Love Thy Neighbor

Zero the dog. Credit: Jim Walsh

The other day I set out on my daily walk with the dog, armed with two poop bags. After a half -block, Zero relieved himself and after another block, he did it again.

I dutifully scooped up both small gems, dropped them in a neighbor’s trash and kept walking, knowing full well that I was now out of doggie bags and at the mercy of the universe as to how I’d deal with any more production from my old buddy. 

On the next block, when he pulled up to do his thing one more time on my neighbors’ boulevard, I was left to cover up the two quarter–sized pieces of excrement with some leaves – in order to take care of my neighbors’ lawn as best I could, and to hopefully prevent anyone from stepping in it. All good.

“Not good enough,” muttered an older woman pedaling her bicycle past me on her way down, I assumed, to the Minnesota Orchestra’s concert at the Lake Harriet bandshell that night. She startled me. She came out of nowhere. She scowled at me, her beady eyes and face obscured by her glasses and bike helmet. 

“Wow, thanks neighbor,” I said, guilty as charged, trying to make light of her schoolmarmy tone and our awkward first meeting. “Just ran out. Do you happen to have a bag?”

She said nothing. She pedaled away, turned to look at me over her shoulder, and gave me the finger.

“Wow. Seriously?,” I said to her back, then she turned around and gave me the finger one more time with her other hand. She let it uncurl slowly, like she was doing it to the whole world, to everybody who has ever pooped on her lawn.

I remained cool and gentlemanly and thought of my mother. 

“Wanna talk about this?,” I yelled as the slow-burning woman pedaled away. I was sincere, but I was mad, too. I watched her ride quickly into the sunset, and that was our one and only encounter on this planet.

Now, I am no saint and I fully admit to being a scofflaw and a bad citizen and slacker neighbor whose lawn often looks like Huckleberry Finn’s, but I also try to do good works and love thy neighbor and make community and not totally be the monster wreaking havoc and overturning the apple carts in the village all the time. At the very least I pick up my dog’s poop and feel bad when I’m left bagless, and to keep the karma flow going, whenever I’ve seen a poop at the dog park and I’ve got an extra bag, I’ll tend to it.

Everyday hero, that’s me. 

But, I get it. I’d ruined this woman’s night with the reminder that the world is imperfect, that rule-breakers are out there. She’s undoubtedly tired of white, wild, free, entitled, virile, care-free jerks like me crapping all over other people’s yards with no regard for others or for the way things work in polite society, and here I was, the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks and his bad boulevard-pooping pup, symbols of everything she despises about the riff-raff fast teeming outside her gilded gate.

It’s a drag, because I’ve had a half-dozen other pretty cool and column-worthy encounters with strangers this week, but this woman’s reaction to such a benign crime feels to me like an extension of what we’re becoming, due to a call-out culture wherein reality TV and talk radio’s parade of boors and loudmouths fuel outrage over humanity itself, so when actual human interaction occurs, we’ve been programmed to fight and to get our undies in a bundle, and now we’re all too ready to be angry, and so quick to prejudge and judge based on race, gender, appearance, and what we’ve observed about the global village on our screens. 

You can feel it. Because our newsfeeds are now glutted with hourly (minutely?) reminders of what inanity, insanity, and plain old meanness that human beings are capable of, the heretofore healthy stranger-danger distrust of the past has nowadays ramped up into something that can often taste like total warfare and paranoia, to the point where I admit now that I think twice about engaging in friendliness with strangers. Still, no matter how many bitter old ladies flip me off, I’m not going out like that.

Ironically, the scene of my and Zero’s poop crime is the same spot where my block’s annual National Night Out party takes place every year, and where it’s scheduled to happen again this Tuesday. I always look forward to connecting and reconnecting with neighbors, and Tuesday evening, I’ll talk to friends new and old, and I know I’ll think the best of them, and hopefully they’ll do the same of me.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to thank the two-fingered bicyclist for the lesson she gave me, and for the reminder to stay in touch with empathy and my higher self amidst the chaos of the crazies; to take extra care with my words, actions, and thoughts, and to carry with me at all times four doggy bags.



Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected]