A Dogged Pursuit 

When free-lancing just doesn't pay.

Back in my wandering writer days, during a 30-day Greyhound tour of the East Coast, I once found myself staying with my brother in North Carolina, writing a story for a Tennessee paper so I could pay rent on a room in Oregon. The story was about a kid from Arkansas who played basketball in New Jersey. This, of course, was well after the Internet made geography irrelevant.

My brother had left me at his place for the day with a simple request: Don't let Mazzie get out -- Mazzie being his roommate's crazy dog.

Among Mazzie's favorite hobbies was biting moving feet, which caused me to utter countless profanities and death threats, since whenever I'm supposed to be writing, I pace instead, and for Mazzie this was high entertainment. Her other hobby was getting out of the yard, which she was clever enough to do only when you weren't looking. You put her in the backyard and watch her, and she ignored you but stayed in the yard. Then you'd go inside for a second, come back, and she was gone. Clever little bitch, that Mazzie.

As the weather on this particular day was 38 degrees and drizzly, getting Mazzie back from her little romps wasn't much fun.

One time, I let her out, watched her pee, then tossed a ball for her so we could both have a break from the house. Then I headed back in. But Mazzie didn't. Mazzie wanted to get out and romp. But I had no intention of either chasing her through the neighborhood or dealing with a wet, spastic dog when she got back. So I insisted that she come back in the house. I might as well have been a Democrat insisting that President Bush balance the budget.

Mazzie stood like a statue about 10 feet from the back door and stared at me, no doubt thinking to herself, If that dude would just go inside, I could go romp. But I knew what she was thinking, so I resorted to what I optimistically considered my higher intelligence: I tossed a ball and figured I would snag her collar when the usual tug-of-war for the ball started. But Mazzie knew what I was thinking, and when I went for her collar, she darted. The next time I threw the tennis ball, she didn't even go after it. Clever little bitch, that Mazzie.

She just stood and stared. I stood and threatened. Then I gave up on the tennis ball and went for a simple assault: Get the dog and drag her back into the house. I went after her. It was FUN, chasing that cursed, tail-wagging, and about-to-be-killed-if-I-can-ever-get-my-hands-on-her dog around the yard, with the 38-degree rain falling and my body temperature dropping and my temper rising. Quick little bitch, that Mazzie.

I finally had a rare flash of actual intelligence. I remembered reading somewhere that a dog's short-term memory is about seven minutes. When I figured she had forgotten everything, I tossed a tennis ball. She picked it up and came running right toward me. But instead of playing tug-of-war, I threw my arm underneath her and picked her up and stomped toward the house. Thought Mazzie: The fool finally got me, and now I shall not romp. Thought I: Stupid little bitch, that Mazzie.

I was finally able to finish my story, but when I got online to send it in, I checked for new e-mails. The first e-mail depressed me. The second one made me murderous.

The first one was from Travelocity.com, telling me the roundtrip airfare from Oregon to Hawaii had dropped to $218. Reading that on a rainy, 38-degree day in North Carolina, when you've just been chasing a dog around the backyard, and you have a $409 Greyhound pass in your backpack, doesn't make you feel good about your life decisions.

The second e-mail was from Chip, a friend back in Portland. Chip worked for a well-known disaster-relief outfit, and he had been called off to Guam to assist in an operation of some sort.

Here I was, feeling proud because my career enabled me to go to pro basketball games and make $150, and Chip tells me that the Japanese Young Model Society was staying in the hotel right next to his favorite Tiki-torch-lit watering hole on the beach. He mentioned "a killer Samoan reggae band" and "sitting around on a lazy Sunday night under a smiley-face crescent moon shining off the water."

He concluded: "Have fun watchin' hoops, sucker. Kill me now, just please bury me on the island."

He did inform me there was lots of free-lancing available on Guam: "You could bounce to Bali, Philippines, Marshall Islands, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, etc., and be a kick-ass travel writer." In those days such a plan didn't seem terribly absurd. Too bad for me and Chip that I was, in fact, already planning to bury him on that island.

Along with a certain clever little bitch in North Carolina, of course. •

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