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life from one foot up - derek powazek

I thought I knew my neighbors. Reasonable people, the folks in my 'hood. Eccentric, sure. The guy in the beret and skirt draws snickers from the tourists. The bum in the park in the cap strikes a melancholic pose. Even Johnny, arguably the craziest of the crazies, seemed to be able to hold a conversation together.

But that was before I had Chihuahuas.

When Heather moved to San Francisco from her native Canada, it was still during the rental crunch – when it was hard enough to find a place to live on your own without having to explain about having two little dogs to take care of. She left them in the care of a friend and came here to start her new life.

But when the apartment upstairs from me in Casa Carmelita opened up, Patrick let me know on the sly before he listed it. And when Heather hit me with the puppy dog eyes, I knew we'd live there. And when Patrick said that, sure, two little dogs would be okay, the deal was closed.

A couple months later I found myself in Ottawa. Some people stress about meeting the in-laws. I had to meet the dogs. And make no mistake, dogs are worse. Dogs won't pretend to like you.

But within five minutes, Tigger, the fat little Buddha of the two, put his paw on my leg, looked up at me, and gave me a "yeah, you'll do" look. He climbed up on my lap and fell asleep. Cheika scampered by, stopping for a moment to lick my foot.

I was in.

I never, ever, thought I could love a little dog. A yapper. An ankle-biter. I'm a big-dopey-dog guy. A long-hairy-dog guy. But life is full of unexpected surprises, and my ability to love these little critters is one of them.

Within a month they were here in Casa Carmelita with us. And that's when everything changed.

You think you know people. Adult people. People who can put together coherent sentences. And then you go out with two Chihuahuas on leashes and you see the world for what it really is: An endless parade of babbling nincompoops.

"They're so cuuuuuuuute!" says the random passer-by. She could be an intelligent person. A minute ago she could have been seriously debating the existential nature of the public transportation system. Now she speaks in one syllable words.

"They. Are. So. Small!" she says. "They are so so so small!"

"And you are so so so observant," I murmur to Tigger, who licks his lips.

Even Johnny, whose persona usually ranges from drunk and belligerent to drunk and asleep, is captivated by them. "I hhhafta tehll you ... dose chawawaz are the mohst vhiscious dhogs," he says.

"These love bugs?" I say, looking down. The dogs turn cute on cue. It's eerie how they do that.

"Ahwl, nhoo. Not yhuurs...."

I thought I knew these people.

Then there's the rest of the Cole Valley denizens, the ones I always saw but never really knew. I know them all now, thanks to the dogs.

Well, I don't really know them. I know their dogs.

Heather and I take the pups to the park for their two o'clock. We greet Jesse, Jack, and Cal. Then we look up and wave to their owners, our neighbors, whose names we do not know.

We all talk about chew toys. Peeing habits. Doggie social skills. We do not talk about anything that matters. The closest to political discussion we have is a few tsk-tsks about the upcoming new law that requires dogs in parks to be on leashes. Aside from that, we mostly watch our dogs frolic, whip out our plastic bags on cue, and watch out for the unhappy kind of barking.

But I occasionally look up to our apartment, visible from the tiny triangle of green we call the park, and wave at my dear cat, Spoo, as she destroys another house plant in protest.

She'll learn to love the pups. Everyone does.

Even me.

What have you done for love?