We’ve been dealing with a crappy problem for quite some time at our house. Actually, crap is the problem. And of all the crappy problems one could possible have, actual crap may be the worst.
Oh, by the way, I should warn you; if you’re already getting put off by the multiple uses of the word ‘crap,’ you may want to stop reading now. It’s only going to get worse.
My mom’s kind of squeamish that way. Strangely, not when it comes to dealing with the real thing (she raised six kids after all); no, it’s the vocabulary words that get to her. Whenever my mom hears someone say a word as mild as ‘crap,’ ‘poop,’ or ‘ca-ca,’ her eyes start to flutter; anything stronger and she appears to be coming down with a case of the vapors, which I didn’t realize even still existed. The term she prefers to use when referring to the biological process of eliminating solid waste is the cryptic letter combination ‘B.M.’ It wasn’t always that way, though. When we were kids it was simply ‘potty,’ or if she needed to be more specific, ‘number 1’ and ‘number 2.’ Those two numbers were in such common usage in my house that when I got to first grade, I would argue with my teacher whenever she tried to tell us that 1 + 1 = 2. Even from what little I understood about the digestive process, there was just no way that could be true.
But now it’s ‘B.M.’ For the longest time, I didn’t even know what ‘B.M.’ referred to. Mom, who would sometimes take care of our oldest daughter when she was little, first sprung that one on me when I stopped by after work one day to pick her up. She was casually debriefing me on the day’s activities when her voice suddenly dropped almost to a conspiratorial hush, and she said, “Jessica had a ‘B.M.’ today.” She paused, presumably for dramatic effect, before adding, “It was fine.” Then she went right back to her normal conversational tone, telling me how Jessica had given the cat quite a scare by dropping a block on its head while it slept. I went the better part of a year thinking a ‘B.M.’ was some kind of beverage, like a V-8. I figured the reason for the low voice was that it somehow involved granddad, who had probably invoked his grandparent’s prerogative again, and disregarded our strident plea to limit drinks to either milk or watered-down apple juice.
I thought nothing more of my mom’s sporadic ‘B.M.’ references until the day she sidled up to me while Jessica was in the corner, preoccupied with trying to put her shoes on. She leaned in close, looking serious and slightly worried, and whispered, “Jessica had a ‘B.M.’ today, but it was a little off.” The word ‘off’ was accompanied by a contortion of her face into a brief, but intensely pained, expression. She then peered around me, to make sure Jessica wasn’t listening before she continued. “It was a little on the runny side. You may want to keep an eye on that.” Well that threw me, because it no longer sounded like we were talking about drinks at all. Maybe ‘B.M.’ referred to a certain way of making eggs. For some reason, I wanted to associate ‘B.M.’ with food, which, in a roundabout way, I guess it does, kind of. Anyway, not wanting to embarrass my mom further by belaboring what was obviously such a delicate issue for her, I nodded gravely in response, and said something like, “Well, we’ll see to it she doesn’t have any more of those today.” It was my wife who finally clued me in that ‘B.M.’ stands for ‘Bowel Movement.’
But our current crap-related problem has nothing whatsoever to do with terminology. No, ours has to do with the genuine article, the real McCoy. Yet, before I can dive any deeper into that (metaphorically speaking, of course), I must relate a few facts about the neighborhood in which we live, because they bear directly on the problem we have been facing.
We live in an older section of
Phoenix, built back in the days when the city
thought that having alleys behind all the houses would be a great idea. I’m guessing the original intent was to keep
residents’ unsightly trash cans from spoiling the view from the street on
garbage days. However, we now have trash
collection in both the front and back (regular garbage in the alley, and
recyclables at the front curb), so there you go. Progress in a nutshell. And of course, back when the city decided to
build all those neighborhoods with alleys, they must not have foreseen the resulting
feral cat explosion, for example, or the homeless epidemic, or the existence of
tweakers, for all of whom the alleys act as an appealing natural haven. That’s why almost everybody who has an alley
behind their home also has a six-foot block wall fence, which we pretend is
impenetrable. At least it does prevent
us from having to watch the frequent stirrings of indigenous life back there,
and just as importantly, prevents them from watching us.
However, our alley problems go way beyond cats, vagabonds, and suspicious-looking men pedaling dirt bikes. It just so happens that our house is located close to a major city intersection; in fact, we live on the first residential street from the corner. This means we also have the first alley people encounter when they are, say, running away after jacking a package of Oreos from the CVS, or absconding with a shopping cart from the Food City across the street. And, judging from the condom wrappers, we must also get more than our fair share of furtive romantic encounters as well.* Yes, our proximity to a busy city intersection means that we get a wide variety of activities in our alley, I dare say more than most homeowners. Yet, while these are not pleasant things to consider, they are, practically speaking, mostly minor inconveniences. After all, the vast majority of plastic wrappers eventually blow away with the wind, and someone from the store will usually come and get the shopping carts if you call.
*In our day, we would go up to
to do that kind of thing. There you had
the rugged beauty of the mountains, the sublime – and perhaps subliminal –
effect of the tall, erect saguaro cactus surrounding you, the beautiful,
sparkling blanket of city lights spread out below you, and a few twinkling
stars shining down through the sun roof, all of which combined to bring a
certain kind of majesty to the moment.
It also held the additional bonus of allowing you to park on a slope,
which could be advantageous, especially if you owned a compact car. But most of all, you didn’t have to worry
about being discovered by homeowners who just happened to step outside for a
smoke during Johnny Carson. Squaw Peak
No, the toughest problem we face with regard to our alley is the fact that it leads directly to the backside of a large apartment complex. Many of these apartments have people in them. That’s not really the problem. Some of the people in these apartments have dogs. That’s not the problem either. Some of these dog-owning apartment people like to take their pets for a walk down the alley, because it is so conveniently located. Now we’re getting warmer. Some of these dog-owning apartment people who like to take their pets for walks down conveniently located alleys are lazy and irresponsible, and allow their dogs to relieve themselves (Good Lord, I hope it’s only the dogs) anywhere they please.
This is the source of the actual crap, which forms the entire basis of our crappy problem.
For some reason, all the dogs gravitate to our side of the alley to do their business. They never seem to go on the other guy’s side. Maybe it’s because we have a dog and the other guy doesn’t. Maybe the apartment dogs are trying to deliver a message to my dog. Maybe it’s their way of asking, Hey, what’s it like over there? Is being a house dog everything they say it is? Or, maybe they think my dog wants to escape, and they’re hiding files in their doggy-doo, or, based on the size of some of the crap I’ve seen, bolt-cutters. I don’t know.
My problem is not with the dogs, it’s with the apartment people who don’t put any effort into cleaning up after their animals. Now, I’ve tried looking at the situation from the perspective of an apartment person. I think I’m reasonably capable of doing that, since I used to be one, once upon a time. And I don’t think it would be completely wrong to suggest that many people who live in apartments tend to do so because they don’t want to be bothered with what they consider to be extra work. And let’s face it, by anyone’s definition, cleaning up after a pet is extra work. They probably justify their indifference easily enough by telling themselves, It’s just an alley, right? There’s no one around but us dogwalkers, a few transients, and the occasional tagger anyway. Who’s going to notice? Meanwhile, the crap continues to accumulate with each passing day (Get it? Passing day?), because crap unfortunately, doesn’t simply blow away with the next stiff breeze, nor does it disappear within two hours of calling the grocery store.
Now maybe I’m wrong about the typical apartment person’s mindset. Maybe it’s something else. Perhaps they have a deep and abiding belief in the Dog Shit Fairy, that ephemeral creature of fantasy who randomly flies around scooping up animal excrement. Maybe these people actually think they’re doing us a favor because they’re letting us keep all the quarters. Or maybe they believe in the Shit Bunny, the Easter Bunny’s less celebrated (and far less intelligent) cousin, who instead of bringing colorful eggs, comes along at irregular intervals to collect doggy dung. I have to hope that they believe in something like that, because otherwise it means that these fine, upstanding citizens are intentionally allowing their pets to foul the community with their dogs’ putrid waste.
Of course, there are city ordinances against letting your dog take a public dump, and alleys are restricted areas and not public thoroughfares, so strictly speaking, it’s illegal for them to be there in the first place. But more than that, it’s just bad manners to let your dog wantonly accordion up. I mean really, even the boys in The Lord of the Flies would know better than to take a dump in the alley. It’s just bad civilization. Can you imagine what Jane Austen would think of such a thing?
For a long time I tried to ignore it, hoping the natural decomposition process would eventually balance with the rate of production, creating some kind of composting equilibrium. Then came the fateful day I received a notice from the city, telling me that the turd bank behind my house had three days to liquidate its assets, and that if it didn’t, we would face a fine for each day thereafter.
That’s right, we would be fined.
Perhaps you can imagine the swell of righteous indignation I felt in response to such an outrage. Naturally, I immediately called the city to explain that, although I did have a dog, I didn’t permit her to poop wily-nily in the alley, and therefore was not the party responsible for creating any of the mess. The nice lady on the other end pretty much said the city had no way to know that, and reminded me politely that it was the responsibility of homeowners to keep their portion of the alley clear of debris of any kind, including animal waste. I replied by inviting her to make a field trip to my house, where together we could take a fresh sample of my dog’s poop, and then do a side-by-side comparison to see if any of them matched what was piled up in the alley. I knew I was in trouble when she countered by saying what was to stop me from taking some poop that I knew wouldn’t match the poop in the alley and then planting it in the backyard and subsequently claiming that it came from my dog. Obviously, this wasn’t the first call on this subject this person had taken.
I hung up the phone deflated and demoralized. Having no other option, I gathered up my pail and shovel and headed out to the alley, muttering invectives against the reprehensible apartment people, and a universe in which such an injustice was permitted to exist. I furiously scraped the petrified poop out of the gravel. I prayed to God almighty that somebody, anybody, would pass through our alley with a sniffing dog in tow while I was out there with my shovel.
They may have gotten me this time, I growled to myself, but this was it.
I would find a way to stop them.
I would never stoop to scoop a strange dog’s poop again.
Ah, but how? That was the question…
Stay tuned for the second half of “The Zen of Doggy Doo,” coming soon.