Carlito's Way

Wise guys have to be prepared to bear the consequences of their acts.

Wise guys have to be prepared to bear the consequences of their acts

I never reply to people who ask me what sign I am. But what irks me even more than them are people who guess what sign I am (and are usually wrong) based on my behavior or on character traits, after they have observed them for four full minutes.

Patience of similar magnitude is required when I walk the dog, whose breed is shrouded in fog, and so triggers people's guessing instincts. With the possible exceptions of "huge curly Chihuahua," or "black Golden Retriever," she has been called pretty well everything.

"Schwarzwalder [umlaut second 'a'!] Kirschtorte," I therefore hurl back assertively at anyone who asks me what the dog's breed is. Everyone knows that schwarz means black, like Shoshana's color. And when you say it fast, most of the Asiatics I encounter don't notice that what I actually said is "Black Forest cake" - the one made with chocolate, Kirsch and cherries - in German. True, I am not fluent in the language, but I do know something about the magnificent Austro-Hungarian tradition of baking.

That usually does the trick. The important thing, you know, is that every question gets an answer. But one morning, at a pedestrian crossing at the corner of Natan Hahakham Street, someone said, as he patted Shoshana's curls: "This is the best English hunting dog there is. I know, because I used to own dogs. That was when I was living in a house with a yard of four dunams [one acre] in Ramat Hasharon. But that was when I was married and the children were small. Now the children are big and live abroad, and I live alone in a lovely penthouse here in the area. I don't have dogs anymore, but I still love them."

That's how it is with divorces-divorcees: The moment they emerge from the rabbinate they lose no time in adopting a sophisticated conversational technique, which enables them to convey in rapid-fire monologue all the courting data that's required about their marital status, how many children they have and the days on which they are with the other spouse.

"I thought she was a Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte," I fired back, using my regular shtick on the guy, who fixed an astonished gaze on me in return.

"What do you have to do with the Black Forest?" he asked. "Because, you know, when I wasn't living in Israel, I lived right next to the Black Forest, in Freiburg. I worked for Bayer, the pharmaceuticals firm, and incidentally invented a drug for psoriasis and seborrhea that is completely natural and is 100 percent effective. I am an expert on skin problems. Move your hair out of your face for a second," he said, taking a pair of reading glasses out of his jacket, "because I can help with any problem."

"I have to run, people are waiting for me," I said to the divorce from the Black Forest.

A few hours later, at night, a few of us dog owners were sitting on the benches in the dog park at the end of my street. Alon talked about the dog-training group he had joined; Ziva described a traumatic meeting she had had a week earlier with Linda and her frightening Amstaff, Carlito. Just as I was telling her that I had written about Linda and Carlito and noted with relief that I hadn't actually seen Linda for two weeks already, and that I hoped she doesn't read Haaretz - we saw her coming up the stairs that lead from the street to the park with Carlito. He had grown tremendously in the past two weeks, this Carlito.

"Come join us! Why are you standing outside?" I said - stricken with fear and guilt feelings - to Linda.

"That one is afraid of my dog," she replied, pointing at Ziva.

"No, no, it's all right," Ziva said, and took tiny Ricki onto her lap.

To dissipate the tension, I decided to amuse everyone with the story of my encounter with the man from Freiburg. "It's so like me to tell a person who lived next to the Black Forest and speaks German that Shoshana is a Black Forest cake dog," I summed up, ending the story with a crescendo.

"Cherries," Linda blurted out, followed by a sigh of regret. "Carlito doesn't have the cherries anymore. In the end I cut them off. Poor Carlito, it hurt him so much when his cherries were removed. It breaks my heart. I didn't sleep for two nights after that."

"What?" Alon said, suddenly showing an interest. "What did you do to your dog?"

"I removed his cherries - they told me he had to be castrated," Linda replied sadly.

"Now, other dogs will probably try to mount him - they'll think he's not a man anymore."

"Don't worry," Ziva said encouragingly. "Men don't even notice when they don't have balls."

But Linda wasn't listening. "Why are you sitting here and laughing at Carlito's cherries? You don't have a heart, you," she lashed out at me. "He's a man's man, that dog, and now other dogs think he's a female! And why do you say I don't have children in the house, that they're abroad and that I live alone in the heart of the city? As it happens, I have children and grandchildren and also siblings and a mother."

"I wasn't even talking about you. I was talking about the man from Freiburg, whose children live abroad and he now lives in the heart of the city. That's what he said."

"It's not nice to laugh at people," Linda said, "to say nasty things about their dog. I love Carlito more than a child."

Ziva pitched in with an explanation. "Neri wasn't talking about Carlito. She was talking about her dog. She said it is a Black Forest cake dog."

"Are you saying I am a black woman from the forest?" Linda shouted, getting up from the bench. "You think I am some primitive being from the forest? I am an intelligent woman. I have enough intelligence for all my life until I die. Even Carlito has more intelligence than you. You think I came from the village? From the forest? Better you should lower your nose. It's not good to lift your nose up too much. You should thank your lucky stars that Carlito even looks at your miserable bitch. I was born in heart of city and I will die in heart of city. I am from a big city and I live in a big city. Here I live in the heart of the city; I never lived anywhere else. The same was abroad - only in heart of city. Never in village. Never in forest."

Ziva tried again: "She didn't mean to say anything about a village or forest. Neri is actually from Haifa."

"Haifa? I have a sister from Haifa, too. I wouldn't last even two weeks there. There is nothing to do. I belong to here. Carlito, too. You can go back to Haifa or go back to Black Forest. Come on, Carlito, there are bad people here," Linda said, yanking Carlito's leash and walking off.

What sign am I? I of all the dog owners managed to rile none other than the paranoid woman with the Amstaff. I'd bet that I'm star-crossed.