All summer I was extolling the virtue of neighbors and knowing them, then something dropped me in my tracks last week. It was a little pile of poo, neatly secreted through the a-hole of a very small dog, two of them in fact (turds and dogs). The dogs, I could discern from the droppings, were the little yippy kind. Only those kinds of dogs can squeeze out those baubulous bobbles of doo – the round, hard barely-a-fist-size kind. Only an annoying, overly-trimmed, tailored, and parlored kind of a canine can squeak out those equally offensive rocks. Not that I have anything against the dogs. I do not. It’s the owners who insist that just because a dog is of a certain size, dimension, and coat hair, it must be coddled, curled, and coiled up in travel baskets and squeezed into pastel duds that are even saccharine on a doll.
I have to pause to admit that I did not actually catch the canine culprits in action, but in light of surrounding circumstances, I can be pretty certain I know who they are or, at least, who their owner is. She’s a neighbor, but not an acquaintance or a friend. She was blathering away in a high-volume pipsqueaky kind of a voice very late at night a month or so ago, dead center of the sidewalk in front of my house. The words she was using did not match her manner of dress although I may be elaborating here. It seems she was cursing like a sailor. Or maybe it was the content of her call. I recall that there was something offensive enough about the occasion that it prompted me to take the rare step of using a stage whisper through the window to suggest she “move on.” Personally, I thought it was a nice way to say what she really deserved to hear.
This block is a quiet one. It’s a one-way. There are old people. There are babies. There are people with early-morning jobs. There are blue collars. There are white collars. And no one seems to know for sure or care at all which is each. There are new couples with babies. There are more than a few little old ladies. There are, I believe, even artists, but they’re the solitary kind that are up at night working, not up all hours talking about being artists. Or they’re the kind (like the one kitty-corner to me) who sleep at night to get up early and take their dogs on a non-poop littered walk so they can come home and give lessons to musicians (who aren’t as good as them but are getting better) so they can continue to be artists and musicians. (I, like others in this little stretch of row houses on my street, view these mini, on-going serenades of lessons as a fringe benefit to being on the block.) There are people who, if they need to have a lovers’ quarrel or family feud through the air waves, and can’t do so in the privacy of their own homes, will at least move on when someone makes their presence known, “ahems,” or kindly, as I did, suggest they move on. That night, the little chickadee in the Juicy Couture velour with her matching miniature whozseedoggywhatzsits, took offense at my suggestion. She said something utterly forgettable about it being a free country or me not owning her or the sidewalk or some such other nonsense that indicated she has no regard for making the world a better place through love, kindness, and peaceful harmony.
The first summer I lived in this house, in the year 2000, I had some friends from Wisconsin who came to visit. I don’t remember if it was a weeknight or a Friday night. Either way, it was late. We’d been drinking. We’d been laughing. We were on a back porch in Brooklyn. We were free. The night was ours. So we thought, until my next door neighbor, who works the graveyard shift, stuck his head out the window and barked at us to “Keep it down out there.” I wanted to crawl into the ground. It froze me. My friends all started cracking up over it, and eventually I did too. They took that moment and froze it in time. They still pull it out to polish it with retelling. It was their first true New York moment.
I put on my neighbor’s voice to put this pipsqueak in her place. “MOVE ON!” She was still yakking away when I went to put a collar on my good sized dog. She may be advancing in age, but she’s still more than twice the size of Juicy’s little rag dolls that were prancing near my front stoop. I don’t remember if I had to bring out the big dog, or if the silence of the night made her realize her words were falling loudly, and she might be outnumbered in the people who, in this moment,valued quiet over freedom. I still hadn’t said more than my two words repeated once. (I’ve been here long enough to know that on my block, like many, past a certain hour, it is best to do what can be done in few words). Within minutes the encounter was over.
So I thought that was the end of it. I’ve seen her since then. We have a silent pact that requires neither of us to look at the other. Nor are we required to extend the usual dog-walking courtesy of crossing the street if there’s any chance of an unpleasant interaction. We stay the path, bothering only to keep our dogs under tight rein. And I thought that was the way it was and the way it would be, and also the end of it.
But last week, I came home to poo on my pavement. Smack dab dead center. Unmistakably in front of my house. I started to tell my good neighbor/friend about it. She lives on the same end of the block as Juicy. My good neighbor/friend lives right next to Juicy’s apartment building with her two kids and partner. They’re out there so often, and soak in so much about the neighborhood, I’ve decided her partner’s the mayor. So in my retelling of what had happened, before I could get to the second “move on,” my friend was finishing the story for me. Turns out Juicy told the Mayor what happened. Next thing I knew, my friend/neighbor was telling me the rest of the story, with Juicy defending the fact that it’s a free country, and all she was doing was talking on her cell phone, and it wasn’t even really that late. And she doesn’t even really know them. So my suspicions were confirmed. She trained her dogs to poop on my path.
Now before you go thinking I’m jumping the gun on this conclusion, note that I have seen her since our initial encounter, loiter with her dogs in front of my house, looking around to see if anyone’s watching. A passerby always seems to appear before they get to doing their doo. The sidewalk, too, by the way, is a free and clear canvas. There are no hydrants, or flowerbeds to awaken the little doggies’ urges. Moreover, most people pick up their dog’s dookey, so much so that even a “curb your dog” sign on the block is rare.
So I was mulling all this over in my head tonight, as I took my dog out for a walk after being away all weekend. I have known my dog for a good seven years. She has never, in all the time that I’ve known her, ever pooped on the sidewalk. She has always had a yard at her (and for her) personal disposal. With only minutes to go till we turned the corner onto my block, she pulls over and squats deeper than is her custom. A few feet ahead of me, a delivery guy was getting on his bike. He was watching to see if we would cross first or if he should go ahead. In that moment was when my normally uber-private puppy got into that unmistakable crouch, nearly in the middle of the sidewalk. Of course having walked her without ever needing a bag, I was empty-handed save for her leash in my quickly tightening grip.
I didn’t have time to see whether she left a gift, but I think it was at least a token. I whisked her away hoping that whoever’s house it was doesn’t have a neighbor with a real, or perceived, vendetta.