Me and Ace
by Sam Vargo
[ fiction - november 04 ]
Me and Ace smile all over the place and wag like some big bone is flying our way. Yeah, we're happy. We know there's a big trophy to be had, somewhere; like some big, mean, bloody ham bone is suspended in the air, ready to be scarfed down and eaten, then eaten again, and then eaten again and again.
Ace, with his smily face.
Ace, with his fast-wagging tail.
Ace. Such a nice little shaggy, waggy mongrel with teeth hidden back so far you'd never think he's got fangs until you really mess with him.
When you see those fangs it's something you don't want to see. And usually, you don't see them, you just feel them on you, then quickly, in you. It's too late then - those fangs are digging into your throat, or if you're lucky, your hide.
He's the best little fighter I've ever seen. He's so lean and mean he's actually delicious the way he fights - tasty as a tidbit found in a strange little hiding place - or dug up from the ground where you left it three or four full moons ago.
And he's smart. And friendly. So full of personality he should be on TV advertising dog biscuits.
Me and Ace have been running these streets for too long now, like our ancestors, the hunting dogs that preceded the hyenas, jackals and dingoes. Yeah, like those dogs with big patches of fur on their hides. Ang bingo, in other places, just raw hide - brown, sickly-looking skin. They let out barks like complaints. They don't howl, they moan and cry and sound awfully sick.
When you got no master, your master's the dog catcher.
Some running friends of ours ended up with the dog catcher. This dog catcher, we heard from a couple dogs who watched the whole thing, well, he was a friendly guy. He wasn't mean and he didn't yell. And this friendly guy dog catcher came up to these two dogs. Oh, I think their names was Spitz and Fritz, and this dog catcher asked them to fetch a bone, ah, that human-being dog-catching thing, he was so sly. But when the two mutts ran out and one of them got the bone and they both returned, that friendly dog catcher turned all mean and threw both those dogs in the back of this long limousine!
They were headed downtown to the dog pound.
We heard they got gassed or something - that's the rumor out on the street about what happens to dogs that end up with the dog catcher.
But we don't know. We're just stupid dogs. As far as me and Ace really know, there's no such thing as a dog catcher, anyhow. Dogs hear things on the street just like people do - we're not all that dumb, and we communicate a lot better than people.
We don't need to talk.
We have instincts.
Other dogs know what we're saying just because they're dogs.
We communicate through kinetics.
Me and Ace piss all over the place, making our territory go out wider and wider along these city streets. Just like our ancestors used to do - draw a big line around our territory. Yesterday, we was way down on the south side of town and today, we're in some suburb somewhere, scrounging fast food dumpsters in back of brightly colored, plastered-up restaurants selling cheap food and dispensing of cheaper garbage.
We found a heaven-sent booty in the back of this dumpster. We were gorging ourselves on this big, rotting pile of raw meat when Ace got bit by a yellow jacket and began snapping and snarling. He jumped high and spun. Even in mid-air, he was under the curse of a dog devil. Jeez, he was acting like he had rabies. Man, you should've seen the look on Ace's face! He looked like he was about to get gassed! So some lady dressed in this stupid brown, orange and yellow uniform comes out of that burger stand and chases me and Ace down the street.
Snap, snap. Snarl. Snap, snap. Snarl.
That's the basics, just add in a few details and don't read no more.
**** *** ****
Me and Ace.
Just two mean, good for nuttin' mutts that really should be tied up on some post in a junkyard. We should each have our own wreck to watch. In the back of the trunk on each piece of grunt car there'd be a nest full of hornets or wasps, or maybe even a snake or two - a timber rattler or a copperhead, maybe. Am I being theatric or just pathetic? I don't know, I speak through kinetics.
**** *** ****
Sure, Me and Ace know some humans. We know lotsa' jokesters, lotsa characters, lotsa movers, shakers, bakers, pancake and BLT makers, slackers, whackers, boom bas, rah rahs and a whole lot of takers.
We even know this chow chow, got to be pretty good friends with her. Yep. See, my friend Ace tried to get real friendly and jumped her back, only to be engulfed by the chow's sharp fangs and teeth and dark blue tongue. That Asian pit-fighting princess shook her head around with Ace's head caught in her mouth and he shook and shook, blood splattering all over that boneyard, with beat-up old jalopies littering the jaggers and underbrush like some rough-cut gem stones in the back of an old, eccentric miser's little black bag of goodies.
Yeah, me and Ace know an eccentric miser like that. He's got a little black sack and always sneezes into this lily-white handkerchief, but he never seems to get any snot on it because it's always white and pure as a new snowflake falling, falling, falling, then hitting the earth and melting...
But he's got such a running nose it looks like a geyser. Yeah, that miser's a real treat, a real canned-heat sort of guy disguised as a beggar, a bum.
So finally, the chow let go and Ace flew through the air, like some stupid trick an animal does to get a treat from some joker on the street. So Ace landed, whimpered a bit, took his paws and rubbed his face. I couldn't believe what he did next. He cried. He cried and cried and cried. He let out little whelps, whistles and whines through those mushy whiskers. And he wasn't in any pain, either. I don't know why Ace cried such a long time. I never seen him cry before. Now, after going over it and over it, and over it even again, I realize Ace was probably crying because he liked the chow and she di! dn't like him. But Ace never let on like he liked her, he just jumped her back and sniffed underneath her for a good long time.
Those chows are funny and they can be damned mean.
They say the only thing can kill a chow - a couple of pit bulls.
Not one, but at least two or more.
And they're the ugliest dogs, those chows - nothing more than a big ball of fur with some fangs sticking out between a big, blue tongue and trap-like jaws. But you never see a full-bred chow on the street. They're human prizes, pedigreed chow chows. Yep, chows are always somebody's slave (usually mean folks because chows are such mean dogs). They're favorites among junkyards now. You don't see as many distempered mangy, big, ratty-furred mongrels in junkyards. No, you see rotts and dobes and chows. All purebreds with papers.
**** *** ****
Me and Ace are usually all over the place. North Side. South Side. West Side. East Side. Suburbs. We don't have no dog house to go back to. Call us hillbilly dogs. Call us scavengers, dog-goned dogs.
**** *** ****
Ace ain't much bigger than a full-grown jack rabbit. He's a scrawny mutt missing most of his hair. And mangy? Is he ever. He's one of the smallest dogs that run the stray circuit around this 20-mile radius. He's nothing to look at, but boy is he a survivor. One long winter, when it was colder than a backroom freezer, Ace showed me a cool way to stay warm and sleep. He just buried himself under the snow. I couldn't believe it. It looked like it would be freezing under there. But I followed his direction and buried myself, too. Know what? Before long, my whole body started getting warm. It's usually just me and Ace doing things like that. And we're! always learning stuff along our journey. But sometimes we pick up a third partner along our trails. Sometimes he's big. Sometimes it isn't even a him, but a her, and either me or Ace gets lucky. When a bitch is hot, she's hot, and it's just so ducky when she's in heat. Sometimes we run with tag-a-long strays. Sometimes things get nasty and we fight with them. But me and Ace always hang together. But anyway, neither one of us got rabies, not once.
Get rabies and you're a goner.
First, the whole world turns dizzy and somber.
Then it's sick, fizzy and slimy and you're mad all the time.
Then you lose your head and can't even think - can't even be near the sight of water. Yeah, rabies is a real junkyard fodder. Then you get madder and madder. Then you die. But along the way, you sink your nasty fangs into a couple dozen other dogs and they end up the same way - like carcass slaughter.
Man, sometimes I wish Ace was a little bigger. Shit, he's such a mangy mongrel, but he's a digger, a sicker-looking dog than most, but a real good street-running host. He's got no more meat on him than a picked carcass of a chicken. But he can sure scrap. He's a wiry, tiny mongrel from Mars.
Yep, we pick the cans once in awhile, hoping to get some pork and beans or a piece of Vienna sausage or something. The gut growls louder than the snout sometimes, when you ain't eaten for days at a time...
We pick the cans clean, like the crows that swoop down with us. Sometimes a crow sweeps down on Ace and the mangy, matted bird tries to carry my travelin' companion away, like a gust of black nothingness. Those big, black wings are flap, flap, flappin' and strugglin' like a bus in overdrive and Ace is caught. He snaps and snarls between the bird's claws. Ace is snap, snap, snapping at the feathers on the damned crow's under belly. If Ace wasn't so damned small and skinny those big birds wouldn't mess with him like that. They'd just sense he had too much weight on his bones to be carried off like some smelly piece of rotten groundhog.
We walk the streets at night a lot.
There's lots of meat to be had at night, behind the restaurants and grocery stores and little ma and pop shops.
Sometimes, we find a dead cat or a dead rat. On a good night, we pass on maggot squirmin' vermin, but on hungry nights, sometimes we'll even eat a rotting rat, sometimes even a dead, dried-up bat.
Those damned dogs inside snoring on welcome mats don't know how good they have it.
I think of them when me and Ace are scrarfing down a rat, chipmunk or dead groundhog. We run into them in our travels. Some of them are snobs and refuse to be with us. Others join in and run and fun with us a few blocks, but then they get homesick and double back home - stupid runts. They don't know what it is to have fun and run the streets like ramblin' rocks.
But when we run into a pile of hamburger behind a dumpster, I don't envy those house dogs at all. Pampered pussies, all of 'em. Never had any real canine cunning because they never had to use it. When they do something nice, they get a treat. Me and Ace never do something nice. We're like dingoes or hyenas or bastardized junkyard dogs thrown out of rust and hinge paradise because of our hatefulness and sneaky ways.
Me and Ace. We're real dogs.
Those curly little cute things with bows in their hair wearing sweaters don't have enough sense to even piss on a tree when they're being paraded around town on a nice summer day.
Those fancy little spoiled mutts have no instincts, they've been pampered so much. But me and Ace have too many instincts. We need them just to be able to make it in this world of alleys, side streets and dumpsters.
Those fancy, spoiled things that have some accouterments of dogs. In a way, those tidy little sweatered terriers have some canine characteristics but they never actually experienced the thrill of chasing a rabbit or squirrel before the kill.
They don't know what it's like to sleep under a porch in the wintertime or inside a broken, run-down vacant house or to feel the cold, icy chill of a frosty morning come riding in like an inner-city bus.
They don't know what it's like waking up hungry, spending most of the day hungry and going to sleep hungry.
Our whole outlook on life is that November's a gray month, but out here, even a nice day in May is too gray when you have an empty belly and no prey. It's rough in the spring when the birds are chirping. It'd be nice to eat one of them but they've got wings and they're quick. And if you catch one, all you got's a mouthful of oily feathers. But if you're hungry enough, even a dirty sparrow's good for the day.
**** *** ****
Me and Ace are all over the place. Uptown. Downtown, Around town. We're garbage can scrounging dogs. Dumpsite aficionados. We're gamblers without money but with a whole lottery full of chance.
**** *** ****
Ace got a broken leg when a car hit him, what a chance meeting that was. He limped around, oh, it seemed like for a year or so. I didn't ever think Ace's leg would heal, but one day, he was running around like a little puppy. He dashed this way and that way. Ace is so small, he looked like a little guppy in a little fish tank. He was free of the pain, of the limping around sort of existence he led for so long. He moved so swank, like he was a Romeo or something and right then and there, I knew he wanted a bitch. See, when that car hit him I thought he was a goner. I never thought he'd come back after that one, but he did. For once in his life, it! was a good thing. He was so light - his body longer than he was tall. That car sort of just blew him high in the air and he landed in a ditch. Ace flopped around for awhile, then squealed and tried to bite the ground. He bit it and bit it, squealing. After some cars passed I ran across the street and joined him. His leg was all contorted like a broken piece of wood. He looked up with me with watering eyes.
"Do you think I'll die?" he seemed to say to me. But I couldn't tell, since his eyes were so watered over and peeling with pain and fear.
"No, but it's going to be rough for a while," I tried to tell him.
"How am I going to manage?" I thought he said.
"Ace, you don't have to go through this alone."
"You have me."
He seemed to lighten up a bit. He raised his head and howled at the sun. It was a crazy, high-pitched howl that sounded like the squeal of a dumpster after a garbage truck empties it and sets it back down. It was a lonely, schizophrenic howl, like a statement without any backbone, like a piece of bone lying in the street without any meat. It was like the fake heat of a garbage truck's fumes in the winter. But that howl meant something to Ace. It gave him a canine assurance that everything was going to be all right - that everything was in the right place. It was sort of like a testament to the sun, so cold and aloof way above, that Ace was down ! here and he was going to fight this miserable existence with every particle of his 30- or 40-pound scrawny frame.
Ace got up and limped across the road. The way he dragged his left leg made me want to cry. He looked so bedraggled and up-against-it-all when he made that lonely trek across that street. His matted gray fur was like a piece of sod - it stuck out here and there and in other places it laid down all sickly- and crazy-like, all beat down like. A truck flew by and blew his fur. He gritted his teeth as he slowly made it across the street. When he finally got to the other side, he gave a timid growl. He looked at me.
"That's fear in those eyes. Don't let any other animals, especially those two-legged ones, see that fear," I tried to tell him.
"But it's all so unfair."
"It's not unfair at all. You weren't watching the road. You didn't see that car."
"That car could've swerved."
"That car didn't have to do nothing. We're nothing but a couple mutts. They don't want us alive at all, anyway."
"I'll have to do the hunting. You couldn't catch a turtle."
"I'm glad I have you."
"Ace, don't get all sentimental and stuff. It's just something dogs have to do."
"Whatzdat?" he chattered.
"Run in packs. It's part of the wild dog thing. It's always been that way, go deep inside yourself and check that instinct groove. It's nothing about love or commitment. It's all about surviving, about being smooth. I run with you because you're a cunning, smart mongrel. Except you've got no sense when you cross the street. Even now, with your broken leg, you're still a good running partner because you think. You really think. You're one smart little doggie, but you look like a mink, you're so small and tiny, sort of like a shrinked shepherd."
Yeah, we talked for awhile.
That's what I think we said.
We don't communicate like people do, we just sort of send out waves and hope they catch. I hear people talk. They know exactly what they mean when they talk, and they know exactly what the other person means when the others talk. But I know them, how ruthless and sinister they are. When they talk, half the time they don't look like they mean it, and I know they lie. We don't lie. Not ever. Not even to enemies. We're straight up about everything and it's not in our nature or instinct to lie. Like when that dog catcher caught Fritz and Spitz, he was just lying to those dogs. They thought they was just going to play a game of fetch and they ended up! at the dog pound.
Me and Ace are smiling all over the place. We just found a dead deer along the interstate and the cars and trucks buzz by but we don't care. We're happy eating here, along the interstate, in the ditch, without a stitch of hunger no more. Even though we're just stupid animals, our instincts know we can't run out on that interstate highway unless we want to end up in the ditch like this deer.
Me and Ace are just so happy as we taste the fresh meat of the deer, blood all over our faces.
Carnivores. Predators. Scavengers. That's what we are. No better than our ancestors, the dingoes, jackals, hyenas and pack running dogs of yore.
We know that no matter how bad our luck goes, there's always the interstate and a big 18-wheel truck takes care of running down the deer for us and even the kill. It makes us lazy. It snuffs our instincts but a dogs gotta' eat and we know the interstate, with all the heat and rush and flash of the big cars and trucks is a place for fresh meat.
Scrawny little Ace takes the deer's thighs out in big chunks, hair in his mouth and the venison's still bleeding. It's a fresh kill, probably just a few hours old and Ace and I will gorge ourselves on the thighs and rump of the deer until we can't eat no more, then we'll get tired and sleep a bit in this ditch. But first, we'll bury some meat-laden bones in holes around here and when we pass through again, in a week, we'll have breakfast, lunch or supper (maybe all three).
When night comes we'll be hungry again and it will be time to find another kill, but I doubt if we will stumble upon another treasure like this one, all bloody and warm and deliciously torn from the big wheels of commerce that feeds this highway like a never-ending maze of carnivores chasing other carnivores. For the life of us, we can't understand why these metal and glass projectiles run up and down the highway. The damned truck didn't even stop and eat the meat of this struck deer. No, it left if for us, me and Ace, and the trucks whiz by above us, not even looking for deer.
Ace is running with a slight limp again, favoring his leg. Again.
After our nap, we fed on a dead groundhog carcass we found in a ditch alongside the road.
But Ace is happy and his belly's full. There aren't too many days that go by that we don't eat. It's not a hard-luck case, since we always scrounge up something. But usually, we don't end up with a bounty like a full-grown deer. That's our main function of every day - to eat, to find something beat, bloody and torn and muddy lying along the road. The next main function is to have fun. That's the role of the carnivore - to eat, no matter what the cost, and no animal will just willingly give flesh to us. We have to chase it down, kill it, let it bleed and then eat like we'll never eat again. Then we have fun. Next to bold, bloody meat, without fu! n, there is nothing.
Junkyard dogs, that's what we are. Except junkyard dogs don't get lice like we do, and they don't have to hunt their game every day. And junkyard dogs can play with other junkyard dogs sometimes. Hey, they've got it better than we do, even though they don't have it as good as Spot, who's in the house on the hill, and Spot gets fed cereal and gravy twice a day. He's a member of a family. He's got two little kids to babysit when Mom and Dad are fixing dinner in the kitchen. Alone in the den with them, a couple little tikes, Spot pulls with all his might at a long rag in his mouth. Tug of war. Spot pulls and snarls and snaps with all his might at th! e long scarf in his mouth and protruding out in front of him. I don't know this for certain, but I've heard from other dogs and me and Ace are a little bitter, why Spot and not us? Because Spot is a purebred Dalmatian? Me and Ace are mongrels, we don't have pretty faces or look like a chessboard with black and white polka dots mixed in, all pretty and blended.
But we've always got the interstate.
And the alley behind the butchershop of Fourth and Regent.
And the fast food dumpsters.
And a whole array of chumpsters that give us treats and make us beg for little scraps of meat.
And most of all, each other.
Me and Ace.
That's the place.
It's a damned canine sort of thing. Unless you stroke your instincts, have to use them all the time, you just won't understand. Yeah, me and Ace are all over the place. Uptown. Downtown. Suburbs. Country. Interstate. Around town.
We got it covered, babe.