If you take the Harlem Line on MetroNorth and get off at Purdy’s, there is a town up in Westchester County called North Salem. This is no real town in the typical sense of the word, but a town in the sense of a corner of a county. A map shows spots like Grant Corners and Peach Lake and Salem Center. When you drive around (and if you have anything to do at all you will be driving around), you see signs that say Waccabuc (which is fun to say silently to yourself) and Golden’s Bridge and Cross River. The signs are the official green road signs, so I presume they are intended to inform, but I find them very confusing. The only way they make sense to me is to view them as labels, as if the section of the road requires a branding strategy, so drivers will never mistake it for another stretch of competing road. Old Salem is not to be confused with South Salem, Katonah is not to be confused with Bedford Hills, and so on.
I think that places which can be reached by a commuter train are probably suburbs, even if there are dirt roads and tractors, which I consider to be two of the tell-tale signs of a rural area. I see more SUVs here than I do pick-up trucks, and the cyclists wear shiny spandex.
Having been here less than a week, I know no one here but the realtor who arranged for the rental, and the three administrators I spoke to in an effort to enroll my son in school. I have a P.O. Box, which I check every day and it is almost always empty. One day I did have one piece of mail: it was from the U.S.P.S. informing me of the failure of the change-of-address I attempted from our prior address. It seems the temporary apartment in the city is a business, and only they can forward my mail. I also noticed the other day that the post office hours have changed to now include an hour’s closure for lunch, from 1:15 to 2:15. This lunch closure is perfectly timed to coincide with the end of school at 2:10, so that it is impossible to check your mail on the way to school: it must be checked after.
The timing of the afternoon school pick-up always sends me into a panic, since it is a full fifty minutes before it ever occurs to me that I might need to go pick him up and eighty minutes before what I consider to be a reasonable time to end the school day. I usually emerge from my mid-afternoon stupor at 2:15, realizing I am already late. Soon, I should look into the yellow school bus thing, since it seems to be an option. Sometimes I follow them all the way in to school in my efforts to deliver the boy by 7:28 am.
I am not the only mother that drives her child to school here, nor am I the only one who picks up after. A line forms at pick-up time, starting by 1:45. Few parents interact with each other at all in this line, and while I have been tempted to introduce myself to the driver of the next car in line, I have not done it yet.
Monday mid-day I took the dogs for a walk. We got a good long look at a huge turkey vulture pecking at a carcass in the road and spied quite a lot of chipmunks. It was a beautiful late summer day. We were passed by a few cars. For the first time since we’ve been here, I felt like it might be tolerable to be here for a few months.
Within a quarter mile of our rental house, we passed a woman with a small dog on a leash. Her dog grew noisy and excited about my two, and I offered to come over and introduce them, since mine are “friendly.” “Friendly” is a password among dog-owners which I have come to understand to mean “my dog probably will not try to rip your dog’s head off, probably,” or “my dog will jump on you and leave muddy foot-prints on your jeans.” One of my “friendly” dogs has a history of being quite nasty to other dogs, and it has only been since she spent three days a week at doggie-day-care in New York City that I have re-assessed her ability to greet other dogs reliably.
The dog we met was feisty and full of himself, which no one finds surprising in a small fluffy dog. My dogs were polite. His owner and I chatted briefly about dog temperaments. I introduced myself.
As it turned out, I was introducing myself to my landlord.
There is fresh dog-doo in my front yard. It is close enough to the sidewalk that it might have been deposited there by a dog on a leash. Given what I have seen of the white dogs that live two houses down and across the street, I will assume this poo was not deposited by a supervised dog. This brings me to the subject of the sign across the street.
The sign itself is smaller than a sheet of notebook paper. It is mounted on a stick so that it rises just a few inches above the grass. It is wordless. Wordless signs are excellent for very small children and international travellers, but are no more meaningful for dogs than signs with words. Only the most vivid imagination would lead a person to think a sign could discourage a dog from pooping on that particular grassy spot. Furthermore, the presence of something unusual on this patch of lawn might even increase the odds that a dog linger there and add a few new drops of pee before moving on.
Assuming this is a rational neighbor, we can only guess that he believes the person walking the dog would see the sign and intervene before the dog defecates in that spot. For some dogs, a simple tug might communicate the message “this is not where you should poop.” For other dogs, a simple tug, a furious yank, a loud scream and full body tackle would not interrupt the imminent arrival of dog doo. Sled dogs can actually relieve themselves at a dead run.
Another set of signs on another street adorn the bushes of the parking strip. On one end is a water-damaged laminated card attached by a wire twist-tie encouraging dog owners to have their dogs pee elsewhere, with, “PLEASE: NO PEE IT KILLS US! THANKS!” At the other end of the bushes is a matching sign, and behind it hangs the weather-faded head of a Dora the Explorer piñata. Dora’s face has another warning attached: “PLEASE NO PEE! IT KILLS PLANTS.”
I have met the owner of this home. She claims that she has a dog, although I haven’t seen it. She clearly does not understand that a male dog will urinate on almost everything outdoors that is lower than the height of his pelvis, and that once any dog has dropped even a few drops of urine in that spot, every other dog will similarly leave his calling card there as well. Adding signs may actually only serve to slow down the human holding the leash, encouraging a larger than normal deposit.
In both cases, these homeowners live on desirable streets of beautiful classic older homes. In both cases the homeowners are frustrated by what dogs can do to their plants. In the case of the woman with the piñata head hanging in front of her house, I think she has more problems than an ailing boxwood hedge. In the case of the homeowner across the street from me, I think he can take down his sign and go have a word with the his next-door neighbor. This neighbor owns a small white dog that is seen regularly out on the block, no leash or human in sight.