Onstage: Wandering & Wondering

Grandfather Twilight in OTR

Jun 7, 2001 at 2:06 pm

Last Monday night, the police rang my doorbell because an African-American man had complained about Sister jumping on his leg.

Sister and I had been walking up the alley between Kaldi's and Divas off of Main Street. Ahead of us I saw Hans, my neighbor's boxer, and I was thinking that it would take a sumo wrestler to keep Sister away from him.

While my mind was grappling with how to avoid that, Sister evidently saw the man and decided she wanted to smell his leg, so she took one of her sudden leaps and did just that.

"I got a German shephard, and she's better trained than that," he said to me angrily. I took Sister upstairs while I went down to the sidewalk to talk to everyone.

I explained to him that Sister is an unusually rambunctious dog, but we had lived down here four years, and she'd never hurt anyone, and she barks at whites and blacks with absolutely horrifying equality. I said I knew these were tense times, and I wouldn't have offended him for the world. I apologized for the annoyance and the lack of respect he felt Sister had for him and I, through her behavior, had failed to offer him.

The police officer said, "Well, I can't arrest a dog for being a racist," and tucked his ticket pad away.

Sister was exonerated.

The man and I shook hands amicably. It was hot and close, as if a thunderstorm were gathering force and moving in our direction.

Sister isn't a racist, but she's something of a prankster. She likes to jump out of dark corners and bark. Once she saw a very large woman leaning over into the front seat of her car, and her large behind was too tempting a target for Sister. She yanked her leash and ran at the woman and sniffed her before I could stop it, then ran back to me innocently while the woman screamed and fell all over herself.

I have three friends, Michael, 10, and his sisters, Lakiesha and Daniesha, who have been coming up to my apartment for years, ringing my doorbell like my older friends do. Sometimes we have tea parties and hang out. They used to like that when they were younger — especially Michael, who's a growing boy and is hungry 24/7.

We used to read, or I'd ask them to read to me, until I decided that Washington Park School was doing a pretty good job with them, so we slacked off and started playing games on the computer. Alas, Michael's got to go to summer school again this year and repeat reading, so I guess I relented too soon.

One of the books we used to read was Grandfather Twilight, but I could tell Michael didn't relate to it at all. Grandfather Twilight — with his long white beard, his peaceful birds and animals perched on his shoulders and arms — isn't a reality in Michael's environment.

When I first met him he was 6, and he was terrified of Sister. He asked me a lot of questions about her, and he stood his ground and with his knees shaking reached out and patted her on the head.

I said, "You are the bravest boy I know. Why don't you study to be a veterinarian? You have an obvious way with animals."

After a few afternoons, Michael had Sister lying down, sitting, coming and any number of other activities formerly outside her comprehension. I can't make her do those things, but Michael can, and some days he walks her with me, holding the leash and sounding stern.

Michael insists you have to call Sister's bluff. "You gotta act like you're better than she is," he says.

After the "racist dog" incident, Michael said to me, "Miss Katie, the reason why everybody hates your dog is just because you're white. I don't like it. I don't think it's right."

I didn't know how to explain racism to Michael, so I just said I didn't think it was right either.

"It makes me feel sad," I told him while we walked.

It was about 6:30 p.m., and the sun was fading into a purple sunset. I wondered briefly what Grandfather Twilight would have done in my place, but he didn't seem likely to show up in Over-the-Rhine.

Our experiences, good and bad, leave marks on us. Michael and his sisters make me see the world from a new perspective, and that's all any artist can ask.

contact Katie Laur: [email protected]