Nina In New York: Please, Please Stop Whistling At My Dog.
A young professional’s take on the trials and tribulations of everyday life in New York City.
By Nina Pajak
We endure a lot as New Yorkers going about our daily lives. Crazy people yelling in our faces, stepping in weird, unidentifiable bodily fluids on the street, strangers picking fights over nothing, panhandlers asking for money and then cursing us out or chasing us down the sidewalk when we politely decline. Stuff happens. It’s okay. We take it in stride. But I had no idea how much weirder things get when you go about your daily life holding a leash attached to a very cute, very sweet looking dog.
Let me preface first by saying that I love it when people love Gus. He’s friendly and adorable and usually clean, so why shouldn’t people come over and share in his expansive love? It makes him happy, it makes them happy, and most of the time it makes me happy too. Win-win-winning. Except there are those times when I am crossing the street and/or on the phone and/or in a visible rush and/or on an incredibly busy sidewalk and/or very obviously and unsuccessfully attempting to control an occasionally uncontrollable 50-lb animal while losing the contents of my purse like a trail of breadcrumbs behind me. Add a stranger whistling to Gus from anywhere within 30 feet, and the whole precarious scenario just falls to pieces. It happens. A lot. I want to hang a sign around his neck that says, “I am friendly! I love you! If you whistle at me, I will tear my owner’s arm out of its socket.”
But yesterday really took the cake. I was walking with the dog down a very crowded patch, when he spontaneously decided to dig in his heels and then sprawl out in the middle of the sidewalk in protest of our not turning the corner to go to his favorite pet store. Yes, I know. I am sorely in need of a training refresher. Anyway, I have finally succeeded in getting Gus to stand up without instantly sinking like dead weight back into the concrete, when a tiny old woman with a long black braid and a granny cart stops in my path and begins digging into her bags. Finally, she produces a printed flier.
“No, thanks,” I say, and attempt to move around her.
“No, no,” she says in a heavy accent. “This is for dogs.”
I take a quick glance and see that the headline is “For Dogs Who Are Picky Eaters.” Not exactly my problem at the moment.
“Oh, he’s not a picky eater. But thank you!”
She won’t let me pass. She explains in broken English and a voice too soft-spoken to be heard on a busy street that the flier is for many things. She points to a fuzzy black and white photo of a woman at the top, and then to a name at the bottom, and tells me it’s her daughter. I say, “oh, that’s wonderful,” and I move to take the flier, this clearly being my best option at the moment. She holds onto it, though.
She says I need to brush Gus’s teeth, that it will save me thousands of dollars in medical bills over the years. Yes! For sure! I will brush his teeth. Thank you! She points to various other paragraphs on the sheet and I understand about 40% of what she’s saying to me.
As she continues to talk, I become aware of some hubbub going on at the halal cart directly behind us. Two enormous men now complete the circle around me and Gus. The halal cook is gruffly telling Gus to sit over and over again, pointing a drinking straw at him in an inexplicably stern manner. Poor Gus continues to oblige his request and then stand when he realizes he’s being offered nothing in return other than the tantalizing smell of cooked meat. The other man is doing I don’t know what, but all three of these people are seriously stressing me and Gus out.
Meanwhile, the woman is still talking about doggie dental care and the various things I can learn from this flier. She again points to her daughter’s name, and encourages me to look her up online. In Washington. I tell her I will, for sure. Then she says:
“She’s dead. My daughter.”
I don’t know how to respond. The halal guy is still yelling at my dog behind us. I tell her I’m very sorry to hear that, and I mean it. She nods her head and releases the paper. She reminds me once more to look her daughter up online, in Washington, and I promise I will. And brush Gus’s teeth. Yes. Thank you. Thank you. Take care. The idea of this woman carrying around copies of a dated flier about canine care in order to further her deceased daughter’s work is just so profoundly sad, I wanted to give her something more. I wanted to pull out a doggie toothbrush and start the job right there, just to show her that she’s done a good thing. See? Okay? I’m sure your daughter was very good at what she did.
Instead, I thank her again, turn to give the halal guy a dirty look and then pull Gus away, attempting to move back into the flow of pedestrian traffic. The other man in the circle breaks off with me and starts laughing.
“You were really surrounded there, huh? That was crazy!”
Yes, yes it was, thanks for contributing. Who the hell are you, anyway? I look at him with an expression that I think was angry and confused, but probably looked more just like angry. He continued to laugh as he made his way into a parked car nearby, and Gus and I finally round the corner onto our quiet block.
I take a moment to catch my breath, and that’s when, within sight of our building, Gus decides to once again lie down on the sidewalk. Sweaty and exhausted, I hang my head in utter defeat. Somewhere nearby, someone starts whistling.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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