The first thing Erica and I noticed about our potential new neighborhood when looking at our current apartment for the first time was the fact that directly across the street is a specialty cheese shop directly adjacent to a wine/liquor store. If the next shop had contained an Italian butcher, I would have agreed to buy the place before I ever saw it.
As you can guess, I visit the wine store a lot. We did a lot of cheese in the beginning, but fancy cheese is as expensive as it is delicious, so we cut back. The wine however …
I love my wine store. They have a wine club card that is divided into four sections: $10, $15, $20, $30. Each time you buy a bottle of wine you get a hole in the appropriate box according to the cost of your wine selection. Know what happens when you buy twelve bottles? You get a 13th bottle — the value of the average price of the prior 12 — for 99 cents. This is a great thing. Although, it gives Erica ammo when screaming at me during some of my less pleasant moments when I’ve had too much to drink. “How many 99 cent bottles have you gotten since we’ve been here?” I usually answer something like, “Four.” (This is a huge lie. We’ve lived here since November. Four 99 cent bottles = only 48 bottles of wine (+ 4 of the 99 cent bottles = 52) consumed here in the past eight months. As if.)
The point is, I’m a frequent visitor of Slope Cellars. So frequent that whenever I walk Chulo past it, he tries to go in whether that is our destination or not. And it’s not like they give out treats or anything. He just assumes.
My drinking and my Pavlovian dog are not the point of this story. The point is my neighborhood.
Erica and I live on the southern end of Park Slope, Brooklyn. It’s a fantastic place to live. We’ve got great shopping — for example, the aforementioned cheese and wine shops. There are great brunch places, cute clothing stores, an Italian specialty store within walking distance, and a women’s shelter. We are also on the edge of a lower income neighborhood. These things all make for a fascinating array of people on the sidewalks.
Usually in New York you can watch people from afar — just walk by, make mental notes, move on without even making eye contact. Of course, being me, I haven’t ever been able to execute that very well. People talk to me all the time. It’s always been that way. I must look like a tour director. Or like I’m friendly. I blame this, like most other things, on growing up in Fitzgerald.
In Fitzgerald (and most of rural South Georgia) when you pass people you greet them. Every single one of them. If you’re driving and you pass another car, you greet them. You know, that left elbow out the window of your dually truck, steering with your right wrist, simultaneous raise of right index finger and nod of your head greeting. Once a college friend of mine was driving home with me and as we were crossing the Florida/Georgia line I pointed at the first car I saw. “Watch that car. The driver’s gonna wave at us.” He, being from South Florida, looked at me in disbelief. “No fucking way.”
Sure enough. We got the one-fingered, “How-do-ya-do?” We got it from that car and ever other car, truck and tractor (I’m not kidding) that we passed, all the way to Lobingier Avenue.
What I’m saying is that friendliness is in my breeding. And, then I got a dog. Walking a dog in the city is like a neon sign for people to approach you. Dogs are worse than babies. Most of the time you’re approached by other people walking dogs. Which I don’t mind. It’s kind of nice to chat with the people and I get to meet the puppies which I adore. However, I also have this other group who love to approach me.
It’s the elderly, sometimes drunk, always with a story about a dead pet AND a thick foreign accent that reduces me to nodding and smiling or frowning as I think is appropriate. In our last neighborhood it was the ridiculously short Italian woman who was at least 80 and wandered around in her house dress and her slippers. One day I was walking Chulo and she came up to pet him. Then she starts with her story.
In broken English with occasional phrases in Italian, she tells me how she had a dog just like Chulo who she loved and who was all she had in the world and then he got sick and died. And then she started crying. I was so caught off guard and stunned that I still can’t find words to respond to her. I just kind of stared at her with my, “that is so sad” face on while she wiped tears with one hand and was petting Chulo, who was in my arms, with the other. It was awful. It’s still awful.
Then. Two days ago I’m walking Chulo past the shelter and this old Spanish man approaches me. He’s got a tall-boy Budweiser can in a bag with a straw that he’s trying to hide behind his back as he comes up. From the glaze in his eyes, it wasn’t his first Bud of the day.
You know. I have dog. Jack Russell terrier. You know this dog?
(Assuming he’s asking if I’m familiar with the breed) Yes (Then I unintentionally flash the smile that implies, “Yes. I love those dogs. Please go on.”)
I have this dog. He best friend. (Gesturing toward Chulo, the fluffy white boy dog.) She you best friend, yes?
My dog. He die. I have him twelve year and he die. You know what? I no get another dog. Because I am old. I die, no one to take care of dog.
And he starts crying.
Well, today, I was in the liquor store buying wine for Kristin who is Chulo/housesitting for us while we’re in Nevis next week. While I was checking out at one register, there was a 70ish year old man at the other register who was buying a pint of bourbon and as the clerk was handing him his change, he also handed over a plastic cup so that the man didn’t have to drink out of the brown paper bag. I noticed, bought my wine and went home.
I grabbed Chulo and went out for the walk around the armory, and as we’re rounding the women’s shelter, there he is. Mr. Dead Jack Russell/brown bag Budweiser. And he’s having a conversation with Mr. Bourbon in a plastic cup. And as Chulo and I pass, Mr. Brown Bag Bud, obviously not realizing we had bonded over dog ownership just two days ago, stops me.
You see this dog?
There is another dog. Just like her. Over at twelve street. Just like her, but blind. This dog she walk by door and cat, he …
Here he pauses because he can’t remember the word and he just waves his claw in the air and makes a woosh sound, indicating that the cat scratched the dogs eyes out.
Now she blind. No see nothing. And he walk around and I try to see him and he no see me. He walk around good. Sometime hit wall, but not always.
During this whole story Mr. Bourbon in a cup is watching me with what I perceive as a, “Sorry he won’t shut up,” look.
So, I tell Bud in a Bag that I was sorry to hear about the dog and that I’m glad he gets around okay for the most part and I start to leave and tell the men to enjoy their evening and Mr. Bourbon says, “Thank you honey.” And I smile, thinking he means that he appreciates me taking the time to listen to his drunk friend tell his blind dog story. Then he adds, “God bless you honey.”
Now, I grew up in the Southern Baptist church and I have been “God blessed” millions of times. This was not that kind of
“God bless.” And as I was walking away, Mr. Bourbon confirmed this.
“You look real good.”