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Monday, January 05, 2009

I Know Why the Caged Bird Got Ate (and other stories)

Warning: The following essay contains the word “poop” several times and therefore may not be suitable for younger readers. Either that or it's only suitable for younger readers.

Xativa, Spain. This was the location of the first reported falcon attack against a canary, a once cheery little fellow who probably thought he was safe in his cage on an apartment balcony. Witnesses said the falcon landed on the canary's cage on an apartment balcony. I can imagine the canary was feeling smug in his cage and started talking smack to the falcon. “Oh, look at the big stupid falcon. I'm so scared.” The raptor then stuck one of his talons through the bars, neatly diced the canary into bite-sized pieces, pulled the bits out from between the bars, and ate them. No kidding. Canaries are tiny little birds and there are millions of pigeons for falcons to dine on so I'm guessing he ate the canary out of spite because he was annoyed with the wise-guy song bird.

There have been several reports by local citizens reporting birds attacks. These ate crimes (I am so sorry for that) are not all perpetrated by falcons and hawks, people have also reported seeing sea gulls attack pigeons. The workers in the Valencia area animal control bureau who field these calls basically just tell people to grow up. This is the way life is really is. Don't these people watch all of the nature shows on TV? Perhaps they thought they were witnessing some sort of intra-species bird-on-bird perversion. I have seen three articles in the local paper on this subject so I think they are just trying to assure people that it's normal for big bird to eat little bird.

I have stopped complaining about dog poop on the sidewalks of Valencia. This isn't because the problem has gone away, I just got tired of being the only person who seemed bothered by it. I have noticed that Barcelona doesn't have this problem as most dog owners there clean up after their pets. I had never seen any sort of ad campaign in Valencia to get people to scoop up in their pet's wake. I have come across very few street signs urging folks to clean up. I was surprised to come across an article in the Valencia daily, Levante, about a campaign in the neighborhood of Patraix in which residents are trying to raise awareness of this problem. Their idea was to decorate dog waste with holiday motifs. Another article in the same paper some days later said there was talk of initializing a program in which dog waste found on the street will be tested for DNA. I think people have been watching a bit too much CSI.

Both the DNA testing and the poop decorating scheme seem like such passive-aggressive approaches to solving the problem. What ever happened to just screaming at offenders, “Hey, clean that up. Were you born in Madrid?” That's what you say to people in Spain instead of, “Were you born in a barn?” At least that's what people say here in Valencia. I'm not sure if Madrid suffers from this dog poop problem. One look at the sidewalks in Valencia will make you wonder if the rest of Spain says, “Were you born in Valencia?”

I propose a more drastic and direct approach to combat dog poop on the sidewalk. We need a campaign of television announcements to raise public awareness to this crisis. I thought to myself, “How would Leni Riefenstahl deal with this issue?” If you think that employing the techniques of this influential filmmaker and chief propagandist for the Third Reich is going a bit overboard, then you haven't been forced to play dog crap hopscotch down a narrow sidewalk in my neighborhood. I have a commercial in mind.

First, you need a moving musical score. Something brooding and ominous, sort of Schindler's List-y but more melodramatic. Open with a sunny winter day in one of Valencia's lovely parks. A mother and father are teaching their son how to ride his first bike, probably a Christmas gift. After a few strides the father lets go and the boy is pedaling all on his own. But up ahead a Jack Russel terrier is squatting in the bike path. The little boy cheerfully rings the little bell on his handlebars—just like dad taught him to do. The dog moves out of the way but he has left behind the steaming remains of yesterday's Purina. The little boy frantically applies the brakes, but it is too late. Cut to stock footage of the world's great disasters: the Hindenburg explosion, Nagasaki, Joseba Beloki's horrible crash in the 2003 Tour de France, and the World Trade Center collapsing (too over-the-top?). The aftermath. The inconsolable parents, the distraught emergency medical team agonizing over their inability to save the child, and the Jack Russel nonchalantly peeing on the front tire of the ambulance. A cemetery on a cold, gray afternoon. The young couple approach a tiny tombstone and the father places a Power Rangers action figure on top. A Power Rangers figure or whatever toy is in season this year, the toy your kid won't stop screaming about until you buy it for him, even though you gave him the speech about not raising him just to provide another consumer for the marketing departments of the world. Of course you caved in and bought it for the little animal. If you didn't someone probably would have called child protective services and had your kid taken away from you. On the other side of the cemetery the little dog plays with a chew toy, mocking the parent's grief. Fade out.

I'm just sort of thinking out loud but I think you get the mood I'm after with these commercials.