Monday, November 26, 2007

Meeting the Neighbors

I moved to Page Boulevard in September, and hadn't met many of my neighbors until yesterday. I walk my dog twice a day, every day, rain or shine, in big loops around the nearby residential neighborhoods. I bring along two plastic grocery bags and fastidiously collect her leavings, dropping them in gas station and bus stop wastebaskets along our way. I normally enjoy these walks, and look forward to them. Yesterday, though, I was sick with a bad cold, and had been inside all day, avoiding eye contact with the dog, who was desperate for a walk. Finally she stood in the center of the living room and took the action of a desperate dog: she barked at her owner. She went, "Bwop!" Like all dogs, she has many different barks. This one is her reasonable, yet firm, request for a walk. Request slash demand. I ignored her.


Louder, this time. There was no use waiting for a third. I bundled up and we headed out.

About fifty yards down the street, she stopped and struck her usual pose on the tree strip between sidewalk and street, and I stood on the sidewalk looking discreetly in another direction while pulling out a bag and flapping it open. Someone yelled "Hey!" I knew instantly that it was the homeowner, objecting to Ivy's choice of venue for her little, er, performance.

"Don't you let him do that there!" yelled a man, striding aggressively towards me, holding a leafblower like a bazooka. "You get him out of there! Don't you let him..." He kept yelling. You might even call it screaming. I was alarmed, and took a couple of steps back. "I'm picking it up," I protested. "I have a bag. I have a bag. I have a bag." He was still screaming, and I was trying to insert my defense in whenever he took a breath. But he seemed to need very little oxygen. I waved the bag between us. "I have a bag, I have a bag..." "You get him out of there! How dare you! Don't you dare..."

I tried, also, to explain that there are some processes that you just can't stop once they've begun. "Yes you can," he hollered. "You have your own yard. You get him out of there."

I don't know exactly at what point I started screaming back, but I did. I was so alarmed by his fury and by the muzzle of the leafblower bearing down on me that I left my dog's, um, product where it was and took off down the sidewalk, still screaming back at him over my shoulder, as he continued his tirade from his end.

"I catch you doing that again and I'll pick it up and put it on your doorstep."
"You don't know where my doorstep IS!"
"I'll find out!"

How? I thought. What are you going to do, hire a private detective?

The cleverness of this retort calmed me a bit, and eased the angst of realizing that I'd just participated in a rather ridiculous scene. I imagined women pausing at the sink, children looking up from their Legos, men leaning momentarily on their rakes, all of them glad for this little burst of drama on a dreary Sunday afternoon. Who would they side with? They had to see I was right. But maybe the Screamer was their friend, or their in-law, or their Daddy. They had to be loyal. Would they still like me? But wait a minute, they didn't even know me.

The dog looked back at me nervously, and I stopped for a moment to comfort her and myself. "Don't worry, honey," I said. "He's an asshole. He's an asshole. Yeah. But we're not assholes, are we? No, we aren't."

I went home and wrote about the experience on the Masslive Springfield forum. One person said, "Some people can be such jerks," bringing tears of gratitude to my eyes. Another sided with Mr. Leafblower. She said that even though I pick up after my dog, I must leave traces on the grass, and the bacteria pose a health risk. Do I sprinkle lime as well as picking up after her? She thinks not. I replied with a passionate mini-essay about how the real threat to public safety is the people who don't walk their dogs, which results in pent up animals that become more and more aggressive from boredom and lack of exercise.

"My main concerns," I puffed, "is with public safety, and with civility."

But really, I just don't like being screamed at. What I learned from this experience was very, well, kindergarten: after somebody screams at you, the first thing you want is to be reassured that you didn't deserve to be screamed at.

Know what I mean?

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