I’m sure my old man loved getting this phone call:
“Excuse the voice, Sir. I just had a bad experience and I’ve lost about half of it.”
“What happened? Did you get mugged?”
“No. Remember when I said that I’d move out if you got a dog?”
“Well I meant it. Being attacked by a dog is no fun.”
Again, he asked, “What happened?”
I explained that I was taking my usual footpath from the end of the orange Metro line to my Fairfax townhouse.
When I arrived in Virginia a year and a half ago in September, this was a neighborhood lined with houses. People lived there and drove to and from work in D.C. and the surrounding area, and there was a lot of foot traffic through the neighborhood. It was a popular short route to and from the Metro.
But progress soon bulldozed on. In order to make room for a new apartment complex, the buildings were gradually abandoned, vandalized, and torn down by demolition and preparation crews, who turned the soil under but left most of the trees and many of the bushes standing.
Much of the area has returned to something resembling a chaotic state of nature, though the paved road remains. On the way to or from work, it isn’t uncommon for several deer to be grazing where houses stood less than a year ago.
Both foot and drop-’em-off car traffic to the Metro has dwindled. A construction company has pushed cars back with concrete partitions in anticipation of building new apartments this spring, and many pedestrians have found the temporary lack of civilization unnerving.
Residents of my townhouse/apartment complex now tend to take the more scenic route, cutting through another well-lit, fairly new crop of apartments near the Metro. I had elected not to do this as a way to save time on my lengthy commute, but this last Friday that decision almost bit me on the ass.
THERE IS ONE HOLDOUT on this otherwise deserted road: a small house with a large fenced-in backyard with a boat and cars and trucks of various vintages.
What the residents’ story is, I am not sure. They may be fighting an eminent domain case, or they may be holding out for more money, or they may be bitter-enders waiting for the cops to come and do their grim duty.
The folks that live in the lone house had never been hostile to me, nor friendly: They were there and, so, for a brief sliver of every day, was I. It was the best sort of neighborly arrangement, where you both agree to leave each other the hell alone.
But the bitter-enders have dogs and have recently taken to letting the mutts out. One of then is a sweetheart, but the other — black and white and muscular and I’d guess about 60 pounds — is a real piece of work. As I was nearing the house Friday evening, I finished fiddling with my cellphone and pocketed it in time to see the animal just as it was almost upon me.
It snarled at me for a second before launching itself at me, and this warning — thank God — triggered the “fight” part of my fight-or-flight response.
It jumped up on me and tried to use its paws to better position its jaws to take a bite out of me. I have scuffmarks on my pants and a scrape on my right knuckle to prove it. But it wasn’t able to do any serious damage in that first contact.
SO I PUSHED BACK, driving the dog back into the street. I traded my umbrella from my left to right hand, and pressed the “extend” button. The parasol became a two-foot-long rod that I could brandish at snout level, which gave the dog something to think about.
I swung the umbrella a few times and it backed off to just out of range. An exchange ensued:
“Get back!” I shouted.
It snarled some more and started to bark, so I turned up the volume:
“GET BACK! GO HOME! GO HOME! GO HOME YOU STUPID DOG!”
More barking as it crept forward and then jumped back out of the reach of my umbrella. I hoped that it wouldn’t take the fear that it smelled as an invitation to charge.
I stepped forward, swinging the umbrella in a wide arc, and the dog reluctantly backed up. It looked ready to rush me at any moment, and it kept trying to match my volume with its barking.
Finally, the owner of the animal emerged from the house and coaxed it away from me. He began to berate the dog as I rapidly continued on my way home. As per our previous relationship, not one word was exchanged. Complaint or consolation, though not unwarranted, would have seemed out of place — so we decided to let it go.