If you want to get to know your neighbors easily and informally, get a dog. A puppy might even be better, as you have to walk it more often. It is absolutely amazing how many people you meet just walking around the block with a pooch. When we moved to Ridgewood, we had Abi, a mature German shepherd bitch who behaved quite well at home and on the leash, but once in awhile. . . Well, on one occasion, when we were still living in Teaneck, she had bitten our pleasant mailman, and on another I think she bit Manny Granich as he extended his hand to shake mine. On the whole however, she was pretty well behaved.
When she was in the car, however, she was an entirely different dog. She went crazy. She hated the world and all the people in it, except for her family. She barked so loud and savagely that fuel pump attendants refused to pump gas for me, and I had to get out of the car and do it myself. I must also confess that she went crazy at home whenever anyone walked past our house. The neighbors knew enough to walk on the other side of the street when they passed our house. Abi, truth be told, had “issues,” but at home with the family she was a wonderful dog.
It was while walking Abi that I met Robert Cole, who lived in the corner house, where Woodside Avenue and Carlisle Terrace meet. Robert had a small dog that got along famously with Abi, and so we got into the habit of walking together and talking as we walked. Bob was an opera singer, and I believe he might have been a baritone. He was also one of the stars of the New York State Opera. I was mightily impressed by Bob, especially as I loved opera. It wasn’t long before Linda and I went to hear him at a performance of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Henry VIII, in which he was Henry, and he was marvelous. For me, the idea of a man entertaining thousands by the power of his voice alone was amazing. As we walked our dogs, I asked Bob what it felt like to be able to do what he did on a regular basis, and his answer brought me back to reality. He said, “It’s a job. You rehearse, you practice, you perform. It’s a job.”
I had little to do with his wife, as she didn’t walk the dog, but one afternoon, as I was walking Abi, I suddenly heard shrieking coming from the Cole house, terrible shrieking. I immediately ran home (only three houses away) with Abi and phoned 911 (no cell phones in those days), and told the police about the horrible noise coming from the corner house. I don’t know what was going through my mind at the time, but I did know that there was something awful going on at the Cole house. The police arrived a few minutes later, and I stood in the street, waiting to find out what kind of horror had taken place. What did happen was that Barbara Cole came out of the house, furious. There was no emergency. She had just been practicing her Scream Therapy, and doing a good job of it. I just had to learn to mind my own business.