The Bus Stop Dog
Before Coffee J. Dogg moved in, Katherine and I worried a bit about the friendliness of the neighborhood. There’s really nothing not to like about our little street, but after three years we didn’t really know anybody and they didn’t seem to know us.
When the people next door moved away we realized we’d never known their names. We told ourselves we were just private people, that’s all. The neighborhood was full of young couples and their children. Our kids have been scattered for some time, leaving Katherine and me feeling prematurely gray and disconnected. We even talked of moving to a friendlier place.
When John and his wife Heather, a couple in their late 20s, moved in next door I immediately overpowered them with hearty handshakes, offers of beers, the loan of my drill and fascinating conversation anytime they wanted. I’d shout “Hi John!” as he drove off to work or was out mowing his lawn or calming his pair of poodles. Slowly, it became clear that John had his own drill and wasn’t starved for conversation.
Then Coffee J. Dogg became a permanent part of our household. Overnight I became a dog walker. Until then I had spent exactly no time walking through the neighborhood. I’d get up in the morning, commute down into the basement, park myself in my swivel chair, turn on the computer, and work as a freelancer for eight hours. At the end of the day, with no evening rush, I climbed the basement stairs.
With a dog in need of regular walks, though, I now found myself outside three times a day. To my surprise, the sight of me plodding uphill in the morning and downhill in the evening, has become a familiar one to the rest of the neighborhood. I’ve became especially well-known at school-bus stops in the mornings where Coffee sits and kids pet his head and tell him how soft is his fur. He looks off into the distance, pretending not to notice or care, but as soon as they stop, he looks pleadingly to them for more attention. Except for the fur and the pretending not to care, I’m a lot like that myself.
On our walks, we’ll come upon groups of kids who shout out Coffee’s name or say something like “It’s the bus stop dog!” For a few weeks I got zero attention while Coffee built up a fan base of school bus kids ranging far afield from our hood. I’d find myself driving to the cleaners with Coffee in the back seat and hear kid voices hollering “Hi Coffee!” as I drove past. Once, as the hound and I sat in traffic at a stop light, two unfamiliar adults in the car beside us hollered out “Hi Coffee!”
Gradually I found myself stopping to chat with the parents of these kids, talking about the weather or baseball or whatever. It wasn’t long before I’d nod a hello to half a dozen neighbors, then maybe a dozen. Once a woman stopped me at the supermarket and said “Oh you’re the man with the bus stop dog. I knew you looked familiar.” Yes, I admitted, I am familiar.
One night Coffee and I stopped to chat with Paul, a neighbor down the street. He happened to mention Scott, my next door neighbor. I looked in the direction of the house next to mine, the one occupied by John and Heather and their two poodles.
“His name is Scott?”
“I’ve been calling him John for two years.”
Paul shook his head. “I think one of his dogs is named John.”
The next night when Coffee and I approached home I saw John out in his yard with his poodles. From about 15 feet away I hollered “John!” He and one of the dogs turned around.
“John,” I said as I caught up to him. “Um, is your name Scott?”
John’s face turned red. “I was going to tell you,” he said. “I was always embarrassed to correct you. I knew one day we’d have to have this conversation.”
As Coffee and John (the poodle) sniffed each other’s psyches, I shared a friendly chuckle with Scott—the neighbor formerly known as John. After that I moved seamlessly into a friendly chat about satellite dishes.
Back in the house, I told Katherine that John was now Scott. The next day she found him watering his lawn. She told him she’d heard about the mix-up of names. Scott blushed.
“I guess I was just reluctant to correct Daniel.”
Katherine smiled and cocked her head. “Who’s Daniel?”
“Your husband?” said John, er, Scott.
Since then I’ve come to see my little neighborhood as a not so unfriendly place. I walk the dog and wave at neighbors whose names I may or may not know and I get a wave back from people who can’t think of my name, but they know I look familiar. “Hey, it’s what’s his name, the guy with the bus stop dog.”
Note: For more about Coffee J. Dogg and the origins of these essays, click on the menu bar “Nuggets I Picked Up From My Dog”
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013, all rights reserved.