It was late Saturday afternoon as Chris and I walked back home from the wine shop. Since Ironman, this has become a routine to sample wines at this local store once a weekend. And as we walked home, reviewing our likes and dislikes from the tasting (in other words, I’d be willing to buy a bottle of the Tempranillo but they couldn’t put the spit bucket close enough for the Merlot), we ran into the neighbor man with the dog.
Of course, this neighbor man deserves a little introduction. Though I have not collected any empirical evidence, there are days when it seems like neighbor man is outside with his dog every 20 minutes. He walks the dog up and down the street, stopping to chat with neighbors and strangers along the way. And while he stands talking, the dog proceeds to jump and frolic in utter bliss that it has found someone new to tackle in 60 pounds of fur. It’s one of those large, fluffy dogs that doesn’t realize it’s own size which isn’t so cute when you have a 60 pound dog jumping front paws first at you to say hello.
Now, someone walking their dog every 20 minutes may not sound like much a problem but hear me out on this one - after awhile, it does become your problem. Let’s say you go outside to check the mail, or you back the car out of the garage, or you roll into the driveway from a ride, or you head out to the store. On a weekend day, it’s quite possible you might come and go from your house every 20 – 30 minutes. And now let’s say you see someone outside each time. Not a problem, you give them a polite wave or say hello. But what if the person you saw was the same person every single time. Every time you left your house, returned to your house, went outside of your house, sat in the backyard of your house that same person was there. What would you do? Do you give the polite wave? Or, do you just smile? Do you make small talk? Pet the dog? And, after how many times does the polite wave become too much or not enough?
After awhile, it became so confusing that I just stopping doing anything altogether. Either this guy had an obsessive-compulsive drive to walk something on a leash or his dog had the world’s busiest poop chute. And though I desperately wanted to ask what the freakin’ deal with the dog/leash/poop chute was, why it had to be outside so much – these were still questions I wasn’t really comfortable asking. So I just stopped acknowledging that I saw him and his dog for the 15th time that day and kept to my own.
Over time, I sensed that caused some friction. Subtly, I began to notice that he stopped waving at me, walked the dog on the other side of the street, and didn’t come up to our garage anymore. At first it was a relief, but then it started to irritate me. Was it me not acknowledging him or he not acknowledging me? And if it was him, what was his problem? True, I stopped waving but it was becoming too much with the dog, and the walking, and the licking, and the petting, and the talking. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to break it off. I needed my space. And if this price of space was a cold shoulder, then so be it.
But this wasn’t helping with my popularity with the neighbors, which had been in steady decline since the day we moved in. A few months after moving in, our neighbors welcomed us to the neighborhood with a bottle of wine. I thanked them by accidentally backing up into their car – with them inside. And the kid next door? For over a year, I smiled at her when I one day realized that she had not once smiled back confirming that she had to be the product of sending two monkeys into space, letting them reproduce, and then delivering their product to the most unsuspecting couple on earth. And the other day, when she was sitting in the backseat of her father’s car at 7 am, with the car running, and she then locked all of the doors and father stood there shouting at her, I chuckled and thought to myself that they should ban monkey space travel from here on out. Then there was the time I complained directly to the landscaping company because their workers tossed dirt all over my hostas so I wrote a tactful e-mail asserting that the workers of a landscaping crew should at the very least recognize what a hosta is and understand that it does not need to be showered with dirt to survive - and the director of the board was not pleased. It seems that all complaints need to go through the association and not taken into your own hands. So, in terms of popularity polls in the neighborhood, I wasn’t going to be voted neighbor of the year anytime soon.
So when we saw the neighbor man and his dog on Saturday, it had been awhile since I had stopped to stay hi and get my dose of tail wagging, sniffing, licking, and other doggy delights. As we stood there petting the dog and I thought to myself, this is it, this is the ticket, this is the perfect opportunity to reestablish myself as a concerned, affable, and charming neighbor that cares about the well-being of neighbor man and his dog. Seeing my opportunity, I politely asked how he and the dog had been and he replied “not well.”
Chris and I looked at each other suspecting that nothing good could come from this conversation and my hopes of being reinstated as kind and caring neighbor were quickly receding.
Neighbor man told us how his dog had been under the weather, not feeling well with a stomach thing for the past few days. And from tail wagging and face grinning, it was obvious the dog had just dragged itself from the depths of despair to accompany him on probably their 12th walk of the day.
“It looks like she’s feeling better,” I commented trying to seem optimistic about the dog’s dire condition.
The neighbor man petted the dog’s head and the patted it on the back. “Yes, she’s doing better now, but it was rough there for awhile” he said with relief. He turned, eyes set straight on me and said, “you know that Dylan was also sick.”
Was that a question or a statement? And who is Dylan?
“Who’s Dylan?” Chris asked, as naïve as I was to the identity of Dylan which neighborhood man rolled off his tongue assuming we would automatically recognize the name and respond with concern.
“The dog next door,” he stated, like we should have known better, like we should have at least known the name of the dog that shared not only a front walk but a common wall with our house.
“Oh,” I said, “we didn’t realize his name was Dylan.” Of all the names I had assumed our neighbor had named the dog, Dylan was not top of my list. I mean, really - who names their dog Dylan? Not to mention the fact that it’s a Saint Bernard. St. Bernard’s deserve names like Moe or Chops or Big Boy or Chowbox. But Dylan? Come on, can you see it – here comes Dylan fancy paws prancing down the street all 80 lbs of meaty manly dog with a head as big as Kansas and paws the size of Rhode Island, yes here comes dainty Dylan.
Chris laughed and jokingly said, “Maybe they caught a little doggie illness from each other.” It was a plausible idea. Perhaps they were walking or playing, exchanged a few licks, and the next thing you know one of them has a doggie stomach virus.
But the plausible, or even logical wasn’t good enough. In fact, almost immediately, the neighbor added, “Or maybe (insert a sneaky pause that delivered a foreboding sense of doom, suspicion, and accusation in the air) they were poisoned,”
Puzzled, Chris and I looked at each other. Save me here, Chris, I thought to myself, save me from this man’s oh so nonchalant and roundabout way of saying hey woman it was you, you who never waves, you who rides right buy us in your cycling outfit you stole straight from Roy G. Biv’s closet, you who has no time to say hello but all the time to leave and return to your house every 20 minutes throughout the weekend day - it was you that tried to poison our pooches. He didn’t really say this, but I got the sense that given the opportunity it would have been said.
Trying to make the save, Chris attempted to put together the most rational proposition that perhaps the dogs licked radiator fluid off a driveway or antifreeze out of the street – something that very well might happen to an animal that goes out every 30 minutes, adding up to an opportunity 48 times a day as it scours the streets, up and down with it’s nose dragging the gutter along the way.
But that didn’t seem to satisfy the neighbor man. No, this wasn’t just an accident, this was a calculated act of forethought and malice against him and his dog. And Dylan too. And all of the other canines in the neighborhood. In my neighbor man’s eyes, I could see his head spinning theories of how I secretly hated him and his dog and would stop at nothing to have a neighborhood free of him and his pooch on parade.
Eyeing me cautiously, suspiciously, he gave me the sense that he knew that I knew that he knew I knew he thought I had something to with it. Even though I didn’t. I sensed that I should say something to rectify the situation, to abdicate myself of any guilt or involvement in this heinous canine crime and I sensed that every moment I kept up the incriminating silence I was only giving him that much more time to convince himself that it was me. Knowing that no matter what I said or did I would not erase away neighbor man’s presumptions about my involvement in the doggie illness incident, I decided it would be best to just let a sleeping dog lay. So I gently pet the dog on it’s head, said “glad you’re feeling better,” kindly said “good to see you” to the neighbor man and then Chris and I walked away.
We waited until we turned the corner before anything was said. “Did you get the sense that he thought I poisoned his dog?” I asked Chris hoping he would disaffirm my feeling that I was somehow being implicated into this crime in a mess of growing neighbor mutiny against me and my anti-wave attitude.
Chris looked at me honestly and matter-of-factly, like he had given me the save in front of the neighbor man but his loyalty stopped there before the cold, hard truth came back to my face.
“I should start saying hi to them again, right?” I said, confirming that his look was one of simple suggestion to be friendly, pet the dog, and make nice to avoid criminal implication in future cases of dog at death’s door with stomach thing.
And so a lesson learned. Perhaps that friendly little wave that takes about 3 seconds is worth the raised arm and the effort that ensues. Perhaps it pays off to take the time to acknowledge your neighbors and to get to know them. Because if you don’t, you might just find yourself the number one suspect in the latest case of sudden dog illness, missing yard gnomes, tampered mail, strewn recyclables, or other crimes of suburban neighborhoods all of which I deny any involvement in and plead the fifth.