As often happens with dog people, our pups became friends first, and we followed. Walking our beasts along the side streets of Parkville, Donald Loggins and I discovered we share the same passions: trees and tag sales, small dogs, Scrabble, sample sales, and salmon steaks teriyaki. Soon we started hitting all the Ditmas Park yard sales together. Shopping at yard sales is a form of community service, as Donald points out — “You are repurposing other peoples’ excesses.”
Mr. Donald (as my son, then three years old, dubbed him) embodies the good neighbor. One who shows up for dinner with a dozen shucked oysters for starters. One who looks out for packages and waters your geraniums when you’re away. One who pops in to walk your dog (“Anyone need a walk?”) when you’re home, or play chess with your boys. He’s the kind of neighbor, on the move with his indefatigable pooch, who never forgets to ask, “Do you need anything from the Plaza?” and leaves a bag of cannoli from 18th Avenue hanging on your doorknob for absolutely no reason.
A Kensington native, Mr. Donald grew up in a barn-style house on that his Scottish grandfather built in 1890. Knockout roses in his front yard and a bee hive in the back, Mr. Donald sits on his porch, playing Scrabble on his iPad. Corky the Yorkie, nine pounds of terribly spoiled terrier, curls in his lap; well-fed strays sun themselves at his feet. We never miss a Corky birthday party, where Donald tosses tidbits of filet mignon and I send my sons to join the dogs on the kitchen floor with open gullets.
In 1973, late urban environmentalist Liz Christy approached Donald to join her denim-decked volunteers in clearing away years’ worth of junk from the city lot at the intersection of E Houston Street and the Bowery. Innertubes, air conditioners, syringes, malt liquor bottles and wood-paneled TV consoles fell to the muscle of the Green Guerillas, working to raze garbage and raise flowers in open spaces throughout the city.
Since then, Donald has received the volunteer service award from Marty Markowitz, the EPA Citizen Environmental Award, and a certificate of appreciation from Governor Pataki. With 35 years as a data security director for the government, Mr. Donald is a child at heart who eschews adult vegetables. (“I’ll pass on the broccoli, the spinach, and the kale. I do like corn though.” “Corn doesn’t count, Mr. Donald.”)
He never skips the dessert menu, and hot fudge sauce is his favorite condiment. He drinks cocoa — never coffee — and is overly fond of Coca-Cola. He reads the funnies in the Daily News, then shares them with my sons.
Today Donald is as green as ever (kale aversion notwithstanding), still showing up to tend the grape arbor of the Liz Christy Garden, and giving tours to kids — many of whom have never seen a fruit attached to a branch, or a vegetable to a vine.
Donald, something of a glamour junkie, even enjoys brushing elbows with models on photo shoots in the garden. A particularly gorgeous Japanese model asked him once straightaway, “Are you rich?”
Donald laughs. “People tell me I should have replied, ‘Yes!'”
Donald and I even share a love of the changing seasons, and the holidays that accompany them. He makes individual treat bags at Halloween, rigs inflatable Frosty at Christmas, and bears baskets of panorama sugar eggs at Easter.
His answering machine greeting, “Have a great holiday,” runs all year long, and it’s true that with his cheerful, boyish demeanor, every day likely is a holiday for Mr. Donald. As for the rest of us, he’s still right — there is always a holiday coming up at some point.
He’s due all the credit for getting me into community service. He’s made it easy. Together we have gotten trees planted, fines issued to negligent landlords with litter-strewn lots, and bare mattresses removed. We have convinced the notoriously-unresponsive DOT to conduct traffic studies on hazardous corners.
We have organized block cleanups in May and planted bulbs along Coney Island Avenue in November. We volunteer as shift leaders at Compost for Brooklyn, breaking up broccoli stalks and grinding grapefruit into submission. Donald even named me a Public Member to Community Board 14’s Community Environment Committee,which he co-chairs, having been appointed by then-Borough President Markowitz for his environmental and community work.
“You can never have enough titles,” he tells me, handing me a stack of business cards featuring my new appointment — business cards make great bookmarks and toothpicks, by the way.
Donald supports establishing the Parade Grounds as the permanent site of operation for Gallop NYC, which offers free horseback riding lessons for people with disabilities, and even invited a representative from Gallop to talk at a recent Community Environment Committee meeting. Donald is the kind of person who keeps the gears turning at a community board.
Because of Donald, I encourage everyone to become a public member of his or her local community board — it might not take as much commitment as you think. If you’re on an environment committee, for example, just showing up once quarterly to a one-hour meeting about the exciting things coming down the pike in your local parks and playgrounds is all that’s required of you. Or if your interests lie elsewhere, there are transportation, public safety, libraries and education, and other committees to choose from.
And besides showing me the community service ropes, Mr. Donald keeps me in honey year round: amber in spring, dark and pungent as blackstrap molasses in fall. I swear it’s his bees licking popsicle wrappers in Coney Island Avenue trash cans in October that give their late-summer honey its Brooklyn bite.
“I’m running out of jars,” he warns. I leave empties on my window sill and return home to find them filled.
Friends bring out the the best in you and bring you balls of fresh mozzarella. Good neighbors help you realize your dreams on your block and beyond. We should all have a Mr. Donald around the corner.
Photos courtesy of Maria Newsom Fahey and Donald Loggins