Picture this. It’s early morning in the 7th arrondissement. A light rain has fallen on the grass, mist hovers around the trees. It’s quiet. I hear only birdsong and the buzz of a distant scooter. The street is empty except for me and Rocky, the one-year-old Jack Russell we adopted a few months ago. Why are we out at this ungodly hour? Rocky has to go.
As we stroll, Rocky sniffs, searching for that perfect spot to christen. He finds it and starts circling, a sure sign he’s about to “faire quelque chose” (as they say here in Paris). He does his business, I scoop, bag and toss it. We continue. Soon, Rocky signals that the urge is upon him again. He goes a second time.
The crime scene.
No sooner has Rocky relieved himself than I realize that it’s not — how shall I say this? — firm. This time, it’s a runny mess, clearly not something I can scoop up. I feel guilty leaving it but what can I do?
Yes, I suppose I could scrape it off the damp ground but doesn’t that seem just a little…excessive? He’s gone by a tree after all, a safe distance from the sidewalk where a shoe would be likely to encounter it. Plus it’s guaranteed to be washed away by the next Spring shower which, by the look of the sky, is coming any minute. And hey, this is Paris! The city’s famous for the dog poop on its streets. Real Parisians don’t pick up poop! I’m reminded of a neighbor who theatrically pretends to pick up her doggy’s doodies (without ever touching a thing); she even fakes plopping the package in a nearby poubelle. I, on the other hand, am a habitual poop picker-upper. Surely I’m entitled to one tiny lapse. And who’s watching, anyway? Sufficiently reassured, Rocky and I move on, his business behind us, home now firmly in our sights.
Then, out of nowhere, a small, unmarked car pulls up. A bespectacled man steps out. His bushy mustache hides his upper lip, his thinning hair is raked across his scalp. He’s wearing plain clothes — a light rain jacket, jeans, the usual. Nothing remarkable or sinister about him. Then he whips out a pad and pen and starts scribbling.
“Bonjour Madame,” he says, peering at me over the top of his glasses. “I ‘zee you did not clean up after your dog.”
“Your dog a fait quelque chose and you did not clean it up. In Paris, you must clean up les crottes no matter where he goes, even if it is near a tree.”
What’s going on here? Is he a concerned neighbor? A park maintenance guy? A gendarme? Then, as I watch him write what appears to be an official ticket, it dawns on me: It’s the Paris Poop Police, often rumored to exist but never before encountered by anyone I actually know. My throat goes dry, my heart beats faster. (I’d make a lousy criminal.) But then I remember: This is France! Rules are meant to be broken. You can always get your way if you just fight back, flirt, tell a story — anything! — just don’t give in and never show weakness.
“Bien sur, Monsieur,” I say. “But you see, the poop was much too, too…(what’s the word, what’s the word?)…soft to pick up. I assure you I toujours clean up after my dog. Toujours!”
“Ah, bon?” He eyes me with suspicion. “Then you must show me zee bag you have to clean up.”
The bag, Paige, the bag. Show him your dog poop bag! But I already used the bag on the first poop. Surely, I brought a second. I dig inside one pocket, then the other. Nothing. “But sir, I already used my bag. He went twice! And I usually carry a spare but I changed coats at the last minute when I saw it was raining and my spare dog poop bags are in my other coat and I always carry them and did you know I even adopted this dog who had been found wandering the streets alone and I’ve given him a home and I make a real effort to take good care of him and I even pick up trash in the neighborhood and–”
He’s still writing. He pushes his glasses up on his nose and asks for my name and address. He’s really going to give me a ticket! For 35 euros. That’s like 50 bucks! For dog poop. Keep fighting, Paige! You can do it. I try to give myself a pep talk but feel my resolve (and language skills) beginning to wobble.
All else has failed. And so — to both our surprise — I start to cry, realizing suddenly that I am no longer a 20-something ingenue who can talk (never mind flirt) her way out of a ticket. No, I am a just-rolled-out-of-bed, under-caffeinated, 40-something mom in baggy sweat pants and no makeup. I am not, at this moment, going to charm anyone, least of all a man who is paid for his ability to sniff out dog poop violators in the streets of Paris.
What are you doing, you idiot?! You’re crying over a dog poop ticket? I quickly gather myself and hold my head high.
“This is an injustice, Monsieur! There are people in this quartier who have never picked up a single crotte! I care for this dog and this city. You have made a grave mistake today!” I grab my ticket and stride away, determined to salvage what’s left of my pride.
When we get home, I look down at Rocky whose innocent expression seems to say both, “Who, me?” and “Sorry, Mom.”
The proof. (Yes, this really happened.)
In the end, the Paris poop police may have had a point. From now on, I’ll be sure to carry not just one doggy bag but two.
The warning for would-be law breakers.