It’s a heart-wrenching moan, a soul-shattering bellow; a plaintive plea in surround sound filled with the kind of tremolo and sustain an opera diva would die for. It starts almost every morning around 5 a.m. from the mutant-looking rottweiler mix that lives in the yard above and behind me. It’s one of several dogs residing in close proximity that are killing me, fraying my nerves to barbed ends, turning my psyche into a cracked mirror, changing me into one of the living dead.
I live in a neighborhood where I can count six people killed in just over a year from gang violence. Helicopters regularly hover, it seems, just above my roof. The crack of gunfire puts an exclamation point at the end of many a weekend night; an ex-drummer of a seminal punk rock band lives across the street, coming and going at odd hours in his mufflerless early-60s Dodge Van. My next-door neighbors are living inside a Fellini movie, and people are selling 800-square-foot cottages for more than a half million dollars. All this insanity I can live with, but the dogs . . . the dogs are going to kill me.
About a week ago I set out on foot at 3 a.m., determined to find the pair of Chihuahuas engaged in an endless yap version of “Dueling Banjos.” As I turned the corner of my block toward where I thought the racket was coming from, I ran into the piano-playing director of the Fellini movie going on next door, “Vinnie.” He was resplendent in a colorful three-piece suit and fedora, returning from a Feast of San Gennaro celebration, where I gather he was both entertainment and entertained. I was less resplendent in wife-beater and sandals.
“Joe, where are you going?” he asked, startled to see me out for a stroll at that hour.
“I’m going to kill some dogs,” I said, barely stopping my death march. I wasn’t a pretty sight.
“Oh, man, I’m sorry,” Vinnie said, genuinely compassionate and uncomfortably approximating Roberto Benigni. But Vinnie understood; he’s used to me yelling “Shut that dog up!” over the back fence after several hours of uninterrupted barking from his housemate, “Tuna.”
A couple days ago Tuna drove me to the brink. I had to be up in three hours to drive my wife to the airport. She’s a dancer, and she says she’s going on tour with Evita, but I suspect she — who could sleep through a Who concert — is really just trying to get a break from her insomniac freak of a husband (I mean, Evita???). Actually, I wouldn’t really have been getting up, since I’d been awake all night listening to little Tuna, one of the orneriest and ugliest mutts I’ve ever known, growl and bay and bark at the shadows in his backyard. Somewhere into the second hour of his marathon session I sat upright in bed, pounded my fist on the dresser and screamed: “Vinnie’s going back to Italy!”
As I headed for the front door, my wife called after me: “Take a deep breath, honey, take a deep breath.”
When I reached Vinnie’s front yard that night, a guy who I seem to recall was wearing a fur trapper’s hat and might have been in makeup, was just pulling into the driveway. It was 3 a.m. — again.
“Are you staying here?” I asked.
“You gotta bring that fucking dog inside.”
“No problem,” he said, accommodatingly.
Around the neighborhood I’m becoming known as Dances with Barking Dogs.
I know, I seem like an obsessed, deranged sociopath, but try to understand that I write this sentence while most of you are sleeping and while the rottweiler lurking in the yard behind mine just let out a bloodcurdling howl for someone to end its misery.
My doctor has me home-monitoring my blood pressure. I think there may be a connection.
Many nights, with my head on my pillow and my brain trying to shut out the symphony of yaps, yelps, barks, growls, I lay there composing the flier I will one day distribute around the neighborhood:
Dear Neighbors and Fellow Dog Owners:
Your dog is not an accessory with teeth and fur. It’s a living thing that requires love, exercise and companionship. Its constant barking and moaning and yelping is trying to tell you it doesn’t appreciate being left outside all night. It wants to come inside and enjoy the comforts of home. And if you look outside your front window and see a large man padding around in his underwear with a faraway look in his eyes, you’ll see I want it to as well.