The Common Good
September-October 1998

Woof.

by Ed Spivey Jr. | September-October 1998

Morning in Washington, D.C.

Morning in Washington, D.C. A time of high energy and even higher expectations as powerful people rush to do powerful things, their hands firmly gripping a leather briefcase, a steaming cup of fresh coffee, and sometimes, dog poop.

Surprised? Well, I guess it is a little risky to be rushing around with hot coffee in your hands, since you could spill it all over your power tie. What's that? Oh, it was the other thing that seemed a little odd.

Actually it's a common occurrence in the Capitol Hill neighborhood where my youngest child attends school.

Every morning we drive by Dog Poop Park–that's what we call it–and observe the half dozen or so Washingtonians exercising their pets. "Exercising"is the polite Capitol Hill word for "letting them poop,"since that seems to be the main concern of the dogs. (Although, in fairness to the dogs, that's actually not all they do. They also run around in circles.)

Now, before you point out that this violates a number of local ordinances and telephone the mayor so he can immediately dispatch city inspectors as soon as he gets back from a fact-finding trip to some other continent, let me inform you that this is one of the cleanest parks in the city. The conscientious dog owners are very meticulous about tidying up afterward. They follow the dogs around, some even in their pajamas. (The people, not the dogs. Although once there was this cute little terrier wearing the same sweater that a co-worker wanted to buy from a catalog until I told her it didn't look all that good on the dog. It had horizontal stripes and made her hips look a bit large. The dog's, not my co-worker's.)

Anyway, the people carry these wads of paper towels with which to immediately dispose of the evidence in a nearby trash can. Which I think is great, because it keeps the parks clean. (But then, I'm not the guy who empties the trash cans which, after a couple days, probably start to cook up like a Mississippi compost heap in July.)

My daughter and I have been so fascinated by this Washington phenomenon that one day we pulled over to watch. The people all know each other, it seems, and there is much laughter and sharing of views. While the dogs do their "business"–and then carefully inspect each other's "business"–the owners chat and sip from coffee mugs they've brought from their nearby homes. As I said, some are still in their pajamas, and we watched one woman in a colorful bathrobe holding a steaming mug in one hand and gesturing enthusiastically with her other hand. Her other hand contained dog poop.

Granted, it was wrapped in a paper towel, but as she walked the few yards to the trash can she clearly wanted to get her point across. And who could argue with this woman, what with her dog poop hand stabbing rhythmically at the ground and then upward toward the sky, and then directly at the man with whom she was speaking. He was listening intently, nodding frequently, though careful to stay clear of her non-coffee-mug hand.

This behavior seemed perfectly acceptable to the people in that park. Each had probably used this gesture technique many times. Heck, some of them are probably lawyers and have done this in court.

Prosecutor: "Objection! Your Honor, the attorney is badgering the witness with dog poop again."

Judge: "Counsel will approach the bench. WAIT! On second thought, DON'T APPROACH THE BENCH!"

After a while, my daughter and I had to leave, so we didn't see the end of this daily ritual in the park. Presumably, the friends called their dogs and walked back to their homes, exchanging warm goodbyes and promises to phone later. But probably no handshakes.

Since this reminds me of a related story I'm going to get it out of the way right now. Heaven knows we don't need to revisit this topic.

Three of my friends who go climbing every spring found out a couple years ago that when nature calls on some mountains it's a collect call, since they now have to "collect"what they previously left behind. In technical mountain climber terms, this means you have to "bring your poop back down with you."

(I can see you're getting a little uncomfortable with all these references to poop, so for the three people who are still reading this, why don't we just refer to it as...uhm...Rush Limbaugh.)

So anyway, the 14,000-foot summit of Washington state's Mt. Rainier is a very popular climb. So popular that the Rush Limbaughs that people were leaving behind began to accumulate noticeably, since the cold temperatures prevent decomposition. Which is why the park rangers made the rule.

Mt. Rainier is a long climb. It takes a couple of days. You can't wait until you get back down to Rush Limbaugh.

So climbers have to take up these special plastic bags and these special plastic ties which, may I suggest, had better be extra strong plastic bags and darn good plastic ties. My friends tell me this practice changes the nature of the climb somewhat, but it does not alter the absolute thrill of looking out at the world from 14,000 feet, surveying the snow-covered ridges, breathing the crisp air, and smelling your companion's backpack. Actually, I just threw in that last part because, let's be honest, if there was any fun to mountain climbing before this new rule, well, it now includes a hugely un-fun thing.

Not that I had to be discouraged from mountain climbing anyway, what with the cold and the falling and the frostbite and the falling. But now that the guy stringing rope down to me could also have a leaky backpack... well, it makes me want to sit home and listen to the radio. But not Rush Limbaugh.

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