Bite-free playgrounds, 120 days at a time

I noticed that on the agenda for the Sept. 8 City Council meeting, the council was going to consider a park exclusion amendment. Of course I was instantly excited.

Was I finally going to be asked for a list of people I don't want to hang out with at the park? Would my son be consulted? He's 5, but really, who could ask for a better expert when it comes to who should be excluded from parks. "That boy doesn't share the swing." "That girl left sticky stuff all over the slide." Silas knows all the ins and outs of playground etiquette.

When I read the proposed ordinance I saw that the possibility of park exclusion only extended to those who violate park regulations. The maximum length of the exclusion would be 120 days for a first violation and 180 days for the second. It made me wonder about what type of person would qualify for the maximum in the excitement-packed world of park exclusion.

I remember a time when my son was just about a month old and we went for an outing to the park. My parents, out of the goodness of their hearts and an undying love for their erring daughter, were supporting me so I didn't have to work while my son was little. This left me a lot of free time to hang out in coffee shops and Lithia Park.

While I sat at the duck pond sipping coffee, and probably crying a little because of post-partum hormones rushing through my body like little missiles of destruction, I was approached by a disheveled-looking man. This man, either homeless or an eccentric millionaire, asked me to "watch his stuff real quick." I'm an agreeable person, I was just sitting there anyway, so sure — why not? He ducked into the nearby bushes with a couple companions and, as I watched his backpack, an undeniable, herbal-scented smoke wafted through the bushes to the bench I was sitting on.

So while that was a little frustrating for me, and I felt like a dope as I sat there with my tiny baby waiting for strangers to finish smoking, it was nothing compared to the pure fury I felt a couple summers later toward another gentleman at the park.

Silas was older now and running around. He had finally reached the age I had been waiting for, the age where he could run around and I could settle myself on a bench reading trashy novels. While I hung out on the stone wall, a man with a dog sat next to me and started smoking a cigarette. I sent him a couple stink-eye glances as I tried to telepathically communicate to him that both the dog and his cigarette were illegal in Lithia Park. As I watched, I saw a little boy walk up to the man's dog. "Can I pet your dog?" "No. He bites," the man said. It was at this point I turned to the man and seethed, "In what universe is it appropriate for you to bring your biting dog to the playground?" Honestly I was in such a stage of white-hot rage that I don't even remember what he said to me in return.

Now I would guess that the ordinance is aimed toward expelling someone like the gentleman from my first story for the maximum 120 days. I would like to request that the penalty is enforced for people who smoke in the playground and bring dogs to the park as well. Could there also be a provision for a lifetime expulsion for people who don't pick up their dog's "business" from the grass? Will the ordinance be enforced equally for those with the appearance of an eccentric millionaire as for those who flee the scene with California plates? What about illegal CD sales of cello music?

The park could be a whole new place. No musical strains of stringed instruments, no herbal remedies wafting through on the breeze, no cigarette butts to discover in the grass like Easter eggs and no biting dogs on the playground. Well, at least for 120 days.

Zoë Abel, a lifelong Ashlander, has never bit anyone at the playground. She can be contacted at

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