Either I’m engaging in antisocial behavior or I’m the last defender of decency in Cornwall. Some days it’s hard to tell.
Wild Thing and I live on what’s called the estate. If you’re American, that sounds all grand and Downton Abbey, but what it really means is “the subdivision.” We live in a tiny fragment of suburb, even though we don’t have a city to be suburban to. Our village is spread out—a village without any center—so this is the most densely populated bit. By dogs as well as humans.
Yes, dear ones, I’m writing about dog shit, and I’m not going to call it poo because I just can’t. When I first moved to Minnesota, I heard a wonderful phrase: “She wouldn’t say shit if she had a mouthful.”
Well, I don’t have a mouthful, but I did skid through the stuff and come away with a shoeful, and I can’t see why I should call it anything else. It’s not a beautiful word, but then the shoe wasn’t looking so good either.
Shit was the mildest word I yelled. I’m sure someone was behind a window saying, “Oh, that’s one of the Americans.”
Never mind the language, though. The important point is that somebody hasn’t been cleaning up after their dog.
I know two things about this dog: It’s large and it likes to spread its bounty as far as it’s physically able. I walk with my eyes on the sidewalk these days, the way I did as a kid in New York, before dog owners were expected to clean up after their dogs. My family had a dog. We thought we were being good citizens because we got him to shit between the parked cars. In fact, back then the city put up signs saying “Curb your dog.”
After the shoe incident, I bought myself a box of chalk. Then I waited.
Several days later, I found another deposit. Right by the red metal box that everyone (even me) calls the dog poo bin. I knelt on the sidewalk and chalked, “Clean up after your dog, please.”
I stepped back to admire my work. I’d forgotten the your, so it actually read, “Clean up after dog, please,” as if a computer translation program had written it. I used to work as an editor, so that missing word bothers me, but it did get the point across. And at least I hadn’t forgotten the please.
Good manners are more important here than good grammar. No matter how ungrammatical—or, for that matter, rude—a note you tack up somewhere, you can make it okay if you write “Polite Notice” at the top. I can’t tell you how many signs I’ve seen that declare themselves Polite Notices. Even if you were to say, “Pick up after your dog, you miserable, lazy, unclean excuse for a human being,” if you also said it was a polite notice, it would be okay.
And even if the rest of your wording is polite, you still have to open with “Polite Notice.” Actual politeness isn’t what matters. You have to remind everyone that you’re being polite.
I didn’t open with “Polite Notice.” I didn’t figure a chalked notice on the sidewalk had to, but then (as I’m often reminded) I’m not British. Wild Thing’s sure that what people mean when they say that is that we just don’t get certain things, and that the speaker feels sorry for us. I’m not sure she’s right. I tend to hear it as a statement of fact: We really aren’t British. Or we are—we’re citizens—but on some deeper level we never can be.
I don’t necessarily want to know how the speaker feels about this.
So it’s hard for me to be sure how significant that missing “Polite Notice” is. I may have offended someone other than the dog walker, but I can’t tell. I’m not British.