Monday, August 20, 2007

Beer, Dogs, and Poetry: Part II, chapter 10 from The Edge of the World (a novel in progress)

A month later was when Bino and Ron had their reading. I'd worked that day, after which I went home to feed the dogs, and then to the vet to pick up a dog of mine that had gotten hurt earlier in the week. Since I was running late, I brought the dog with me instead of dropping him off at home.

When I got to the gallery the reading had already started. Ron and Bino were already very drunk.

"Me and Ron have already been on," Bino said when I sat in the chair behind him.

Ron then leaned over and started pouring his beer onto Bino's shoes.

"And now we're waiting for him to finish reading," Ron commented as a cigarette butt hit him on the cheek. "Hey who threw that?"

Rather than look to see who had thrown the cigarette butt, I turned to the front of the gallery. There I saw Phillip Evan Green, standing at the microphone and looking down to the large sheaf of paper he held in his hands. Turning back, I saw that Ron had stood up and was setting his beer bottle down on top of a large metallic sculpture.

Although the readings Ron arranged were never particularly solemn affairs—general drunkenness was always part of any event he orchestrated—this one was more unruly than most. People in the audience were not only guzzling beers, but throwing things at each other, putting cigarette butts out on the gallery floor.

Part of the reason for the unruliness of the audience had to have been Phillip Evan Green. Bino told me that he'd already been reading for fifteen minutes by the time I got there. That, plus the fifteen minutes I'd been there, meant that he'd been reading for half an hour-which was much more than anyone should ever be subjected to his pretentious academic ramblings. Still, it seemed to me that instead of throwing cigarette butts at each other to pass the time, they should have been throwing them at him. I picked one up and threw it towards the front of the room, barely missing the side of his face. Phillip Evan Green, however, was as oblivious to the object I'd tossed at him as he was to the restlessness of the crowd.

Phillip Evan Green was a person no one ever referred to as just "Phillip" or even "Green," because to do so would be to admit some degree of fellowship with him. Calling him by his full name seemed to create what was a necessary distance to him, as even those few people who considered him a friend, or colleague at any rate, never called him "Phillip."

The first time I heard him I began to laugh uncontrollably. I thought it had to be a joke, this fat guy who would read on and on while periodically looking up from his text to make some lame observation—an observation which would inevitably induce in him a childlike fit of giggling. I thought it had to be an act, that no one could be that great a fool.

But it wasn't an act. Phillip Evan Green was such a fool, and when I realized this his "act" ceased to make me laugh and instead horrified me. So while other people, when they'd figured him out, simply got bored and fidgety when he read, I became despondent.

It was a state of mind which, after the initial sense of gloom, always led me to take action. At the gallery I couldn't bear to listen to his whining voice one moment longer, so I stepped outside—but that wasn't nearly enough for me. I had to do something more.

I walked down to my van, attached a lease to the collar of the dog, then went back to the gallery. Since the people who were running the gallery were too busy keeping an eye on the crowd—and making sure that no paintings or sculptures were damaged or destroyed—they didn't notice as I stood right outside the door with the dog. Opening the door slightly, I watched Phillip Evan Green for a moment. His large belly was hanging out over his belt as he leaned toward the microphone. As soon as he looked up from his sheets of paper to make what he believed would be another witty remark, I bent down to the dog, pointed toward the front of the room, and whispered, "Sick 'em."

My dog dashed ahead, dragging his lease behind him, down the aisle between the two sections of chairs. As he forged ahead, people who were paying no attention to Phillip Evan Green suddenly found themselves turning toward the front of the room. With an elegant leap, my dog pounced upon Phillip Evan Green, who let out a horrible scream as the papers he held scattered in the air. He fell to the floor with a loud thud as my dog started tearing at his shirt.

"Holy shit!" someone yelled.

"Help! Help me!" Phillip Evan Green shrieked.

"Good God!" I shouted from the doorway, feigning horror at my dog's seemingly unprovoked attack. As I ran toward the front people began to scatter, backing away from me or else heading for the door. "Heel! Heel!" I yelled, then grabbed the dog's lease.

Bino ran up to me as Phillip Evan Green began to sob. "What the hell happened?" Bino asked.

"Christ. I went outside to check on the dog and he was barking like crazy..." I said, pulling the dog closer to me and shaking my head. "So I took him out, and as soon as I attached the lease to his collar he got spooked again and ran in here before I could catch him. The next thing I knew he was attacking Phillip Evan Green."

A crowd had gathered around Phillip Evan Green, who lay on his back bawling like a five year old. He was more scared than hurt, as this dog had been trained only to scare people, tearing at their clothing without actually mauling them.

But I must admit that while watching Phillip Evan Green writhe on the floor, I wished I'd had one of my more ferocious dogs with me that evening. A dog that would really hurt him, a dog that would have left him still and silent.

As I led the dog outside, the people who hadn't already fled backed away.

"It's all right," I said. "He's under control now."

I brought the dog back to my van, doing my best to suppress my laughter as Bino followed behind me.

From that day on—except when I was just going to work—I always brought one of my dogs with me when I went into town to take a walk. And with my dog I'd venture into any neighborhood I wanted to, no matter how dangerous, at any time of day. Because even more than a knife or a gun even, there's nothing that puts the fear of God in someone like a dog with the devil's eyes. People will run through dark alleys, over broken glass and garbage, to flee such a creature. They'll bang on people's doors in the dead of the night seeking shelter from its fast approach, use friends or lovers as barriers between them and its gaping jaws. Because when confronted this way by an animal, people surrender all their pretensions, all their beliefs in the lofty state of their being as they realize that in the end they too are animals.
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First posted, out of sequence, in April 2006.

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