(I heard this story over the whine of a group of hundred-fifty horsepower electric motors driving the pumps that suck the water from the Snake River at the Dead Ox pumping station then sling it up through six-foot diameter piping and out onto the Oregon Slope onion fields north and west of Ontario, Oregon. The maintenance guy and I had just discussed the fact that neighbors don't seem to help each other as much as they did when we were kids.....)
"Neighbors. Takes all kinds of folks to be neighbors, and you never really know who is living down the lane there. I've moved around some, so I've had different types of people for neighbors, but the one I have now used to be about as different as they come.
"Let's call him Joe. Joe lives in a shotgun shack about a half a mile down a gravel road from our place, and to get to our house, you gotta drive past Joe's place. He moved in there three years ago last April. Lived all alone. Don't know exactly where he came from, but when he showed up he was packing Pennsylvania plates on a Pinto station wagon. He used to spend most of the day drinking on his porch.
"Two Julys ago I was coming home from town and spotted Joe sitting on the porch with his little white .poodle dog, so I slowed down and gave him a big wave, just being friendly, you know, never hurts. Well, I no more than got home than the phone rang, and it was Joe, telling me I had run over his dog. Now, I'm pretty sure I saw that dog up on the porch when I drove by, and I didn't feel any thumps or hear any yelps, but it is hard to be absolutely sure of anything nowadays, so I apologized for running over his dog and asked him if there was anything I could do for him.
"He said he wanted a new dog. Well, I just happened to have a friend across the valley whose bitch had dropped a big litter of poodle-type pups, and I told Joe that I'd do my best to get a white one for him. He said, nah, he didn't want another poodle, that he had his heart set on a registered German shepherd.
"If I had run over a dog at all, I'd run over a mongrel poodle, and substituting a pureblood shepherd seemed to me to be a little like him asking me for a new Cadillac after I'd dented up his Pinto, and I told him so. That didn't help a thing. Just gave him the idea to hit up my automobile insurance company for three hundred dollars for the poodle.
"It took the better part of a month for the insurance company to convince Joe that me and the dead dog, if there was one, had both been in a public road right-of-way when the dog was hit, that I hadn't actually driven up onto Joe's porch and run over the dog, and therefore the dog was in the wrong place at the wrong time to have anything to do with my liability insurance, and that, as a matter of fact, Joe, being owner of the dead dog, would be held liable for any damage to my vehicle.
"Joe took this as writing on the wall, and phoned me one night to say that he had decided that a little white poodle pup wouldn't be so bad afterall. By this time, of course, my buddy had given away all the pups. I told Joe that I figured that the dog question was a done deal and that I'd done all I could for him and apologized once again for hitting his dog, if I had hit his dog.
"Like I said, Joe was a drinking man, the kind that shifts gears on his personalities and gets awful uncorked at a certain point in his boozing. Fifteen minutes after the phone call, Joe was out on our front porch yelling to the high heavens about what a rotten, no-account bastard I was, about how he missed his dog, and about how he was going to take three hundred dollars out of my hide.
"I don't much cotton to anybody calling me names on my own property, so I popped on the porch light to make sure Joe wasn't packing a gun, then went out to meet him.
"Just about the time I was winding up to feed him some teeth, my wife came busting through the screen door, put both hands on Joe's chest, and rolled him off the porch, down five stairs, and into her little carp pond.
That puddle isn't but two feet deep, but Joe was too sloshed to know which direction was up and he went to flailing around like he had been thrown off a bridge into the Snake River. Mostly to keep him from beaching all the carp I went down off the porch, dragged him out of the drink, and set him on the sidewalk.
"Maybe Joe hit his head on the stairs on the way down, or maybe he saw his maker there in the fish pond, or maybe that was the last straw of some kind. Whatever it was, worked like shock therapy on him, cause Joe quit using booze that very night, and he has been the best of neighbors since then. Got a job, bought a horse, went to riding the high country with the search and rescue folks, and does real good at keeping up the fences between him and us. Even found himself a live-in girl friend. I gave them a pedigreed German shepherd pup last Christmas."