I had a run in with a neighbor Sunday morning. She lives in this huge condo nearby, the kind that takes up every square inch of land space. She and her husband are the most resolutely American residents within blocks. Our contretemps has been brewing for a few months, ever since Henry growled at one of her little dogs.
I really like my neighborhood. One can actually walk to restaurants, there’s a street scene, even a trendy cafe around the corner with hipsters and fabulous coffee. If Little Osaka weren’t so unremittingly ugly and treeless and it was easier to come and go between the hours of 4 and 7, I would love it. The majority of my neighbors speak foreign languages: Japanese mostly, though there are Russians, Chinese, Filipino and Polish denizens, and I’ve gotten to know many of them through walking the streets with Henry. What I’ll never understand is why here, where all the Japanese gardeners once lived (and where there are still nurseries taking up square blocks of space), this is such a dearth of attractive yards? Other than the Buddhist Church, which has a beautiful Japanese garden in front of it, almost nada elsewhere.
Henry’s growl wasn’t unusually aggressive, and he didn’t bite or even go nuts as he sometimes can. But he wasn’t friendly little Henry as he always has been with her and her dogs. He showed a little temperament and teeth as dogs, especially terriers, are want to do. And that did not sit well with my neighbor. Every time she’s seen me since “the growl,” she has taken to scooping up her little canines and sighing, “I don’t want to upset Henry, so we better go now.” Then she crosses the street as though she’s scared.
Now, a little about my neighbor.
She’s blond and once upon a time she was a babe, but she doesn’t know that time has passed. She has very nice legs, her favorite color is pink, and she is terrifyingly cheerful.
“I’m scared!” is what my husband said after he met her the first time. “She’s not going to be your new best friend or anything?”
I’ve always been careful in front of my neighbor to keep a lid on the profanity. After all, she advertises her Christianity and her numerous acts of charity. She and her husband, whom I call Don Giovanni, are always appearing on the sidewalk, dressed up, announcing they are going to church or a steak house. One is not allowed to kvetch in their midst. If you said to her, “Did you hear those helicopters last night?” leaving out the descriptive “f” before the helicopters. (Ask anyone who lives around here. A war zone often descends on Little Osaka for hours at a time. It may be the traffic copters, it may be the paparazzi copters, whatever it is, the circling brigade always begins at bedtime), she would respond, “Oh it was a little noisy for a few minutes. I don’t mind at all!”
Her husband looks like a blond, going-grey version of Elvis Presley (in his disco days) and he is the biggest flirt imaginable. When she first moved in, she was with an enormous man, so wide he practically took up the entire width of the sidewalk. He claimed to own her building. Then one day the large man disappeared and Don Giovanni was intro’d as “my husband.”
“What happened to the fat guy?” my husband asked for months. “You think she iced him?”
Another thing: She’s always telling me she loves me. And before “the growl” it was a “we love you!” referring to her dogs. Being me, back then I told her I loved her, too. I was raised to please, after all. But unlike her, I know I’m angry about it.
It’s pretty well known that serial killers have in common the fact that they are males, they are tattooed, and when they were young, they have a history of torturing and killing animals. Suburban dog owners, by contrast, while often tattooed, also use their animals to express their own unexpressed hostility.
And so it came to pass Sunday morning, very early, my neighbor and our three dogs ended up on the same side of the street. It was the height of the Santa Ana that’s now, thank God, abating. The temperature was near ninety in the morning, the humidity 11% and the wind was blowing. Henry had been refusing to go outside, except to do his biz, for days.
I walked over to her and the little doggies and she scooped them up protectively to her bosom.
“I don’t want to upset Henry!” she said once again.
“Henry’s not upset,” I snapped. And he wasn’t. He seemed happy to see my neighbor and her dogs.
“You’re upset,” I told her. “And you’re blaming it on my dog.”
She smiled beatifically. “I don’t want to upset Henry. He’s a little temperamental.”
“Henry’s not upset! You’re upset! Don’t blame it on my dog.”
By now the little doggies were squirming in her arms. And I was truly pissed. She appeared to be well meaning. She appeared to be well-mannered, but she was hostile as all hell. In fact, much like the southern ladies of my childhood. For fifty cents, I would have tied Henry to the nearest banana plant and throttled her.
“Own your own shit,” I told her, “you phony.”
She gasped. She clutched the dogs even tighter to her bosom and then she turned and fled into the leafy front of her condo leaving me seething on the sidewalk in the Santa Ana. Over her shoulder she cried out, “I love you!” Christ-like.
The hot wind was in my face; it was horrible out. Henry did his biz and then he pulled me home. I’m glad I spoke up. I felt empowered and bold and all sorts of other marvelous stuff. And thank God I didn’t say, “I love you” back.
Love. Hate. I felt it then, how they were flip sides of the same thing: a really powerful emotion. I’m sorry I swore at her, however. I should have expressed myself in a more literate fashion.
Now in addition to having a bad dog, I’m the usual potty mouth.
You can’t win.