Here’s one you might not have heard. There are two guys sitting at a bar, drinking what might be their second or third round. The bar is not so nice and frankly, one of our guys could afford to drink in a bar much nicer. He’s a business guy, has started up an Internet something-or-other, and makes truckloads of money. The other guy’s a writer. As far as the bar goes, the writer says he’s been in worse. But who can know for certain? He’s the type of guy who says things just to have said them. What’s certain is that the bar is long, small and dark, and even though it’s just the three of them, our two guys and the bartender, it feels crowded. There are windows, but they’re round like boat windows, small and thick. The afternoon sun can barely muscle through. The beer on tap is warm and the surface of everything is sticky. So when one guy (the business guy) gets up to go to the bathroom, or when the bartender walks from one end of the bar to the other, this floor noise follows them, squick squick squick. When the writer tries to slide his buddy a fresh beer he finds that he can’t. The glass sticks to the grime, beer, dirt, and skin covering the counter. It makes a sucking noise when the business guy picks it up. The reason why the writer and the business guy are in this crummy bar in the middle of the afternoon is because the business guy’s sad about his dog’s running away. What happened was this. Yesterday some neighborhood children were standing outside the business guy’s fence. The dog was teasing them, because that’s the kind of dog it was. “The farm means you’re dead,” said the dog. “You can’t chase rabbits when you’re dead.” “What about Oscar?” said the little neighborhood girl. “Oscar’s dead,” said the dog. “Your parents lied to you.” The little neighborhood girl began crying. The neighborhood boy, her brother, dropped his baseball and put his arm around his sister. The children staggered away and the dog stared at the baseball through a gap in the fence, a fat string of drool dripping from its tongue. When the business guy came from work he found a note wedged into the flag of his mailbox. Train your dog, the note said. “What’s this about?” the business guy said. The dog looked up from the slipper that it was chewing. “Beats me,” the dog said. “Is that my slipper?” said the business guy. “This slipper?” said the dog. “Bad dog,” said the business guy. “Bad dog.” He chased the dog outside and locked the door. The next morning when he went out to get the paper, he saw that the front gate was open and that the dog was gone.
The writer’s also at the bar because of sadness. But he’s not sad about the business guy’s dog. He’s never liked dogs and he likes the business guy’s least of all. The writer’s sad because his girlfriend left him again. “She’ll come back,” says the business guy. “She always does.” But this time the writer’s not so sure. She’d read a screenplay that he’d been writing and left him because she claimed he was writing about them. She said that the screenplay was about their actual life. In it a young man and a young woman have an adventure together, fall in love, and get married. Years pass and they learn that without the adventure—the sexiness of explosions, the romance of car chases—they’re completely wrong for each other. The man is completely boring. Every night he comes home from work and wants the woman to cook him a chicken breast. He never wants to go out to dinner, but when he does he always wants to go to the same place for a cheeseburger. But the food there is always too greasy. When they come home the man spends the rest of the night on the toilet, saying he’ll never eat out again. And the woman’s like, “Oh great. Now I’ll have to cook you a stupid chicken breast for the rest of your stupid life.” When the man finally decides it’s time to eat out again, where does he want to go? You guessed it. But it’s not like the woman’s so perfect either. Over the years she’s put on weight. When the man looks at the woman’s ass, he feels resentful. It’s not the ass of the woman he’d had an adventure with. “You don’t love me,” the man says when the woman asks why he’s muttering to himself on the couch. For both of them, change is scarier than divorce and so they stay together for all those years. Eventually they begin trying to kill each other. When the man uses his power tools he leaves them plugged in into the socket in the hall. The woman almost trips and breaks her neck. When it’s fish night the woman forgets to debone the man’s fish. Every time he gets to a bone, he goes on and on about how he almost died because of her carelessness. Finally one of them becomes old and senile and is committed to the nursing home. In order to pay for the one in the nursing home, the other one sells the house and moves into a no-bedroom apartment with thin walls. That one visits the one in the nursing home frequently and then less frequently, because the one in the nursing home has forgotten the other one’s name. One of them dies.
A third guy walks into the bar. This guy’s wearing a suit. He’s sweating and panting, red in the face. He walks up to the bar and orders a beer. “Holy shit,” he says. “I can’t believe what just happened to me.” The writer and business guy sip their drinks and wait for the third guy to continue, all ears. The third guy says he was just outside at the bus stop, minding his own business, waiting for the bus, when a dog came up to him and started begging for money. “Two dollars,” said the dog. “Two dollars is all I need.” “Get lost,” said the third guy. He looked at his watch. He needed to pick up his daughter from ballet practice. If he were late again he’d never hear the end of it from the girl’s mother. “Come on,” said the dog. “I’m starving. You’re telling me a guy like you, in a suit like that can’t spare a couple of bucks?” Then the third guy’s bus pulled up to the stop, and the dog maneuvered in front of him, blocking his path. It looked up at him and gave its tail a half-hearted shake. The bus doors opened, and the third guy tried to nudge the dog away with his foot. “What are you doing?” said the dog. “Are you kicking me?” The third guy’s bus pulled away. “Hey,” said the third guy. His voice was lost in the brakes. “I can’t believe you kicked me,” said the dog. The dog’s fur bristled. The dog was snarling, gnashing and baring its teeth.
“That dog sounds like a complete asshole,” says the writer. “I know,” says the third guy. “Can you believe it?” The bartender wipes down the bar with his bar towel. “Where’d your friend go?” says the bartender. When the writer and third guy look at where the business guy was sitting, they see that he’s gone.
Outside the bar, the writer and third guy are calling for the business guy, and somewhere else the business guy is calling for his dog. Not only is the bar shitty and shabby but the street it’s located on is also kind of the same. There’s litter on the sidewalk, cigarette butts, condom wrappers, and beer cans. When buses speed by the litter gets caught in their wind tunnels and knocks against the writer and third guy’s feet. Eventually they find themselves in a park with a weak fountain in the middle; the fountain’s water shoots weakly into the air. Around the fountain are mothers with strollers. Tied to the handles of the strollers are leashes, and at the end of the leashes are dogs. “That’s the dog,” says the third guy. He points to a dog not tied to a stroller. This one is standing up at a trashcan, its head in the trash. Even from the distance, squinting into the sun, the sun that’s refracting and being magnified by the fountain’s thin line of water, the writer can see that it’s not the business guy’s dog. “Nope,” he says. “Not the dog.” The business guy’s dog is black and white. This one’s brown all over. “You sure?” says the third guy. After all, the majority of dogs are friendly and eager to please; it’s not like the world is full of asshole dogs. But what can the writer say? There must be at least two asshole dogs in the world—the business guy’s dog and the brown dog. The writer asks the third guy about his daughter, the one he was supposed to pick up from the ballet lessons. “Oh yeah,” says the third guy. He looks at his watch and walks to a bus stop. The next bus picks him up. And then, except for the brown dog and the mothers, the writer is alone in the park.
There are hot mothers and plain mothers. Mothers with babies swaddled in pink and mothers with babies in blue. The writer sits on a bench and watches the mothers. Even the hot mothers are tired-looking. There are big circles under their eyes. The writer’s own mother was always tired-looking. When he was a kid it seemed that all she ever wanted to do was nap. When he came home from school, eager to show her the big red A that his teacher had written on the top of his report about dinosaurs or werewolves or Sir Francis Drake, she’d always be there, in bed, in the bedroom, a wet towel covering her face. And later, in college, when he told her he was going to become a writer, she’d pour herself a glass of chardonnay and lay down on the couch, moaning. “So you can write about your mother?” she said. All that writers do, she said, is write about their mothers and beg for money. She asked what she ever did to make his life so bad. “It’s not like it’s been easy,” she said, “raising you all alone. You being a kid like you were.” But really what had she done? Besides her constant napping, her inattention, the crappy and crappier boyfriends who either pretended to be his father or pretended that he didn’t exist at all, there was, for example, the incident with the dog. When the writer was twelve all he wanted in the world was a dog. One day, to his surprise, his mother brought one home. It was a warm puppy, a Labrador mix that licked his face and crawled all over him. Whenever it saw the writer get off the school bus and walk up the driveway, it got so happy it peed. One day the puppy peed on the mother’s shoes and that was the last the writer saw of it. The next day when he came home from school there was a goldfish in a bowl. “You weren’t ready for responsibility,” is all his mother said. Then she sprayed some perfume on her neck and went on a date, leaving him at home with the TV and the goldfish. The next day the goldfish died.
Soon, the sun begins to set and the streetlamps switch on. The park’s filled with their humming, and the mothers push their strollers towards the exit. The dogs tied to the strollers tug on their leashes, leading the mothers home. The brown dog, that asshole, lifts its head from the trashcan and sees the writer sitting by the fountain. “Hey guy,” says the dog, “can you spare a couple bucks?” The writer opens his wallet and puts a few dollars in the dog’s mouth. They sit there, the dog and the writer, by the fountain, and watch the mothers leave the park. The sun puts colors to the clouds in the sky. “That’s some sunset,” says the dog. And it is some sunset, even though it’s because of the smog that the sky is filled with such bright oranges and pinks. “It’s a good one,” says the writer. And they sit there, the dog and the writer, long after the sun’s set and the sky’s gone dark, and back home in their apartments the mothers put their children to bed and say that the world is meant for them.