Twenty years ago I moved from a big house near downtown to a smaller spread on the Westside. It was still a good-sized place, an 1899 Victorian on a big lot. I loved its turn-of-the-century charm, never suspecting that underneath that elegant exterior was an extortionist constantly in need of money. So I renovated — and renovated — and re-renovated, without much effect.
But once moved in, I fell in love with the neighborhood. It was unpretentious, accepting and slightly off-center. It wasn’t like neighborhoods in wealthier ZIP codes. There were no dictatorial homeowners associations, no rigid zoning codes to abide by, no neighborhood snitches to keep you in line. Backyards were littered with junk, including derelict collector cars and abandoned appliances, while snarling mutts kept intruders at bay. It was the Westside — no place for stinkin’ gentrifiers!
I had a snarling mutt of my own, a Chesapeake Bay retriever. Chessies are notoriously difficult dogs, but Bucky was beyond difficult. I once sought advice from a famous dog trainer whom I approached at a local event.
“I have this dog,” I began.
She interrupted brusquely.
“Dog or bitch?” Dog.
“Alpha in the litter?” Yes.
“Altered or not?” Not.
She looked at me pityingly.
“You can train a dog like that to retrieve over water in five minutes,” she said, “but you can’t train him to do anything else. He’s a barn dog, not a house pet!”
“Any advice?” I asked?
“Build a barn!” she replied, walking off with a smile.
Bucky guarded the house by snarling at passersby, other dogs, skaters, cyclists, delivery people and the postman. One day my next-door neighbor Mike called me over to the fence.
“It’s about Bucky,” he said. “The postman told me that Bucky’s the only dog on the Westside that he’s afraid of.”
I started to apologize, thinking that Mike was ready to report me to the dog police for keeping a dangerous animal, but he cut me off.
“Hey, don’t worry John,” he said. “You know what I was thinking when the postman told me that? ‘What’s the matter with my damned dog?!’”
That was the Westside at the turn of the 21st century — tough, tolerant and wise. It has stayed that way ever since, thanks in no small part to benign local governance and our city’s libertarian bent.
Many of us in the ’hood are somewhere between poor and reasonably OK. Complying with regulations can be expensive, so we appreciate elected officials who don’t pass many of them. We’re grateful for low property taxes. We need jobs, so we’re happy that the economy is so strong. That 8.25 percent sales tax hits us hard, so we’re glad to see visible results — repaved streets and “No Man’s Land” being fixed up.
Gentrification? It’s happening, it’s accelerating and it’s unstoppable. If you own, you may have paper gains — but where are you going to move? I guess I’ll try to convert some of our equity into painting the house and fixing the porch. I don’t want to leave the Westside, and I don’t want to have the shabbiest house on the block.
Meanwhile, we have to try to figure out which Democrat to support in 2020, or whether to stick with President Trump. Given that we’re in a post-rational age, it seems useful to use post-rational decision-making metrics.
Mine are dog-driven. I won’t support anyone who doesn’t have a dog, and will support anyone who has a Chessie.
Bucky died in his 14th year, and we adopted a rescue Chessie from the Humane Society a decade ago. He’s just as stubborn, willful, smart and protective as his predecessor. A Chessie could teach any president some useful lessons. Among them: You’re not always the boss; what you say may not be heard; and lying and dissembling doesn’t work.
Theodore Roosevelt is the only president to have brought a Chessie to the White House.
“Much the most individual of the dogs and the one with the strongest character was Sailor Boy; a Chesapeake Bay dog,” Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography. “He had a masterful temper and a strong sense of both dignity and duty. He would never let the other dogs fight, and he himself never fought unless the circumstances imperatively demanded it; but he was a murderous animal when he did fight.”
That sounds like a president, not a dog…