Some twenty years ago, I was living alone in an East Hollywood apartment (directly across the street from the world headquarters of the Church of Scientology). One night as I tried to sleep, somebody’s dog commenced barking and never stopped. Subsequent nights I lay awake, trembling with anger, as the beast beat its giant wings inside a steel echo chamber. I experimented with earplugs, but they couldn’t shut out the constant, insidious yapping that pierced through the din of sirens and police helicopters and babies crying. Was this annoying debacle the owner’s fault? The Humane Society’s? Was it the smog? I worried that repetitive noise and sleeplessness might drive me crazy. I didn’t want to end up like a half-assed Son of Sam.
For weeks, I canvassed the neighborhood. I scanned backyards and peered under cars, staked out dumpsters and vacant lots. I grabbed people on the street and asked if they had any idea whose dog wouldn’t shut the hell up. “What dog?” was all they said. If I did find the owner, I planned to tell him I’d overheard a Scientologist announce that she wanted to call the police and, though the racket didn’t bother me, I felt obliged to warn him to muzzle the pooch. Brave, I know. But I never located the dog or the owner. Meanwhile, the barking got so loud it seemed to be coming from above.
Exhausted from lack of rest, I slogged through my days. At night I collapsed onto the Murphy bed and willed myself to sleep, but eventually the barking invaded my dreams. Had I kept a dream journal during my early-twenties, the following entry might have appeared: I drive to a sporting goods store and buy a thirty-four-ounce Louisville Slugger—the Pete Rose model. Bring the bat home and take practice swings in the kitchen as I wait for darkness to fall. Put on dark clothes and sneak out the back door of the apartment building. I follow the sound of howling through the neighborhood, struck by how sharp my senses are. I can actually smell fur. I see a house with a fenced-in yard. Approach the front of the house. No lights on. I make my way towards the back yard. Sure the animal is there. Suddenly the dog starts to whine and yelp, and when I turn the corner I am confronted by a man whacking the canine repeatedly with a baseball bat. He’s wearing dark clothes and curses at the dog as he beats it. The dog is defenseless, tied to a post. I know the man will not stop until the animal is dead. There’s a doghouse in the foreground. I lower my bat and walk away.
Months passed. That crazy barking curse contributed to my decision to get out of Los Angeles and move back east. I would love to say that I finally spotted a black and gray German Shepherd poised on the roof of the Church of Scientology, untouchable, clamoring mercilessly from his rampart. But life is rarely so artful, so ludicrous. All I have is this mysterious aural virus in my memory.