Hot and Cold


I put the dogs on their double leash to take them out at 7:30 for their morning walk. Besides the dogs, a German shepherd and a black Lab, I took the garbage and two bags of recycling—the plastics and the paper. Every town has recycling bins on just about every corner, so recycling is very easy, though not as easy as dumping everything into the trash without the bother of sorting. But I was happy to do my civic duty. First I got rid of the garbage at the dumpster, and then around the corner on an open street near my house, I stopped to deposit the recycling. Not far away, stood a woman in a red rain jacket. She too had a dog, a small shaggy yellow one, and as I disposed of the recycling, I decided I’d cross the street as a courtesy to her because she seemed to be watching me, perhaps wondering if I and my two big dogs might come her way and scare her little dog. My dogs are not aggressive toward other dogs unless barked at vociferously. Better to be considerate. Better to avoid trouble.

I crossed the street, my dogs at my side. The woman kept her eye on us, and then she raised her voice a smidgeon to say something. I didn’t catch it, so now abreast of her but still on the other side of the wide street, I said, “Excuse me?” I was closer and now there was no mistaking her confrontational tone as she said, accusingly, “Don’t you pick up after your dogs?” She was a plump woman, middle-aged, with a lean face and high cheek bones. She might have been pretty, but her expression was cold and judgmental.

“Of course I do.” I was offended by her aggression.

“People like you give dog owners a bad name.” She then turned her back on me.

I was angry and confused. I crossed the street towards her, no longer thinking about her dog. “What do you mean?”

“Your dog just did ca-ca, and you didn’t pick it up.” Her voice was full of cold malice.

“No they didn’t,” I said, and almost in the same breath also said, “Where?”

She pointed back to the bins. I looked. Sure enough, even from that distance, I saw I pile of excrement right in front of them.

“I didn’t see it,” I said. “Of course I’ll pick it up.”

“Then go do it. Go pick it up.”

“I said I would.”

She turned her back on me a second time but still, over her shoulder, told me again to go pick it up.

I was furious. I wished her dog had cowered at the presence of mine. I wished my dogs had scared the woman herself. I wished she would realize she’d chosen the wrong person to pick a fight with. Later, I realized I am exactly the right person—someone so astonished at the aggression that I am left virtually speechless, and when I do recover my tongue, what I mete out is garbled and even incomprehensible. Anger does not sharpen my wits. I do not keep my calm. I come off badly, and anyone in search of the moral high ground would see that I was floundering in the marshes of the low ground. And it is low ground—I know that. I know that responding in anger is absurd and unseemly. Which just makes me fume all the more. That was my state that morning after a scant two minutes’ exchange with the woman. “You’re an unpleasant person,” I told her. She heard me. She half turned. “You’re very rude,” she said, cool as a cucumber, then continued away from me. I turned and went back toward the bins, not completely convinced the poop was from either of my dogs. I’d pick it up anyway. With a plastic bag used as a mitt, I did so. It was still warm.

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Clellan Coe, a writer in Spain, is a contributing editor of the Scholar.


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