by David Arroyo

It was an agreement I wasn’t happy with; I had agreed to watch Garrett’s dogs while he and his mom were in Florida. I tried to tell him I could only come over twice a day, that summer school would make it impossible for me to visit them in the morning; they’d have been better off at a kennel, but I was cheaper. He threatened to tell my mother about the Playboy collection in my closet, so naturally I agreed to the task. (Blackmail is perfectly legal in South Carolina).

July became a series of painful repetitions: get up, go to class, rush across town, visit the dogs, go home, go to the gym, go to Garrett’s, return home. It was the content though, not the motions themselves that made it painful.

The first day I went there everything was peachy…for Garrett’s house. Garrett’s parents were divorced; although neither parent was rich, the house was comfortably modest. Three bedrooms, a bathroom, carpeting, etc.: the basics plus cable television; let’s face it, the presence of cable tv is how we separate the poor from the middle class. It’s a manifestation of the invisible line of social stratification.

(And cable television was the only thing that kept Garrett from getting blackballed at school; we went to a good Catholic school, guilt was as much a part of our religion as the ten commandments. A large portion (but not all) of the student body belonged to the upper middle class crowd; there is a tried and true test to find out if a teenager was on the right side of the tax bracket. If a kid pulled out an American Express Gold card when asked for ID, their financial situation became self evident. Being a member of the football team, Garrett would have endured a substantial amount of hazing had he not had cable t.v.)

From the outside the house resembled a one story super-deluxe crackhouse, which was really through no fault of the Austins. They went to great lengths to fix that place; I’d come over several times a week to find Garrett, dirty blond hair and old football jersey, cleaning a gutter or mowing the lawn or painting an old door or fixing a cracked window, but the more effort that went into the house, the worse it looked, and it was starting to show on the inside. With a smell that was distinctly dog, the interior was a swirl of rawhide, saliva, and Lysol. The sofas were twenty years old, at the very least, and the white carpet looked like yellow teeth–though they vacuumed once a week– and the ceiling fan sounded more like a broken blender unsuccessfully grinding a rock.

Garret suspected termites; I suspected the dogs. They were the four horsemen minus one. Honestly, I don’t know which horseman was missing; my theory is they have this unholy trinity vibe happening: the fourth was formed through the unity of the three.

First there’s Perry, a little black cocker twice as wide as he was long. An epileptic with an ear fungus so putrid you’d swear he was hiding a sewage plant, and not your normal everyday sewage plant, oh no, this ear was harboring a dissected bug-eyed alien courtesy of Area 51. Then there’s Tasha, half Siberian Husky, half spaniel, but twice the size of a green M&M, Tasha has a need to break into fits of spontaneous barking and a compulsion to hump her brother; if a dog could have Turret’s, this is it. Finally, Misha, Tasha’s larger–half the size of a baby elephant–brother. What Misha made up for in size, he lacked in intelligence. He was indifferent to his sister’s sexual tastes.

The first day went smoothly. I came, they did their duties, and I left.

On the second day, entering through the front door, I found three presents, three shows of doggie love from them to me, three piles of dogshit glistening like wet frogs.

I went into the kitchen to get some paper towels, only to step in another pile of doggie love.

After cleaning my shoe I wrapped each pile in a paper towel and tossed it into the backyard, then cleaned the leftover grime on the floor; I returned that night to find everything stable. Again, I let them out and went home.

On my next noon visit I found another mess. And I cleaned it up again. I considered leaving the dogs outside, but in a Carolina June, when 105 degrees feels like 115 (humidity is the electric blanket of weather) I feared finding them dead the next noon, flies buzzing over their heads like organic halos. I let them out for a few minutes; Tasha, on her hind legs, front paws draped over Misha’s waist as the brother-sister duo scuttled through the door, closely followed by Perry, proud owner of a soggy tennis ball; Perry was never without a tennis ball. If it wasn’t in his mouth it was at someone’s feet. The only thing Perry liked more than carrying his ball in his mouth was making someone throw that super-sized spit wad. Theycame back in; I left.

Friday. I sped across town weaving through traffic and right into five more piles of dog poop in the den. I was doing everything right; I cut back on their food and water, but the less I fed them the bigger the piles of shit! By now the backyard was full of white bags of shit. I felt guilty; I was contributing to the destruction of the Austin estate. It may have been June in South Carolina, but the dozens of paper towels scattered through the yard made it look like Christmas in Minnesota. I resolved to spend the night. At ten am the next morning I awoke to a clean house, let the monsters out, and returned to bed upon their return. At noon I woke up again and found Misha crapping on the carpet.

The next ten minutes were spent screaming “bad dog!” and putting their snouts up to the pile of shit. Afterwards I went outside; I was afraid I’d drop kick the dogs down the hallway if I stayed indoors.

This continued for another week. The next Saturday I arrived to find the Hiroshima of doggie messes: ten piles in the den, three in the kitchen and two in the hallway. I cracked, tossing the dogs outside. I threw most of the mess outside, but decided to throw the last four piles in the toilet because it was closer and the toilet is the obvious place for any biodegradable mess; nothing could be more egalitarian in life than a toilet, regardless of race creed, religion, or demonic birth marks on your rear, a toilet always accepts your waste with a wide welcoming mouth. I dropped the dirty packages and flushed, watching the water swirl like a galaxy; it inhaled the excrement with black hole efficiency.

What’s the difference between a black hole and a toilet? Blackholes don’t flood your bathroom when they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. They don’t leave you ankle deep in toilet water as three mutts bark hysterically. Well, correction two mutts because the third is in the middle of an epileptic fit. And what do dogs do when they have an epileptic fit? I didn’t know the answer until that moment: dogs do doo doo.

In preschool I got my first taste of the domino effect. I was with two girls on a tire swing. You know the swings I mean, the ones capable of simulating the gravity of Saturn if you spin fast enough (If that doesn’t jog your memory think large chocolate donut, hole perpendicular to the ground, suspended by a few working class chains).

I threw up; the girls followed suit.

Perry crapped on the floor: take a wild guess.

I’m ankle deep in water and there is dog crap everywhere, again. And the water was seeping into the carpet.

I couldn’t find any towels; I’m talking about bathroom towels now not the paper kind. Although I gave up searching, I was certain there were thick towels somewhere but that it didn’t really matter: the dogs would have been certain to leave their mark before I found them. I headed back home for reinforcements. At this point I was lost in the rapture of a neurotic episode. I was stopping at green lights, running the reds, and yellow was a vague concept that had something to do with going faster.

When I arrived all the towels were in the washer. After I Ioaded several towels into the dryer I tracked down my mom, explaining to her I was, literally, in deep shit.

When we got to the supermarket we rented our very own steam-vac carpet cleaner. I didn’t know anyone actually used these things; my parents had always called a professional service. The units stood in a row by the gumball machines: hulking, beefy masses that looked like a sci-fi freak show, the seven or so droids that George Lucas was too ashamed to put in STAR WARS: The Ultimate Supreme Director’s Wide Screen Special Edition Box Set.

Mom paid for the unit, and I rolled it to the minivan; we waited ninety minutes for the towels to dry.

Upon returning to the Austin’s I learned–

“The water is gone! What the–”

“David don’t curse!”

“Yes Ma’m”

–that Mom had no sense of drama.

“But..but… where did it go?”

Mom pointed to the hump under the floor.

“It’s seeped into the crack between the bathroom and the carpet.” That is, what the carpet didn’t absorb.

As I vacuumed Mom put the dogs out (looking at them gave me the shakes) and cleaned the bathroom interior.

This was going to cost money to fix, and a seventeen year old is fairly limited in his financial resources. I couldn’t be alone with my thoughts, especially while shampooing the carpet; I turned on the t.v., good ole’ cable television; it never judges, just sets there, harmlessly, spouting images of sex, materialism, violence, and if you’re lucky, more sex. As far as I’m concerned cable t.v. is man’s real best friend.

I turned on the television: snow and coal.

“Something’s wrong with Fox” I muttered.

I hit the channel button again and again to find the same loud snow and coal raining down the screen. No ESPN. No USA. No TBS. No Sci-Fi Channel.

I looked outside. Paper towels and old feces were speckled across the backyard like a connect-the-dot picture in a kid’s coloring book; the lines were half there. Turning my head nintety degrees I saw the hallway carpet, which now looked a bowl of old cereal that had been resting in the kitchen sink for several days, untouched.

I had been wrong.

I was the fourth horseman.

I projected my own television show on the chunky mists of the screen: a single mother in her late thirties returns from vacation in sunny citrus Florida, finding her house decimated at the hands of her son’s best friend. This drives the mild mannered mother into Roadwarrior frenzy, going so far as to shave her head, paint it blue, and run around in her son’s shoulderpads, hijacked from football practice. I see my limp body strapped to the steel grate of a Mac truck, bleeding in waffle streaks as she bowls her way down 378.

Ms. Austin is a stoic because of this I feared the possibility that this was the killing joke; I would conjure a white faced clown with unkept seaweed hair (Batman where art thou?). The Joker went nuts because he had a really bad day, who was to say that Ms. Austin couldn’t do the same!

“I’ll talk to Ms. Austin, David” Thank God I wasn’t a test tube baby.

When the Austins returned, mom went outside to greet them; I peeked through the front door window. Ms Austin kept a stone face as my mom relayed the events of the last few weeks with diplomatic precision. I was spared the Mad Max melodrama (but I was banned from the house for six weeks). I heard a sound erupt from the car, like ice shoved in the crotch of your pants. It was Garrett; he was laughing. The cable was restored within a day.

�2001 [email=tigrmchine [at] aol [dot] com]David Arroyo[/email]

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