For eight years we lived across the street from the meanest, dumbest dog in the county. It wasn’t even the same dog all those years, but no one could tell the difference. After the first one died, no doubt from some genetic mutation of inbreeding, the owners returned to the same disreputable breeder, gave the new dog the same name, and never missed a beat. I don’t know anything about Boston Terriers, but Tippy could not have been a worthy representative of his breed. Edna and Harry apparently liked their dogs slobbering, wheezing, snappy, and stupid.
Edna’s voice could crack ice. The woman scared flying geese out of formation. The high pitch and the volume carried easily over to our house any time she was outside.
Once a cockatiel owned by someone on a nearby street escaped and flew into a tree near our corner. The owners rushed over and set its treat-laden cage a short distance away, then stood back and made soft noises to coax the bird out of the tree. A small group gathered as time went on, watching tensely and silently until Edna happened upon the scene.
“What’s going on?” she called out to no one in particular.
Someone whispered that a pet bird had escaped and they were trying to get it to come down from the tree.
“That’s too bad,” Edna rasped in a stage whisper. “What’s its name?”
In the next instant Edna gave an ear piercing whistle, clapped her hands several times, and yelled at full volume, “HERE, FREEWAY! HERE, FREEWAY!!!”
The cockatiel, of course, headed imediately to Mexico, never to be seen again.
How to describe Edna? Nice–but in a scary way. One year she asked me to be her partner in a bridge club. Never a good bridge player, I was horrified at the thought. I was a “Please, Lord, let me be dummy!” kind of bridge player. I declined, but still ended up being her partner that year. I warned her that I knew very little. She assured me she was strictly a social player and promised not to get upset.
To her credit, she never appeared angry, but she made certain I learned from my experiences. The dumb-ass ones, I mean. Without looking up from her cards, she’d say things like, “Nothing short of death should keep one from returning one’s partner’s lead.”
We weren’t really even friends, just friendly neighbors. Once Edna taught me to break the suckers from the right angles of tomato plants one afternoon after I admired her row of tomatoes. That was probably our longest conversation, including the bridge year.
Edna and Harry spent every winter in Arizona, partly because of the weather but mostly because Harry loved to gamble. They always returned with cases of large, juicy grapefruit which they shared with friends. That’s how I knew we were just neighbors.
Tippy lifted his leg on every set of draperies in their house. The neighborhood knew that because we’d hear frequent shouts of “Harry, the damn dog pissed on the drapes again.” Harry took Tippy on short walks, but the dog viewed the neighborhood mostly from Harry’s big Cadillac. Harry and Tippy cruised every morning.
Our house sat on a small lot, so our breakfast room bay window was less than 10 feet from the sidewalk. Tippy designated that area as his prime dumping ground and if we were not watching, Harry would simply leave the pile. If, however, he saw us inside, he would look around until he found a large leaf, then carefully place it over the mess and continue on his way.
One morning after their ride, we heard Harry call, “Edna, come look at this! Somebody has spilled something in the back seat!”
Edna strode out to the car and leaned inside the back door. In the same pitch that had sent Freeway south, she yelled, “That’s not something spilled, Harry. . . that’s SHIT!”
Not being housebroken wasn’t even the worst of Tippy’s vices. If he got free for even a minute, he would run for the first man, woman, or child he saw and bite them. Harry, not a friendly man, finally grew worried. Tippy’s growing rap sheet brought threats from Animal Control.
Once I was sitting on a lounge chair in our very small backyard reading a book when dog and owner walked through the alley behind our house. I had my back to them, but recognized the wheezing, snorting grunts the two of them made as they neared. They had already passed my chair, when Tippy suddenly strained on his leash, reversed course, and bit the only thing he could reach: my elbow.
The bite broke the skin and hurt like crazy. I mumbled something about going to clean it and hurried inside. Less than five minutes later, our back doorbell rang. Harry stood there, holding a large paper sack.
“I thought you might like these,” he told me, not mentioning the bite.
“Harry, that’s not necessary, “ I told him.
“You’re good neighbors,” he continued, “I wanted to give you something.”
After he left I set the bag on the kitchen counter and examined the contents: eight frozen ears of corn and a frozen pot roast.
Damn! I thought it was going to be grapefruit.