Thursday, May 08, 2008

Neighbors II

Busy day on Φ St. But first, some background:

A few weeks ago, we got a puppy named Calley. Female, about four months old, mostly golden retriever, but it was from an animal shelter, so who knows for sure. Friendly, gentle, submissive, everything we wanted. Our next-door neighbors also have a dog, Stacey, and the two of them were so stinkin' cute, the way they would play, chase each other around, and wrestle.

One afternoon this week, I received a mildly panicked call from my wife. Stacey (neighbors dog) had viciously attacked our Calley (our dog), ripping open her face, blood everywhere, they had to go to the vet. As Mrs. Φ related it, one moment they were playing fine, and then Stacey just . . . flipped, and tried to kill Calley. "Was it an accident?" I asked. No, it was sustained and deliberate; Stacey had to be kicked loose. "Did Calley do anything provocative?" No, it was normal play, and Calley is always submissive to Stacey.

"What if she had gone after one of the children?" I asked, mostly of myself, yet feeling sick about where that question would take us. My wife said Stacey's family were more upset than she was, and were swearing to have Stacey put down. But knowing that Stacey's family includes a daughter the same age as one of mine, I said that I didn't want that decision to come from us.

A few hours later, she calls again. Several Mom's on our street had either seen or heard about what happened, and rushed to her aid with offers of childcare and rides to a vet. Calley was fine, had to get about $130 worth of stitches in her face, which Stacey's family had offered to pay for. "Don't accept," I said, but it was too late. They also had said that one of their grown-up daughters had offered to take Stacey, but couldn't until late summer, and if they kept Stacey confined until then, would this be okay? I was relieved that I wouldn't have to have another little girl's dog put to sleep.

Late that evening, I was channel surfing when my wife came inside. It was a pleasant spring evening here in the midwest, when lots of folks get together and sit on each others' porches. My wife had been having a glass of wine over on the neighbor's porch.

"It's Deadbeat," she said. "We heard yelling and screaming coming from his house, and somebody thought they might have seen him strike his daughter (DD). So-and-so is heading over there."

"I'll go with him," I said, lacing my boots. But by the time I was outside, the police were pulling up; one of the women had called them, and they were pretty firm about being the ones in charge.


1. Not only do 80+ year-old neighborhoods like ours have a certain charm, but their geometry, with their cheek-by-jowl houses and front porches where people can sit and socialize, make possible a lot of spontaneous social interaction. You can see when people are home; your children (and puppies) can just go outside and find each other; you can sit out on the porch and your neighbors just drop by; and if someone needs help, there is a lot forthcoming. All this is great . . . so long as you like your neighbors. Our neighborhood, though not rich, is vaguely aristocratic, with lots of engineers and academics, and lots of stay-at-home moms to keep the place running full-time.

2. Modern suburbs don't have porches; they have decks. And nobody ever just drops by. And your dogs don't play together, and your children almost never play in the front yard.

3. And, for better or worse, the modern suburb keeps your privacy. The houses are too far apart to see much of them except the garage, and they are specifically designed and arranged to prevent anyone from seeing or hearing what goes on inside. So . . . the chances that an excitable neighbor thinks she sees something through the window that, absent context, looks bad enough to drop a dime on are relatively small. Plus your dogs can't kill each other.

4. Φ hates cops. Not as individuals; I'm sure they are all nice people. But calling them to deal with a neighbor is so tawdry, so low class, that it's not what good people do. Good people work out their own problems on the front porch over a glass of wine. Good people lace their boots and go kick the shit out of have a chat with someone who seems like getting out of line.

5. Community status matters. Being known as a good person, because you're social or have a wife that is social and brags how great you are, buys you a lot of grace. Being known as a deadbeat with no wife, someone who drinks and smokes his days away on the couch watching TV, well, that person doesn't get much slack.

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