “Yeah, that’s really an issue in Dupont Circle,” he says.
I’ll say it’s an issue. Already this year, I’ve suffered direct hits twicenot to mention countless grazings and near-missesand can no longer walk the sidewalked stretch between home and Adams Morgan without muttering and staring at the ground like Rain Man. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association, there were approximately 85,000 dogs living in D.C. in 1996and, from the looks of my shoes, 84,000 of them are now running wild in my neighborhood.
“You may think it’s not pleasant here now, but it’s infinitely better than it used to be,” says Marilyn Groves, former president of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (and dedicated owner of Sebastian, a 14-year-old golden retriever). “When I first moved here [10 years ago], it was just horrific.”
Thanks largely to Groves, the Dupont Circle Citizens Association now sells signs citywide that, with the help of a cute cartoon dog, urge D.C. residents to clean up after their petsand warn them about the law. “I came from New York; I’m accustomed to discipline,” Groves adds. “There’s peer pressure now.”
That is, peer pressure plus a potentially costly slap on the wrist. D.C. regulation G820-24DCMR 900.7actually titled “Pooper-Scooper” in the booksstates, “No person owning, keeping, or having custody of a dog in the District, except a seeing eye dog, shall allow or permit the dog’s excrement to remain in any public place.” The fines for failing to address such a nasty little crime can eventually climb as high as $1,000. There’s also an allowance for third-party witnesses who can call up a DPW inspector and fink out scofflaws. Tell you what: Throw a week of jail time into the mix, and we’ll be good to go.
At least Groves and I aren’t the only concerned citizens. Not too long ago, on a sunny summer day, the Washington City Paper’s very own civic-minded do-gooder Loose Lips, decked out in a poorly ventilated dog costume (the “Scoop Dog,” I believe), handed out fliers and lost 15 pounds in water weight all in the name of shit-free sidewalks. Listen to me: The man had to dress up like a friggin’ Disney characterand almost pass out doing sojust to get through to you people.
Is the problem not enough plastic bags? ‘Cause I’m a Safeway Club cardholder, you know, and I’m fairly certain I can get my hands on some extra grocery sacks. And don’t give me the line about not liking to pick it up: I recently manhandled a dead rat and a fleet of feisty maggots, so I’m a little low on sympathy these days.
The thing is, I’m a dog-lover, too. My dearly departed golden retriever, Molly, who lived to a hobbly 17 years old, was far better company than most of the humans I’ve met in the last 30 years. And sure, after she got hold of a few raw hot dogs, Molly’s messes didn’t exactly fold up nice and fit in your pocket. There I was anyway, spewing an R-rated stream of invective but cleaning nonetheless.
One more story before I head out to catch myself a culprit: A few weeks ago, my girlfriend drove down from Baltimore in her brand-new Honda Civic. Giddy that she was no longer tooling around in a junker, she was anxious to test her fresh wheels on a mini road trip. But as we pulled away from the curb outside my apartment, our excitement lasted approximately 20 seconds.
“Did you step in shit?” my girlfriendraised on the streets of Philly, toughened by a high school move to New Jersey, able to fit her entire fist in her mouth when the situation warrantsasked. “Because I smell shit. Dog shit. In my car.”
She was right, of course: Half a pile of D.C.-style cucka was embedded on yet another pair of Skechers. The worse news was that the other half was embeddedwell, more like ground, smeared, smashed intothe passenger-side rug. Of a new 2000-model Honda Civic. Which belonged to my girlfriend. Who is not meek. But strong. Real strong.
The nice thing was that I couldn’t hear Jen’s throat-scraping screams over my own maniacal laughter. In fact, I laughed that way all afternoon, as I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed the wayward crap out of my girlfriend’s soiled new car.
You know what? Somebody get me the Scoop Dog costume. I’m gonna settle this once and for all….Sean Daly