Tag Archives: Mark Rogers

Chicken Bone

13 Jan

Kuma 2

I’d grown up hearing warnings about feeding chicken bones to dogs – that the bones would splinter and the dog choke. Then in Mexico I learn its common practice. The dogs love them and I’m soon treating Kuma, Toby and Loba to leftover bones from our chicken dinners.

Everything went fine for a while, until one day I stepped out of the back door with a plate of chicken bones and began feeding the dogs.

I fed Kuma a leg bone, then Loba, then Toby. I started a second round and saw Kuma standing stock still. Then he started to hack and claw at the roof of his mouth. I thought, Fuck – he’s choking.

I was alone at the house without a car. Getting to a vet was impossible. Kuma scratched at his mouth so desperately that in seconds blood covered his paws and dripped from his teeth. I wasn’t sure what to do. I remembered the Hippocratic Oath: First do no harm, but I couldn’t watch and do nothing. I lifted Kuma up and peered down his throat. I couldn’t see the bone. I was afraid to push my finger down his throat and jam the bone even deeper. Then I wondered if a splinter had gotten into the roof of Kuma’s mouth, but a quick look told me that wasn’t the problem.

I put Kuma down on the ground and stared as he scratched in desperation at the roof of his mouth. A resigned voice came into my head. “You’re going to watch your dog die right in front of you.” It was disturbing – the voice wasn’t frantic or panicked – it was calm – too calm. What was wrong with me, that I could react so calmly, as though part of me was dead inside?

I picked Kuma up and wrapped my arms around his chest and squeezed hard in the Heimlich maneuver.

Nothing.

I figured there was only so much air in Kuma’s lungs. I might only get one more chance. I squeezed harder this time, hoping I wouldn’t break his ribs.

I set Kuma down and seconds later he spit out a jagged one-inch piece of bone. Maybe my squeezing did the trick; maybe he dislodged the bone on his own.

A minute later, Kuma was wagging his tail, the experience behind him. I washed the blood off his paws and put the rest of the bones in the trash.

I was left with the disturbing memory of my calmness in the face of my dog’s imminent death. It frightened me, wondering how far this calmness could extend.

(Rosarito, Mexico 2015)

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Dog Fight

5 Jan

 

Modern Art and Design auction, October 12, 2014

It was noon and the dogs were barking loud. I ran outside and saw a Mexican guy standing in the road holding a staff with a metal hook on its end. He had two dogs with him. One was huge and black – snarling and gnashing at our dog, Toby. It was a full bore dogfight. Toby was trying to sink his fangs in the black dog’s neck. Blood was going to flow any second.

I glanced at the Mexican and he was unperturbed, as though I should invite him in for tea.

I lost it. This was my house – my property. “Hey, motherfucker. Get your motherfuckin’ dogs under control!”

The dogs were locked together, beating up dust from the road.

The Mexican looked at me with a pleasant expression.

I took a step toward him. “Motherfucker! You think this is funny?”

He backed away, frowned, lifted a hand. “Tranquil… Tranquil…” and then yelled out “Marley!”

The dog didn’t stop trying to kill Toby, so the Mexican had to grab Marley by the collar and drag him away.

By then Sophy and Denisse and the kids had spilled out in the road.

Things calmed down. The Mexican said, in fractured English, “You don’ recognize me.”

“No, I don’t.”

“I’m live in the brick house.”

This meant nothing to me.

He pointed to the stone steps leading to our door. “I made those steps.”

I looked hard at the guy. “You grew a beard.”

The Mexican fingered his heavy beard. “Yes.”

The Mexican – Jose – made a gesture like he was flexing his muscles. “You were very fuerte.”

I took a breath. “You’ve got a big dog.”

By now, Jose had once again let go of Marley’s collar. My grandson Yalith wandered too close to the dog and Jose said, “Careful with the boy.”

I shooed Yalith away while Jose tied Marley to a utility pole.

Jose pointed at his two dogs. “Marley and Rita. After Bob Marley and his wife.”

It turned out Jose had come by to borrow our power drill.

When he left, Sophy said, “He brought that dog here before. It bit Antonio (our worker). Antonio told me if he saw that dog again he was going to kill it. Why does he have to bring that dog here? There was no reason. I told him not to bring that dog here.”

Is it madness? Or Mexico?

Twist

28 Nov

MX Mask

The Sunday morning subway ride to work. There was a Spanish family sitting in front of me, heading for the beach. The wife and husband were sitting together. She was young and had a sweet smile; in profile her tongue flicked in Spanish. The husband was older. His hands were up near the braid of her hair. They seemed to be twirling her hair with the love an older, heavier man feels when he’s successful in love with a younger woman.

My mind played out scenes of hard work and lonely days for the man that surprisingly led to love. But I soon saw this wasn’t so obviously so. His hands, close to her braid, were twirling and unwrapping a piece of hard candy that he popped into his mouth.

Later, as the candy pushed out his cheek, his nervous hands played with the bra stretched across her back.

She jerked her body and said, “Stop it!”

Two stops further she held her head between her knees as though she was going to be sick.

From my book, Breakfast Special. NYC 1980

Fortune Cookie

22 Oct

 

Man Drowning

Jon, the producer trying to get me to write a film shot in China, told me a story about one of the Chinese industrialists he’s going to tap for money to finance the film, a friend of his named Yunru.

Ten years ago, Yunru was homeless and friendless, living in a mausoleum in a graveyard outside Chengdu. After seven straight days in the darkness of the mausoleum without a crumb to eat, he became delirious with hunger. Yunru staggered out into the sunlight, wailing, “I’m hungry… I’m hungry.”

In seconds, other homeless people emerged from the surrounding mausoleums, moaning, “We’re hungry, too.”

The others – a group of about a hundred – pooled what little food they had and gave it to Yunru. With his strength restored, the others began looking to Yunru as their leader. He told them he’d go to a nearby factory to try and get them work.

Yunru spoke to the factory manager and said his people would work for half what he was paying the other workers.

The factory manager turned down the offer.

Yunru then said, “Twenty of us will work for free for one week. We’ll show you that we can work harder and better than your other workers.”

The factory manager agreed and at the end of one week Yunru had made good on his claim. The factory manager hired all 100 of the workers from the cemetery. Over the course of a few months, production and profits at the factory were way up, attracting the attention of the factory owner in Hong Kong. He flew to Chengdu to see for himself why this particular factory was outperforming the others he owned. He first spoke with the factory manager who hemmed and hawed and didn’t give a satisfactory answer. The owner then interviewed a worker who said, “It’s all because of Yunru.”

The owner tracked down Yunru and in the course of their conversation asked, “Are you happy working for ten dollars a day?”

Yunru answered, “We only make five dollars a day.”

The owner confronted the factory manager, asking, “What are you doing with the extra money we are sending you?”

When the manager was unable to come up with an explanation, the owner said, “You’re fired. Yunru will take your place.”

As time passed, Yunru eventually had 3,000 workers under his control. He invested in coal when it was pennies a ton – now it’s over $50 a ton. Yunru is a rich man with a beautiful home and family. When friends come over to visit, he breaks out $100K bottles of Lafite Rothschild.

Frogs

6 Aug

 

frog

 

Driving down the freeway with my wife Sophy, she began telling me about her fear of frogs, and her guilt feelings – positive that her fear had caused a family tragedy.

When Sophy was a small child, her father and mother were so broke that they sent her to live with an aunt. It was bad enough that while the aunt’s children feasted on mangoes and oranges, Sophy was only given one egg and one tortilla a day; Sophy was also forced to sleep on a cement floor that was open to the backyard. During the night, scores of frogs would hop across the yard, drawn towards the damp cement floor. Sophy would scream and scream, terrified of the frogs hopping on her body.

Things weren’t much better when Sophy was reunited with her sisters and mother. Sophy’s sisters learned about her fear. They cornered her in the backyard and thrust a frog into her face. Sophy ran in a panic and took refuge in her mother’s bed, burrowing under the covers, holding onto her mother – who was pregnant – kicking and screaming for her mother to save her from the frog. Sophy was so out of control she repeatedly kicked her mother in the belly. Whether or not it was true, when her mother miscarried a week later, it was Sophy who was blamed.

As a kid, I had my own frogs to deal with. I grew up in the suburban woods of Virginia. One of my earliest memories is seeing a frog feebly swimming in a stream, its legs in bloody shreds from a predator’s attack. I also remember catching a bucket of frogs and bringing them back to our house. I set the bucket in the shade of the house and went in to have lunch. Hours later, when I came back to my frogs, they were floating dead in the bucket. I dipped a finger in the water – it was hot. During lunch the sun had passed over the house and boiled the frogs to death. I don’t remember what I did next. Did I dump them in the grass? Put them in a garbage can?

A later event when I was six years old was more mystical and strange. It was early evening and I was at a neighbor’s house, lying on my back in the grass, looking up at the sky. I saw a vision of ballerinas dancing in the sky. Then, from behind a cloud, came a frog dressed in a harness, like something a gladiator would wear. The frog flicked out its tongue and swallowed the ballerinas. The vision was so strong, that the next day, when I saw a huge overturned tree on a sandbar in a creek, I was convinced that the frog lived in the dark space created by the tree’s tangled roots. I found a pointed stick and crept towards the tree, getting down on my knees, and crawled into the shadows, attacking and stabbing the earth clinging to the roots. It was a weird thing to do – I was alone at the creek – there was no false bravado or conscious fantasy.

Years later, when I was a teenager at the edge of a lake, I remember the repellent feeling of trying to lift a huge bullfrog in my hands. The smooth weight, the squirming – I could only hold it for a second.

When Sophy and I met, when I was 57 and she was 48, we were in Maui. We’d only been together a couple of months. I was writing an article for a luxury magazine and they were pulling out all the stops to impress us. They set up a private dinner on the lawn, under palm trees, with a view of the ocean. We had our own sommelier. The chef was sending over special dishes. It was very romantic and as the sun went down we were both aware of how lucky we were to have found each other. It’s easy to picture: palm trees in silhouette, the sound of surf, candles lighting up the floral bouquet on the table. Then we both began to notice shapes in the darkness, moving on the grass. They were roughly the size of a loaf of bread. More and more appeared, until they surrounded our table – huge frogs. Sophy managed not to scream, but I had to cover her eyes and walk her away, until we got we got enough distance between us and the frogs for Sophy to begin laughing.

With frog trauma such as this, it’s hard to explain the Saturday afternoon when Sophy received a package of food from Sonora.

I was on the phone with my father.

Sophy came up to the phone with a fork in her hand saying, “Try it. It’s good. Frog legs.”

I said to my dad, “Sophy’s trying to feed me frog legs.”

“Better you than me,” he said.

When you love somebody, you have to go for it, and I did. Not bad. Tasted just like…

Sophy & the Jehovah Witnesses

9 Apr

light-bulb

When Sophy was down on her luck in Sonora, with a bunch of young kids and a sad sack husband, she received weekly visits from a trio of Jehovah Witnesses. Sophy was raised a Catholic. At first she welcomed these visits; they broke up the day and introduced topics of a spiritual nature. Sophy and the Witnesses came to an impasse over the existence of the soul. Sophy was convinced the soul continued after the body dies. The Jehovah Witnesses held an opposing view – they believe in the rapture where on some fateful day in the future their bodies will ascend to Heaven while the rest of us suffer a Hell on earth.

During one visit they were sitting on the couch in Sophy’s living room. One of the JWs pointed to the light bulb screwed into the ceiling. “See that light bulb? The light is the soul and the bulb is the body. If I unscrew the bulb it won’t provide light – its soul will be gone.”

The JWs left soon after making their point about the nonexistence of the soul without the body.

When the Jehovah Witnesses came back a week later to discuss the Bible further, Sophy sat them on the couch and switched on the overhead light. She got a chair from the kitchen and climbed up onto it and unscrewed the light bulb. She got back down and handed the light bulb – the body – to one of the JWs and then said, “Which one of you wants to climb up there and put your finger in the socket?”

The Jehovah’s Witnesses filed out, never to return.

 

from Pissing on my Pistols

Pit Bull Puppy – Sukey

25 Dec

dirt1

Christmas Eve day. I was sitting on the concrete driveway of our house, trying to get some sun, when I saw a stray puppy walking by. It didn’t take but a second or two to see it was either abandoned or lost. I picked it up – a two month old female pit bull. It was a pretty color, a mix of soft grays and browns. The puppy was friendly and obviously relieved at getting some affection.

I walked across the street to my cab driver neighbor and asked him if he knew whose puppy it was. He shook his head no and I said if anyone is looking for her, to send them my way.

I fed her some dry dog food with a couple of eggs cracked into it and she scrabbled in the bowl, making the food disappear. I noticed her belly was swollen, which was probably a result of eating all kinds of awful things by the side of the road. I was going to have to get some parasite medicine.

I watched as one flea after another poked its head up out of her fur and then burrowed back down to her skin. I got a bucket of warm water and a bar of flea soap and dipped her in and scrubbed her down. The soap is strong and all of the fleas high-tailed it to hide under the hollows where her legs met her body. I hit them with an extra dose and probably killed a hundred fleas by the time I was done.

The afternoon wore on. She slept with her head on my shoe and I named her Sukey.

I put Sukey on the porch when Sophy and I had to run an errand. By the time we got back it was dark and we learned Sukey had either been let out by one of the kids or she’d wandered off. I figured if she truly chose to wander off that was just the way things go sometimes. But if she was confused or nearby I wanted to give her a choice to come back.

I walked up the dark street. Fifty feet way I saw a man with a child perched on his shoulders. It looked like he was playing with his Chihuahua or similar small dog, which seemed to be scampering back and forth around the man’s legs.

I got closer and saw that the man was kicking dirt in Sukey’s face. When she’d try to run in the other direction he’d step in front of her and kick another mess of dirt in the puppy’s face.

I walked over and picked up Sukey. I was happy to have found her and I just stood there for a few seconds. I hadn’t said anything to the man, who I recognized as the ultra-religious truck driver from across the street.

I said, “This is my dog.”

He smiled and said something I didn’t catch – something that sounded like an attempt to smooth things over.

I walked away, wondering about people. Why a man would take joy in kicking dirt in a puppy’s face. Especially with his daughter perched on his shoulders.

BASEMENT – Silver Billy’s Dilemma

7 Dec

Sandlin-FanOfSin

“The first day I could tell my prisoner didn’t want to be bothered,” said Shirley. “So I fed him and left him alone. He’s pretty quiet. They got him for passing bad checks over in Doyle’s Crossing. I got lucky compared to some of the prisoners they handed out.”

“I heard some stories, too,” said Louis. “They sent one prisoner back to Wellington already. He took a bowel movement and flung it at Silver Billy.”

“I don’t blame that convict one bit,” said Smitty. “I heard Billy had his basement made up to look like a prison, with gray walls and everything. He even got himself a guard’s uniform. Worst of all, he found out what they cooked in the cafeteria down the Well and fed his prisoner the same grub. Billy wouldn’t even let the guy smoke.” Smitty looked personally offended. “Billy’s a damn fool—he could have made some real money.”

Louis nodded. “Silver Billy was always strange.”

 

From my novel BASEMENT, available on Amazon

(If you’ve read Basement, I’d really benefit from a review on Amazon)

Coleman’s Blues – From BASEMENT

22 Oct

Coleman 1

Coleman leaned back against the park bench and ran his hand down his mid-section. At least he wasn’t fat. Husky, yes, but certainly not fat. And Lord be praised he still had all his hair. Even so, women took no notice of him. He lacked something, but he was hard-pressed to put a name to it. Try as he might, he couldn’t imagine women whispering about him as he walked by. It had been a sad morning several years ago, when looking into the mirror he’d been forced to admit that he was nothing special. For days afterwards it was all he could think of. He’d walk down the street furtively looking at every man he passed, wondering if the guy was special or not. Most guys were just like him, doomed to wear windbreakers from Sears. But Coleman saw others who did stand out. Men whose bearing announced that the world was theirs and they were going to enjoy every minute of it. These were the men Coleman envied.

 

From my novel BASEMENT, available on Amazon (If you’ve read Basement, I’d really benefit from a review on Amazon).

The Smell

12 Oct

brassai 3

 

I got back to Rosarito after a trip to The Bahamas and settled into bed with Sophy. She said,” I can’t stand the smell – the smell from the dead dogs.”

I took a deep breath and inhaled the stink wafting in from God knows where. It was coming from the empty lot next to ours. A sweet smell, invasive, clinging to my nostrils. Sophy told me dogs were eating the dead body – she saw them.

I was tired and said I’d deal with it tomorrow.

We woke up the next morning, clinging to each other and I said, “We need a bag of lime”

I woke up, wrote a bunch of stories. Sophy drove out and returned with a couple pounds of lime. In my mind, I remembered European & African tragedies where bodies had to be sprinkled with lime.

Sophy and I walked onto the lot next to our house. There were two dead dogs. An unscathed puppy and a chewed-over mutt with a beef jerky grinning skull. I shook the lime over them, covering every body part I could see.

The next two days the rain came.

I looked out my window and saw the two bodies of the dogs, one much smaller than the other. Even in the rain, the lime clung to the dead bodies, like a candy coating.

I was glad.

Maybe they wouldn’t smell so bad.

(2013)