Ellen: I went to a great deal of time, trouble and expense to bring my chunky, dizzy but lovable mutt, April, to Poland. Despite this, and despite the fact that I expect to have a canine companion as long as I am physically and mentally able to care for one, I don’t differ with Ruth regarding the sickening Animals Above All attitude prevalent among celebrities. It’s stupid, extravagant and above all, boring. In point of fact, most causes noisily endorsed by celebrities (especially Oprah. I’m sick of Oprah. As far as I’m concerned, she peaked in ‘The Color Purple’) bore me, even those few I fervently agree with.
Extremes bore and irritate me. I love my dog, and don’t expect the rest of the world to do so. But it’s only upon moving here with April that I’ve fully appreciated the opposite extreme we dealt with in the Middle East. “Dog” is a scathing insult in both Hebrew and Arabic. The animals themselves are treated accordingly. It doesn’t help that the majority of those who do keep dogs allow them to run loose, seldom vaccinated, spayed or neutered. I did my damnedest to be responsible. No dog of mine ever wandered unleashed. I kept vaccinations current, none reproduced or sunk fangs into anyone. For all that, in my daily walks with April and her predecessors, I often felt like I was strolling with a wild boar. Passers-by edged to the far side of the pavement, grimacing. Children screeched and ran. Sometimes we were pelted with stones.
This attitude was generally regrettable. One exception: my neighbors from hell, the Chechens, Mrs. Pickle and the Lungfish. They didn’t just hate dogs. They were terrified of them. Their reactions reminded me of comic strip women teetering on chairs, shrilling, “Eeek! A mouse!” Encountering either on the stairwell or outdoors, I yielded the right-of-way with exaggerated, smirking courtesy. And longed for my silly, exuberant dog for just one instant to turn into a slavering, red-eyed pit bull.
Mrs. Pickle and the Lungfish lived directly below me, a widow of 80 and a widowed daughter my age. I called her Mrs. Pickle because her personality suggested lengthy immersion in vinegar, face and body a gnarly Kosher dill. The Lungfish had the face of a haddock and prefaced every sentence with a great phlegmy gasp. I thought she had asthma. But it was only another symptom of an hysteric. Lungfish and I hit it off badly from the start several years ago when she pounded at my door. I’d never seen her before, and she demanded to be let in to examine my apartment, because she was interested in renting the one below and the layout was the same. Uh – so what? Bill was in the middle of a lesson, I was in the middle of something else, the apartment was in bad order and anyway, I didn’t like her attitude, which just became pushier; she almost had a foot in when I shut the door.
Well, they moved in, along with the Lungfish’s poor skinny teenaged son. Nice kid, in spite of his mother and grandmother. (I think it must have been the happiest day of his life when he had to go into the army) We had a few unpleasant exchanges over the years. But after Bill died, they turned on me with complaint after complaint. Mainly, about my dogs. Every day, I’d come home to see the Lungfish propped fatly against the building door. Always the same opening line: “Ellen! I haf a pwoblem wit your dogs!” The “pwoblem”? They barked. All day. All night, too. Funny, I never heard them and in those days, I couldn’t sleep if a flea farted. Rocky, the moody little mongrel from upstairs, who ran loose, sometimes shat on their doorstep or took a whiz on it, and while mentally applauding him for his feats, I always knew my dogs would be blamed. Which, of course, they were. When I hung out my duvet to dry and water dripped on the tin outside, they freaked as if it were a flood. One day there was a minor leak from an ancient pipe in my apartment into theirs. They cut off my water before notifying either my landlord or me. I dropped my keys once while staggering up the stairs with a load of groceries. Lungfish dangled them before me gleefully only after I’d frantically undertaken a search for the landlord. Etc., etc. – small, mean episodes. I’d have swatted them off like gnats in ordinary times, but all this occurred in the early weeks after Bill died. I was so vulnerable, tried so hard to grit my teeth. Finally, one day Mrs. Pickle started in on me and I erupted, screaming every curse I knew in three languages.
They eased off after that. We managed a sort of armed truce. I got calmer, and when the Lungfish made other unjustified complaints, I was able to dismiss her coolly. Then one day she heard through the grapevine that I was moving. She pounced on me with an astonishing spiel about due to what good friends and neighbors we’d been, I should give her son my computer. After I recovered, I asked her when she’d ever been a friend, let alone a neighbor. Reminded her of how I never expected tea and sympathy, but would never forget how she, someone who had also gone through the hell of bereavement, had treated me, and so vewy sowwy, but my computer had someone else’s name on it.
I love my Polish neighbors, meanwhile: they’re almost invisible and inaudible. On the few occasions when we meet in the stairwell, we exchange pleasant greetings. And daily outings with April continue to be a source of pleasant surprise to both of us. Instead of being scowled at and exaggeratedly avoided, people pet her. She meets other dogs, I meet their owners.
Better yet, instead of the rocky, trash-strewn vacant lots of Beer-Sheva, we walk through stretches of stunning autumn landscapes, including the nearby sea.
Copyright 2007 by Ellen Dlott