Every morning here in Bogotá, bright and too early, a vehicle piled high with barking dogs rolls down Carrera 23. My street.
The dogmobile pulls to a stop directly beneath the apartment window. Oh, how the beasts bark! They moan like womanless fratboys on a bad tequila binge. They howl like wolves with bad toothaches. The cheerful, probably deaf, dogmobile driver bounds from the cab, scoops up a Pomeranian brought to the curb by a lady in a housecoat. How sweet! She’s sending little Velveeta away for the day! Velveeta will ride the dogmobile with her good buddies to what one imagines as a puppy dog amusement park, with fire-hydrant water features and meat cotton candy. Ta-ta, Velveeta!
We never need alarm clocks on our street. Bow-wow! Wake up, you sleepyheads! Can’t you see it’s 5:17 a.m.? You’re burning daylight! Bow-WOW!
Strict laws exist, thank goodness, against doggycide. But I must confess, shamefully, that the urge to sew barking snouts shut has crossed my mind. Hey, if my elementary school teachers in Alabama did it to me, why not?
After a painful few minutes, the barking bus takes its Doppler effect merrily down the road to the next neighborhood. Lights come on, one building after the next, as the baying fades.
I ran into a similar noise problem many years ago when I lived in Italy. And I must offer an author’s note at this point: Depending on whether those involved in this story still live and seek vengeance, this recounting may simply be alternative fact … a story I made up. From scratch. You decide.
I lived in Verona with a fine friend named Brad. In those days, I could sometimes hit a fastball, and by some extraordinary stroke of luck, this off-and-on-again skill took me to a position at third base for Verona Arsenal, an amateur team at the lowest levels of organized baseball in the country.
To stay the season, Brad let me share space with him in a 15th-century palazzo, a magnificent two-story Palladian-style villa with a huge cobbled courtyard. The deep-throated bells of the Duomo, a Roman Catholic cathedral built in 1187, rang two blocks away, and flocks of pigeons ruffled the air every time one of us left our first-floor apartment.
Things should have been perfect. Four-legged problems spoiled perfection.
Directly above the apartment lived an Italian duke and duchess (no kidding). They owned two giant schnauzers, solid black, big dogs that didn’t much like baseball players or people named Brad. Whenever the beasts lurked in the courtyard, we took great care entering or leaving the apartment, slinking along the walls like craven housecats.
All too often the dogs spotted us, and came bounding and baying and growling. A maiming bite always felt just a moment away, though the big black animals mostly just tortured us. They drew near and breathed moistly on our hands. We remained motionless while the animals sniffed and circled and growled. They worked as a team; if you kept an eye on one, the other went behind you.
That’s because these schnauzers really enjoyed barking—very loudly—directly into a human anus. Imagine a noise enema. My liver turned a flip each time it happened.
Revenge was sweet. We found a silent dog whistle. It was a fine thing, short and silver, and it shrilled a pitch a human ear could actually hear a little at first, before it rose to a bat-calling ultrafrequency beyond the human range.
The Schnauzers hated it. We blew, and they knew. They howled in protest.
One night, the high ceiling above our apartment sent down a familiar rhythmic sound: the madly squeaking springs of the royal bed. The duke and duchess, being Italian, loved whoopee. Downstairs, we spent many nights grimacing, wondering if this would be the time the mating pair ultimately killed one another—or if the 400-year-old ceiling would finally give way and dump the randy royals in our living room.
Somebody in our apartment reached for the silent dog whistle. Somebody blew it. Upstairs, the big bad dogs erupted. Howled. They sounded like blind dogs trapped in a burning meathouse. Their barking drowned out the clanging cathedral bells.
The squeaking of the bed stopped cold, and the duke screamed: “Zitto ti maledica i cani, prima che ti butto giù dal balcone!” [Loose translation: “Shut up, you damned dogs, before I throw you off the balcony!”]
All was silent. Some giggling went on downstairs, but all was mostly silence. After some minutes, the duke and duchess picked up where they left off. The hot squeaking of the bed resumed.Somebody downstairs blew a silent dog whistle. Again.
The giant schnauzers exploded. Bays and barks, howls and snarls. You could hear them, if the wind blew right, to Milan in the west and Venice to the east.
The squeaking of the bed again screeched to a halt. A wild string of unprintable Italian oaths flooded the palazzo, things about mothers with tails, and wooden stakes and hammers, and holy executioners, plus a litany of curses mentioning Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, and Leonardo da Vinci.
Again, all went silent. Two Americans downstairs laughed till they wept, but all was mostly silence.
After a much longer wait, the bed springs squeaked a third time. Pavlov got it right. Animals can certainly be conditioned to behave in certain ways. Schnauzers must be smart. By now, the squeaking bedsprings meant a skull-splitting, pee-inducing, brain-needle dog whistle would follow. This time, twin giant schnauzers barked their fool heads off at the very first hint of royal lovemaking—the squeaking bedsprings.
The next day, the schnauzers disappeared. Not a sign remained of those big black beasties with their big black shadows and their big bad anus barks.
These mornings in Colombia, as that blasted dogmobile howls the world awake from peaceful sleep, I plot and plan. Doggies of Bogotá, I am a dangerous man.
Do not make me prove it.
Image: Robert Couse-Baker, CC-BY
Charles McNair is Paste’s Books editor emeritus. He served the magazine as writer, critic and editor from 2005-2015.