I may not look like a evil person but I'm bad to the bone, an outlaw.
It all started forty years ago when I was arrested and jailed for paying a traffic ticket. Long story. Anyway, the next day in court my fellow jailmates were disposed of quickly during the morning session. Not me. It seems they couldn't find the warrant. Later that afternoon when the warrant finally appeared, the judge was taken aback when he noticed it was marked "paid." He apologized and said -- he-he -- it was a good thing there were no newspaper reporters in the courtroom that day. I understand that the two police officers who had come to my home at 10:00 the night before to toss me in the clink soon ended up walking a beat.
You probably think that such an experience would have scared me straight. Well, I thought so, too. But then this winter my bad to the bone self emerged once more.
For me, it started with a knock on the door. It was the county animal officer with an affidavit of complaint against me. A neighbor had complained about my dog, Declan, barking. Although I was not the one who barked, the complaint was against me rather than Declan. My bad boy self was on the verge of saying, "You'll never take me alive, copper!" when the animal officer explained that complaints had also been filed against three of my neighbors. He advised that we all request a hearing about the complaints and the complaints will most likely be dismissed. The complainant, it turns out, was a woman who lived two doors down from me -- a woman whom I had never met, although I know her husband, who is a pretty nice guy.
It turns out that by requesting the hearing, the affidavit of complaint became a criminal matter, the State of Maryland v. me.
No matter how hard you try, forty years later, they drag you back in.
So I was told to go to court this past Monday. The State's Attorney told me I could either plead guilty or go to trial. I said, you've gotta be kidding. He wasn't.
So, anyway, there we are in court, myself and two of my neighbors. The other neighbor who supposedly had a complaint against her wasn't there. Don't know why. Maybe there was never a complaint against her, although her dog happened to be a barking fool and she lived next door to the woman who complained. Kitty was ensconced out in the hallway with the Kangaroo and missed out on all the fun. (Christina was working so we were taking care of the Kangaroo, who at nineteen months was his most vocal -- so he was banned from the courtroom.)
The woman who complained said that all the dogs were barking, barking, barking all the time, waking her up often at 6:00 in the morning. The specific complaints were listed. The guy who lived in back of me had four beagles in a kennel who disturbed her on two days in December. My next-door neighbor had a German shepherd who disturbed her on one day in December. My dog Declan also disturbed her on a (different) day in December. Let the trials begin.
First, the guy in back of me. She told the court that the dogs would bark for five to ten minutes at a time. One time, the dogs got loose and a neighbor had to bring them back. On the second day in question (she said) the barking was so loud that neighbors on each side of her came out (including the neighbor who had no complaint against her and whose property was divided by a solid wood fence that the complaining neighbor had put up two years earlier) and were wondering what was going on. She said a lot of neighbors would have complained but they were "afraid of retribution." She never did say who the neighbors were and they never testified, but the judge found my neighbor guilty on one count because the neighbors had complained. One hundred dollar fine and fifty-seven bucks and change court costs thank you very much. The judge was kind enough to offer striking this criminal conviction from his record if he agreed not to appeal. None of us were expecting a real trial with a prosecutor and everything, so we were taken aback. By the time my neighbor thought of something to say, the trial was over and it was too late. By the way, the beagles never barked...they bayed...and not that often. Oh, well. I had noticed last week that that neighbor has put his house on sale.
Oh. And, by the way, retribution? You've gotta be kidding me.
Next, it was my next door neighbor's turn. His dog, Duke, was kept in a fenced-in back yard and was there for protection. My neighbor's job took him away for periods of time and his wife was nervous because there have been some break-ins and a home invasion in the development we live in. (My neighbor's wife was actually hospitalized by the harassment she received from the complainant. Enough was enough. My neighbor gave Duke to a German shepherd rescue league an Duke is now being trained to be a police dog.) Anyway, not guilty.
My turn up at bat. According to the complainant, Declan was left out and was barking continuously from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm on the day in question. What day of the week was that, I asked. She didn't know. Turns out it was a Sunday. Now, Declan goes out two or three times a day and usually out for five or ten minutes -- just long enough for him to do what he has to do. While outside, Declan barks for only two reasons: if another dog starts barking at him, or if someone drives into our driveway. I thought I was being as considerate as possible to my neighbors with Declan, but my bad to the bone self evidently wasn't. The lady who complained testified that Declan was continuously barking all that time: she could see him from her side porch and, when she wasn't watching him, she could recognize his bark. Sorry, lady. Never happened. The prosecutor wasn't paying too much attention; in his closing statement, he told the judge that I had said something that I hadn't. I corrected him and I was found not guilty. Guess I'm not such an outlaw after all.
(Afterward, Kitty told me that that Sunday was the date of the Tuba Christmas. We had guests over and Declan had been in the house all afternoon.)
Now here's the thing: this woman had never spoken to any of us about the problem she had with the barking. In fact, she never spoke to any of us at all. Ever. (She did, however, give my neighbor's wife the finger as she drove by when she -- my neighbor's wife, that is -- was unloading her kids after picking them up from school.) Her husband (the nice guy, remember?) said that he had no idea she had filed complaints until after the fact.
If you have a problem with a neighbor, you get together and try to work things out, right? At least, that's the way I was raised. Bad to the bone, through and through.