Recently, I’ve started to notice that our dog Franke caters her bad behavior according to specific types. When she sees a mailperson, she is apoplectic. When she sees another dog, she spins around on her leash like she’s Regan from The Exorcist. When she sees the British guy who sits on his stoop and drinks red wine in the late afternoon, she stops dead in her tracks, and growls while looking at his sideways. When she sees the Jehovah’s Witnesses next door, her barking is like singing — if they give her a Milk Bone, she accepts it, and then drops it at her feet as if to say, “Are you kidding me, old people, these things are disgusting.”
She is at her worst when we run into the elderly man who lives in the garden apartment of a brownstone around the corner. He has a protusion from his belly that looks like one of those 50-lb tumors that land people in the National Inquirer. In his head, he has only one tooth, and that tooth is visibly rotting.
Usually I only see him in the courtyard of his building; a few days ago, he ventured out to the sidewalk. The occasion was a fight between Franke and a little teacup yorkie named Cookie Dough. Cookie Dough is only 14 months old. She’s never had a haircut, so she looks like a dustball who crawled out from under your couch in a nightmare.
Franke is tiny, but Cookie Dough is tinier; at most, she weighs 3 pounds. When Franke saw her, she pretended that she was going to go sniff her butt in a friendly manner. As soon as she got close enough, she latched onto Cookie Dough’s lip. Caleb’s immediate reaction was to jerk Franke away; Cookie Dough sailed along in the air behind her, still attached. When we finally got them disentangled, Cookie Dough was foaming at the mouth, and her owner, another elderly gentleman who claims it’s his “daughter’s dog,” was sobbing.
All of the noise had drawn the man with the tumor out of his courtyard, and across the street to where we were standing. “What’s going on over here?” he asked.
I couldn’t tear my eyes from the pavement to look at him directly. I was too ashamed. In the background, Cookie Dough’s owner held her up in the air in front of him, and kissed her all over her face. “Franke is such a bad girl,” I said. “I’m sorry.” The sorry was meant for anyone in earshot; the neighborhood has been collectively terrorized by our 5.5 lb dog.
After assuring me that everything was ok, Cookie Dough and her owner departed. The man with the tumor lingered. “What happened to your arm?” he asked Caleb, noticing his sling.
“She beats me,” Caleb joked, gestured in my direction.
“My wife beats me too,” the man with the tumor joked in turn, holding up his left arm, which was in a cast. “She doesn’t like that I stand outside all day, and look at pretty girls.”
“That’s what you get,” I said, and wagged my finger at him. “You’re an old flirt, and I know it.”
“I’ll reform my ways!” he joked. His smile is a largely dark hole, but it makes you feel happy.
“See you later,” I said when we got to his doorstep.
“Bye Franke,” he said. He doesn’t know either Caleb’s or my name. No one does. To our neighbors, we’re only Franke’s owners.
But I can tell, despite it, that they like us. And they like Franke too. You can see their faces light up when they catch sight of us walking down the street. Me, checking my phone; Caleb, his head in the clouds; Franke straining on the end of the leash with such force that she hops like a bunny rabbit rather than walks.
Thanks to her, our neighborhood, which for the past year I’ve disliked because it feels like a creepy utopia, has started to feel like a real home. The guys in the pizza joint wave at me when I pass by them; the policemen at the station down the block knock on our door to warn us when our car is about to get towed. I feel safe even in the blackest nights walking down deserted blocks; even then, the houses are lit by electric lamps that cast shadows through the long yards. If we walk for long enough, Franke stops barking.