Doing dog duties in the neighborhood

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

In apartment complexes, people come and go. So there's really no good reason to get to know your neighbors.

Some of the bigger complexes put on special clubhouse parties, but what's the point? Just as soon as you form a bond, a lease ends and you or they are gone.

The upside is that horrible neighbors may be gone soon. At my last apartment complex, we lived next door to the World's Loudest Couple, who owned the World's Most Stupid Dog. So every morning, about 5 a.m., the husband and dog walked onto our shared front balcony and began yelling, "RUSTY! COME 'ERE, RUSTY!"

"Bark bark bark bark bark bark bark!"

"SHADDUP, RUSTY!"

As an added bonus, the missus would engage us in lengthy conversations about nothing, including how waitressing in St. Petersburg compares to waitressing in Pittsburgh. Also, she dressed plastic geese in seasonal outfits and displayed them on that shared front balcony, along with several other "decorations."

We left before they did. They probably wiped their brows and said, "Sheesh! Thought we'd never get rid of those uptight sticks-in-the-mud. They didn't even have one dreamcatcher on their front porch!"

Now that The Other Half and I are homeowners for the first time, I realize neighbors are a little more bearable when they're further away. For instance, we don't have a lady downstairs placing calls at 2 a.m. to start arguments in Spanish while smoking cigarettes on her front porch. We used to.

But our new neighbors are more permanent, and they have a lot of hard-earned money invested in their homes, so you'd better get along with them and not mess with their yards, dammit.

We've done fairly well. There's only one barking dog, but she starts up at about 7 a.m. instead of 5 a.m., and those two hours make all the difference. We have the most incline on our driveway in the neighborhood, so a lot of kids ride their skateboards on it. I'm trying to decide whether to be the mean old lady who screams at them to go home before they break an arm or just wait until they break an arm and see if their parents sue me.

I'm leaning toward the first option.

The only tense moments have involved Stewie, our little dachshund. Stewie loves life and people and all the neighbors and all the neighbors' dogs. And I want to make sure everyone loves him, so I walk behind him carrying my little poop bag should nature call. At night, I become a poop detective, scanning the right of way with a flashlight to be sure I get everything he left.

It's a dirty job, but ... you get the picture.

Anyway, a couple of folks give us the ol' hairy eyeball on our walks. I met one last week who recently landscaped her circle drive with plants and mulch. I am not making up the following conversation:

"My big dogs could eat him alive," she commented. "And they never want to do No. 2 outside their own yards."

"Well, that's why I have my little bag," I said.

"You know, you can invest a lot in your yard, and a dog can do $70 worth of damage in one visit," she said.

"Hmmm," I said.

Oddly, her car is covered with stickers that say things like, "Be nice." She's not.

Since both of us are here to stay, I'm not sure if I can respond in kind. But I just might let my detective work get a little sloppy. Wonder which of those plants is worth $70?

Heidi Hall is a former managing editor for the Southeast Missourian who resides in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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