Yoshi the beaglier and I live in Melbourne’s inner suburbs, where the illusion of a peaceful society is often marred by whispers of some darker elements but the lights still flicker on at dusk without fail.
We both get restless, unable to just sit in front of the flickering glow of the TV like most we inhabit the rolling hills of little boxes with.
Our explorations of the roads and alleys around us have exposed a myriad of stories, bits of our neighborhood that become landmarks, or even favorite places to eat if you are a hound.
When we wake an hour after dawn, we drink some water and head off, turn left at the steel gate at the bottom of our front walkway, and head up the hill shaking the sleep from our eyes under a pink sky.
There is the rusted fence five doors up with two small yapping dogs Yoshi likes to taunt with his freedom, then the phone box on the right which tells stories all the time, from papers scattered around it that mysteriously disappear, to a plastic bag of dubious tomato mixture that eventually gets removed after Yoshi licks it a few days in a row. Sometimes we see people illuminated in the dark, yelling in another language down the receiver, still going at it on our route home.
We pause at the roundabout and sniff the wind, check for cars and cross the road, Yoshi waits for the ok and bounds ahead, the leash crammed into my pocket.
Past the impressive colonial mansion that is always void of life on the corner, scanning the yellow planning permit stuck to its fence and noting the owner is an ‘S Murdoch’.
Down the hill to the next roundabout, pause, ok, and cross.
Go right down the sidewalk and past the decrepit house that seems to put up a hand lettered ‘for lease’ sign every few weeks, today the sign is gone and there is an empty beer bottle and pile of vomit on the nature strip which Yoshi finds too easily.
Past some modern apartments, some not so modern, the inhabitants ranging from friendly, to freaking out and running onto the balcony when I call his name, causing me to call out ‘Its only me!” and then feeling idiotic because who is ‘me’ to them? I giggle to myself as we hit the third roundabout, the one where the park is visible, and pause for discipline rather than necessity, and then flee into the park upon my ‘ok’.
Our park is the best park ever.
We aren’t biased, really, or loyal like a kind of football team locality thing, its just the people, their families and dogs that frequent it are united by how perfect the tiny park with its playground and one BBQ and toilets and one basketball hoop and benches scattered around, perfect for not only the dusk dog walks and the dawn breakfast BBQ with the little kids, but also the midnight drinking sessions and the illicit things that leave the grass flattened.
When you look in the Melways there are little pictures of a dog silhouette crossed out with a big red NO and they specify which parks are no dog parks. No dogs at all, not even on leashes.
They seem to have omitted the little dog with a halo over it telling you where you can go with pooch in tow, nor are there any signs that say ‘run free little puppies here’.
But our park is an off leash park, it tells you as you arrive and provides you with a padlocked roll of poo bags for your moral obligation.
The dog park thing is pretty new to me, having been a cat owner for most of my adult life. (RIP Mowie)
But its definitely true that cat people can live a happily solitary life, occasionally interrupting private reveries to acknowledge each other, while dogs explore, seek, stick their nose in as far as they can and sniffffff, force you to get out there and grab the rope with all your might and swing it around, yell and scream and laugh.
And then there is dog park etiquette, which I am now aware of and sometimes makes me feel like a frightened tourist who is unsure of the local customs.
If an older woman comes up and does not look at me, yet says to him ‘And how old are you then?” do I answer for him or is she waiting for a bark and a half to issue forth?
If someone says ‘what a cute dog!” am I obliged to return the sentiment, even if their dog looks like a skexi crossed with an emaciated racehorse?
If your dog is playing with another dog, should you always speak to the other parent, or can one remain autonomous around the perimeter, perhaps with only a nod on arrival?
If you do speak to the other owners, it is usually about breed, age, sex, names, balls, training, perhaps a mention of the weather if it’s going really good.
And say you meet the same dogs in the park, and you begin to chat to the owners, on more than one occasion,
What subjects are okay in the dog park dynamic?
Exchange names perhaps, but jobs? Addresses? Marital status? Your re-occurring nightmares involving a tunnel and giant octopus tentacles?
And then there is the extraction, when the dogs are just having too much fun and the parents are yelling, in a restrained way so as not to appear abusive, and the moment when the more conscientious dog breaks away and we are free to go on our way again, silent, unheeded, mobile.
We proceed out of the opposite end of the park from which we enter, cross the street, past squat red brick units and quiet alleyways, most of which always seem to have some kind of food waiting just down them a little for Yoshi to find and remember each day.
We pass the giant house on the corner, wooden and peaked and the entire thing a soothing shade of lilac that makes me dream of living there and dressing in all shades of purple, and hanging out on the porch drinking Frangelico in the gold afternoon light.
Cross a few small streets and blocks with fences and flats on them, and choose which left to turn depending on our energy, our time, the weather and a variety of other factors. Three streets then left if we are the laziest, four then left if we are lazy, five standard, and six if we are extra determined and sprightly. It’s these parallel streets that have way more tales to tell.
Each house we pass, I imagine in a split second the scenario of living there, I transport myself into the house by a quick glance over the fence, but if its one of my favorites I am unable to break my gaze at all as I walk past in twelve to eighteen steps.
Each house is more appealing than my own because I imagine they are actually mine, not rented from some profit oriented mogul. Some of these houses are like a breath of sweet relief, like if I had that house it wouldn’t matter what else was going on in my life, if that little spot was mine, if that porch and those windows and trees and gravel driveway was actually mine forever.
One of my favorite houses is the little old house with front door flanked with two windows, that has been renovated and had this double story glorious hacienda added onto the back of it, beautifully done, old world colonial with huge windows and soft green grass curving around to the hidden backyard. If I lived here, I would carry a parasol each time I went out to water the garden, I’d wear pearls and stockings inside on the dark wooden floorboards, I’d have parties in the giant bathtub with champagne.
Another of my favorite houses is modern meets conscious, wooden with ochre yellow walls and green trim, gum trees and natives spilling their dappled light onto the driveway, a symmetrical windows and bizarre angles suggest interesting levels inside, and in this house I would wear organic cotton underpants and bake wholemeal cupcakes and sit in my home office drinking green tea, thinking about moving to the country while writing about sustainable energy.
Another is the big rambling estate, started as a house and has had so much built on it looks like a coal miners mansion, lengths of window panes and sheds and double stories at least, maybe three. There is stuff going on in every corner of that house, I walk past and hear banging noises and talking loudly, sunlight shines off the mirrors hanging from the trees. In this house, time would stand still, the outside world would go on unawares of us. My hair would turn grey, my skin loose and transparent, but the smile lines around my eyes would deepen too, the burst of my laughter would echo in the walls forever.
There are not as many stories on the actual street in these side streets, they are hidden behind fences, quietly watching from behind closed screen doors, tinnily blaring out of lace curtains and open windows.
The traffic is barely audible, the streets we cross are barely dangerous, but we stop anyway for discipline.
Then we hit the main road again, rush of morning traffic and uphill wind making it an altogether more chaotic leg of the walk than the quietly sloping down hill side streets we have just traversed.
We pass the lollipop man at the primary school, he wishes me a great day each day, not a good day, but a GREAT day, and on Friday he says ‘have a GREAT weekend’ as we walk through the mothers with their handbags and sneakers and kids running around at knee height.
On the footpath someone has graffitti’d in the once wet concrete, so now and forever it says ‘may the force be with you’ in scratchy writing and I walk over it and smile, because, well I think it just might be!
There is the surf shop, a surprising place on this suburban back street miles from the ocean, and the door is almost always closed with a sign in the window saying ‘gone surfin’ so perhaps the surfers merely choose to hang their boards there occasionally, when the sand and the waves and the heat gets too much, they come back to the burbs and clean the dead flies from the windowsills and open up shop to encourage young bored teens to take up a hobby, a lifestyle of extremes and adrenaline.
I marvel at the small units who have impressive vegie gardens in their small three metre by three metre patch of land out front, enough to be out there picking and eating each night, and the old man says good morning as I walk past while he is watering it lovingly.
I pick off the head of a lavender flower, and squish it between my fingers as I walk, savouring the smell left behind long after I toss it to Yoshi to sniff, and reject.
I pause as I pass jasmine cascading over fences, take deep breaths of it as though I am inhaling spring itself.
I admire the wisteria that has erupted on the purple house, pouring out into the street, and I smile that there is also many different kind of purple flowers around the purple house, and I know that the person who painted and planted had some different sensibilities to the norm.
We hike up the last hill, which I find harder going but for some reason Yoshi always runs up, as if he knows that we are on the home run.
On the corner of our street we pass the small greasy petrol station that I never go into, because of the time they fixed a flat tire for me and it was flat again a day later.
We pass with our noses in the air (well not Yoshi’s, his is permanently stuck to the ground, even when he is running towards me) and head up our street to meet with the front walkway again.
Now full of the stories of our hood, and yoshis belly a little fuller from the spoils of the street too, ready start our day of working and talking and breathing around the other humans, while quietly waiting for tomorrow morning when the sun peeks over the hills and we are sniffing impatiently for our next walk, the next chapter in our suburban epic…..