Dear residents of Hudson Street between Morton and Barrow Streets,
I’m sorry for shouting out my window at that old lady who used to tie her dog up outside Famiglia’s pizza shop. And for my lack of creativity.
It was early 2001, I think, shortly before we all had far more to be worrying about than the nuisance of noise pollution. But back in those comparatively carefree days, I was very much bothered by the loud, raspy barking of a dog that was routinely left leashed to a lamppost on Hudson Street, three stories below my bedroom window. It would happen every day, at various times: long, long sessions of barking, 45 minutes, an hour sometimes. After a while, when I’d hear it start up, I would look out my window and see the dog, a medium-sized mutt with dingy, matted fur, looking plaintively in the direction of the deli-mart across the alley from Famiglia’s pizza, and barking and barking and barking.
It drove me crazy. I’d been working from home for a couple years at that point. I was used to the sounds of the city, able to tune most of them out. But something about this particular’s dog bark-maybe how sad it sounded, along with its incessancy-got to me in a different way. There was a cruel and inconsiderate dog-owner out there, making the lives of at least two living beings worse. I complained a lot about the situation to my girlfriend, who I shared the apartment with and would soon marry. But she worked in an office, and so heard the barking only on weekends or the rare nighttime episode. And she is generally less bothered by things than I am anyway. Other than her, I didn’t know who to appeal to. I’d never actually seen anyone out there tying up the dog.
One day I wrote a note on a piece of yellow legal-pad paper and taped it to the lamppost while the dog was there barking. “Please don’t leave this dog tied up here,” it said. “It is obviously unhappy and it barks and barks. This is unfair to the neighborhood and unfair to the dog.” I felt pretty stupid, seeing it there in my handwriting. I looked down at the dog, who wasn’t paying attention to me, and then just walked away.
Nothing changed. Weeks passed.
I was at the end of my rope the night that I finally saw her. It was a weeknight, Tuesday maybe, and later than usual, ten o’clock or so. Quiet out on Hudson Street, other than the dog’s barking, which had been going on for a half-an-hour. Quiet inside our apartment, too, other than my ranting about the social contract, etc., which had been going on for about as long. Emily was sitting in bed, trying to read or something. I’d staked out a position at the window, watching the dog, waiting for the owner. When she appeared-sort of waddling out of the deli-mart, a short, heavy-set woman with white hair, maybe in her 60s-and stepped to the lamppost and began untying the leash, I jumped up and ran into the bathroom, where the window in the shower provided a more direct angle from which to shout.
I stepped into the tub, the crinkly plastic shower curtain cold and dry as I pushed it aside, and opened the window and stuck out my head. “Hey, lady!” I said, and heard Emily questioning my actions from the bedroom. “Don’t tie your dog up there anymore! It barks too loud!”
My voice echoed off the buildings, louder than the dog’s barking. The old lady didn’t even really look up to see where I was. She dismissed me with a sort of feh-style wave of her hand and said, and croaked, “Don’t tell me how to care for my animals.”
It was like she’d heard it all before-she had, I suppose-but simply did not care. She was super New York; she had bigger problems to worry about.
“Come on, lady …” I started, but she cut me off.
“Ahh, shut up!”
I was stunned. The gall of this person. But standing in my bathtub at ten o’clock at night, craning my neck out the window, all hot in my ears, I didn’t know what to say.
“No, you shut up!” I shouted back.
I shook my head to myself in the pause that followed. I am not very good at shouting at people.
Then the phone rang. I told Emily I’d get it and pushed back the shower curtain and stepped out of the tub and walked into the kitchen where the phone was.
“Dave?” It was Nick, my old roommate, who now lived in the building next door. On the sixth floor, with his girlfriend Eva.
“Hey, Nick.” I said.
“Did I just hear you shouting out your window?”
Nick started laughing. Did you just tell someone, “â€˜No, you shut up?!’”
I should have known better than to have gotten involved.