Dear San Francisco,
Will you please get a life? First you passed a law prohibiting the sale of most Happy Meals. Then you set your sights on banning circumcision. Now you’re trying to make it illegal to sell almost every kind of pet, including goldfish, within city limits.
In one way, this isn’t entirely surprising. In order to buy a goldfish, you usually need to carry it home in a plastic Ziploc bag. You haven’t banned those yet, only plastic grocery bags, but it can only be a matter of time. (Transporting a live fish in one of those eco-bags? Sounds a little dicey.)
And come on, how are kids supposed to learn the facts of life if they can’t beg their parents to buy them a fish, forget to change the water in its bowl and stand there crying when it gets flushed down the toilet after it dies from bacterial poisoning? These are teachable moments to be cherished.
Look, San Francisco, I know your intentions are good. With shelters full of adoptable animals, it’s more than a little heartbreaking to walk past a pet store and see doggies in the window that undoubtedly came from puppy mills. If a major metropolitan area like yourself banned the sale of cats and dogs, it would be a boon to animals, especially if you found a way to grant exceptions to smaller-scale, responsible breeders, a point your officials say they’re still discussing.
But apparently that wasn’t enough. Last year, the ban on the sale of cats and dogs was put on hold when your Commission of Animal Control and Welfare decided to extend the prohibition to “anything with fur or feathers,” which would include hamsters, rats, guinea pigs and all manner of birds. And as if the resulting media mockery wasn’t enough (Bill O’Reilly, predictably, branded all San Franciscans “kooks”), the authors of the proposal used the extra time to up the ante by adding fish, reptiles and amphibians to the ban. (The proposal would not affect selling live animals for human consumption, raising the question of whether aquarium enthusiasts will soon be buying castles and little scuba-diver figurines for new home lobster tanks.)
Here’s your problem, San Francisco: You don’t realize that social legislation is like garlic. When used sparingly, it can provide a useful kick to a dish. When overused, it makes people run away every time you open your mouth.
We get that here in the south. Take Santa Monica, for example. Like you, it’s put plastic bags on the banned-substance list and tried to get an anti-circumcision measure on the ballot. But late-night comics aren’t constantly goofing on Santa Monica.
And then there’s West Hollywood, which managed to unanimously approve a ban on the sale of cats and dogs in pet stores without sustained national eye-rolling. As for Glendale, which is considering similar legislation, most of the nation’s never even heard the name. And earlier this month, even in showy, obstreperous L.A., the City Council was able to quietly instruct the Department of Animal Services to draft a law prohibiting the sale of factory-bred animals in pet stores, as well as the commercial breeding of rabbits, chickens, cats and dogs.
What’s our secret? Well, for starters, we leave rats and reptiles out of the mix. More important, earnestness isn’t our thing. The world doesn’t hear the name Los Angeles and think: “That’s a city filled with insufferable, sanctimonious do-gooders.” Instead, it thinks: “That’s a city filled with shallow, materialist jerks.”
And that’s how we like it. Face it, San Fran, L.A. could allow hybrid cars to drive on the sidewalk and Bill O’Reilly would still think you’re the kookier city. Why?
Because you wear your sanctimony on your sleeve, and ours flies under the radar. The world is so conditioned to seeing Angelenos as morally bankrupt fame-seekers that it barely notices when we get self-righteous about something other than who’s been overlooked for an Oscar. But we’re just as capable of being insufferable and sanctimonious as you are, San Francisco. We’ve shut down the pet stores to prove it.
Here’s a neighborly word of advice: Give up on the goldfish. Some battles aren’t worth fighting. And believe it or not, life in a fishbowl isn’t always so bad. Some of our citizens wouldn’t have it any other way.
By Meghan Daum
Meghan Daum, an essayist and novelist, is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. ― Ed.
(Los Angeles Times/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)