The Great Dane
“I’m gonna kill him.”
“Take a breath,” I reply. “Calm down.”
“I’m gonna kill his entire family,” the big man sputters. “And after I kill him I’m gonna strangle his children and rape his mother.”
The man’s words push against me like an angry wave. My stomach clenches and I start feeling dizzy. I push down the urge to run away.
“If the cops hear you talking like that,” I say, “They’re going to arrest you too.”
“I don’t give a fuck.”
“I know you’re angry. If someone did that to my dog I’d be furious.”
“My dog didn’t do nothin,” the big man growls. “He just went to sniff that dog and the guy kicked him.”
“He’s an asshole,” I acknowledge. “But he’s not worth going to jail over.”
“What’s his license plate number?” the big man says, craning his neck to look at the SUV boxed in by several police cruisers in the parking lot. “I’m gonna find out where this fuck lives and pay him a visit.”
I look at the big man’s dog — a large, gentle, beautiful Great Dane. Other than the small trickle of dried blood around its mouth, it appears uninjured. I gently pat the giant dog’s head. Instinctively it presses up against my leg.
“I’m gonna fuck that guy up,” the man says, typing the offender’s license plate number into his cell phone. “He’s gonna get the surprise of his life.”
I look at the Great Dane and anger fills my chest. I’m pissed at the man who kicked him, but I’m also angry at the owner for acting like an asshole. I come to the dog park to relax, not to hear some aggrieved testosterone junkie threaten murder and rape.
“Buddy,” I say, carefully sifting the anger out of my voice. “What you need to do is take care of your dog and not worry about that guy. The cops will handle him.”
“He’s gettin’ a beating,” the big guy grunts stupidly.
“You’ll just make matters worse. What good are you going to be to your dog then?”
The big man glares at me. For a second I’m afraid his anger’s going to transfer to me. That would be bad.
“It’s obvious you love your dog,” I continue. “Pull yourself together, take him to the vet, and let the police handle this.”
“Whatever pal,” the man says, shrugging. “I’m fucking leaving.”
As I watch the big man and his dog walk away, his girlfriend comes running up to him.
“Where you going?” she says. “I’m not done talking to the police.”
“I’m going home you dumb bitch,” the big man says. “I can’t even trust you to take my dog to the park.”
“You’re acting ridiculous,” the girlfriend says. “What could I do about it?”
“Fuck you,” the big man says, getting in to his car. “I don’t want to hear you talk.”
The girlfriend watches open mouthed as her boyfriend drives away. If there weren’t so many cops around I’m sure he would’ve petulantly spun his tires and burned rubber leaving the parking lot.
“There, there,” one of the dog park mavens says to the girlfriend. “He’s just upset.”
“What does he want me to do?” the girlfriend wails. “I tried to stop the guy.”
“The police will take care of it hon. Don’t worry.”
I didn’t witness the dog kicking incident. When I got to the park the place was already crawling with cops. Eyewitnesses tell me that the Great Dane went to sniff the assailant’s dog, and, afraid the big dog was attacking his smaller dog, the assailant overreacted and kicked the Great Dane in the head. While it wasn’t a gentle nudge everyone who saw it agrees it wasn’t a kick with intent to kill either. The girlfriend, who was minding the dog for her boyfriend, understandably freaked out and started screaming at the man. Several other dog owners began yelling at the man too. The assailant, a foreigner who didn’t seem to speak English, retreated into his SUV and tried to drive away. The young woman blocked the man’s car with her body until the police and her boyfriend arrived. That was stupid.
What if the assailant, fearing the dog park mob, freaked out and ran her over with his truck? If the guy was kidnapping the woman’s child I’d understand the girlfriend’s actions, but to risk paralysis and death over a barely injured dog? And, in the middle of all this anger, who was taking care of the Great Dane? No wonder it nuzzled against my leg. That’s the irony of the situation; the owners were so busy indulging their anger over the mistreatment of the dog that they forgot to take care of the dog itself.
I shake my head disgustedly. I’m sick of adults who use minor incidents as an excuse to dip into their primal ids and attract attention by lashing out with stupid violent emotion. Sure, we all get angry. We all lose it from time to time. I’m not a saint either. If someone kicked Buster I’d seriously consider turning the kicker into the kickee. But risk injury or death when the stakes are so minor? Threaten a guy’s mother with rape? That girlfriend and boyfriend are drama queens who’ve watched way too many episodes of The Sopranos. They deserve each other. Yeah, I know this is more of my self righteousness. Sue me.
After a while the cops let the man who kicked the dog leave. They don’t give him a ticket. The tearful girlfriend goes home. The cops hang around and start issuing citations to the dozens of illegally parked cars near the dog run. After Buster completes his business and gets some socialization in, we decide to call it a night and head home. The dog park isn’t as fun as it used to be.
Back at my building I run into my neighbor in the hallway. A police officer just coming off duty, the bullet proof vest under his shirt makes his broad chest look more intimidatingly massive than it already is. The handcuffs, baton, mace, and semi-automatic handgun hanging off his belt remind me that sometimes people are serious when they talk about murder and rape. Suddenly I imagine the big guy from the dog park raping some poor guy’s mother. I know the odds of the man acting out his threat are small, but the mental image chills me to the bone.
“You got a minute?” I ask my neighbor. “I have a police question.”
“Sure,” my neighbor says, his affect going from friendly to cop in one second flat. “What’s up?”
I explain what happened at the dog park. I explain my worries that the big guy might carry out his threat.
“Probably not,” my neighbor says. “But if it makes you feel better, call it in. A detective might call the guy up and warn him off.”
“It was frightening to hear that guy talking about rape and murder,” I say, mostly to myself.
“Believe it or not, under the law, it’s simple harassment,” my neighbor says. “We give them a ticket if anything at all. It’s happens all the time.”
“I once heard a guy threaten to murder his next door neighbor’s little kids because one of them scratched his car with their bicycle,” my neighbor says. “In the heat of anger people say the craziest things.”
“But we can’t arrest them until the person demonstrates that they intend to carry the threat out.”
“Like saying I’m going to torture you and then showing up at your house with duct tape, alligator clamps and a car battery.”
“What a wonderful world we live in.”
“People can be such hand jobs,” my neighbor says. “Can’t they?”
“You ain’t kidding. Thanks for the advice.”
I let myself into my apartment and take Buster off his leash. As I refill his water bowl and give him some treats, I think about the Great Dane.
“You don’t know how good you have it Buster,” I think out loud.
Buster’s too busy gobbling down his biscuits to listen to me. Maybe that’s just as well.
I pull down a bottle of scotch from the cupboard above my fridge and mix myself a drink. Gently rattling the ice in my glass, I sit down at my desk and take a long preparatory sip. When I’m done I pick up the phone and dial the non-emergency number for the police. The desk officer picks up after the third ring.
“Police department,” a tired voice answers, “How can I help you?”
As I’m talking to the officer I look out my window. It’s almost nine o’clock and there’s still enough sunlight outside to read by. The little girl who lives next door is busy drawing chalk flowers on the sidewalk in front of her building. She’s not worrying about murder, rape, and the evil men do. The seething anger that hides under everyday life has yet to affect her. She isn’t conscious that the world we live in has to be refereed by men with guns. The day will come when she realizes how awful we can be to one another. But, for now, she’s content drawing flowers.
I envy her.