StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

The Puppy Abuser and the Flash of Anger

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on April 12, 2010

The teacher at one of the Buddhist centers I belong to devotes most of his dharma talks to the subject of anger. He’s always quoting Shantideva, an 8th Century Indian Buddhist teacher who always cautioned against bad tempers. His favorite Shantideva quote comes from the tenth chapter of Shantideva’s poem A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life:

Good works gathered in a thousand ages,
Such as deeds of generosity,
Or offerings to the blissful ones (buddhas) –
A single flash of anger shatters them all.

That’s one radical statement! Thousands of ages of good deeds shattered by a single flash of anger?

Yet experiences like the one I had yesterday lead me to believe it’s true.

Julius and I had decided to take Eastern Car Service to Soho instead of the F train. Even if we had taken the subway, though, the universe might have still set up a trial like the one I had when we were a mile or so away from the Brooklyn Bridge.

We were stuck in a traffic jam on Broadway coming up on Houston, where our driver would be turning left. Right up ahead of our car, a blonde woman in white shorts and a spanking white t-shirt had been riding her ten-speed bicycle up against the curb. She had a white Labrador puppy on a leash too. On a jam-packed sidewalk, where pedestrians could barely move, a puppy who could barely keep from tripping over its own paws was being dragged by the neck by a woman riding a ten-speed down a street where cars were barely moving.

By the time our car inched up to her back tire, the woman had stopped her bike. She was yelling at the dog for not keeping up. Julius didn’t notice. He was on the phone, talking to the gardener about planting bleeding hearts on the geraniums on our deck. His eyes were turned east toward Bowery. Mine were right on the woman, whose foot was on the curb on the west side of the street, jerking the puppy’s leash. The puppy was whimpering and its eyes were plaintive and she was yanking him up by the neck and suspending him in the air, over and over, for not following her every order. The puppy wasn’t even old enough to walk through an open space without wobbling and she was expecting it to bound alongside her bike through inner-city gridlock? And now she’s almost lynching it to show who’s boss?

At first, I was so shocked, I couldn’t speak. I watched for a minute, thinking that maybe she was just yanking the leash. But, no, again and again and again, she would pull the puppy up by its neck, off its paws as it cried. Other people watched too, dumbstruck and horrified by the spectacle.

I couldn’t take it anymore. As our car pulled nearer to her, I screamed, “Hey! What the FUCK are you doing to that dog?”

She turned to me and said with the haughtiest possible tone, “Oh, fuck you, asshole!”

I lost it. I fucking lost it. Julius hadn’t seen the incident I had witnessed. He had no idea why I was suddenly slamming my body up against the car door and screaming out the window, “You fucking BITCH!” She was screaming back at me, still yanking the puppy but at least by now she was too preoccupied with me to make it airborne. My blood shot to the boiling point as I thought not only had she done this to a poor, defenseless creature, but she was acting like she had every right to do it. So I screamed it, I screamed it, I screamed, “You fucking…” (Julius is sitting here right now as I type this. He’s begging me not to post the actual word I used on her. But it’s the worst word in the book, way worse that the adjective that preceded it. And I screamed it. I screamed it at her at least three times.)

Julius had no idea what was going on. “Kyle!” he gasped, “Calm down! Calm down!” Our car was turning left on Houston. Spit was foaming at the corners of my mouth and I was grinding my teeth, darting my eyes at the never-wrong woman, who was now walking her bike across the street through the crush of New York pedestrians, dragging her puppy and screaming obscenities back at me. I kept screaming, “Fuck you, BITCH!” “Kyle!,” Julius kept saying, “Calm down! Calm down!”

It was all I could do to keep from jumping out of the car, though. I kept thinking about Marquez and Giuseppe and how I would feel if someone treated them like that. (True, Marquez and Giuseppe are cats, not dogs, but let’s face it, cats and dogs tend to be much better people than people!) Plus, at least by the looks of it, this woman didn’t have the excuse of being from some third-world country where they don’t have the same consciousness around the ethical treatment of animals. While I don’t know for sure what her station in life is, her bike, her jewelry, her tony sneakers, her hairstyle bore all the marks of a privileged professional. By now, she was challenging me to say everything I was saying to her face, and I would have liked nothing better but Julius kept pleading with me to stay in the car. Even though I was going crazy, I had enough foresight to know that if I left the car, the confrontation could erupt into violence and jail, so I kept my seat.

As the car pulled away, I howled, “You fucking bitch! It’s illegal to abuse animals! You should be LOCKED UP!” Julius had long since abandoned his phone call and devoted all his energy to holding me back, imploring me to calm down. The car drove up a couple blocks. The woman was long gone up Broadway. I sat in the car and breathed and tried centering myself. It was hard as hell.

On the sidewalk, Julius told me I had to control myself. He couldn’t believe this was happening. He’d seen me meditate and chant in the morning. Before we left the house, he saw me reading books on metta meditation. He saw me brushing the cats’ teeth, telling them (as if they could speak English!) all about how gingivitis can spread if I don’t do this for them and giving them lots of pets and kisses to make up for it. And now I was a raving lunatic, who wanted nothing better than to see this woman suffer exactly what she’d made that poor little dog suffer.  (And she walked so proud afterwards!)  “You can’t act like this!” he told me.

I kept flashing back to a book I read a few summers ago called The Sociopath Next Door. The author presented a case study of a sociopath who adopted a puppy whom she thought was cute, but when it became too much bother, she neglected it and not long after, had it put to sleep. Afterwards, she ran to her friends crying for sympathy. I felt like I was face to face with that woman on Broadway and my fury was slow to abate.

We went to Dos Caminos and ordered guacamole and a couple Dos Equis. On the outside, I was doing everything to keep it together. On the inside, I could feel my demons rioting. Julius asked what had come over me. I explained what I’d seen happen to the puppy. Once he saw that my fire had cooled sufficiently, he said he could see why it had upset me so much. He said he could see that my intentions were good and one good thing was that my raging at the woman drew her attention away from the dog she was hurting, at least for the moment.

Still, I had horrible pangs of conscience over all the horrible things I’d said. It wasn’t skillful. And, as I told Julius, I was fearing the karma that would come back to bite my ass. Naturally, I texted Mike Levine and confessed everything with special mention of karma since he’s also a practitioner. He said he understood but said somewhat jokingly, “But at the same time, it’s probably not how the Buddha would have reacted.”

With 20-20 hindsight, I see I could have gotten out of the car and stood between the woman and the dog. I could have simply asked what the puppy did to deserve that treatment. She could have screamed at me and said, “Fuck you, asshole,” as loud as she wanted, but as long as I didn’t react, the karma would have been on her head, not mine. She could have slapped my face. It would have been her karma and I would have been well within my rights to call the cops, who probably wouldn’t have come just on account of her roughing up a dog.

But I didn’t do it that way. Now it’s my karma. I feel like shit.

I’ve since calmed down and meditated many times. Now I see a skillful way to redress this error. I’m filling out an application to volunteer at the ASPCA. Up to now, Julius and I have just been donating money. Now it’s time to help the dogs and cats hands-on too.