Monday through Friday, you will find Esty and me on our morning walk through the neighborhood. Esty mostly leads the way, unless she must read the latest doggy news on a hydrant, a cactus in front of the house where the pot-bellied pig used to live, or the palm tree that – as the realtor flyer said – “once might have belonged to Hollywood Megastar Drew Barrymore".
We leave between 7:30 and 8:30, not being the type of morning walkers, you can set your watch by. It all depends on how long we cuddle in the bed, on the number of urgent Emails in my inbox, and on whether I need a coffee first before we start.
Our neighborhood is a short bike ride from a beach at the Pacific Ocean. Its wide streets are lined with pepper, palm, and citrus trees. In our backyard, Esty guards Hummingbirds zipping back and forth between flowers, bushes, and an orange tree. Seagulls glide across the blue sky and, above them, passenger and private planes.
Most mornings we turn right and walk past the neighbor’s house where Chihuahua puppy Cloé watches from the window, then past old-timer Trixie’s place whose owner is a master at finding the exact spot where Esty needs a scratch, and past the yellow house with tomatoes and corn growing in the front yard.
“Who is this sweet little puppy?” a woman in an LA- Clippers sweater asked the first morning she stopped at our house with her two giant dogs. Hazel, the poodle-doodle, and Saint-Bernhard Eloise were Esty’s first, best, and biggest friends. Because of them, she still thinks all dogs – especially the big ones - are potential playmates.
"They are. It's only you who gets nervous when I go meet them," she tells me. "Well, you come at them like a torpedo, and not everyone loves that kind of hot entrance," I remind her. "Oh, stop being such a worry-mummy. It always worked out, didn't it?" "Sometimes with you on your back and a set of teeth around your neck." "Who cares? Some dogs just need to feel superior. All I need is to play."
Eloise has moved on from the neighborhood to a place where patient, sweet, big-hearted Saint-Bernhards go after their time on earth. I can hear her paws pitter-patter in the clouds when it rains. We miss our friend and playmate terribly.
Mondays, Esty is nervous on the walk because it’s the trash-pick-up day. One of the truck drivers, a tall and lanky man in green overalls, softly honks his horn when passing by. “I am so very sorry, puppy,” he says, waves, and leans out of his window. “I know we are too loud.” Esty, meanwhile, pretends to be pulling on the leash being busy chasing cats. Like the black one snoozing in the morning sun, the tuxedo cat enjoying her breakfast bowl on astroturf, or the scruffy grey one she once almost caught between glazed clay statues in the potter’s front yard jungle.
Our neighborhood has many funky houses. There’s one covered in glass shreds and rainbow-colored tiles. Esty finds lots of news close to the abandoned bungalow hiding between weeds as tall as the teenagers next door. In November, the home with the two buddha statues and a water fountain in the front is decorated with garlands made from orange flowers. “Happy Diwali,” the owner shouts and hands me bags filled with cookies as sweet as her smile. “Today, we celebrate the Festival of Lights.” "Can I have one of the cookies? They smell so good," Esty asks jumping up on my legs. "Only if you behave, and sit." She puts her butt on the sidewalk right away. "Not here. At home, you'll get a treat." "You said, I get a cookie when I sit." "You want to argue?" "Is that a squirrel?" She gets up and pulls toward a lemon tree.
Our oldest friend in the neighborhood is over eighty and blind in one eye. Bill has a willow tree in his front yard, a wooden bench, and narrow paths between flowerbeds. “Where are you from?” he asked after we exchanged our first ‘Good mornings’ and he let Esty sniff his mud-caked hands. “I think I hear an accent.” His ancestors are from Germany like I am. His real name is Wilhelm. One of his relatives still lives close to where I grew up between vineyards and Roman ruins in the Black Forest’s foothills. I have not seen Bill in a while. We will go by tomorrow morning to see how he is doing.
For now, I follow Esty’s gaze up a power pole and we both watch a squirrel’s high-wire act. I hear neighbors talking, bulldozers taking down a house, and the rush of morning traffic. I feel the sun’s warmth on my face and smell fresh-made coffee wafting through our open kitchen window into the neighborhood.