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Letters From The Wasteland: Buster's Revenge


I don't believe in karma, if only because I so rarely witness bad people suffering their due (or any) comeuppance. For God's sake, Dick Cheney received a heart transplant, while … well anyone who didn't ... didn't. How could that happen in a universe where such justice is even contemplated, let alone served? As such, I hesitate to ascribe what happened to me on Sunday afternoon to fate; however, the irony of the situation was almost poetic enough to keep my tears at bay – almost.

It was Super Bowl Sunday and I was on my way to one of my favorite West Bradenton watering holes for what was set up to be an epic afternoon of the American male's real favorite pastime – drinking cheap beer, eating greasy food and gambling on a sporting event we only casually watch, while trying in vain to make time with the gorgeous young waitresses who take our tip money home to empty-headed boyfriends with well-toned abdomens.


For the Super Bowl, they were putting on a considerable spread – one of those one-price, all-you-can-eat and drink extravaganzas that begin at 4 p.m. and go until either someone strokes out or starts the sort of altercation which will surely end any sort of party held in a strip mall.

I'd already had Seattle getting two points, but I called in another bet that morning on the over/under, which was 47, figuring the warmer than expected weather that was suddenly being called for might open up the offenses a bit. For a moment, everything seemed to be perfect, and the tropical air that had finally returned to our corner of paradise smelled like ... victory.

I had started the morning across the bridge at Norma Rae's, fortifying myself with a hearty breakfast of near everything on the menu. One never knows how much reserve energy they'll need on a day like this, and I wanted to be ready should my country need to call on me. After all, the threat level had been cranked up to burnt sienna for the occasion.

I'd finished my 13th cup of coffee, settled the surprisingly-reasonable bill and was headed to my car when the phone rang. It was my ex-girlfriend – from two rotten years ago!

What could she want, I asked myself, too afraid to actually consider the possibilities. My instinct was not to answer, but I imagined scenarios of ominous voicemails, followed by an inability to get her on the line after; a noxious game of phone tag that would surely ruin this sacred and genuinely American day.

“Yes?” I answered as neutrally as I could manage, hoping she wouldn't hear the dollops of sweat that were rolling down my brow and pattering the screen on my phone.

“Well hello to you too,” the vaguely-familiar voice returned.

“Hub .. du duh der shah owl-um,” I mumbled, suddenly rendered to speaking in tongues, then forcefully stammered out a “HOW ARE YOU?”

“Whatever, I need Buster's sky kennel, the one I left at your place,” she said flatly. “I've got to fly up to Virginia for a wedding this week.”

Always a bridesmaid never a bride.

“What in the hell is a sky kennel?” I asked in genuine confusion.

“It's the carrier that he flies in … the large, wire cage that you insisted he sleep in whenever I stayed at your place when we were together,” she answered in a voice that was finally layered with a contempt which made it much more familiar to me.

Buster was a god-awful, mongrel dog of some sort who shed and slobbered all over her apartment. This was enough to ensure that I never spent the night, which she tried to remedy by bringing Buster to my house, even though the rental agreement strictly forbade even the category of small dogs, of which Buster surely was not part. Anyway, I'd never actually done anything of the sort. I simply insisted the dog didn't sleep at my house, which seemed reasonable, especially since I never insisted that she did.

Nonetheless, she claimed that the cage (now suddenly and inexplicably called a sky kennel) would keep him from chronically barking (not true) and, provided she could walk him several times each day on the weekends she stayed over, all would be swell (also not true).

“That was like two years ago,” I said, regretting that she'd already managed to place me on the defensive.

“So?” she responded after a long pause, during which I could feel her growing indignant.

“Well ... I've moved since then. I asked you to come and pick it up several times before that. You never responded. My final email was something to the effect of, hey do you still want this thing before I move?”

“So? What did you do, throw it out?” she screamed.

“No! It was two years ago,” I repeated. “I moved since then, I don't even remember what happened to it.”

This last part was not true, but I hadn't managed to do anything beyond repeating myself, so I had to tack on something. I had actually given the damn thing to another girl – also a dog lover, though I saw no way the truth would have inspired leniency, especially if she didn't already agree that the passage of two year's time, a relocation and multiple failed attempts to return it to her had rendered me something less than blameworthy.

“You probably sold it, you cheapskate!” she screamed into the phone. “Or did it go to your bookie in order to cover some idiot bet you made?" (My gambling had been a source of tension throughout the relationship).

I felt a genuine panic setting in as she continued to bore in on me and suddenly wished I had one of the prescription anti-anxiety pills she was always gobbling back when we were dating (though they hadn't seemed to have helped her in the least).


“Look, that was my property. So whatever you did with it, you'd better have it, or another one exactly like it, at my house before Thursday or my boyfriend is gonna kick your ass!

What??? How was I suddenly indebted to a boyfriend who hadn't even existed at the time??? It was like when some mafia don buys some other softer wise guy's loan and cranks up the vig.

“Believe me, he'd LOVE to do it too,” she assured me, the scream receding into an even more familiar tone of giddy condescension. “He already hates you for all of the B.S. you put me through, especially with Buster. They're very close.”

“What are you talking about? You broke up with me?” I screamed.

“Uh yeah, you're damned right I did – who wouldn't have? Just have it at my house before Thursday. Leave it on the back lanai.”

She mumbled something that sounded like loser before hanging up on me with the sort of extreme prejudice that usually requires a land line to slam the receiver into its base. I immediately recalled seeing her at the gym with her new boyfriend a short while back – some neanderthal who runs an MMA gym that he opened when he lost his job as a Sheriff's deputy after being arrested for possession of illegal steroids.

When I got home, I immediately set about trying to reclaim the old carrier. I'd never gotten anywhere with the girl I'd given it to, so I left her a voicemail, but wasn't holding my breath for a return call. By 2:30, I'd learned that late money was coming in on Seattle and the spread had narrowed to 1.5, but the pre-game show, which was being broadcast from Times Square, looked like it was in Tampa. The announcers were wearing sport coats – no winter jackets and none of the fans were wearing hats or gloves as far as I could see.

They'd been calling for game-time temps in the low 30's and Manning had a 30 percent winning percentage in temps under 40, but now it was looking like that was just another one of the many useless factoids that were crowding for space in my mind.

"Damn you groundhog!!!" I screamed, firing the remote control off of the far wall. Puxatony Phil had seen his shadow that morning. It was bad enough that I'd lost a $20 side bet with my roommate when the little varmint turned tail and ran (my bookie wouldn't take it as part of a parlay), but now it appeared that I couldn't even bank on the six weeks of winter his dash was supposed to foretell, which I had been counting on to help me out at game time.

I did a shot of Southern Comfort to steady my nerves and got online to Google sky kennels. The cheapest one I could find was $120! Someone was selling a similar device on Craig's List for $40, but it had a busted latch. I momentarily considered dropping it on her lanai and swearing the latch had been intact when I'd last seen it, but then I remembered the boyfriend and began cataloging the things she might have told him. Suffice it to say it was a long list, especially once you threw in his good buddy Buster, who I'd once forgotten to feed for an entire weekend while she was out of town (though to be fair, I'd never agreed I would and simply didn't account for her assuming I was only kidding when I declined).


By this time, it was nearly four and I knew those goldbrickers at the bar would be tearing into the best apps on the buffet line, leaving me with little more than celery and blue cheese if I didn't hurry. I'd already paid for a $40 ticket that covered the food and beer, plus I held four blocks on their game day action. There was no way I was missing out.

When I got to the plaza, I had to park nearly two blocks away in a grass easement that sloped down into a storm ditch. A parking ticket seemed possible, but worth the risk. I pulled the parking brake and started into a trot when I got out of the car. When I made it to the lot, I pulled up and immediately noticed that a foul odor was overpowering the more pleasant scents of day-old grease and deep-friend breading which were pouring from the doors each time they opened to manage the steady stream of patrons.

I waited for the stench to pass and when it didn't, I figured it best to check my shoes before tracking anything in the door. That's when things went pear-shaped. When I turned my heel, my sneaker looked to be covered in mud, which I assumed I'd stepped in, while tracking through the grass where I'd parked. It had rained the night before and the turf had even felt soft.

But only fractions of a second after I spotted the brown cluster, my olfactory senses made it very clear that I'd actually discovered the source of what was now a genuinely-repulsive, even sickening odor.

No! I thought. That can't be … I mean, surely … not all of it, at least.

Unless someone had been grazing cattle on the wedge of grass where I'd parked, it seemed I'd stepped right into a pile of what could only be a Great Dane's bodily excrement. It covered 2/3 of the length, and the entire width of the sole of my left Doc Martin boot. It was so deeply stamped in that I couldn't see a single one of the prominent rubber grooves that easily protruded a half-inch. The arch was completely caked, and I could now see that some of it had also muddied the frayed bottom of my favorite blue jeans – the ones with “Lucky” stamped on the belt-loop label.


There was no way I could actually go into the bar and then clean it up in the restroom. It was simply too big of a job, I mean we're talking reality TV show stuff here. I'd have to track the rancid shoe through the entire place, smelling up the whole joint and possibly even getting the health department involved at some point. I'd be the scourge of the establishment – banned for life before I'd even cashed in on one bite of the food I was entitled to, let alone smelled the beer.

I ran back toward the car, feeling myself begin to sweat under the first rays of sunshine we'd had in weeks, and I wondered why in the hell I was wearing boots when it must have been close to 80. If I'd had on flip flops the whole mess might have even been manageable.

When I got close to the car, I slowed to a walk, careful not to hit the same K-9 landmine, which I eventually spotted three steps from the driver-side door. It was even bigger than a glance at my sole would have suggested. In fact, it appeared I'd only hollowed out the middle of a massive mound, something big enough for it's own +4, if not an entire zip code.

What the #$*@ is wrong with people? I asked myself, cataloging the LONG list of dog owners (including the aforementioned ex) who I knew to routinely flout the county ordinance which outlaws such thoughtless nastiness, while setting a $100 first-offense fine for failing to immediately curb a pet's waste.

Dog lovers – a notoriously-unsilent majority in our state – are quick to do everything short of string up anyone who even suggests limiting the rights of pet owners in any way, yet when it comes to my right to keep a shitless shoe, it seems to be a matter in which they all agree in principal, though few go so far as to practice. In fact, I have even known some dog walkers to take a little plastic Publix bag with them on the walk, just to give the impression that they're not going to soil people's lawns with Fido’s business, only to look both ways, make sure no one's watching and then dart off once he's dropped a rotten deuce on their St. Augustine.


It was only at this point that the more immediate problem occurred to me. How the hell would I get in the car? Merely stepping into the vehicle would surely half the resale value and maybe even prohibit future use altogether. I hit the trunk button, hoping that a solution would somehow present itself.

The primary contents – three deflated beach inner-tubes, an empty Styrofoam cooler, two bungee cords and a rusty chaise lounge – didn't make for a promising picture. Then I noticed the pile green canvas shopping bags I never remembered to take into the grocery store and figured I could stand to sacrifice one. I pulled off the shoe, careful not to get anything on my hands, threw it into the bag and did my best to tie it off enough that it might mute the stink seepage, at least for my short ride home.


I got to my house and debated leaving the shoe in the driveway until I got back later that night, but it didn't seem like a smart idea. It could rain, I thought, or the smell might be so deeply embedded by that point that I'd never get it out. I mean these were my favorite boots. It was a choice between chucking it right into the bin (which I did consider) or dealing with the situation on the spot.

I took the fouled boot to the back door, where we kept a small hose attached to the outdoor spigot in order to wash out coolers and clean sand off beach equipment. Being in the bag had only made things worse and as I started in on cleaning them, the stench seemed to be punching me in the nose in a way that made me think of Deputy Roid Rage.

At some point, I had to go into the house and get a butter knife just to finish digging the putrid feces out of the grooves of the boot, but finally it seemed salvageable – though the knife, rubber kitchen gloves and canvas bag went right in the trash bucket.

After I deloused the sole with half a bottle of Febreeze, I put the boot on the front porch to further air it out. Clearly, a shower was in order after the sweaty run and my lengthy proximity to animal excrement. Though I made it quick, it was just minutes from kickoff by the time I finished, dressed and threw on some flops. The buffet had surely been all but picked clean, but there was still the bottomless beer, the big game and even the prospect of considerable winnings.

My roommate, Charlie B., had decided to watch the game at home with his girl, but I managed to talk him into a quick ride over to the bar, so I wouldn't have to worry about finding a poop-less parking place or driving home after the bender I was now envisioning being required, given the day I'd suffered.

We rode in silence. He was creased over having to get off his lazy ass for all of 12 minutes, while I was busy wondering what sort of Republic we were now living in when a man couldn't even count on a well-planned Super Sunday coming off without an hour spent scrubbing dookie off of his favorite boots, while fretting about getting his ass kicked by a man who fights in a cage  – one that such men insisted on calling by its octagonal shape – all over the unknown whereabouts of another cage, one that pet lovers now apparently insisted on calling a sky kennel.

By the time I arrived at the bar, all that was left on the buffet line were some lukewarm jalapeno poppers and dried out slivers of what appeared to have once been a poorly-conceived quiche of some sort. The Seahawks were already on their way to a historic route, their swarming defense and earth-shaking ground game too much for the suddenly long in the tooth Broncos to handle. It was clear that the outcome would have been the same had they played in Tampa, Tempe or even on the moon for that matter. This was their day and Pete Carroll's destiny. Not even a hot grad student could have thrown a wrench in the evening's events for a man with hair so perfect, it managed to withstand not one, but two Gatorade baths and still look better than any of the 23 broadcasters working the game for Fox! I heard Jimmy Johnson actually wept. Me? All it took was some well placed doggy-doo to bring good old Ringo to his knees, but I was never head coach material – even in a city where it rains something like 320 days a year.

The Seahawks did, however, pay and they even pushed the score past the over/under, despite almost no help from Peyton and his hapless crew from the Rockies. When all was said and done, I was up two-hundred bucks ... at least on paper. After springing for the sky kennel, paying my roommate for the groundhog bet and figuring in both my cover for the bar and the tip to my waitress, I looked to be at least a sawbuck in the hole. Meanwhile, Buster was likely getting his belly rubbed by a big brute who keeps him well fed on the fat which is trimmed in preparation of his 13 daily servings of meat (along with whatever else is implied in the two being very close). I guess every dog really does have his day. Journalists? ... we get what we have coming to us and sometimes even an extra scoop to emphasize the point.


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