The signs of the city can tell you a lot about what's happening socially. About a decade ago, we started seeing "Shut Up" signs all over the place. Clearly, they were necessary, and so we must assume that people needed to be told to shut up because they were getting louder and louder, caring less and less about their impact on others.
There's another breed of sign that's been cropping up everywhere more recently. It's the "We Love Your Dog" sign. It might also be the "We Love Your Baby" or "We Love You and Your Laptop" sign, but most often it has to do with dogs. ("Pets" really means dogs, since cat people don't usually bring Fluffy on errands.)
Years ago, businesses that sold food had signs on the door that said "No Dogs Allowed." Simple, straightforward, unassailable.
But today, more and more, they say something along the lines of: "We love your dog! Unfortunately, the big bad laws of the land say we can't let your dog inside. Please don't get mad at us--it's not our fault! To placate you and contain your narcissistic rage, here's a bowl of water and some treats. Really, truly, we LOVE your dog. Please don't get mad." (I am paraphrasing.)
You see these signs everywhere--I've collected quite a few--on the doors of big chain stores and little coffee shops. On grocery stores and Chinese restaurants. Many of them come with pictures of cute dogs. See? We really, really like them! (Please don't get mad.)
"Love" is the operative word here. The signs typically say we "love" your dog, pets, etc. Not: we're tolerant, or we don't mind, but we LOVE. The message is: We're not "haters" filled with negativity.
The signs almost always say "your" dog/pets. We love YOUR dog, not dogs in general. "We love dogs" could actually be true, but "We love your dog" is almost impossible. "We don't know your dog, so how could we love it," would be more accurate. But the words "you" and "your" have taken over marketing. They make people feel special, so there it is, the appeasing "your."
And then comes the turn, usually in the form of the word "unfortunately." It has a stammering quality, like a big gulp before the delivery of bad news you're afraid will get you slapped in the face. Don't upset the dog owner!
In this climate, some businesses just want to be the good guy. Like Ricky's, where they don't sell food, and so can allow pets. They make the most of it with this sign, basically saying, "Hey, we're not dog-hating jerks like a lot of other people in this neighborhood. We're cool."
So what are these signs telling us about human interactions in the city today?
It seems obvious that they are revealing a trend: Entitled people with dogs are getting very upset when they walk into a food establishment with their pet and are asked to take the animal outside. Maybe the dog person throws a fit. Maybe they go home and attack the business on their blog or give them a scathing review on Yelp. This happens frequently enough, and causes enough disruption, that the business has been forced to put up an ass-kissing sign.
We see a variation of the sign, though less frequently, with babies and strollers. "We really love your baby" they say, but the fire code says we can't have strollers in here. Again, the subtext is: "Please don't blame us! Please don't get angry! It's not our fault! Blame the government. We are not baby haters."
With good reason they cover their asses--we know what the stroller brigade did to the anti-babies in bars people.
But one of my absolute favorites in this genre of signage comes from a popular coffee shop in Park Slope, the New York neighborhood that is perhaps the epicenter of entitlement, and home to many dogs and strollers. It's a very long, funny, ass-kissing, walk-on-eggshells explanation about why they don't want customers hanging out for hours on their laptops, and it begins, "We're absolutely thrilled that you like us so much that you want to spend the day...and we love having you here, believe you me!"
It goes on to apologize in advance for having to "say something" to people who don't follow the rules, and "we really dislike that sort of thing, it is so not 'us' and makes everyone uneasy." Once again, the message is: Please don't make us be bad guys.
There's something pathetically simpering about all these signs. When did businesses get so afraid to be the heavy? It's like the Mom or Dad who wants to be pals and buddies with their children, rather than the authority figures who say what's what. In fact, I'm inclined to blame those Moms and Dads for the behaviors that led to the necessity for these signs.
Finally, here's how it should be done. This sign--in parent-coddling Park Slope, no less--is not afraid to assert itself and tell it like it is. "This is a doctors office, not a playground!!" But maybe you have to be a needle-wielding M.D. to get away with that?