Thursday, June 11, 2015

My First Rodeo

New tenants moved in next door.  I didn't see anyone for the longest time.  Just that broken down, green Silverado parked out front.  I listened to their muffled voices through the panelling that separated our living rooms, but I couldn't make out what they were saying.

Whenever the truck pulled up, I ran to the window to try and catch a glimpse of my neighbors.  I judged these small, gray creatures as they shuffled back and forth into the house - several men and a young woman.  They looked like hard cases.  I often heard crying that made wonder if perhaps they'd kidnapped a baby, but I never saw any children.

They blasted heavy metal music - the heaviest available.  Low, pulsating reverb and shuddering screams that played endlessly, night and day.  Visitors came and went at all hours.  I knew they were doing something interesting directly on the other side of that wall.  I was hoping it was cocaine.  That would have been so convenient.


I saw the girl behind the house one day.  She was using our hose to fill a plastic paint bucket with water.  She had a puppy with her.  Small and silver-colored with a brown face and a black ring around one of its eyes, no tail.  The strangest little dog I'd ever seen.  It was tied with an old clothesline to a stake in the dirt.  It made loud, gasping sounds as it drank, almost as if it were dying of thirst.

"How cute!  Is that a hyena?" I asked, jokingly.

"It's a cattle dog," she said.  "Wes found him.  Down at the rodeo."

"Are you gonna keep him?"  I gestured toward the puppy as he emptied his bowels and began pulling the rope through his own shit.

She shrugged.  "It's none of my business.  I don't live here."

Her comment upset me.  It wasn't like I thought we could be friends, but I certainly didn't need to know she was such a bitch.  I was doing just fine without that information.

The following morning, the sound of whimpering woke me up.  I went outside to see if the little dog was okay.  He'd torn open a bag of trash and dragged garbage as far as his tether would allow.  He sat forlornly in a small patch of weeds, chewing an empty jug of Clorox.

"You don't want this," I told him.  "It's bleach."

Evidently, I was mistaken.  Cattle Dog growled when I tried to take the bottle from him.

I walked around to the front of the house.  The truck was there and I heard music, so I assumed my neighbors were home.  I knocked on the door.  No answer.  I looked up and down the street as I stood in my nightgown and banged a second time.  Nothing.

These people really need to get out here and do something, I thought to myself.

But I knew they wouldn't.  I went back the way I came and passed the dog again. The poor thing looked miserable.

I opened a can of cat food and tore up two slices of white bread.  I mixed the ingredients together and heaped everything onto a paper plate.  Cattle Dog stood when he saw me and lunged at his windfall.  When I returned to the kitchen, there were footprints of shit on the floor.  I hadn't realized I'd tracked it in on my slippers.  I hated what was going on, and I wished neither of us lived there anymore.

I was relieved to discover the puppy was gone a few days later.  I picked up all the debris and stepped around the piles of poo that lay neglected in disgusting tufts.  I wondered what could have happened - if perhaps, the animal had died out back. But I knew in my heart if that was the case, its body would have still been there.

Someone must have taken him someplace.  Maybe on a nice, long walk.  That's what I told myself.


Kirin sat in his baby saucer as I planted marigolds outside the front door.  I dug a few holes into the soil with a metal soup spoon.  The neck of the utensil strained backwards several times against the dry, defiant ground.  Gardening was hard work, and I was ill-equipped to grow flowers.  Things always seemed to look much nicer in my mind.  I was disappointed with my efforts.

That strange girl came up from behind and startled me.

"You got any soap at your house?" she asked.

"What kind?"

"It don't matter."

"Well, what do you need it for?"


"Sure, just a minute."

I left the front door open and ran into the bathroom to get her two bars of Irish Spring.  I also filled a plastic tumbler with powdered detergent.

"Here you go.  I'm Mary, by the way."

"Gert," she said.


"Gert."  She paused.  "I hate my name."

We stood for a minute in deafening silence.  She looked curiously at the laundry soap.

"It's for clothes," I told her.

"I know what it's for.  You want I should keep this?"

"Keep what?"

"The cup."

"You can, if you need to."

"Is he yours?"  She pointed at Kirin.


"He looks like a nice baby."

"He is.  Thanks."

Maybe she wasn't so bad, after all.  But I really didn't think that.

I replayed our conversation all night long as I drank and took my little pills, then drank some more.  I couldn't tell anything just by looking at Gert.  Not how old, smart or crazy she was.  What kind of name was Gert, anyway?  What kind of girl was she?  Where was she going with her life? Nowhere, it looked like.  I wondered where I was going.  And if I'd ever see my tumbler again.


I met my neighbor, Wes shortly thereafter.  He was smoking a cigarette in the doorway of the duplex when I pulled up after work.  He watched me hump a case of Stroh's from the car into the house.

"Man, oh man.  I sure am thirsty!" he called over, and I smiled.

I gathered up the rest of my belongings - the baby and several empty beer cans from the front seat.

"Come here," he said.  "I need to show you something."

I carried Kirin across the grass to where this young man stood.  Wes was gross-looking up close.  Pint-sized, dirty and disheveled with missing teeth and a wonky eye that refused to focus on things he wanted to look at.  He turned, and I followed him into the house.

The layout of the adjacent apartment was exactly the same as ours, except it was flipped horizontally and strewn with inexplicable shit.  Piles and piles of clothes as tall as a person, car parts, a fishing boat motor, an extra refrigerator.  A high chair that looked as though an infant had been murdered during his meal.

In the middle of the living room sat a big, stainless steel cage.  Inside, a baby squirrel clung nervously to a tree branch snapped off at a major artery.  Wes reached for a bag of Cheez Doodles and fished one out.  He held it up to the bars.

"Get it," he coaxed.  "C'mon, Spider.  Aint' ya' hungry?"

The squirrel pushed its face against the grate and tried to take the snack, but Wes wouldn't let go.  It was clear he was teasing, not feeding.

"I named him Spider.  This is like a dream come true."

I looked around at the fucked up condition of his living room, and I wasn't sure what he was talking about.

"What is?"

"Having a squirrel."

"Oh, that.  Where's its mother, anyway?"

"I killed her," he mentioned rather unselfconsciously.  "She wasn't gonna let me just have him."

Wes grinned, and I wished he wouldn't.  His few remaining teeth were unnaturally yellow and pointed in all different directions.  It's a wonder he could talk without chomping down on them.

Kirin reached out to touch the dirty cage.  I grabbed his little hand and held it tightly.

Gert appeared from one of the back bedrooms with a thin, older dude.  He was in comparably dreadful shape.  His name was Hubie.  He sat down on a large toolbox and promptly began picking at his face.

"You need to leave that alone."  Gert slapped at his hand.  "You're gonna get a cut."

"You need to leave me  alone," he replied.

"So, you work at the rodeo?" I looked at Wes.  "Do you ride horses?"

"Nah.  I'm a performer," he said.  "And a athlete."

Gert quickly corrected him.  "He's a barrel clown."

"What's that?"

"You're kidding, right?  You ain't never heard of a barrel clown?"


"Well, let me see if I can explain it to you.  It's a clown… that jumps inside a barrel."

I officially hated this bitch.  She was just awful.

"It's funny," she said.  "Wes makes people smile.  But guess what, he ain't no athlete."

"Am, too!  I'm saving lives out there every day."

They all tore up at the mere suggestion of Wes being a hero.  Like it was the most hilarious joke in the whole world.  At least, I think that's what they were carrying on about.  I wasn't really sure.

I had to realize these folks were bad news.  I knew.  I just chose not to see it.  I wanted to get high, and that got in the way of all rational thought.  I laughed along with them.

"Damn, I sure could use that beer right about now."

"There's beer?" Hubie asked.

"I've got wine coolers, too," I said.  "Bartles and James."

"Beer's good."

"Don't talk for me," Gert snapped.  "I'll take me one of them fancy coolers."

"So, listen," I hesitated for a second.  "You got any coke I could buy from you guys?"

"Coke?  What you need that poison for, girl?"

"Just because.  C'mon, man.  Can you help me out?"

"I can't help you with no coke," Wes said.  "I don't mess with that shit."

Fuck, I thought.  All this trouble - for nothing.

"I got something much better than coke."

Gert and Hubie snickered like cartoon animals.

"Oh, yeah?  What?"

"You run and fetch us them beverages.  I promise, you're gonna thank me."

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