Christopher Oram's cat ran away. Christopher Oram wanted his cat back. So he walked all over his neighborhood in Fairfax, tacking LOST CAT posters to light poles. Then he sat back and waited for a knock on the door.
He got one -- from a Fairfax County police officer. Take down the posters right away or face arrest, the officer said.
But the posters aren't obscene, or commercial, or insulting, or sloppily hung, or anywhere near anyone's property, Christopher said. Sorry, the officer said. The law says no posters of any kind on public poles of any kind.
So Christopher duly removed several dozen posters, knowing that in the process, he was slashing the odds that his cat would ever be returned. And that, alas, is the way the story has played out. The cat remains wherever lost cats go, and Christopher remains in a state of three parts puzzlement and two parts irritation.
Why, he wonders, aren't community light poles fair game for community notices? And why, he wonders even louder, can poles all over Fairfax County still bear political posters 10 weeks after the November elections, without any police officer knocking on any candidate's door?
Boyd Thomas, a spokesman for the Fairfax County Police, said that the only legal option available to people in Christopher Oram's position is to post signs on private property. The law allows as many as five signs on each piece of private property -- as long as the sign-poster has the property owner's permission.
As for political signs, Brother Thomas didn't claim that his department is batting a thousand. "We enforce it when we see it," he said. Translation: They enforce it when they get enough complaints, or when they have time, or both.
In any case, there's an obvious solution to Christopher Oram's dilemma. Fairfax County should erect community bulletin boards around residential neighborhoods. More cats would get home as a result, and both residents and police officers could use their time and energy more fruitfully.
Speaking of police officers, we need to clean up a piece of old business.
Back in November, I described an incident in which a woman was hassled by a street person on a downtown corner. After he threatened to kill her, she walked into a nearby hotel and called 911. However, no D.C. police officers responded for quite some time, so the woman gave up and went home by taxi. Once she was safely there, she again called 911. This time, officers responded and took a report.
Like the woman, I worried that the first call was, if not kissed off, at least treated with less urgency than it deserved. However, a number of readers pointed out that the 911 system is not designed for either of the calls that the woman placed.
Fran Martin, a reader who lives at 15th and R streets NW, noted that her neighborhood is often a very "lively" place, particularly late at night. However, Fran says she almost always uses the police non-emergency number, 202-727-4326, to report incidents that are not immediately and obviously life-threatening. She says the police "have responded promptly each time."
What kinds of incidents? Fran lists these: "a group of loud kids hanging around the corner at 4 a.m., suspicious characters lurking around my neighbor's car, a person passed out on the curb, a group of men harassing women." Granted, any of those could have led to much more serious trouble. But an immediate emergency is one thing; a potential emergency is another.
I'm not in any way trying to blame the victim in the story I reported back in November. If a street person had threatened to kill me, I'd consider it a very serious matter too. But, as Fran Martin says, "911 will work for all of us only when we use it for its intended purpose -- serious emergencies."
With apologies to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, James R. Wachob, of Chevy Chase, offers this saying:
Old grammarians never die; they only parse away.
Mrs. Fred D. Jackson, of Upper Marlboro, was driving through Bowie recently when she spotted a sign. It read: "A New Way to Pay -- MOST."
Mrs. Jackson thought the sign's location was very appropriate. It hangs across from an Amoco service station and next to an Exxon station.
Dick French, of Norfolk, claims authorship of the following (thanks to Vance Garnett, of Northwest Washington, for playing middleman):
Since pro is the opposite of con, the opposite of progress must be Congress.