Monday, May 4, 2009

Greater Good

I was watching Sadie this weekend—a very good dog who used to be my dog. It cost me $100.

Sadie is a water dog with an insatiable appetite for aquatic games, so we visited a park in Red Hook with a brief sandy beach. She plunged into the East River to retrieve her ball for the better part of an hour, braving the wakes of passing ferries, masses of tangled of kelp, and a rich variety of sea-borne detritus. Each time the ball was thrown, she let out one deep, annunciatory bark before taking the plunge: "Woof!" Splash. (Sadie's favorite naughty pleasure is eating the solid chemical waste jettisoned from boat toilets—a substance which, though toxic, apparently has the same taste and consistency of very stinky cheese. She pretends to nose her ball along the sand while furtively trawling for half-buried chunks.)

The park was empty except for a few neighborhood kids in various attitudes of indolence. As we emerged from the beach one of them staggered up:

"Officer Rodriguez, Parks Department—can I see some identification?" The two other undercovers straightened up and flashed badges. 

I knew what this was about. I was going to be handed a $100 citation for having Sadie off-leash. I lied, "I don't have any ID—what's this about?"

He rattled off robotically: "You can't have your dog off-leash in the park. It's against the posted regulations, and it's a danger to your dog and others." Then he assumed a more human tone: "What, you walked out of your house with no ID, no nothing?"

Sadie was dripping black and lolling in the smutty grass.

"Yeah," I replied, "I live two blocks away. I'm walking a friend's dog and I'm not really familiar with the rules... I mean, there's no one else here but us, right?"

"The rules are posted right there, " he countered, gesturing to a distant green sign with about 200 words of white type in 14-point Helvetica, "and we have a policy of zero tolerance. We gotta give you a citation." I laughed inwardly at his undercover get-up: Tims, baggy work jeans, gigantic t-shirt, twill jacket, ear-bling, ballcap low over the eyes, chinstrap beard. I wondered if the parks department had a manual, or if this costume came naturally.

It occurred to me to be defiant about this shameless act of misdirected revenue-generation, but I was chary. I gave my accurate name and address, and waited for the officer to fill out the citation in his halting script of random capitals. He handed it over, saying, "You can fight if you want to."

I made the joke, "I don't know officer, you're bigger than me, and there's three of you..."

He laughed, "No, I mean fight the ticket—fight it in court. You never know, you might win."

I thanked him and started toward the exit with Sadie, thinking I'd rather just pay and forget about it.

He called after me, "It's always good to fight!"

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