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October 1, 10:15 AM
Sophie is barking.
Sophie is barking.
Sophie is barking.
Barking. Barking. Barking. Day one? Not for me. Sophie's stretched me over the rack for months with her yelps, seized up in some permanent panic like a dog version of Edvard Munch's painting The Scream with unseeable sound. And this dog log — noting every bark? — has to be my "scream," my hands against my cheeks, my eyes wide in the terror of the shrieks and sounds, the swirling hurricane of noise pain all around me never ending.
October 13, 3:15 PM
OK, I let two weeks go by. I couldn't take the impotent fury of writing this log. Just know that Sophie's been making my life worse, daily, with each scalding syllable. But I realize that nothing's going to change unless I do this damn thing. So the system's got me. This'll be my evidence of it all, my word as a citizen, tantamount to sworn testimony henceforth.
I've tried everything, in case you're wondering. Why else would I be doing this? I've tried to talk with the owner — left notes, phone messages — all the neighbor stuff. So please check those off your list.
To make it official, I've left several phone messages already today:
BEEEEEP: "Hello, Irene, it's Richard, next door. Sophie's barking. Fifteen minutes now. If it's the usual, she'll go until you get back. Thanks."
BEEEEEP: "Hi, Irene. Richard. Eleven o'clock. Sophie hasn't stopped. Thanks."
BEEEEEP: "Two o'clock — Sophie's still going. Needs an exorcism. Thanks."
Irene has never acknowledged receiving any of my messages. When we cross paths, she saunters past me as if I were a tree trunk unless I speak to her first, and then she just shouts at me, which is OK for an old lady to do but not for me. That's an inexorable function of reasonable society.
October 14, 11:00 AM
Drop a hammer on your toes. Now do that forty thousand times, light your hair on fire, have your mother criticize you for all your faults, and punch yourself in the ears until your knuckles bleed. That is living next to Sophie. Arf. Arf. All day. Perhaps you might get yourself a recording of a dog barking and enjoy it along with me, won't you? No — you won't.
October 15, 10:00 AM
OK — Sophie's making me nuts. This is ridiculous, two weeks of writing this down. I'm going to call the sheriff's station again today and get this settled.
That didn't help. The deputy on the phone told me the same frustrating thing that you guys told me in September: "Keep keeping a log." He said sometimes a dog might be sick, have allergies or some new stress, whatever, so you don't want to jump right into the fray. And sometimes people lie to screw with neighbors they don't like, blah, blah, blah. So I could end up needing maybe up to six months of dog log if an intervention is needed, or it goes to court, or something like that, so that I can show "that the problem indeed exists and persists." He offered to send a letter, a warning of a fine, but said many ignore them, so it takes a lot of time. Yeah, half the time Irene has a week's worth of mail jammed up in her mail slot. In the meantime, he said, "It might not last all that long. Sometimes life can change. You'd be surprised."
I could tell you don't want to get in the middle of it, and that he wanted to get me off the phone.
Exist and persist. I'll never forget those words, especially since they mean I'll never see you again because you won't persist with this, and so you don't exist to me.
Would you tell the owner of a liquor store to keep a log if a guy kept running in to his place waving a gun day after day? Your cars shouldn't have A TRADITION OF SERVICE on them — they should say, SEE YOU IN SIX MONTHS. You want the person to crack and move away, don't you? Do you know what rents are like out there? I do exist. And I will persist. Justice is supposed to be swift. As Clarence Darrow said, "Mercy is the highest attribute of man." Where is the mercy? I can't concentrate anymore. I'm sleeping about as well as a clock, and my emotions are in a popcorn popper. I've been gaining weight, stress-eating Cheetos. I have a bad knee, so I haven't been able to run for over a year, and this isn't helping. My face is breaking out. Darkened eyes, sinking jowls. Have you ever cried at nothing, Sheriff?
And I'm not going to have you guys start with the notes. It won't do any good, because the dog won't change, and Irene won't do anything because she hasn't yet, and she won't pay a fine. I'm sure she wouldn't be able to. And then what? And do I want the dog wrenched from her grasp at the front door to go to a shelter or something? No. I just want things fixed. And what a worse nightmare Irene herself would become on top of the problem with the barking. She'd probably call the cops on me for some made-up thing in retribution, like my TV was too loud or something. And then what?
But if it continues, I worry that when I eventually turn in this log, you'll just glance at the first page to see the date, then turn to the last page to see that date, and then coldly note on some Civil Disturbance Report Form that "Resident claimed dog issue for six-month period," and that'd be it. But there's so much more to it than that.
Look, though — OK, I'm not crazy. I'm fine. Life is fine. What do you think, complaining about Sophie gives meaning to my life? Let me tell you — I'm a revolutionary. I am standing in front of the tank with this dog log. I'll document what so many fellow citizens suffer through in silence — languishing out there — forcing themselves to incorporate noises into their daily lives like the burning crawl of a skin disease. I say this: I am Richard Lucas, and I am going to make dogs quiet and neighbors be neighborly!
Maybe I need to do something bigger, quicker. Self-immolate. Go out onto the front grass, douse myself, and offer the world an altruistic act of martyrdom, spread the light of the dharma like the great Bodhisattva Medicine King so that you and the authorities of the world can focus on this repression that I, and all other decent citizens whose peaceful lives are ruined by barking dogs, can no longer endure. Let my burning flesh rise up to the sky in a glorious gray column of rebellion. (I don't care that the city council's trying to outlaw outdoor barbecues.) Come, good friends, cook your hamburgers, your hot dogs, your Tofurky chorizos here above the flames of my burning carcass! Bring marshmallows and songs of celebration to the spectacle of my timely death, and join in my cause!
October 16, 4:00 PM
Barking all afternoon. Sophie's a Yorkshire terrier. Yorkshire must have been one of the original portals to hell. She barks like she has three heads. It's like the screeching metal emergency-braking wheels of a freight train that's about to hit a school bus filled with screaming kids.
Six months — so now until April if need be — like being handed a six-month form to fill out. Bureaucrats are assholes. OK, you're not assholes, sorry. Well, you're not a bureaucrat. And you're also not an asshole, I'm sure (though I might suggest that many in your department could work on their first-impressions skills). I'm a good person here. But it feels like war. Me against Sophie. Maybe it's me against you. I hope not. I'm fighting for peace here — not necessarily peace of mind, because you can't provide that — but peace around my mind, which is my right.
October 17, 3:15 PM
I can't believe how freakin' hot it is today. It's supposed to be autumn, isn't it? Barking is so random. Some noises, like with my neighbors — Casino's stereo or Jazmine's feather-sensitive car alarm — you can blend into your mental background because they're consistent sounds, and you know it'll eventually stop. But my head can't create a formula on Sophie. Plus, today her voice is swollen with the vengeful power of the North Sea crashing against the Cliffs of Moher.
October 18, 2:00 PM
Since you're the sheriff, I'll draw you a police sketch: Sophie is black and brown like a blood-soaked turd, mostly black along her head and caped over her back like she's wearing a Darth Vader hand-puppet costume. Beady little glassy brown eyes snarl from her pointy face, and her sweaty black nose twitches constantly like a divining rod to the devil's lake of fire. She's tiny, smaller than a computer mouse. Irene, her owner, a bonkers old woman in her mid-to-horrible seventies, once told me that Sophie weighs three pounds. She would stand about ten inches on her hind legs, like a rat. I've never seen her walk, because Irene snuggles her against her bosom when they're outside.
"She's just healing. She fell off of the front step," Irene says.
There are two tiny front steps out there, Sheriff; she couldn't handle a tiny step to the ground — and so she can't walk, I guess.
As far as I can tell from the huge area of staining, Sophie wets herself freely on Irene's black T-shirt dress as they shuffle along, and Irene cradles tissues under Sophie's behind to almost-catch her random defecations. Sometimes, when she doesn't want to disturb Sophie's sleep, Irene carries her, preening, in a little wicker handbasket.
"It's her le petit boudoir," she says.
It's a wicker basket for a picnic of grime and filth, because Sophie must never get a bath. She's an animal so pathetic that if St. Francis of Assisi were to see her coming along, even he would find an excuse to cross the street to avoid her. The only sign of color one can see is the bite-sized red ribbon that is clipped on her head like Satan's horns to pin back her overgrown hair. But even it is damp and dull with months of unwashed dog-hair grease that has soaked its shiny crimson down to darkened, drooping joylessness.
They say that dogs often resemble their owners, so now you have an idea of Irene as well, except that her long, unwashed hair is darkened yellow / dull white and wrapped and coiffed in a deflated bun that sits atop her head like a rotting grapefruit. And, of course, Sophie's injury might have something to do with the barking now, but she barked before that, too. She's just a plain old maniacally squealing infliction, and she'll only be louder when she gets her legs back.
October 19, 11:00 AM
You probably think I'm an asshole now because I made fun of Sophie's stupid broken legs yesterday. I don't even know if they're broken. I wish I could break her legs sometimes. No I don't. Sorry. I'm sure they're not. Irene wouldn't just let the dog be enfeebled, right? Maybe it's some neurological problem that causes her barking? I like animals. They're fine. But this disturbance is a legal problem, and Irene won't take responsibility.
Please don't think I'm an asshole. I'm just so frustrated. And me being an asshole shouldn't have anything to do with the law. I said I'm freakin' sorry. I'm sure this is a wealth and privilege issue, typical Los Angeles — where those born with golden Pampers on their butts get all the opportunity and the breaks. I guarantee no famous person has ever had to turn in a six-month barking dog log, or any sordid calendar of torture. And here I am, a common, humble man, scratching the days off my cell wall with a chiseled-down pebble like Dr. Alexandre Manette. Sorry, Sheriff, I used to be an English teacher — Dr. Manette was the old man held prisoner in the Tower of London at the beginning of Charles Dickens's novel A Tale of Two Cities. You know —"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." If you haven't read it (maybe you have) you should, you'd love it. I'm living in the beast of times. Seconds pass like a slug on sandpaper. Ugh, it's late. I'm drinking wine, and I'm mixing metaphors now like T. S. Eliot. Are you much of a grammar wonk, Sheriff? Syntax? Does anyone care about rules anymore?
October 20, 10:00 PM
My girlfriend, Roxy, and I just had a fight because of Sophie. I'd asked her to talk to Irene about the barking, because I thought a woman-to-woman conversation might get somewhere. Roxy said, "No, I don't particularly feel like getting yelled at." Remember — she yells.
"That's the point. I don't think she'll yell at a woman. She sort of likes you."
"But I don't like her," she said.
"Yes, you do. You guys chat."
"Yes, I have spasms of pity for her and seconds of passing chitchat," she said, "but I don't feel like getting into any kind of a confrontation today."
"You and I are in kind of a confrontation right now," I fumbled.
"Because you're being a baby," she said. "Look, this is something you're going to have to deal with on your own. Call Randall, finally."
Randall's our landlord, Sheriff.
"He'd just try to have the dog taken away because they hate each other."
A little history: When Irene moved in she cut a doggy door into the bedroom wall. He made her close it up. They've been mortal enemies ever since. "Does it make me less of a man that I don't want a dog taken away from an old woman?" I asked.
"No, but all your complaining and the emotional high-wire act do," she said. "You know what, maybe if this were our place, I'd talk with her."
Roxy's too good a chess player for me. She could turn a discussion about the spices in the spaghetti sauce into a Why aren't we living together yet? squabble. It's complicated.
October 21, 11:00 AM
I saw Irene out back near her car this morning when I was taking out the trash. I mentioned Sophie.
"Well, I don't know what I'm supposed to do about it!" she barked. "The only option is to get rid of my dog, and I'm not going to do that!"
"I wasn't saying to get rid of her. You're not taking me seriously."
"When Sophie barks, she thinks she's protecting me. I'm all alone."
Useless. No one's listening to me. I dumped my trash and came back in.
October 22, 3:00 PM
You wouldn't believe the suggestions I get. My older sister, Ally, sent me a link this morning to an electronic collar that shocks a dog in a "nonharmful way" when it barks, reverse-Pavlovian style. Ninety-five dollars. I printed it out and showed it to Irene by her front door. (She didn't invite me inside, not that I'd ever want her to.)
"Get away from me with that medieval torture device," she said. "I will not hang that dreadful millstone around my Sophie's neck. Those things should be illegal."
Of course, nothing about what I'm going through is dreadful or illegal, right? Sophie's a twisted masochist who'd only groove on the buzzes anyhow. It does happen, you know. People feed off physical pain as a way to avoid emotional issues, such as our universal loneliness. People even "cut" themselves. I bet it can happen with dogs. Surely Sophie causes herself pain barking hour after hour. I think if it were seasoned with a little shock, it'd only lead to more emotional masturbation. Anyway, all the suggestions involve buying something, and I'm drawing the line: a person should not have to spend money for a problem that's caused by — and should be solved by — a neighbor. This is a human problem, and Irene needs to solve it. There needs to be better enforcement of kindness and consideration among neighbors. I am going to defeat the curse of proximity.
October 23, 12:00 PM
Irene's door just slammed shut. The guillotine. Sophie started up with her groping, baleful tragedy: Please don't go! or whatever she's bitching about in her canine ignorance. You know what, Sophie? Irene left you again. But it's not forever. Why can't you get that through your pumpkin-seed brain? What locks you in? If only I could find the key, then I'd be a hero.
October 24, 11:00 AM
I'll tell you what, I'll try again. I'll go knock on Irene's door and try to talk to her. I guarantee she'll just fight with me. Be right back.
Not home. My knocking made Sophie go nuts, so now I'm paying the price for trying. And my arm is killing me. It feels like I'm being branded in a cattle chute. OK, I'll leave her a note — another of my many. For the record: "Dear Irene, just wanted to let you know that Sophie barked a great deal today. I'm not feeling well. Is there any way that you can train her to be quiet? Thank you, Richard." We'll see if she responds. She won't.
She got home about an hour ago — no response. Told you. Burns me up. What is a person thinking when they get a note and ignore it? You can't not read it? Only the darkest of souls.
Not sleeping much anymore. Exhausted. There's a single wall that connects our apartments. It's so thin that it doesn't separate our worlds, it actually blends them. Some days, I feel like a portal opens up and a psychic bridge spans from Sophie to me, spurring me to want to bark as well. I'm becoming a basket case, maybe a wicker basket case just as she is — Sophie, my mysterious and shocking partner in pain. It's sympathetic vibration. Have you heard of that, Sheriff? If there are, say, two guitars in a room and a note's plucked on one, that same note will ring out on the other. That's us. What was hers is now also mine — ours. I wonder if sometimes I'm not more with Sophie than against her?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Dog Log"
Copyright © 2019 Richard Lucas.
Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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ATTN: West Hollywood Sheriff's Dept.,