My next door neighbor has a dog, a big, bouncy golden retriever named Runner. One day, Runner, having to go, must have been in a quandary. He sat on the property line between his owner’s yard and mine, and must have surmised the following: “My yard gushes with lush green grass, where my master’s little children frolic hither and yon, where their tender bare feet encounter only the silky soft cushion of the finest Kentucky bluegrass, where nary a nasty thing is allowed to grow, and where my master toils day-in and day-out and spends thousands to keep it so.
“Now on the other side, that guy’s yard is fraught with an endless lattice of abandoned mole tunnels and thorny species of weeds that thrive in his sub-Saharan conditions. There is a prodigious crop of quack grass and great expanses of brown nothingness, parched and shimmering in the heat.
“I pledge,” Runner must have continued, “that from this moment forward, I shall dump all my dumps in that guy’s yard.” Runner then paraded over and promptly put a pile right where he promised he would. And fresh every morning, a heaping and steaming mound, along with the paralyzing rants of a local cardinal family, greet the brand new day.
Runner’s expulsions caused me to harken back to an episode from thirty years ago. Back then I had a small dog named Josephine, a loyal, sweet, smart, and horrendously ugly beast (many commented that she looked like a walking turd), who on her own would make the daily neighborhood rounds. One morning, I received a telephone call from Bernice across the road, a scowling and wrinkled woman, who relayed unto me a fairly concise message.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Get! Your! God! Damn! Shitting! Dog! Out! Of! My! Yard! Right! NOW!!!”
Oh, the shame I felt for sullying another’s space! I ran over immediately, and fetched up Josephine who was now in another neighbor’s garden rolling in soon-to-be-spread cow manure. I kept better tabs on Josephine after that, and mailed Bernice a heartfelt card of apology. But Bernice never forgave and avoided all eye contact before I moved away for good.
Canine defecation had created a thunderstorm in the harmonious weather of the neighborhood. I didn’t want to be a Bernice to my neighbors, but then again, I grew quite weary of flinging shovelfuls of Runner’s business into the back forty. Where Bernice responded with foul-mouthed aggression, I let the bad feelings fester. Oh, I fantasized about hurling said heaps back at the neighbors’ vinyl siding, but I am, well, a timid kind of guy. My therapist advised that I should “become more assertive” and “own my feelings” and “protect my space” by using “I messages.” She recommended that I model Goldilocks, that my communications with them should not be too cold or too hot, but, you know, just right and to the point.
And so, as I stood one Sunday morning at the kitchen window and again observed Runner’s ritual squat-and-trot, I knew it was time to act. With heart pounding and a dry mouth, I marched next door to “share my concerns” about Runner’s bowels and his daily misadventures. But when my grinning neighbor and his grinning wife and his wide-eyed children greeted me at their grinning door, my voice transformed into another’s. Suddenly, I was Bernice in her telephone tirade and I spewed her words that came out as my own.
“Get! Your! Dog!… um… Get! Your! Dog!… um…”
And my neighbor responded brightly, “Who? Runner? Why, he’s right here. Where are you, boy? Runner? Oh, he must be outside. Runner! Come here, boy!” In a few seconds, Runner appeared, galloping across their driveway around to the front door, smiling and excited, looking all brushed and golden like a champion, like a dog hero on a Wheaties box. And the little children ran out on the porch and strangled Runner with hugs before one of them picked up a tennis ball and threw it out onto their flawlessly deep green lawn, and they all bounded after it, with Runner in the lead, in a suburban swarm of delight.
You know, I don’t really mind hoisting those accumulated turds after all. One time when I was charged with another piddly misdemeanor in court, I can’t remember which one, the presiding judge mistakenly referred to me as Mr. Turdhoist. I didn’t realize it then, but it was a premonition, I suppose.
Tom Bohnhorst is a social worker and lives in Traverse City, Michigan. In 1973, he spent a harrowing night in a Turkish jail. He also has a blog called Poopiderum.