All posts by erinwaugh

The Woman and her Husband at the Carwash

I pull into the carwash. The woman waves me in. I roll down my window and hand her a five-dollar bill.

She pulls out a single from her flannel shirt and leans towards me: “I’ve always wanted to ask you. What’s that word on your front license plate?”

I look back and forth between the woman and her husband, who is scrubbing my grill with a brush. The woman is about 60, her husband is 65. A car wash costs $4. Between the two of them, they have maybe 7 teeth. If this were an algebra story problem, you would just be sad.

Me: “Oh. On my license plate? The front one? The word is ‘SCRIVENER.’”

These two people are very kind.

Me: “It means ‘writer.’”

The woman tucks my fiver into her jacket, which doesn’t completely zip at the bottom: “It means what??”

And they work hard.

Me: “It means ‘writer.’ You know, like…” I make the universal motion of scratching a quill onto parchment. I am smiling. I can’t take my eyes off her two bottom teeth.

Her husband picks up a long-handled wand: “What does it mean?”

The woman raises her voice above the water: “IT MEANS ‘WRITER.’”

He shrugs and power-sprays my front tires.

The woman flicks some switches on the wall: “Is it German?”

Me: “No, it’s a fancy old English word, like the word ‘scribe’? To write?” I make the pen motion again. “But it is originally from the Latin.”

The woman and her husband are both wearing ragged jeans that are thin at the knees, rescued coats, and knit hats. It is October in Michigan. The sun is shining, but it’s cold outside, maybe 40 degrees.

The woman: “Is that what you do? You’re a writer?”

Me: “I, uh… Yes. I’m a writer.”

Her husband carefully lifts up each windshield wiper and finger-sweeps the autumn leaves that are stuck underneath. His hands are not gloved, the knuckles red and raw. I don’t reach for my lotion.

The woman: “Well, I seen you here a lotta times and I wondered what that word meant.”

I tip them $10. It is both too much and not enough, but my car will be dirty again. Soon.

 

Erin Waugh, 18 October 2015, “True Stories Told in the Key of E-flat.”

 

A Kid in a Candy Store

“LET’S GO TO THE CANDY STORE!”

I don’t know who said it first. Any one of us three kids, maybe. My family was on vacation up north, in a cottage. It could have been a subliminal suggestion implanted by a neighbor who was sick to death of us behaving like children (gasp!) while he sat on his front porch being old. And by “subliminal” I mean “yelling.”

There were actually four kids in all. I was 10, my sister Tracey (8), my brother Brennen (5), and my brother Curt (3). I was the oldest; I have always been the oldest (!) so I could never escape that quirky little birthright of being “in charge.” As you will see, the limits of my shepherding skills maxed out at “Maybe candy will stop him from dying like that.”

Only three of us will take the pilgrimage to the candy store. (Curt was too “baby.”) Three kids will leave on this journey; one will be carried home. This is a story about thirst. It is a story about Lik•m•aid. It is a story about the miracle that any child manages to survive to the age of reproduction. I bet Darwin liked candy.

We were regular folk. My family was as ordinary as a Pez dispenser. Mom, dad, four kids. My father was an engineer at Chevy; my mother was the engineer of our household. My father designed systems that made a car go; my mother packed automobiles with cargo. (I’m sorry. It’s my upbringing. Plus I’m full of Smarties.)

It was the late 1960s. We lived in Detroit just south of Eight Mile Road. We were area code 3-1-3 before it was rap-worthy. My father had been transferred from Flint, Michigan, (where we all were born) to Detroit, Michigan, (where one of us nearly dies). It was practically the law that families had to live in a red brick ranch on a paved street. Perspective is a convenient trick of childhood. The house was tiny, but it felt enormous, roomy enough to sponsor the chaos. We ate Wonder Bread and threw Jarts. We drank Kool-Aid and crashed bikes into trees. We walked to public school, lost our shit when the ice cream man jingled by, and tripped our brothers when nobody was looking. There was a park down the street. It was the law.

The houses were all alike, but the people were a kaleidoscope — diverse bins of color and flavor. My “boyfriend” was Latino. Curt went to a Jewish nursery school. Tracey and I swam in our black friends’ backyard pool. Our neighbors were smokers and athletes. Our neighbors were teetotalers and wine-makers. Our neighbors were Sabbath-keepers who made kosher sausage in their kitchens. They were Catholics in plaid and Protestants in orange. There was a “special” young man who frequently escaped his house, naked, screaming that his mother was trying to beat him with a belt. She wasn’t. Or maybe she was.

One time my brother Brennen asked if his new friend Valentine could come over and play.

“Of course,” answered my mother. (Everybody came to our house. We have always had what I call a “Kool-Aid House.” You pour it, they will come.) “But are you sure that’s his name? Valentine?” My mother was both reasonable and open to absurdity.

Brennen, with the appalled confidence of a four-year-old: “Yes. His name is Valentine.”

When “Valentine” finally came over to race Hot Wheels and eat graham crackers, my mother asked him his name.

“Cervantes,” said the kid.

“Okay,” my mom nodded. “You can call him ‘Valentine.’” The kid agreed, then ate a Popsicle.

—————————————–

And now we were on vacation. If you lived in Michigan in the 1960s and your dad worked for one of the automakers, it was also some kind of law that you went “up north” for vacation. People packed enormous suitcases into enormous cars and drove north to experience even more colors, more flavors, and more deprivation. “Let’s drive someplace where everything is just harder to accomplish.” That seemed to be the main purpose of going up north. The ride took 3 to 20 hours depending on how long your toddler could “hold it.” Kids fought over the “way back” in the station wagon so they could be further from mother-hands. In a regular sedan, we laid Curt up in the rear window. He hardly ever burned to death.

“Up north” for us meant “The Cottage.” The Cottage was a long, low ranch house in northern Michigan owned by my grandparents. The Cottage was unoccupied all year except during the summer. (SUMMER!! As a kid, summer in was all caps. Rare and magical as a LEPRECHAUN!!)

In the spring, The Cottage had to be o-p-e-n-e-d. The Opening of The Cottage was a mysterious and complex ceremony involving wrenches and wizardry. Every June my grandmother would welcome us to The Cottage with wild hair and a lavish hug even as she dismissed the box of (apparently) torture implements in the corner. “Well,” she would mutter, glancing at the hammer and the bible, “we had to open the house.” This was sometimes followed by a shot of scotch and a “Mother Mary full of grace,” or whatever German Lutherans whispered. My grandmother was a good German Lutheran who believed in the power of smiling and sorcery, which she practiced in equal measure alongside prayer and hard work. And cooking enormous pots of cabbage. And chicken. And lots and lots of love. I never actually witnessed “the opening of the house.” I assume it included sauerkraut.

The cottage had three bedrooms, a fireplace for heating, and a rabbit-eared TV that only played the news. Occasionally the weather.  (“Shhh…! The weather!”) The kitchen was so small that only one adult or two children could fit in there at any one time. My sister and I banged up our shins and elbows just to wash dishes. (Okay, that’s what we told our parents. Mostly Tracey just beat me up.) I’m kidding! (She made me say that.)

Across the street was Cedar Lake where we swam, waterskied, and held our breath under water. For encouragement, we pushed each other down by the throat. (Tracey won these contests, Brennen giggled, and Curt stood ankle-deep on the shore and cried.)  There was a dock for cannonballing and a fishing boat for swearing. With hot water at a premium, we frequently bathed right there in the lake with a bottle of Prell. This was before pollution, before flesh-eating bacteria.

“Rinse your brother off.”

“Why me?”

“Because you’re in charge.”

Curt was often sudsy.

The Cottage was in Oscoda, Michigan, near the Au Sable River. “Oscoda” is a Native American word meaning “mosquito bite,” and “Au Sable” is French for “bleeding to death.” There were so many mosquitoes at The Cottage that by summer’s end you could barely hold your head up from the anemia. (“Walk it off!”) And yet eight of us (four adults and four children) somehow managed to sleep, eat, and play for weeks at a time without resorting to savagery. It was glorious. There was a rope for swinging and a hatchet for chopping, neither of which was ever turned into a weapon.

And there was a candy store.

———————————————-

Kids get bored, even during the summer. (SUMMER!). With so many formless hours to fill, even civilized children will turn to petty torment if not diverted.

(HAHAHA!! “Civilized children.” You thought finding a leprechaun was rare? Children will make him medium rare.)

Back to our story…

“Let’s go to the candy store!”

I still don’t know who said it first. It might even have come from one of the grown-ups.

“How ‘bout you sonsabitches go to the candy store?”

Nah, they didn’t talk like that. More like:

“Shhh…! the weather!”

Or maybe it was Curt. He was only 3, but he needed a break from our contests. Guantanamo has nothing on the creativity of a big sister.

Here’s what I remember: I was 10, Tracey was 8, and Brennen was 5. And Brennen was alittle 5. Goofy, trusting, happy as a golden retriever. And little. The candy store was actually a gas station down the street and around the corner from The Cottage. That way. Sort of. I knew this only as a vague distant fact.

Here’s what I remember: somehow the three of us kids found quarters our hands and time to kill. Somehow we were walking. To the candy store. Alone.

It was a blistering summer day. We walked down the gravel road past a long line of cottages. Every cottage was different, but the same. Every cottage hid under the camouflage of a stack of cordwood, an ancient tree, and a proud but tired sign. “The Jones Family.” “Ed and Tina Farnsworth.” “The Hathaways!” The dust from the road made us cough. We kept walking. I was in charge.

We turned to the right when the two roads met. I was 50% sure this was correct. We kept walking. The sun baked our heads, no hats, no sunscreen. This was the 60s, before cancer. The coins in our hands grew damp and heavy.

I asked my sister how much further she thought it was. Tracey rammed her elbow into my ribs and rolled her eyes. “I don’t know. You’re in charge!”

Brennen, behind us, picked up a stick, smiled. He took a swing at an overhead tree, smiled. He could barely reach. WHAM! Mosquitoes devoured us. Smile.

 

“Are we there yet?” Tracey wrapped her knuckles around the weight of her quarters and punched me in the arm. I sneezed out dirt.

Finally, up ahead, an oasis. THE CANDY STORE!

“Come on, you guys!”

We run, the coins like magic beans that we will trade for candy.  Three cars are parked in the lot and two are filling up at the gas pumps. We run towards the front door like refugees. We burst inside and lose our minds.

Dots! Milk Duds! Lik•m•aid!

We pluck, dicker, change our minds. We negotiate a trade agreement: three of your Swedish Fish for six of my Sugar Babies. DEAL! We pay the man, head out with our treasures. The sweets spill from our pockets, from our bags, from our mouths. I peel a pink Dot off a strip of white paper with my teeth. I hold the door for my brother and sister. We walk into the sunshine. I am delirious.

Brennen says he’s thirsty. He spots a green long-handled pump behind the candy store. Brennen tries to pump the handle, but it’s too big for him. He’s 5. He jumps, but he can’t reach.

I eat another Dot off the paper. Yellow! It’s probably different than pink!

I reach up to help my baby brother, because he’s thirsty, because I’m tall. And I’m in charge. I bite off another Dot. Blue! I pull on the green handle once, twice, three times. Brennen puts his mouth fully over the nozzle and chugs.

It is kerosene.

But I don’t know this. What I know is that time collapses. It is the size of faucet hole.  One cartoon gumball bounces slowly across the parking lot, like a moon walk. No gravity. Then something jaw-kicks the universe, and everything tips over. Especially Brennen. He falls forward and throws up.

No, he doesn’t just throw up. He kind of explodes from his mouth. The 10-year-old in me (because that’s all I have) concludes from Brennen’s full-body turbulence that the water tasted bad and he just needs something to mask the flavor.

I hold a pouch of sweet red powder out to him. “You want some Lik•m•aid?”

Brennen throws up again. Hard.

I can’t make sense of what I’m seeing. Brennen’s cheek is on the concrete. I want him to stop doing that. The pavement looks scratchy and hot. And it smells like napalm. Brennen (he’s 5, and getting smaller all the time), is a convulsing puppy.

There was no warning. There was no lock on the pump. There was no “poison” logo. There was no sign that said “Don’t drink this, you dumb shit. It will spoil your vacation.”

A man, a stranger, swoops in and picks Brennen up by his middle, carries him to a giant Buick. Dumps Brennen not gently into the back seat.

“Get in!” The Man yells at us. He points to the passenger side. I climb in the front, Tracey scrambles in beside me.

“Where do you live??” Clenched teeth.

“I don’t know.” Eyes.

And I really don’t know. I have no idea where we live. Detroit? Oscoda? The moon?

I point behind the gas station. “That way?” Not only am I not in charge, I am a terrified kitten. The only reason I don’t wet myself is that it would ruin my candy.

Brennen throws up Starburst and petroleum in The Man’s back seat. The big Buick peels out onto the gravel road. The Man squeals a left turn at the next street, guessing. He slows down, points.

“That one? This one??”

I don’t know. I DON’T KNOW!!

My eyes are everywhere. My tongue finds a small corner of Dot paper stuck to my teeth. I can’t spit it out because my mouth is dust.

A miracle — I spot my grandpa’s car.

“That one!”

The tires throw stones, the big Buick rips into the driveway. The Man runs inside The Cottage, yelling and not even knocking.  My mother comes out. Together they pick Brennen up again by his middle. Brennen rewards them by hurling Agent Orange on their shirts.

This story gets worse.

Remember Detroit? Where we also live?

My father had driven back to our real house that morning. He’d had to return for work. When my mother made the panic call to tell him about Brennen’s little mishap, my father answered, “We’ve been robbed.”

Cue time stop. Again.

While we had been up north swimming, getting eaten by mosquitoes, and drinking kerosene, two men had pulled a moving van in front of our real house and carried out the contents. (We only found this out later from neighbors, who hadn’t seen a reason to interfere. The Waughs might have been moving. Who knew? It was the 60s. People were unpredictable.)

Jump start the clock. Again.

My mother piled four children under the age of 10 into my grandfather’s car, and we raced from Oscoda to Detroit. Brennen sat on my mother’s lap in the front seat, eating Saltines and throwing up into a bag. His face was white. He weighed about 7 pounds. The trip took five hours, or maybe a month.

We came home to a scarred brick pretend house. The house looked like it had been beaten up by Joe Frasier, then drank kerosene. The thieves had taken everything of material value. We were unharmed, yes, but we were hurting. The family collectively threw up into a bag.

My brother recovered, mostly because he’s made of Darwinian platinum, not because we did anything right. Brennen grew up to father two children of his own, and as far as I know, neither of them drink kerosene.

I don’t know what happened to The Man except for the many prayers we sent his way.

I don’t know what happened to the thieves except that I hope they choked on our rabbit ears. (“Shh…! The karma!”)

My father requested a transfer shortly after this day of riot, and our family moved to Ohio. Despite what Michigan fans say, this is not the same as drinking kerosene.

I am still not in charge.

 

19 September 2015, Erin Waugh, “True Stories Told in the Key of E-flat”

 

merry go round tbec

Chapter 1b – Still Hunting at the Park

“Let’s walk,” I urge us up out of the mental replay of another failed hunt. “Got any new gossip?”

“I saw Aurora at the park yesterday.”

“Right, Aurora. The chick from Alaska. Is she still playing Lacrosse at the university?”

“Yeah, she said she has a new boyfriend who doesn’t really get along with her other roommates.”

“Uh oh. Not another drunken 911 call to Royal Oak’s finest.”

Aurora was a short, not-beautiful, not-fat, but certainly fully-packed college Lacrosse player from Alaska who was on her 3rd boyfriend of the season. I didn’t know anything about Lacrosse, but Aurora walked with the no-bullshit stride of an Inuit seal-hunter. And from the twinkle in her shiny dark eyes, I’m guessing she had been high-sticked a few times.

“Is it high-STICKED or high-STUCK?”

Carlee looks at me sideways . “What are you talking about??”

“Can’t you read my mind?”

“Anyway, Aurora managed to calm the boyfriend down with promises of lingerie and beer.”

.
“I can’t imagine Aurora in a Victoria’s Secret anything. Do they sell sweat pants?”

“I was thinking Doc Martens and a whip.”

“Maybe a harpoon.”

—————————————————————

We had just begun our third loop through the woods when we saw Doris. Well, we heard Doris.

“Can you believe this HEAT?!” Doris doesn’t so much speak as she does bray.

“It’s GLOBAL WARMING, that’s what it is. And those DAMN REPUBLICANS!” Hee haw!

Doris’s donkey voice could impale you from halfway across the park. Doris might walk at the shuffling pace of a 70-year-old embittered Al Gore supporter, but she had honed her attack-opinions into soul-piercing arrows designed to pin you down while she loudly evangelized for the democrats in all capital letters. It was like walking through a fight scene in Braveheart.

“How could ANYBODY vote for GIULIANI, that HYPOCRITE?!!”

Dammit, Carlee, I’m hit! Save yourself!

The bark park is self-service, dooty-free. Owners are supposed to clean up their own dog’s fecal donations and dispose of them in the little white plastic bags provided in convenient dispensers. As Doris spit her political venom at every passing mongoose, her Weimeraner (AMBER!) expelled a runny dump right behind her. Doris was oblivious. Doris only watches her dogs if there aren’t any politics to shout at somebody. AMBER! (Doris always SHOUTED the dog’s name, always in all caps, AMBER!, and always followed by an exclamation point.)

AMBER! looked up from her repulsive squat and grinned at us.

Hey, Doris. Your politics are squirting out the backside of your dog. You want a bag? To put over your head?

“Hi Doris.” I went still as I formulated an exit strategy.

“I watched the Republican debates last night.”

“I heard.”

Doris does not converse. That would imply at least two people talking. Instead she projectile-vomits monologues of invective toward any available ear. I try to evade Doris like a loud commercial. Come to Crazy Eddie’s!  Mute, goddammit, mute! Doris doesn’t visit the park for her dogs; she comes to throw up on an audience.

Her miserable Weimeraner (AMBER!) was chewing on a shit nugget it had found near the scene of this crime. Doris finally sees her. It. Sees the brown froth.

“AMBER!! What are you DOING??!! I told my husband it would be AMAZING that anyone with a CONSCIENCE could vote for Ron Paul.”

Oh my god, that IS amazing. Doris has a husband? I’m in here dragging my net for any semi-conscious goat with two legs, and Doris has caught herself a lifer? I briefly wonder if her husband is deaf.

“Come on, Carlee,” I say, nudging the snickering beret towards the gate. “I want to show you that magazine article I was reading: ‘Laryngitis and How to Give it to Others.'”

We holler for our girls. Carlee walks to the woods in her cute boots (when did she get cute boots??) and whistles her distinctive “Yoo-hoo!” into the trees. She pulls her vibrating phone out of her bag and glances again at the text display. Her pit bulls finally appear and Carlee turns back toward me, subtly closing her phone again with a smile.

“You’re killing me.” This time I manage the glare.

“You’ll find someone.” She pats me on the shoulder as we head toward the exit. Pats me.

“Yeah, but in the meantime…” I gesture toward Doris and AMBER! and the shit-shake on the ground she’s still ignoring. “… I’m going home to type out another chapter about this place.”

I am almost grateful for Doris’s wall of sound because at least it’s not silence. Listening to Doris is like sticking your finger down someone else’s throat.

—————————————————————

“Hey, I forgot to tell you, Erin. My mom has a date this weekend.”

Carlee has saved this for last.

“Your mom? Your mom is eating duet prime rib and I’m swimming solo across Lonely Hearts Mac and Cheese?!?”

We get to the gate and I leash Bowie. I rest my hand on the wooden post to unlatch the fence. My hand squishes on something slimy. I pull it up to find a smashed slug. No, wait, it’s two smashed slugs. They were mating.

“My mom found her date on-line. Maybe you could try it,” Carlee says. I wipe my hand on my jeans.

The whole world has a date. Carlee, Carlee’s mom, Aurora the Plug-shaped Athlete, Silver-Hair the Sausage Eater. Doris the Psycho Democrat has a ferchrissake husband. My spayed dog gets more play than me. These two slugs on a fence post in the middle of a canine toilet have found each other and I’m going home to tell my computer about my day.

“Maybe I’ll try it.”

On line.

Fuck.

—————————————————————

“How do you do that?” I stare at Carlee’s head.

“What??”

“You’re wearing a beret. How do you pull that off?”

“I don’t. I just wait until it falls off at the end.”

“Oh, just cut out my heart. And these other parts I’m not using.”

“You can do this, Erin. I believe in you.”

“If I didn’t love you so much, I’d hate you.”

“I know. Me, too.”

I wipe my hands again.

—————————————————————-

Why is it so hard to find a date?

I think I’m a regular person. Sure, I eat macaroni and cheese for breakfast, apply lip balm like a meth head in the Sahara, and only drink water if it’s so cold it hurts, but these are just quirks, right? Not deal-breakers? (“Meth Head in the Sahara” would make a great band name.) So why is it so hard?

I’m not actually lonely. I’m too busy and involved to be lonely. I am the mother of a teenager, a teenager who is in and on a dozen of everything, which means I’m in and on a dozen Committees to Raise Money for Everything. I have a real family, two church families, and one bark park family, although certain members of the bark park family make me want to shoot a nail through my head.

I lean over to Carlee for one last moment of inspiration. “Was Mary Elizabeth here yesterday?”

“Of course.”

“Capri pants and a halter top?”

“Don’t forget her pink belly.”

“Like Jabba the Mole Rat. Jesus, Carlee. She’s in her 50s. Why do we have to look at her silly putty?”

“She has a lot. She likes to share.”

“Granny panties?”

“Inspected by number 12.”

“Was there lipstick on her teeth?”

“And her hair.”

“Carlee…”

“Yes…?”

“She’s married, isn’t she.”

The park goes still. Carlee looks straight ahead.

“Yes. Mary Elizabeth is married.”

“Carlee…?”

“Yes…?”

“Would you please smack me with your ball-whipper? As hard as you can until my stuffing flies out?”

“It’s probably not stuffing so much as it is bile.”

“I love you too, Carlee.”

So I do have people I can hang with; there are plenty of people who can fill my time. I have people to talk to, to text, to email, to eat potluck with, to write stories about. The problem is that none of them qualify as a dinner companion with benefits. Huggable prey. Meat.

—————————————————————–

I look all right for a middle-aged huntress. Maybe I don’t look like Madonna, but on the other hand… I don’t look like Madonna. I’m tall and slender and hunch-free. My tits are too small and my ass is too big, but I exercise regularly which keeps my saddle-bags roped in. My smile is white and my hair is curly, though chronically out of control. My eyes are big and bright and I have two of them. Why is it so hard to find a date?

It used to be so easy. Good grief. I remember sitting in our track stadium as a high school freshman watching the boys run the mile relay. When the anchor runner (a pretty, pretty green-eyed senior) pulled ahead to win for the home team, I thought, “Him.” I pointed like Babe Ruth. “I want that one.” The runner was smooth-skinned and shaggy-haired and delicious-looking and a whole lot of other hyphenated words. I waited for him after whatever mysterious things boys did in the locker room, and later we shared a Coke and some spit and the inside of my prom dress. Home run.

In college, it was the same thing. Easy, easy. Just point and shoot. The ATO fraternity house held a New Year’s Eve dance in the middle of June (so clever, those engineers!). The frat was hoping to initiate a particularly stunning young man from one of my Calculus classes, a former all-state water polo player with a sculpted swimmer’s torso and sparkly grey eyes. I, too, was thinking about initiating him. In fact I was making up hazing rituals just watching him walk. When the midnight countdown was drunkenly shouted, mostly in order, by some blasted-to-shit future car designers, I walked up to the swimmer, tapped him on the shoulder, and kissed the next two years out of him.

It’s not the same now. If I tried that today, I’d get arrested. And I’d need shots.

I toss a bag of dog shit in the garbage bin.

I zip up my ugly sweatshirt and go home to hunt. On line.

 

—————————————————————–

 

eDissonance, “Chapter 1b – Hunting at the Park” by Erin Waugh

 

Chapter 1a – Hunting at the Park

 eDissonance – “Hunting at the Park” Chapter 1a

 

“Hey, who are you texting?” As the only other member of the Hungry Huntress Club, I had the right to ask Carlee this question.

“You remember Marco?” Carlee’s blonde hair waves a halo around her Cheshire grin.

“How do you do that?” I’m scowling at her face.

“Do what?”

“Your hair never gets stuck in your teeth.” She closes her phone and ignores me.

“Marco? I remember Marco.” Boy, do I remember. “That Italian hottie you met here at the park, what, a week ago?” My eagerness looks remarkably like drool.

“Italian and Greek,” she smiles. And it was probably more like three days ago.

“Yum. Two of my favorite flavors, now conveniently wrapped in a single package.”

“Heh. You said ‘package.’”

“We’re pigs.”

We walk. She agrees by smiling some more. And not telling me anything.

“What does he want?” I know; I just want her to say it.

“He can’t spell for shit,” Carlee says, gifted at not answering.

“He sure is purty.”

“Mmmm…”

We look out across the grass, tucking a memory of Marco’s shiny Italian eyes into our pockets. Or somewhere. I wonder which parts of him are Greek.

Carlee is my friend. Carlee and I met at the dog park and our friendship was fast and furious. She was fast and I was furious. No, that’s not true. It’s just that I was single and Carlee was beating men off with cell phones. No, I mean FIGHTING them off.

I’m a pig.

We were walking our dogs around the perimeter of the Bark Park. Carlee has two, and I have one. Dog. Although that ratio was pretty much true with everything, especially all things hound-related. It was a cool, early-spring day in Michigan, light jacket weather, which for me meant jeans and an old B.U.M. sweatshirt that I liberated from a thrift shop. Somehow I’d made it to middle age without ever owning an excellent spring jacket. By contrast, Carlee was smoking hot in a hip-length safari coat and a cocky beret. (A beret!) She can actually pull off a beret without looking like a cartoon. If I didn’t love her so much, I’d hate her.

“It sure didn’t take Marco long to start spelling poorly at you.” I fail at keeping the snark out of my voice. “Which dog does he have?”

“You remember, Sonny? That beige cocker spaniel?” She knows that I will know. At the park, we are our dogs.

“Right. Sonny. Named his little rug-dog after a Pacino character. Cute as hell, that dog, but still intact, isn’t he? Coglioni still dangling about?”

“Yeah, humps everything that can’t pesto out of the way.”

“Like owner like dog?”

“You’re a pig.”

“Come on, gimme something.”

“I’ll keep you posted.” She grins under the beret.

We sit on the edge of a picnic table, feet on the bench.

“How about you?” Carlee asks, always kind, and genuinely concerned about the lack of Pacino characters in my phone. “Got anything in the works?”

I attempt a glare, but it devolves into a pout.

“I’ll take that as a ‘no,'” she says, patting me on the arm. Patting me. This is pathetic.

“Come on,” I say, getting up from our table. “Let’s walk these bitches around the park.”

I wasn’t exactly jealous of Carlee’s hunting skills, but every time she told me about another good-looking sweet-treat who sniffed up on her hoping for a pat on the head, a part of me twinged. And the part of me that twinged was drying up. It had been a long time since I’d had a date.

Okay, maybe I was a little jealous.

—————————————————————

We walked our girl-dogs leash-free around the bark park.  Carlee had two pit bulls and I had my Bowie. Bowie is a husky/border collie mix with one brown eye and one blinding white eye. Not really blind, just striking. All of our dogs were shelter rescues, all of our dogs were girls, and all of our dogs were spayed and therefore unmolested by thoughts of virile Greyhounds – Italian or Greek. Theirs was a pampered existence of doggie ice cream and bottled water. They battled each other like Roman Centurions, but we indulged them like princesses. Carlee and I met at the park to let our girls run free and watch them turn away the insistent (and uncut) males who tried to tap a little of that sass from behind. But our girls weren’t having it.

“Ooh, come here, sweetheart,” an aggressive boxer might call out to my Bowie. “Back that thing up and drink my punch. I’m gonna show you what Mike Tyson WISHES he had.”

And Boxer Boy, impatient and cocky as the business end of his turgid joy rocket dripped Y-chromosome juice on the dirty grass, would paw my Bowie-dog’s shoulder. Once. Then she’d whip her head around and bite his attitude with a “PISS OFF!” And then piss on him, and trash-talk him for the final insult: “Back off, ya pansy fighter-boy or next time it’s my enamel on your nuts. You’ll be eating Rice Krispies through your blow hole after I Snap, Crackle, and Pop off your hush puppies.”

I love my little girl.

Carlee and I walked around the Bark Park watching our girls, and, yes, if not exactly hunting, then at least trolling for appealing possibilities. Carlee, however, didn’t even have to bait her hook. She would strut her bouncy blond hair and her beret (a beret!) barely inside the park and pretty puppy-eyed men would chase her. If they caught her attention, the men would mewl and wag their tails. Then offer to paint her house. I, on the other hand, got nary a runt. Not even a mercy pat for the wingman. But I kept trying. Because, you know, men.

—————————————————————

“Hey, incoming.” Hungry Huntress alert.

I nodded my head toward the bark park gate where a single male was entering with his spotted dog. The man was at least 50 meters away, but he walked upright and had hair, so we were obliged to analyze his potential. It was in the bylaws. We perched on a picnic table to adjudicate.

“Count the rings,” I say, asking Carlee for both an age estimate and a marital status prediction.

“Pretty good posture, but his hair is silver. Got kind of an Anderson Cooper thing going on. I’d say he’s in his mid-40’s and exercises regularly.” Carlee taps the tip of her tennis-ball-tosser on the ground, rhythmic, measuring, listening to the earth like the skilled predator she is.

“Yeah, and he’s got those loose-jointed limbs. Runner, do ya think?” I ask hopefully. We lean forward and focus our sharp binocular vision.

Carlee nods, “Maybe.”

“Flavor?” Carlee has keen ethnic evaluation skills.

“Um, mixed heritage. Northern European. He has likely eaten sauerkraut a time or two.”

“I can do sauerkraut. Married?”

“Well, his clothes match and they’re awfully clean. He’s probably married.”

“Damn.”

The sexy silver-hair loiters around the front gate as his spotted dog runs in circles, pestering him. “Let’s play, let’s play!” the dog says with every vibrating muscle. “What are we waiting for?” The dog’s desires are obvious.

Another male arrives, dark-haired, with a dainty Schnauzer on a leash. Carlee and I both sit up straighter. The new dark-haired visitor greets the silver-haired man with an almost-hug, a kind of chest lean-in. Their dogs sniff each other’s assholes and wag their tails. The dogs have obviously met before, and they run off to play tackle. The dark-hair and the silver-hair walk slowly around the park brushing shoulders and whisper-laughing.

Shit. These two are not in season. More precisely, they are not in our season. Their desires are also obvious. If they could sniff each other’s assholes they would. Carlee and I both lean back, breaking the spell, conceding that the hunt is over as our gay-dar finally kicks in.

“Dammit. He eats sauerkraut and kielbasa.” My hopes go limp as I recognize them as sausage-eaters.

“No fair!” Carlee whacks her ball-whipper on the ground.  “I couldn’t tell from here. I couldn’t see their teeth! You know I can always tell from their teeth.”

“Their teeth?”

“I can tell if somebody’s gay just from their teeth.”

“You cannot.”

“I can. Remember all the chatter about Doogie Howser?”

“Did he come out?”

“He will,” she says, banging her ball-thrower on the ground. “His teeth are as queer as his medical degree.”

“I don’t know, Carlee, clearly your gay-tenna needs some long-distance tuning. Besides, what could we possibly measure on men from this far away?” We giggle like school girls. Like school girls who are pigs.

When not actively sifting the litter for potential meal companions, Carlee and I would people-watch at the bark park, because it doesn’t get any better than watching dog owners chase their canine charges around a giant fenced-in dog-toilet, plastic bags on their hands, ready to scoop up Boomer’s droppings before they ripen in the rare Michigan sun.

And this is where I came to find a date.

—————————————————————

eDissonance, Chapter 1a, Hunting at the Park, by Erin Waugh
2 August 2015

 

La la la la... I can't hear you.
La la la la… I can’t hear you.

“The Move: Part 3 of 3”

Me: “Tweak? Are you ready?”

Silence.

Me: “I told you we had to leave this afternoon.”

Even louder silence. Nothing is as quiet as a disappeared cat.

Me: “We can do this the easy way…”

I raise this threat to an empty house. Really empty. Nothing left except cleaning rags, spider webs, and some furniture that my landlord stored in the basement two years ago, perhaps so he could move back here, which is exactly what was happening the day after tomorrow.

Me: “…or we can do this the hard way.”

Nothing left, that is, except for the Cage. The Cage is a Petco cardboard box with a folding handle that closes out the world, and closes in the rage. There is a blue towel swaddled at the bottom that has lain there for eight years. The Cage has been used six times. I have been injured seven. The towel is supposed to keep Tweak calm because it smells like her. What it actually does is turn her into a wolverine.

Me: “Fine.” I say to the air. “I’m sending The Boy to find you.”

I hand the Cage to The Boy.

Me: “Please wrangle the cat.”

Delegating shitty jobs to our children is why we had them.

The Boy brandishes the cage: “THIS IS SPARTA!”

That they make us laugh is why we keep them.

The Boy descends into Dante’s basement. I Swiffer out some cobwebs, listening.

The Boy returns empty-handed.

The Boy: “She is as far away as she could possibly be.”

Me: “Did she vote Republican?”

I follow him downstairs.

The Boy: “She’s under there.”

Me: “Under where?”

The Boy: “Worse. She’s naked.”

I peak beneath my landlord’s bed. Tweak is crouched in the far corner, legs folded, immovable. An angry meatloaf.

Me: “Come on, Tweak. This won’t be so bad. The ride is only two miles.”

Her eyes close even harder.

Me: “The new house has a basement, an upstairs, and two litter boxes.”

Soundless fury.

Me: “And a deck.”

The Boy: “Can’t you bribe her?”

Me: “She won’t eat people food and she’s immune to catnip. What do you suggest?”

The Boy: “Hookers and blow?”

Me: “Did she vote Democrat?”

I hand The Boy a broom and instruct him to move the bed.

The Boy: “Why am I always the bad guy?”

Me: “Believe me, I’m the worse guy.”

The Boy moves the bed and swooshes the cat. She dashes. I pin her to the floor, pick her up by the scruff of the neck, and wrestle her into the Cage. I am only bleeding in four places.

Tweak: “Suck. My. Cock.”

The Boy: “Obviously she voted Independent.”

The drive only takes five minutes. Tweak stops talking except for all the yelling.

I walk into the new house, put the Cage on the floor, and open the lid. Tweak escapes, tail twitching like a rattler’s warning.

Tweak: “You should probably never sleep again.”

Me: “Menopause is way ahead of you.”

She prowls the perimeter of the unfamiliar kitchen. She side-glides the leg of the familiar couch. She scowls at her food bowl.

Tweak: “Pour some nurdles in there and…. Hey, is that a deck? YOU NEVER TOLD ME THERE WAS A DECK!!”

Me: “Yes, I…! You’re right. I wanted it to be a surprise. Welcome home, Tweak.”

 

21 June 2015, “Tolerating Tweak”

tweak on porch
You never told me there was a deck

 

The Move, Part 2

Tweak is stretched out in a square of sunlight on the carpet.

Me: “Getting recharged?”

I cleared away boxes just moments ago. Tweak glides down and claims victory over the new warm surface, or, as Tweak calls it, a “solar panel.”

Tweak: “Gotta power up the sarcasma-tron.”

Me: “I don’t think of you as sarcastic. More like honest with a side of pissed off.”

Bowie-dog doddles in. “Better to be pissed off than pissed on.”

Tweak: “You told that joke in 3rd grade.”

Bowie: “You’ve been pissed off since 2nd.”

Tweak climbs into a banana box to prove it.

 

Me: “Have you calmed down?”

Tweak: “So how long before we have to move? Six months? A year?”

Me: “Tomorrow.”

Tweak: “I’M NOT READY!”

Me: “You don’t have to DO anything. You’re a princess.”

 

Tweak rolls over and offers us her pink belly, a peach ripe for worship.

Tweak: “Who will bring my food?”

Me: “Molly, the soft girl.”

Tweak: “Who will carry my scratching posts?”

Me: “The Boy.”

She flips upright.

Tweak: “The Boy will be here?”

Me: “Careful, Tweak. That was almost a smile.”

 

She squints to rearrange the happy. Clint Eastwood in fur.

Tweak: “And who wrestles the litter box?”

Me: “Guess.”

Tweak: “Don’t forget my sifters. I hate when my shit sits and the dog eats it.”

Bowie: “I don’t eat shit. I test it for humble pie. So far you’re clean.”

 

Tweak stretches out again in the sun, gorgeous despite the disdain. Maybe because of.

Me: “Tweak, do nothing.”

Tweak: “Got it.”

Me: “But please make yourself available for transport tomorrow afternoon at 4:00.”

Tweak: “Piss off.”

 

To be continued…

 

29 May 2015, “Tolerating Tweak”

 

sun square

“The Move, Part 1”

 

Tweak: “Do we even OWN any bananas?”

Me: “Does anyone ever really own a banana?”

Tweak: “There’s always a banana in the night stand.”

Me: “That’s not a banana.”

 

I muscle up another box full of books and carry it out to the garage.

 

Tweak: “Lift with your legs.”

Me: “Shut with your mouth.”

 

I load the third or hundredth box into my car and pause to make coffee.

 

Tweak: “Where are you taking all of this stuff anyway?”

I stir in some caramel sauce.

Tweak: “Is there a shelter that needs five copies of ‘Fight Club’?”

I pour in two Splendas.

Tweak: “Are you having a bonfire?”

I open the cream.

Tweak: “Did something DIE?”

Me: “Only my dreams.”

 

I toss her a milk ring. She freezes, alert to the misdirection.

Me: “Tweak…”

Tweak: “What.”

She bites off the consonant. Every hair goes quiet. Even her eyes are still.

Me: “Tweak… We have to move.”

Tweak bursts out of the banana box like somebody dumped spiders on her.

Tweak: “NOOOOOOOO!”

And then set them on fire.

 

Tweak: “What exactly is WRONG with you? Can’t you haunt just ONE house for a while??”

Me: “Tweak…”

Tweak: “You’re like the un-dead renter!”

Me: “Tweak…”

Tweak: “If I had thumbs I would drive a stake through your heart!”

Bowie: “Did someone say ‘steak’?”

Bowie-dog peeks her dopey head around the corner.

Tweak: “Wait, that would never work. THAT WOULD IMPLY YOU HAD A HEART!!!”

 

To be continued…

21 May 2015, “Tolerating Tweak”

 

banana box

“Freight Train Dog”

Tweak: “What’s wrong with your dog?”

Me: “It’s May. You know what that means.”

Tweak: “We’re all going to get a new ‘Uncle’?”

Me: “Thunderstorms.”

Bowie-dog is breathing like a freight train on the floor next to my bed.

Tweak: “It’s unfortunate your dog lacks thumbs. Amtrak could use a new engineer.”

Me: “Too soon, Tweak.”

Tweak climbs onto my chest. Not afraid, superior.

Tweak: “It’s 1:00 in the morning. Shouldn’t we be sleeping?”

Me: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

Tweak: “I know a guy.”

Bowie-dog lies longways and upright, not on her side. Head up, face down, barreling into a panic tunnel. Except that she never moves forward. She has wedged herself into a slender strip of floor between my bed and the wall.

Me: “Can you make it look like an accident?”

Tweak: “I can make it look like a meteor hit your windshield.”

Bowie-dog’s breath engine pumps in and out like a fur bellows from Hell. She is panting so hard and fast that the rug underneath her is soaked from hot fear.

Tweak: “I bet she’s doing 106.”

I cover my eyes with one arm. The rain pours.

Tweak: “That curve is only built for 55.”

Lightning flashes, the thunder cracks, Bowie-dog lurches and crashes headfirst into the nightstand.

Tweak: “Maybe you should check her black box.”

I roll over.

Me: “Uncle.”

 

18 May 2015 — “Tolerating Tweak”

“Pet Me”

Tweak, leaps on the bed and pins me in: “Why aren’t you petting me?”
Me: “I’m tired.”
Tweak: “But I’m pretty.”
Me: “Tweak, it doesn’t work that way. Both people have to want to.”
Tweak: “But I always want to.”
Me: “You only have to lay there!”
Tweak: “Lie.”
Me: “I am lying.”

Tweak stomps over my chest, flips her tail in air. Her ass reminds me that it’s an ass.

Tweak: “You should pet me.”
Me: “Tweak, I’m trying to sleep.”

She flips her body into an S-shape like a magic trick. Her impossibly blue eyes stare at me upside down.

Tweak: “Pet me.”
Me: “You’re giving me the bends.”

She stretches long and stabs my arm with a talon, then bashes her forehead into my ribs. Again. And again.

Tweak: “I. Am. Very. Pretty.”

So I pet her.

Tweak: “Learn from me.”
Me: “Kiss my ass.”
Tweak: “Exactly.”

 

17 May 2015 – “Tolerating Tweak”

 

Pet me.

“Stumpy”

I pull up the eHarmony website. I fill out what feels like the same survey that I filled out on LoveAndSeek.com, but eHarmony is going to “analyze” my answers and “scientifically” match me with people who are “compatible” with my “personality.” I just hope that I don’t end up with a “man” in “air quotes.”

The questionnaire is long, but I’m sure it’s worth it because “each compatible match is pre-screened across 29 dimensions.” I hum through 29 keys of “I Love Technology” and answer their questions. eHarmony offers declarative statements for me to evaluate like “I work better if people follow my lead.” I answer “strongly agree” only because there’s no option for “fuck, yeah.”

29 coffees later, I finish the questionnaire, and now eHarmony wants my money for the privilege of using their science. Holy romance on a printing press – why is love so expensive? For one month’s worth of eHarmony matches I could buy a bushel of zucchini and all three “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies.  But, this is science! So I agree to their usury and give them my credit card number. I submit my data, my pics, and my “personality.” I’m kind of excited. Who will the passion geeks pair me up with? Johnny Depp? Dave Barry? Neil DeGrasse Tyson? The anticipation gives me a small girl hard-on. I hit ENTER, sit back, and wait for the matches to roll in.

And I wait. And I wait some more. One day, two days go by. I’m imagining some massive Cray computer in Texas just churning away, rejecting applicant after applicant. Angry white lab coats whipping scraps of paper to the floor. “No! He’s not good enough for her. Have you seen her thighs? Try again!”

Finally, three days later, I receive an email telling me to log back on to eHarmony.

Congratulations! Chris from Lake Orion, Michigan, has reviewed your basic information and would like to start the process of getting to know you better.

Hot damn. Let the science begin!

I log on to see my new match. The eHarmony nerds must be really good, because Chris lives right here in Lake Orion, my home town, Where Living is a Vacation. (It says so on the sign.)

I read his bio. Chris is a Christian man, about my age, about my height, and he does not smoke. A great beginning! I pull up his picture; there is only one. (I sent in 29.) It’s a close-up of a rather large, rather round head. The head has a lot less hair than I’d like, and the eyes are sort of crooked and half-closed. Maybe it’s just a bad pic? Not everybody adores the lens like I do. I press on. This is science.

Christopher passionate about:
Relating to others, their opinions, staying healthy and being there for family and friends.

Okay. Generic and uninspired, but not offensive. I’m very fond of health.

Chris’s friends describe him as:
Affectionate, easy-going, a good listener, optimistic.

Boring, but it would be refreshing to meet someone who’s not a walking stress fracture.

The most important thing Christopher is looking for in a person is: Being a Christian! I need truth and honesty, love and respect, but NO SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE SO DON’T EVEN ASK!!

Whoa. Women must be all over this dude for him to write it in all caps like that.

The first thing you’ll notice about Christopher when you meet him is: My smile, laughter, and jovial good humor.

Excellent! Make me laugh, dammit. MAKE ME LAUGH!!

Some additional information Christopher wanted you to know is:
I do not have a “victim mentality,”
but my health may concern some women.

Well, okay. Maybe this is no big deal. After all, Farmer Bob from LoveAndSeek had a reconstructed esophagus, but it didn’t impede his ability to swallow my tongue. What little imperfection do you have, Chris?

I am on disability, unemployed, and my peripheral vision is shot.

Wait… what…? Not even hair and a job?

I have recently been declared “legally blind.”

But… how are you even typing this…?

I am a double amputee below the knees. I had a triple bypass in ’97 and a kidney/pancreas transplant in ’99.

No. This is…No. I’m being pranked. This is who the scientific ass-punks of eHarmony think is my ideal mate?? An overweight, unemployed bald man who can’t see, can’t walk, and can’t breathe?

I just had a stent put in my heart where there was 90% occlusion, and alas, my weight has crept up as the skin on the stumps break down when I exercise. I have no kids, I have never been married.

A man with someone else’s kidney but his own bloody stumps? What. The. Science.

I sip my coffee to recover my composure. I push my chair back from the desk and stretch my legs (I have legs!), and I accidentally run the caster over my purse reminding me that… THEY CHARGED ME FOR THIS MISTER POTATO HEAD!!

An ideal mate for me? Me, who takes her dog out running every day? Me, who puts an unnaturally high value on hair and the outdoors and the ability to create one’s own urine?

And hold on one more god-fearing minute there, FrankenStumpy. “The first thing you’ll notice about Christopher is his smile?” Not his mother-fucking wheelchair??

And did he really yell in ALL CAPS that there would be no sex before marriage? Has this been a serious problem for you, Short Pants? Not trying to be mean, but rooting around in the untrimmed cleft between Colonel Sanders’ white meats searching for your raggedy pope’s nose sounds like… Okay, I’m mean.

Dammit, eHarmony… This FAIL is so loud it hurts my ears. I am deafened by eDissonance.

Screw this. I turn off the lights and turn on Captain Jack Sparrow. Bring me some veggies.

 

From the chapter “Why Do I Need a Man Anyway?”
“eDissonance” by Erin Waugh