Under the Sun


Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Leaving the lint leads to
more thoughtless behavior

MY best friend was at a Laundromat recently when he encountered a woman who fretted about using a facility where anyone with a few quarters and a box of Tide could wash their clothes. She claimed the limited counter space, dumping bags and other stuff, even though she had no need for the spread of Formica at the time. He yielded to her, but when his stuff was out of the dryer, he moved her belongings aside so he could fold his clothes. She gave him the hairy eyeball. Worse, she didn't clean the lint caught in the filter of the dryer she used.

We talked about her rudeness, then laughed about how we'd spent time discussing an episode that seemed incidental. It was, but it also was an indication of how our regard for others has been diluted and how thoughtlessness can infect more significant matters.

Take this dust-up in the City Council over chickens. A neighbor's rooster crowing outside your bedroom window before the sun comes up can be exasperating. When coupled with the usual pressures of daily life, starting the day short of sleep and already irritated doesn't move you to love your neighbor.

In the olden days, people in my neighborhood raised chickens. I don't recall that crowing roosters were ever so annoying that we'd get mad, but there was more space between our houses and the chickens then and perhaps more solicitude. Now, thin margins between homes force us to endure the din of dogs, the babble of Justins and Brittanys on a pumped-up CD player and the Cruella DeVille cacklings of the lady who lives upstairs. It is difficult to accept disturbance in a place that's supposed to be a haven.

So people annoyed by roosters went to City Hall to seek relief. They wanted the government to solve a problem that they seem unable or unwilling to deal with themselves. What resulted -- a stalemate between chicken advocates and sleepless complainants -- illustrates how hard it can be to work out disputes. Having government step in may be necessary in larger conflicts, but I don't think the chicken clash -- if it is really about noise and not about the long-contentious practice of cockfighting -- warrants more law-making.

Because of budget shortages, the police department has recently had to take on enforcement of dog-barking laws. Having a police officer go to a neighbor's house upon your complaint jacks up the intimidation level considerably. It lessens the likelihood that the problem could be worked out person to person, which would be ideal.

Sometimes solutions spark unforeseen consequences. For customer convenience and to sell more stuff, supermarkets and other retailers supply shopping carts. But people abandon them far from the stores or steal them. So many retailers now use carts with wheels that, through the wonders of technology, lock when pushed past a certain zone.

The trouble is that the boundaries of those zones aren't always clear, as a frail, elderly woman discovered recently. Her car was evidently about six feet outside the free-wheeling area so she shuttled her purchases to her trunk one bag at a time. Meanwhile, the cart blocked cars, backing up traffic past the mall entrance to a major intersection a half-block away.

The store manager told me that theft wasn't so much of a problem as people not returning the carts to the designated locations. He said customers whine about carts blocking parking spaces, or left to roll and dent their cars, but don't make the effort to return them properly themselves. They think only "other people" should do that.

We refuse to walk 30 paces to put the cart in the return slot, we don't concern ourselves with barking dogs that disturb the neighbors and we don't clear the lint from the dryer for the next person. We let regard and consideration unravel, then clamor for laws so we can sic the cops on those other people with their noisy chickens.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin for 25 years.
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