Monday
Sep142009

Turf

Elizabeth Crane


 

The story you are about to hear is made up and the reason it’s made up is because we don’t know the half of it. But just in case it seems familiar, rest assured that names, places and details are made up too. This story takes place in the large Midwestern city of Hicago, which as you are surely aware, does not even exist, much of it not existing at a dog park very close to the intersection of Hackhawk and Heaver, which is also made up. So there should be no concern, we think, about anyone’s feelings getting hurt, or any misunderstandings or what have you.

The two main characters here are the dog walker Hulie and the dog owner Helizabeth.

Hulie, we’re pretty sure, has lived on that block her whole life. She’s maybe twenty-six. Twenty-six years ago that block was rough. Ten years ago that block was rough. Now there are some condos, but sometimes in the mornings we’ll see so much shattered glass by the curb, we wonder about the window-smashing spree the night before, who around here thinks that’s a good time. We don’t have suspicions, but we think Hulie might. We also think it’s completely possible that she’s never been on a plane.

Helizabeth has lived on Heaver Street for about five years now. More is known, factually, about Helizabeth than Hulie because Helizabeth is a local author and you can google her just like she does. Plus she’s on Hacebook and Hyspace and blogs and all that. Hulie doesn’t even go online, we’d say. So anyway Helizabeth and her then-boyfriend-now-husband Hen moved in there together, got married a few months later in the back yard. Last year, having postponed making the baby decision for a while, Helizabeth and Hen decided it was time to get a dog, and a sweet stray found its way to them through a friend at the Hatahoula Rescue, and Helizabeth and Hen brought home their new baby, a sickly fifty-pound ten-month-old with a soft gray coat covered with the trademark Hatahoula purple, pink and white markings. They named him Herky.

Initially, Herky was a mellow dog, awkward in social settings, no way was he alpha, he wasn’t even beta he was more like mu or nu or romichon, way into the second half of the Greek alphabet. At the dog park, Herky would make efforts to play, wagging his butt and bouncing around in that puppy way, but inevitably, after annoying one of the alphas with his eager doggy dorkiness, he’d end up pushed into a corner. Herky was not one of the cool kids.

But over the year, Herky gained a few pounds along with some confidence, and although he still never became alpha he for sure moved up to maybe around theta. He still isn’t much interested in bossing anyone around, and will never start a fight, but if you do, he will defend himself.

What we actually know about Hulie: She has a Great Hane named Hurphy. Around noon every day, she arrives at the dog park with a minivan full of barking dogs, stays there for a couple of hours. Every so often, she’ll throw a well-chewed ball for them, but calling this game fetch would be a stretch because it tends to be a long time between throws, and we’ve never one time witnessed her showing affection to a dog. Not one time. She appears to know a lot of folks in the immediate vicinity, and will frequently engage in lengthy conversations with them. Words and phrases we overhear in these conversations regularly include terrible, I’m not, and they never. Hulie doesn’t smile much, in these conversations, or ever. Hulie yells at her dogs a lot and we’ve also seen her hit them. The police have come around to see her, but not because of that. What Hulie does, bringing the dogs to the park, isn’t really legal, but because she seems to know so many folks, it seems that someone in the ‘hood is looking out for her. There’s an ex-congressman on the block and we’ve seen them chatting.

What we think we know about Hulie: Her boyfriend Hoger lives downstairs from her. It’s possible that they live together, but probably not. Our best guess is that they met in the laundry room. Her apartment is sparsely decorated, if the word decorated is even appropriate. She’d like it to be a little nicer, but just doesn’t know how to go about it, doesn’t really have the time. There are a couple of pictures hung in odd locations, too high or low, no doubt on nails that were already in the walls. There’s a spider plant in a macramé hanger by the window, but lately it doesn’t look too good. Sometimes at Walgreen’s she’ll pick up a scented Glade candle. Her sofa is a futon in a frame; on it is an earth-toned afghan she thinks her grandmother crocheted, but it isn’t true. That was a story her mother told her. No one knows who made it. Hulie doesn’t cook much, will get a roasted chicken or a salad at the Jewel, maybe something frozen from Aldi but that’s a little too far down Hilwaukee and she’s not over that way too much. Once a year her boyfriend will take her to some fancy sushi place like Haponais, because he heard celebrities go there. But she won’t really be impressed, and she won’t really like it. She will order something cooked.

Her bedroom is more or less the same. She sleeps on a mattress on the floor and there’s a large pile of laundry in the corner. Hurphy isn’t allowed to sleep in the bed, but since her bed is close to the floor, Hurphy sleeps right next to her on the nights when Hoger isn’t over. When Hoger is over Hurphy sleeps in the living room because Hoger doesn’t like the dog watching them fuck. Hoger’s words.

In her bathroom, Hulie’s bikini panties are strewn about, the kind that have words on the butt in big letters, words like SEXY or HOTT. This is about as girly as she gets, really she’s kind of a tomboy, but she uses Suave Juicy Green Apple shampoo, there’s a curling iron on the sink, and on New Year’s Eve you saw her walking Hurphy in a long black jersey gown under her fleece jacket. She may have also been wearing blush.

When she’s not hanging out with Hoger, once in a while she’ll watch those home improvement shows where people come in and fix up a room for under a thousand dollars, and thinks how nice it would be to have someone do that for her. The last book she read was Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus which her sister had sent her from Arizona (she’d gotten the fuck out of the neighborhood and all the way out of the state as soon as she graduated high school), but she didn’t finish it because it was a bunch of horseshit she already knew anyhow and Hulie wasn’t likely to take her sister’s advice on romance seeing as how she was married to a blazing asshole. Hulie’s sister is twelve years older, but there were never very close even in that almost-parent sisterly kind of way. Hulie does not have a group of girlfriends, does not have a girlfriend, has not had a girlfriend since her childhood friend Hennifer totally made out with her boyfriend Hichie right in front of her face at her own thirteenth birthday party. Hennifer had tried to point out that in kissing games you kiss, but Hulie wasn’t having it. Mostly, in her spare time, Hulie does Sudoku or hangs around out front with whoever’s playing cornhole.

So Hulie dates Hoger, and she works with dogs but she doesn’t smile. How does someone work with dogs and not smile, like, constantly? We wonder if somebody hit her. If we weren’t so sure she’s been on this block since forever, we’d wonder if she was one of those foster kids you hear about who gets moved sixteen times and hit in fifteen of them. We wonder if someone hit her somewhere along the line because we can’t come up with any other reason why someone who works with dogs would just never smile. We hope it wasn’t Hoger, but we could believe it. Or maybe in ninth grade she was on color guard and kind of liked it and would defend it as totally being a sport but skipped it one afternoon to meet a cute druggy boy behind the physical plant and never went back because he said it was way lame and she spent the next two years alternating between doing it with him in his garage and getting hit by him if she wasn’t in the mood or if she had her period. Probably, she wanted to be something once, but she forgot what.

What little we know about Hoger: Hoger has a great head of hair but he seems to favor an old-school heavy Brylcreem look, slicked straight back, very Gordon Gekko. He wears a suit to work (maybe at the Hoard of Trade?), some designer suit that he paid a thousand dollars for so he can tell people it’s Hugo Boss except after he got it off the rack he never took it to get tailored and so it doesn’t fit quite right. Okay, I guess we don’t know that for sure but that’s what it looks like. We do know that he has a Hottweiler named Hex and that when he brings Hex to the dog park he stays for about the length of a smoke or until Hex makes, Hoger’s word, whichever comes first. We suspect Hoger isn’t one to really decorate either, but we are completely sure he has that framed poster of naked Nastassja Kinski with the snake. Never mind that it’s before his era. He saw it on sale at a dollar store for $5.99 and his mind was blown. Hulie doesn’t care for it one bit, but Hoger won’t budge. He tells her when she poses naked with a snake he’ll take it down. She tells him he can fuck Nastassja Kinski until that day and he says You think I couldn’t hit that? And she says Whatever, she’s like fifty now anyways, go ahead.

Helizabeth and Hen’s apartment is a rental and it’s big and old and perpetually dusty but it’s filled with books and art, real art; Hen is an artist. Helizabeth makes books. They don’t have tons of money or anything, but they have some nice pieces of furniture and Helizabeth makes curtains and pillows and it feels like a home. Hen built a bed for Herky. They too have a laundry pile, but Helizabeth tries her best to make sure it stays in the closet. They drink loose tea and grind their coffee and are working on going organic and weaning off high-fructose corn syrup, if it weren’t for the problem of things like Hunky Monkey ice cream being so good. They shop mostly at Trader Hoe’s but if they have a little extra cash some week they’ll splurge at Hole Foods.

Okay, so now we’ll finally move on to the story part of the story.

One morning, Helizabeth took Herky out for his morning walk–Hen is on mornings most days, but it was a holiday and those are usually Helizabeth’s. Herky and Helizabeth were playing fetch when Hulie came in with Hurphy and Hex and another dog. Helizabeth and Hulie had a brief conversation but perhaps the longest they’d ever had. Something like Hey. Hey. Dust from the construction is terrible, huh? Awful, yeah. I cleaned up a ton of their garbage, too. They never clean it up. I’m always doing that. Yeah, I had to tell a guy to put his beer bottles in the trash. What guy? I dunno, some guy that told me he lives right over here. I know that guy, he doesn’t live there. I heard he got his girlfriend pregnant and she doesn’t want anything to do with him so he comes out here to drink. Oh. I know, can you believe it? I’ve told him so many times… Are you dog sitting this weekend? Story of my life. Hulie says it like it’s a perpetual drag, this thing she chose to do for a living. Still, Helizabeth, we guess, feels bad for judging Hulie so harshly because Hulie’s sadness is so obvious, and sees a small window where maybe they’ll have a conversation in the positive someday, maybe chat about Grey’s Anatomy or Britney Spears or something.

Something else that is known by all parties: Hex is a ball hog. You pretty much can’t have Hex and a ball in the park together if you’re interested in holding onto that ball. If Hex gets the ball, the ball belongs to Hex. Otherwise, Hex is pretty agreeable as dogs go. Usually, Helizabeth will take the ball away from Herky when Hex comes in, but in this case, waited until it was too late, and an incident occurred.

There are differences of opinion about the specifics of this incident, but the result was that Herky, no longer a shy, sickly puppy, emboldened by his health and new robustness, decided not to allow the taking of the ball, and a brief dogfight occurred. Helizabeth and Hulie broke the fight up quickly, but not before Hex left with a cut on his lip and Herky left with a small but deep gash in his side.

Helizabeth’s solution to this problem was to avoid the dog park around lunchtime.

A couple of weeks went by and Helizabeth was at the park with Herky around 11 am when Hulie was leaving to pick up her dogs. What we could make of it: Hulie came over and tried to start a conversation about it. Something like, Listen, I’m hearing that you’re going around saying Hex attacked your dog and that’s not what happened. Helizabeth said something like Where did you hear that and Hulie said Dog park gossip, and Helizabeth said Well I never said attacked, I said bit, and Hulie said But why were you even talking about it and Helizabeth said Look at that gash, people were asking, even the vet was like Whoa, what happened here and Hulie said You didn’t have to take him to the vet, and Helizabeth said What? And Hulie said Did he get stitches? And Helizabeth said No and Hulie said Then you didn’t need to go to the vet and Helizabeth, getting to that point in the argument where you start defending yourself by making lists, she said Okay, A) we didn’t know if he needed stitches or not, and B) who are you to tell me whether I should take my dog to the vet, and Hulie said I see it all the time, dogs get cut up, it’s no big deal, Helizabeth said Okay, whatever, this has nothing to do with anything, and Hulie said Anyways I just didn’t like what I heard, and Helizabeth said, Well I told you the truth, and Hulie said But that’s not what I heard what I heard was attacked, and this attacked vs. bit thing went around a few more times and Helizabeth said Look, I can’t make you believe me and then at this point there was a rehashing of the incident, Hulie said that Herky started it and Helizabeth said No, Herky growled as if to warn Hex off, and then Hex went after Herky, and Hulie said That’s not true because you had your back turned, you don’t even know, and Helizabeth at this point was starting to lose it, and we’ve never seen her like this before, although it’s not unbelievable, we imagine her as the sort of person who can remain calm through quite a number of circumstances way worse than a fight at the dog park, but then will reach a point where she begins to lose it, and this was that point, and Helizabeth raised up her arms dramatically and said Are you joking me? I was facing you, we were talking, and the dogs were between us and Hulie said Well I don’t know and Helizabeth said Well I know! I know! and Hulie also said Hex is a nice dog but a lot of people are saying they don’t want to come in here when Herky’s here, and Helizabeth said WHAT, WHAT, who, who are these a lot of people, and Hulie named a dog and Helizabeth said Herky and that dog were friends until he started a fight with Herky, and his mom knows that, and Hulie said Well I’m just telling you what I hear, that a lot of people are afraid of Herky and Helizabeth said Who else? And Hulie, whose unaffected demeanor only served to further raise Helizabeth’s hackles, named this other dog and Helizabeth said That is the most ill-mannered dog whose parents have no control over him whatsoever, and he harasses Herky, not the other way around and those people know it too. Everyone leaves the park when that dog comes in. And Hulie said Well I’m just telling you what I hear and Helizabeth said Who else and Hulie said Well that’s all I know and Helizabeth said Well that’s two dogs which isn’t a lot especially since it’s them and not Herky so I don’t see how that’s a lot, actually I don’t see how that’s any, especially considering I heard your boyfriend bragged about Hex eating a puppy for lunch. Which at that moment was arguably neither here nor there, we had the impression that this was a point Helizabeth might have used more effectively at a different point in her argument. Hulie told her If he did say that I'm sure it was a joke and Helizabeth said that that wasn’t the impression she had and Hulie said Well I don’t know alls I know is there’s a lot of gossip and I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable or like whoever wants to come here can’t come here. And at this point Helizabeth appeared to be at a loss for words but finally said Well, I feel like it’s understood that this is your corner, and Hulie said Well I’m sorry if I gave you that impression, did I give you that impression? and Helizabeth said I don’t know if you gave it to me but that’s the impression I have and Hulie said Well I’m sorry about that, I don’t want to give that impression and Helizabeth shrugged like she thought Hulie really did want to give that impression and said Well it’s just a little intimidating and Hulie said Well that’s too bad, like she meant it, like she was genuinely implying that it was too bad that Helizabeth felt too intimidated to come back to the park but that she’d probably get over it fast enough even though just that holiday morning, before the incident, our guess is that Hulie had started to turn a corner on Helizabeth, thinking maybe she wasn’t so bad. It seemed to us like in that moment they both knew the other wasn’t so bad but that they’d had their shot and it was over. We also speculate that Hulie, still stung by the junior-high make-out debacle with Hennifer, was less surprised than mildly disappointed, and that Helizabeth still thought she was better than Hulie anyway. This may seem like all of it except in reality it went on for nearly an hour and also it was about seventeen degrees outside at the time.

What was learned? Immediately after the incident, Helizabeth thought it was a strong indicator that it was time to leave Hicago or at least to move off the block.

We speculate that Helizabeth and Hulie both had long conversations with their significant others, maybe more than one, and that Hoger and Hen both stood by their women, and that requests were put in by both women that the other not be mentioned again unless they were prepared for an argument, rational or otherwise. All we know for sure is that Helizabeth doesn’t go to the park at noon anymore and Hulie still doesn’t smile.

There’s a lady on the block, a little old lady in a head scarf who every day gives bread to the birds and the cats and dogs. This seems to be her genuine joy and we don’t want to take this away from her. We call her the bread lady and she always smiles, always. But she doesn’t know anything for sure either.