On a breezy spring day in Clark Park, a Rottweiler ripped the head off an 18-month old toddler, Justin, in the tot lot and carried it down to the Bowl for a spirited pickup game of soccer with his Doberman, German Shepherd and Pitbull buddies. The head was later returned to the grieving parents, somewhat the worse for wear.
Officer Elmer K. Flake, who wrote up the police report of the incident, was somewhat surprised, informing the parents that “we don’t get many complaints about dog attacks in this here park.” While he was speaking, a frisky Great Dane knocked down an 87-year-old lady and a bull terrier playfully picked up an infant from its stroller and shook it vigorously.
Amid fresh cries of outrage and complaints about dangerous dogs, community leaders asked neighbors to keep calm. Fresh Princess of UC Village Adeline Dutoit pleaded “Let’s try to maintain our DIGINITY! After all, many of our HOMEOWNERS have made a substantial MONETARY INVESTMENT in their dogs, often pedigreed breeds, and we don’t want to make them feel in any way unwelcome. And after all, parents who lose children in dog attacks can just go ahead and get some more through SEXUAL REPRODUCTION.”
Orrin Snatch, President of the local chapter of the National Pitbull Association, remarked: “Dogs don’t kill children lightly or for no reason. Misbehaved little brats bring it on themselves by messing with man’s best friend.” He outlined the NPA guidelines for protecting children against dog attacks:
1) Children should not play in the park unless suited up in full body armor, including flak jackets and helmets.
2) Children should be kept on a leash at all times.
3) Parents should be armed with pepper spray or MACE in case of the unlikely possibility that a friendly dog gets a little too rowdy with their child. However, all efforts should be made to avoid actually harming the dog in such instances.
Perhaps nowhere in University City Village were the tensions between dog owners, non-dog owners, children, and owners of various canine breeds brought to such an extreme and frenzied pitch than in the Bowl in Clark Park. The Bowl, a quarter-mile long depression some fifteen meters deep at its greatest depth, was actually the residue of a pond in the Mill Creek, an ancient tributary of the Schuylkill River. A major engineering project a hundred and fifty years earlier had for some inexplicable reason submerged the creek into a subterranean channel of concrete pipes, twenty feet in diameter, which ran for several miles under the heart of the Village. The drainage problems had never really been effectively solved. During the spring monsoon the drains at the intersection of 43rd and Baltimore regularly overflowed and backed up into the basement of the Mennonite coffeehouse. Back in the sixties a major implosion had occurred at 43rd and Sansom, when a gaping chasm had opened which engulfed several trees, an Edwardian Revival Mansion and a schoolbus full of Negro schoolchildren on their way to a newly integrated suburban elementary school. Fortunately the owners and the parents had been lavishly compensated and the incident more or less hushed up by the city.
The Bowl itself was ecologically problematic, in that the few pathetic sprigs of grass that sprouted in April and May were soon erased by the frenzied activities in the popular neighborhood venue – soccer games, bicycling, toddlers learning to take their first steps, all-night punk rock concerts and, above all, massive incursions of dogs, whose noxious excreta, fresh, and gradually manifesting themselves as the winter snows melted, dotted the surface of the park. Despite perfunctory annual reseeding efforts by the Parks Department, by summer the Bowl was in fact a dust bowl, and on a windy day resembled some desolate stretch of the Gobi Desert during sandstorm season.
Miraculously, no child had ever actually before been killed by a dog in living memory. Perhaps even more miraculously, no dog had ever been shot to death by parents up in arms in this notoriously well-armed section of Philadelphia. True, dog-on-dog violence was a fact of life, and on a dog day afternoon in August it was not uncommon to find previous owners dragging the mauled and bleeding carcasses of the family pets up the sides of the Bowl, sobbing as they went.
But as spring wound into the dank and muggy summer, the uproar over Justin’s decapitation refused to subside. Angry letters were penned to the University City Village Review and the UC email list was full of furious tirades. Dog owners made a point of brazenly parading their pitbulls, Rottweilers, Borzois, Alsatian Wolfhounds and Great Danes down Baltimore Avenue without a leash, while outraged parents took to carrying Bowie knives and Uzis when they ventured out to let their bemused children use the swings and jungle gyms in the Tot Lot. Sporadic calls to the police to enforce the leash laws were of no avail, and there was talk among the aggrieved parents of calling in the National Guard, perhaps even UN peacekeeping forces. The Mayor and the Police Commissioner, embroiled in an FBI investigation of corruption in the city administration, were in no position to help.
Finally, sensing that matters had just about come to a head, the Friends of Clark Park agreed to put the issue on the agenda of their monthly meeting, just after the item concerning loud noise issues stemming from all-night punk rock concerts. A raucous, standing room only meeting resulted in the formation of an ad hoc committee to investigate the issue. The discreet and Solomonic chairperson called for six volunteers to represent the dog-owners, and six to represent the parents, thus guaranteeing a lengthy stalemate. He encouraged the committee of neighbors to “enter into reasonable dialogue” with each other, and to report back in six months.
* * * * * *
Meanwhile, life in the Village ground on. Property values continued their seemingly inexorable rise, and the myriad community associations and committees pursued their vital efforts to better the neighborhood.
Minutes from the University City Old Ladies Sewing Circle and Gentrification Club:
Present: Pixie, Prissy, Pesky (President, Vice-President, Treasurer, Secretary), Flapdoodle
Pesky: Hi gals! Are those MARKET FORCES in your pockets, or are you just glad to see me?
Pesky: OK, now girls, let’s come to order. What’s on the agenda today?
Pesky: Oh – the quarterly awards banquet is coming up, so we must continue working on our perennial “Who’s been naughty and who’s been nice” list. First, who’s been NAUGHTY?
Pixie: Oh, that bad Mr. Marthamble hasn’t been raking his leaves, and they’re spilling into the street!
Prissy: Yes, and I have a list of a dozen people who not only don’t they own property but they haven’t been VOLUNTEERING!
Flapdoodle: And it’s so hard to get good help these days. I had to dismiss my Guatemalan manservant because he just wasn’t COMING on time!
Prissy: Who are you using to CLEAN YOUR CHIMNEY these days??
Prissy: Flappy, I hope he at least cleaned up his USED CONDOMS!!
Pixie: tee hee hee hee
Pesky: Settle down now girls. Let’s get serious. What ARE we going to do about that unsightly new AFRICAN restaurant? Of course I’ll have the OWNERS boot out the tenants, but we must find something better than a DOLLAR store for that lovely corner.
Prissy: How about a coffee-shop? University City Village could certainly use another coffee-shop?
Pesky: Ummm. Maybe that’s overdoing it. How about a nice bagel and lingerie shop?
Flapdoodle: Oh, what a great idea, Pesky! We could have a lovely assortment of fancy jams and creamcheeses – we could call it “Victoria’s Secret Bagels!”
Pixie: As long as it’s not take-out of course.
Prissy: Oh NOOO.
Pixie: How about a nice Adult Boutique? It’s an awful drag to have to take the Benz all the way downtown when I want the latest dildos and sensitizing creams.
Pixie: No, girls, I’m serious.
Pesky: Of course you are. But let’s move on. Also on the agenda is the doggie issue. Do we have an official position on that?
Prissy: Just the DOGGIE POSITION!!
Pesky: *I* was going to say that!
beep beep beep bop arooni
Pesky: Sorry girls. Gotta take that call.
Pixie: Oh, Pesky, why don’t you set your phone to VIBRATE!!
Prissy: tee hee
Pesky: Oh hi, Sammy. Yeah, sorry you lost. Mm-hmm. Well at least you know the RIGHT people were for you. Mm-hmm. OK. Right. Let’s do lunch at the Four Seasons. Kay? Mmm. Bye-eee.
Pesky: OK, where were we?
Pixie: Was that Sammy the K?
Flapdoodle: Wasn’t it awful what THOSE PEOPLE did to him?
Pesky: Frankly, things are getting so bad I’m tempted to liquidate my holdings and move to Palm Beach.
Pixie: Me too.
Prissy: Me too.
Flapdoodle: Me too.
* * * * * *
But the troublesome dog issue refused to go away. Unsavory reports surfaced in the Philadelphia Inky about Amish puppy mills in Lancaster County, where nominally harmless Amish farmers bred pitbulls in horrendous conditions for export to the Philadelphia market. Scary rumors circulated in the neighborhood that midnight Doberman fights to the death were taking place in Clark Park, and worse, that the colored people were betting on them. It was well known that among the better classes in the hood, private clubs bred strange and exotic canine varieties, and in fact Cockapoos and Labradoodles were occasionally sighted in the fenced-in Dog Park at 48th and Springfield. By September, the Friends of Clark Park Ad Hoc Doggie Committee had still not delivered its interim report.
Matters were brought to a head when a Panamanian grad student at Penn was bit in the ass by an excitable Whippet while playing soccer one Sunday afternoon in the Bowl. Reluctantly Penn stepped in and organized a series of “Citizens Forums”. In normal circumstances Penn would have simply dictated a solution, but in the fainéant lame-duck final months of the Cherry Ramsbottom presidency, circumstances at Penn were anything but normal. The University had just purchased the “Postal Lands” east of the University and was preparing in its ponderous bureaucratic manner to change directions.
Vice-President for Real Estate and Gentrification Uthmar Khayyam as much as admitted in an interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian that Penn’s ten-year “Drang nach Westen” was about to come to an end: Penn would no longer fund and promote large-scale commercial projects like the Freshgrocer and the Bridge Cinema along the 40th Street Corridor, and the Sadie Alexander/Gaylord P. Harnwell Public Experimental Elementary School in the 42nd-43rd St./Locust-Spruce Streets sector. Khayyam stopped short, however, of saying that Penn was about to renounce its use of force and land mines in the disputed territories west of campus. In fact, the University would beef up its conventional police presence along the perimeter, while slowly withdrawing its bulldozers and tactical nuclear weapons to the Green Line, the Mennonite coffee house along the 43rd Street border, and confine itself to settling neighborhood disputes with dialogue, constructive engagement, and citizen repartee.
The Citizen Forums, however, were slow to get underway and gather momentum. Despite the airdrop of several thousand informational flyers from black helicopters over University City Village, few stakeholders showed up for the initial meeting. Vice-President Khayyam attended in civilian clothes, flanked by bodyguards and a dozen Sub-Provosts armed with discreetly with Kalashnikovs, but only a handful of community business owners and residents put in an appearance: the local McDonald’s manager, the proprietor of the adult video kiosk, the owner of one of the seventeen Indian restaurants along the 40th Street strip, and the President of UC Dog.
At the meeting, Khayyam, speaking through an interpreter, presented the University’s new compassionate posture. Penn, he said, would no longer unilaterally force its decisions upon the community; it would do so only after a lengthy process of active listening, survey-taking and input from the stakeholders. The gathering went smoothly enough, although Khayyam’s lengthy and monotonous monologue was interrupted by a hysterical protest from the UC Dog President, complaining that Penn had shut down the fenced-in dog run at 43rd and Spruce when it built the new Sadie Alexander/ Gaylord P. Harnwell Public Experimental Elementary School, without providing alternative space in which the community could have its dogs run free.
After the protestor was forcibly but compassionately removed by several UCD goons, Khayyam stated equivocally and at some length that while some of President Ramsbottom’s best friends were dogs, and Penn cared deeply about all breeds of dogs and people who were its neighbors, when it came right down to it the University was in the education business, and not in the position to provide facilities for one subset of the Village population, sympathetic although it was to sentiments of both dog owners and non-dog owners in the situation. The meeting closed with Muslim prayers and sutra-chanting by the local Tibetan monks, and Khayyam promised to return the following month to continue to listen to neighborhood concerns, expressing his hope that more community stakeholders would attend in future.
Finally, after several more grueling citizen assemblies, the Friends of Clark Park Ad Hoc Dog Committee brought back a report to the membership of the Friends of Clark Park, and the results were tabulated and collated with those of the Citizens Forums. At last, it looked as though a consensus had been reached. The primary points of the agreement, known as the Doggie Principles, were as follows:
1. The University of Pennsylvania agreed to indirectly provide funds from its black ops budget for two new dog obedience schools on Baltimore Avenue. However, in keeping with its new policy of “Drang nach Osten, nicht Westen”, Penn would not itself construct any new obedience schools in the neighborhood, leaving the administration of such institutions to the University City Community Council, a coalition of community associations in the hood.
2. The Friends of Clark Park would seek funding for a new, fenced-in, kiddie tot-lot, to be surrounded by cyclone fence topped with razor wire.
3. Dog-owners would be required to leash their dogs in all parts of the Park except for the Bowl, where dogs could run free.
4. If a dog bit a human (i.e. a soccer player, in the ass, in the Bowl), the dog-owner would be sacrificed at the time of the next full moon in a midnight ceremony in the Bowl.
5. Dog-on-dog violence would be emphatically discouraged.
6. Dog owners would be required to “pick up” after their dogs and contribute the resulting excreta to the compost heap of the nearest community garden.
VP for Real Estate and Gentrification Uthmar Khayyam pronounced the settlement “fair and balanced.” The Friends of Clark Park were “satisfied.” UC Dog, while not altogether delighted, was willing to work within this framework for the time being. Spruce Hill Community Association, Cedar Park Neighbors, Walnut Hill Community Association, Squirrel Hill Community Association, Garden Court Community Association, and the University City Historical Society all agreed to appoint exploratory subcommittees to investigate their respective positions, but in the meantime pledged to abide by the Doggie Principles. University City Fresh Princess and President of the University City Community Council Adeline Dutoit described the arrangement as “FAB”, and promised to immediately renovate two new historically correct buildings on the Baltimore Strip to house the new doggie obedience schools.
In celebration, a nice community banquet was held at the local yuppie restaurant, where Whippet steaks were conspicuously absent from the menu.