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Whatâs Matter and What Matters


By John Rosenthal

LET ME START this week's column by noting that this is neither an "I hate the Quad" nor an "I love the Quad" column.

I do like the Quad. Some of my best friends are quadlings. I even live there. And I don't want to scare any freshmen away from listing a quad house as their residence of choice for the next four years.

Nonetheless, this column deals with a problem of Cambridge life that, although not restricted to the Quad, is most noticeable there.

The problem is the matter of matter--fecal matter to be precise. The recent warm weather (anything would be warm compared to the arctic temps we had in early February) has caused much of the frozen tundra across the quad to melt. Melting snow obviously produces mud. But it uncovers something else, which is much harder to scrape off your shoes, and smells absolutely awful, whether you walk in it or not.

This foul smell has pervaded the Quad for the past week or so, and at times is so pungent that I have had to hold my breath from the time I get off the shuttle bus until I reach the sanetuary of my room.

It is not uncommon to see quad residents checking their shoes every ten steps or so to see whether they have stepped in something, or whether the smell of thawing dogdoo is so strong as to scent the entire Quad.

I have learned from my friends at the River that this phenomenon is not unique to the Quad. Rather, it is a problem wherever there is grass. Or, more appropriately, wherever there is a thawing after three solid months of unchecked dog-walking sans pooper-scoopers. The Cambridge Common is another such site where snow that once covered this putrid odor has now melted. So is the walkway from Leverett towers to Mather and Dunster.

Everybody talks about the weather, right? But what am I doing about it? I'm calling for Cambridge to pass a law requiring dog owners to clean up after their pets. Such a law drew ridicule in New York when it was installed, but has succeeded in reducing the horrible aroma from the streets.

Moreover, I am making a plea to Cambridge dog owners asking them to refrain from using Harvard and Cambridge as their litterbox. Harvard students don't party on your lawns. Don't potty on ours.

ENFORCED POOPER-SCOOPING is an example of a law that Cambridge definitely needs. The new smoking law, which went into effect, is an example of one it does not.

I smoke, and that fact will color my viewpoint on this issue. But I do not smoke in dining halls or other public places, nor do I light up in the face of people who don't like smoking. And growing up as the child of two smoking parents, I know what it's like to be stuck in a car for six hours with two people puffing away for the whole trip.

Still, the idea of outlawing all smoking is draconian. If enforced, the new law might prevent me from smoking in the privacy of my own room because it shares ventilation with other rooms. Will Harvard have to hold a smoking and non-smoking housing lottery?

Granted, the attitudes of some smokers is that they are being denied a physical addiction and that they can't go on living without a cigarette while waiting inside the Science Center hallways for a bus. But on the other hand, the most militant proponents of anti-smoking laws are usually ex-smokers themselves who need to show how pure they are since they kicked the habit.

What is needed is not severe laws, but courtesy. Smokers need to be more considerate of nonsmokers and vice-versa. Most of all, however, what is needed is time. The vast majority of smokers today is comprised of people from earlier generations who haven't been able to quit.

Today, hardly anybody smokes. The only people who do smoke in college these days are the people who can't quit. (Then of course, there are people like me who could quit any time they want--but don't because they like to smoke.)

Within five to ten years, the smoking problem will take care of itself: without draconian laws, without ridiculous penalties and without smokers. By 2000, smoking will cease to exist and so will the need for Cambridge's silly law.

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