Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mixed Messages: Curbing Your Territorialism

I often feel that I'm in need of a little direction in this life. So it's fortunate that I live in a city in which people are more than happy to tell me what to do. Hooray, people! Even when they're not around, they leave notes for me, often in the form of signs. For instance the above sign was thoughtfully placed on a tiny fence around a tree along the sidewalk. Without such instructions who knows what kind of shenanigans I would get up to.

Now while I appreciate the effort, I think the poster of this particular bit of “signage” (“signage” is the word for “sign” in the dialects of both the business and stoner communities) does not really understand the concept that he or she is signaging about. Allow me to illustrate.

Here’s a photo of a Brooklyn sidewalk. (Don't worry, the illustration part is coming up shortly.)

A photo

Now here's that same photo transformed, thanks to a rudimentary (but highly impressive, right?) overlay effected by the use of high-powered digital editing software.

An illustration

This new illustration shows that same Brooklyn sidewalk divided into three quadrants. I’m not sure what happened to the fourth quadrant, but I’ll chalk that up to budget cuts. (Much like I plan to go back to chalk up that sidewalk to play hopscotch.) Observe, if you will, that there runs along the large central swath of sidewalk a main corridor. This is where the principal activity of the sidewalk takes place: the walking for which the sidewalk takes its appellation. Hooray walking! (And hooray appellations, without which the Appalachian Trail would be The Anonymous Path.)

There's also an inner, or "stoopside" tract of the sidewalk. This thin margin is chiefly used for giving away instructional manuals for outdated versions of Photoshop. (This is usually accomplished with the aid of small bits of signage indicating "Free!") It is not intended for use as a walking lane, except by passive aggressive individuals who disregard useful, basic social conventions such as "Keep Right." (Note that I am curtailing my "hoorays" for such people.)

Finally we have the outer section, which is abutted by the actual curb—the “curbside” portion of the sidewalk. This is the pedestrian walkway's business hub, where various transactions and non-perambulatory activities take place, such as curbside pick-up of customers by limo-drivers, and curbside garbage collection. It’s also where dogs take care of their business, including (but not limited to) scavenging for chicken bones, perusing old newspapers, and taking dumps.

Now, concerning the above signage: first of all, to curb your dog means to guide your canine compatriot to the curb to take care of his or her business transactions in a manner that is not an imposition (in particular, a messy imposition) to the users of the central walking axis of the sidewalk. Secondly, see if you can triangulate in which quadrant that sign is located.

Hint: that car is not parked by the stoop.

If I, as a responsible citizen in dutiful compliance with basic social compacts, escort my four-legged charge over to the curb for eliminatory purposes, and I find that someone has obstructed it by building a bed of tulips thereupon, there's going to be some conflict between flora and fauna.

To put it another way, if you build your cabbage patch on the curb, EXPECT A DOG TO TAKE A TINKLE ON IT. It's not all that complicated; you can't presuppose that dogs are going to take a terribly nuanced view of the little plot upon which they are "allowed" to attend to their most basic of bodily functions.

Clearly there's some confusion about "curbing." The phrase "curb your enthusiasm" is an exhortation to curtail your glee (something Fox should seriously consider). However "curb" as a verb does not mean exclusively, "curtail." Contrary to popular belief (particularly that of the indignant and horticulturally minded), “Curb your dog” does not mean “Have your canine companion refrain from peeing or taking a poop on delicately manicured tree-gardens which are themselves located on the curb.” Dog-owners can lead their domesticated beasts to the periphery, or "hinterland," of the designated walkway, but as per genetic dictates honed over millenia of evolution, dogs pee ON things. Like trees. And miniscule fences, regardless of whether or not you have decorated the micro-lots they enclose with seashells, or if a family of damn gnomes resides therein. If you want your tiny urban arboretum to remain pristine and unsullied then you shouldn’t build it on the curb, where you are telling people to take their dogs.

This bit of inter-special friction notwithstanding, it's nice to see that here in the great city of New York, in addition to being indignant, we are also very multi-cultural in our outlook. Here's another piece of signage using the international symbol for "No-dog-poopy-here-please-lest-you-endanger-this-tree-which-is-like-60-years-old-but-somehow-incredibly-delicate-all-the-same."

We may not be so tolerant of the needs of our canine brethren (and, um, sistren), but at least we are sensitive to different cultures. And levels of literacy. Hooray everybody!

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