I don’t own a dog, but I walk my daughter’s Yorkshire Terrier regularly. Yesterday I took him out early before the temperature had a chance to melt the asphalt in the street. We followed our usual route around a church and through the church’s parking lot. However, they were live streaming Mass for the Feast of the Assumption, so we had to take a detour around the block.
The dog left his mark on just about every tree and bush we passed. Normally, I would have found this annoying. This time, however, I let him have his way. He’s an old dog and set in his ways, and I had no intention of teaching him a new trick. Besides, I think he knew something was up.
Indeed, something was up. My attitude toward marking territory had changed because of an incident that occurred one night this week. As I backed my car into a spot half a block from my house, an elderly woman came up and motioned to me from the sidewalk. Quickly, I got out and went up to her. I left the car running with the door open because I thought it was some sort of emergency. The woman looked distraught.
To my surprise (and frustration), she proceeded to interrogate me about who I was, why I was parking there, and how long I intended to leave my car. She told me how it looked like a car she had reported to the police as abandoned. She had even left a note for the driver of that car, which she described as white with a “fish fin” on the roof just like mine.
I told her I had no idea what she was talking about, was not, in fact, the owner of the fish fin car, and that I lived in the neighborhood. Then I reminded her that this was a public street and that she was playing police by monitoring who came and went. She responded by telling me how many times she had called a certain city councilman whom she knew about the broken lamppost on the corner and that people were committing near sacrilege by not putting their yard waste in containers. “And I’m home all day,” she added, which was all I needed to hear. I excused myself and went in for the night.
People are funny about space, especially when it comes to parking. Think of mall parking, street parking, double-parked cars, shared driveways, loading zones, handicapped spots, and off-road parking. When I say “funny,” I mean territorial to the point of violence. How many times have you read about fistfights or worse over parking at a shopping center?
Years ago I was involved in a war with a neighbor that involved multiple acts of vandalism on his part and action via the sheriff and a group of neighbors on my part to have the scoundrel arrested. Along the way, he would get drunk and hurl insults at my family and I would seek him out in his favorite dive bars. All in all, it was a not-so-pleasant experience that might have ended badly had reason not prevailed. It started with a divider between our two driveways and went into free fall from there.
As if that weren’t enough, yesterday afternoon I was nearly assaulted by a guy pushing a shopping cart, because I got too close to him. We both stood outside a convenience store in the heat. I waited to go in; he waited for the owner to come out and hand him a couple of bucks. He wore pants, thick boots, and a sweater and obviously felt hemmed in not just by me but the other customers. So I gave him ample social distance.
None of this should come as a surprise, since long-standing experiments with our closest relatives in regard to space–rats–have shown a direct but inverse relationship between acts of violence and living space. That is, the less space, the more violence. Having lived in the Bronx for a decade, I can attest to this. Not that violence doesn’t occur on farms, but statistically it isn’t an issue.
Parking space is the flashpoint. Why? Because it lies at the intersection of property and security, both of which require space. Not just any space but space to live without fear. And not just any property but that quintessential piece of mechanical, electrical, and digital engineering that has mesmerized the American psyche for more than a century: the automobile. You don’t get more American than the open road and cars.
So, I am going to let the dog mark his territory and, in a manner of speaking, I will do the same. After all, there’s enough anxiety out there over viruses, riots, and elections. I don’t need a busybody watching from behind the curtains.