NEW YORK — San Franciscans, if we’re to believe reporters who’ve spent the last week running up their New York employers’ expense accounts, are searching the bottom of their recyclable souls in the aftermath of the death of Diane Whipple. Whipple, 33, was killed by one (or two, according to some sources) 54-kg Canary Island mastiffs that left her splattered all over the hall outside her apartment. As the cliche goes, even longtime police veterans had to seek trauma counseling to deal with the gory scene looping over and over through their grizzled brains.
There’s no doubt about it: The residents of the Bay Area, as they like to call it, have an unnatural attraction to dogs. In no other city in the nation will you find so many canines having such a good time at the expense of human beings. They crap on the sidewalks. They run loose in the parks. And on the beaches, they run loose and crap at the same time. If you haven’t been there, I don’t blame you for not believing what you’re about to read, but it’s true nonetheless: San Franciscans not only tolerate other people’s dogs running across them as they lie on the beach, they find it hilariously amusing when dogs knock down their own children.
“Look! Our child was nearly eaten! Isn’t that cute?”
Naturally, it’s illegal to allow your dog to run off-leash in San Francisco. It’s even illegal to turn public beaches into private dog-doo burial grounds. But there’s no enforcement — not of dog laws, not of smoking laws, not of any of the rules that exist to make life a little more pleasant for the average citizen.
While all this post-death-by-dog soul-searching is good for the group-therapy biz, it skirts around the real issue: the rule of the militantly mellow.
Maybe it’s the legacy of the ’60s or maybe it’s just the angst of having no places to go farther west, young man, but Northern California is one of the great social experiments of American history: Is it possible to achieve civility simply by not taking affronts seriously?
Nearly every society on the planet governs itself by applying traditional carrot-and-stick motivation. Infractions to social norms — anything from basic rudeness to outright felonious assault — is punished. In New York, for instance, a driver who pulls into traffic without looking first will suffer the indignity of public ridicule, ranging from a honk to full-fledged road rage, depending on the gravity of the infraction and the mood of the victim.
In San Francisco, however, it is considered the height of rudeness, not to pull out into traffic obliviously, but to honk at someone who does so. In fact, honking is strictly verboten in the Bay Area, no matter how egregious or dangerous the behavior of the motorist who provokes the honk. In the land of the militantly mellow, one is expected to tolerate the rudest of behavior from fellow citizens. Losing one’s cool, disturbing the blissful, stoned tranquillity of the body politic — that is the worst of offenses. All things being equal, the right of an individual to swing his fists around trumps the right of your nose not to be reduced to a bloody pulp each and every time. This is the land where the terms “get over it” and “move on” began.
Walking down University Avenue in Berkeley a few years ago, I observed a fellow pedestrian throw his empty soda cup on the sidewalk a few feet away from a trash can.
“Excuse me, sir,” I approached the unkempt litterbug politely (and with an intentionally calm, mellow tone to set the bastard at ease), “but there’s a trash can right there. Could you please throw your cup away?”
In most cities, the litterbug would advise me to fornicate with myself. Either that or, overwhelmed with shame, he’d pick up the stupid cup.
Before he could reply, however, some other, unrelated guy — clearly not a friend or even a member of the same socioeconomic group as the miscreant — rushed up and shoved me in the middle of my chest.
“Hey, man, leave him alone! Maybe he had his reasons.” The stranger was serious. I had broken the code of the militantly mellow. I should have picked up the cup myself, or better yet, allowed the already massive mountain of litter on University Avenue to continue to accumulate. No resident of the Bay Area may interfere with, or react to, the right of his fellow resident to throw crap on the street, harbor enormous attack dogs in an apartment building or drive like a psychopath. Incivility doesn’t exist if you don’t acknowledge it, the code goes, and if we’re not careful it could become a blueprint for an America increasingly unwilling to protect the quotidian right of human beings to remain unmolested by their fellow human beings’ freedom to do whatever the hell they want.
All in all, it’s a good thing that San Francisco is rethinking its dog fetish. But part of me can’t help wondering if they’re not just annoyed at Diane Whipple for not being a better sport about the whole thing.
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