Yellow Volkswagens and brown flags


I’ve talked before about Yellow Volkswagen Syndromeâ„¢, that phenomenon where bringing something to mind seems to all of a sudden bring it into your field of vision, and often.

When I wrote about it in this post last year, I talked about Yellow Volkswagen Syndromeâ„¢ as an invocation: if I put it out there that Help Is Everywhere, it will be. I could just as easily swap out “Help” for “Beauty,” “Love,” “Hilarity,” or anything else I was particularly in need of. In the same way that keeping a gratitude journal helps maintain a heightened awareness of how fortunate one is, keeping any particular quality top of mind (“Grace” would be a good one, these days) helps one see how much of the good stuff is all around all of us everywhere, all the time.

The BF and I were talking about this on a walk yesterday. There’s a beautiful path around the reservoir in his neighborhood, and many, many people exercise their dogs on it. Most of them pick up the piles of poop their dogs deposit along the way, but a few don’t, and guess what you notice? It’s kind of hard not to, really, since there it is, in the middle of the path, usually, standing out in stark contrast to the composite the path itself is made of.

When you see more than one of these on a walk, it has a curious effect, that goes like this:

“I can’t believe all these people don’t pick up after their dogs, it’s disgusting!”

One sentence, but it’s stuffed with information to be, as the anthropologists put it, unpacked.

  1. That I’m in a state of disbelief Am I really? Or is it contempt? The “it’s disgusting” tag at the end argues for the latter
  2. That the errant poop is the result of owner negligence There are not many wild dogs running loose in this highly dog-friendly neighborhood; with so many dog lovers, any stray dog is picked up pretty quickly, and either turned over to a rescue organization or held until the owner can be found. There are wild coyotes, however, as well as a lot of other local fauna, some of it quite well-fed and large (it’s a reasonably tony neighborhood with good people pickins and plenty of fatty squirrels, to boot).
  3. That a lot of people are being negligent After some brief discussion, The BF and I came to the conclusion that while we were certainly seeing more poop lying around than we’d like, most people were probably picking up after their dogs. Like I said, this is a really dog-friendly neighborhood; if most people were being negligent, there’d be more shit than path.

None of these are particularly excellent thoughts to be wandering around with, but I’d argue that third point is the hardest to spot and the most potentially damaging. It spreads like a cancer and affects every part of my worldview. I eye each dog-walking neighbor suspiciously, guilty until proven innocent, waiting to see if they pick up the poop. So far, they all have, and really, I have no idea what I’d have said if they hadn’t: “Shame on you” or even a direct “Hey, pick that up…please!” both feel Citizens Arrest-y and weird.

And of course, my hatred refuses to remain only with the errant dog owners. It starts to creep into all other aspects of my life, until I’m looking at the world through shit-colored glasses.

One of my recurring mantras with my actor peeps when I’m telling them about marketing and why they should bother with it is “Control what you can.” It’s not really my business to change the people who view the sidewalk as their dog’s personal toilet; talk about wasting one’s time and annoying the pig.

Instead, I’m going to let each pile sighting remind me that hey, overall, I have it pretty good here on this fine path I’m walking.

And I’m going to bring an extra bag or two. Or ten…


Image by gregg o’connell via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


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  2. Actually, I have seen someone with their dog who didn’t pick up after it. As the person walked away, I said in a kinda loud voice, “Excuse me, I think you forgot something…” and the person turned around and was pretty apologetic, once they saw what had happened. And picked up their dogshit.

    Now I’m wondering if Arnie does that when I’m not looking?

  3. Bon – I thank you, and bow deeply to do so.

    BF – You know, you’ve given me an idea (so what else is new?): next time, I will do just that, and add something along the lines of, “Do you need a bag? I brought extras!” Love makes the world go round.

  4. Great post, Colleen.
    I’ve always believed in the philosophy that there are more good people in the world than we think. How we perceive others is really a reflection of what’s inside us. When we have that good feeling towards others in general, we may feel a lot less harsh towards the guilty person…maybe the person that didn’t scoop the poop had a reason, he/she probably forgot the plastic baggie and had a tough day at work and was too tired to go back and get it.
    You’re right, it doesn’t really matter what the reason may have been….. it’s really not in our control and all that fretting over something not in our hands is only going to result in us losing our peace of mind and polluting our other thoughts.

  5. I tried a sweet-faced “do you need a bag? I have an extra” once and got roundly abused and physically threatened for my trouble. so I don’t bother any more. I have however been tempted to pick it up myself and hand it to the owner with a sweet-faced “I think you forgot this”. But I’m chicken.

  6. I should have realized that his stomach was upset when my dog, Charlie, needed to go out at 1 AM on Monday (it had just started to snow). He pooped 3 times before we got around the block and I only had two bags on me.

    So I did have this moment of thinking, “I could just leave that one little one there in the snow. It will be covered by morning and it’s in the street anyway…”

    And although I didn’t do that (you don’t have to walk very far to find a stray plastic bag on the street in Hoboken), I could imagine how some of the poop gets left on the street. I prefer this story to the one where the owner just doesn’t give a shit.

  7. It is much easier to assume someone is having a forgetful/bad day then to think they are the scurge of humanity.

    I apply this to driving. Someone cuts me off or drives crazy, I assume someone they love is in the hospital dying and they are on their way to see them.

    Keeps me from flipping them off and carrying the anger around.

  8. The Poop Perspective
    ah yes so much of life is where we choose to look in a situation or how we choose to “see” what we see.. and since negative emotions flare up faster and are felt longer and more intensely than positive – how wise to see the poop as from that perspective

  9. If they don’t pick it up, you say, as cheerfully as possible, “Oh did you forget to bring a bag? Just a sec, I’m sure I’ve got one!”

    I saw a guy on a street corner once pick up his dog’s poop using the stupid little subscription card that fell out of a magazine. It was quite a balancing act, but he got it onto a trash can. I wanted to applaud, but I was in my car waiting for the light to change, and he really looked embarrassed enough.

  10. I just had this thought (and I don’t even have a dog). What if I was walking my dog, with my bag, and the pooch takes a poop and a complete stranger walks up and says, “Oh let me get that for you. I’m sure you’ve handled your fair share of shit today.” I have a whole chamber of citizen’s arrest woven into my character, so shocked to learn that wasn’t a good thing. Like you, C, my good mood rides on seeing the good. It’s even better when I can throw some of my own good out there. I’m not committing to picking up a strange pooch’s poop, but it’s just a funny thought to me that I could. One thing’s for sure–I’ll never see another pile of poop and not think of this post.

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