Lawn Fair

  

          When the little glob of foam spills over the side of the Redondo Latte, I let my thumb take the burn. If it had hit the plate, she'd notice. She's already at the table with her laptop open, one earphone in. I don't know why they call it the Redondo Latte, we're not really close to Redondo Beach, but she insists it's the best. When I put it in front of her she doesn't say thank you. The cafe is packed and I can see that a few people recognize her. They're cool enough not to say anything. I recognize one, who, if I remember correctly, had come to Lawn Fair only once but didn't participate. First timers are often nervous at any improv theatre, let alone ours.

          Doloria's wearing her necklace, the one she made herself, the one with the severed ears, the phalanges, the eyelids, the noses, the cartilage and the skin. It is so loaded now it must weigh twenty pounds. She did try to add an eyeball once, but couldn't figure it out, so she had me do it. When I tried to feed the needle through the pupil the eyeball slipped out my hand, and I accidentally stepped on it, reducing it to mush. One of the rare occasions I've failed to carry out a task for her. The trophy necklace was something she had started encouraging with her actors and students, but it took a while to catch on. You read about things like that in books on Vietnam, about soldiers going off the deep end, humping through the jungle tripping on acid or half insane from the violence they'd witnessed, cutting off ears of the dead and keeping them. Soon it'll be a fashion trend here.

          "Ms. Doloria," I say, sitting across from her. "You let me know when you are ready for me." She now insists on the "Ms." She puts up a finger to indicate one minute and she keeps typing. I don't think she's on a phone call; I don't have one scheduled for her this afternoon. I do have something that I plan on doing during this meeting that she doesn't know about; I'm going to be handing in my two-weeks notice. I've had the note in my backpack for a month. Today's the day.

          "Did you print the new consent forms?" she says, with the bud still in her ear. I lick the foam off my finger before I reach into my knapsack and pull out the big envelope. 

          "There are three new ones. The first, here, is for physical damage. It has specific notes about virtually everything we can think of. Even lost limbs. The second is about psychological damage. It's a little more abstract but I think it covers our bases. The third one… covers death." She doesn't look at me until I say the d word. Nothing like that had happened until last month. Little losses, fingers and eyelids and teeth, that was normal enough at this point. But last month Andy the accountant dropped dead midway through a sketch.  

          "This should say appendages," she says, pointing at the first form. "Limbs and appendages. It has to cover both." She keeps typing. When she first started Lawn Fair, before it was called that, it was fairly standard. She funded it herself for years with various part-time jobs. She even had an assistant back then, god knows why, Jeny, who pronounced it Jenny, who was not too bright or organized but meant well. Doloria had acted here and there, but always had a hard time landing gigs because, as an agent once told her, she "didn't have a look she couldn't sell at a discount." But she had another source of income, one that she preferred to any other job; she had worked, on and off for years, as a professional dominatrix, which is where she built some of the original client base for Lawn Fair. Some of her subs wanted to see her in the real world, which she had always refused. But when she had to come up with ways to get people to want to do improv, she started giving clients the green light. 

          "I'll add that right away," I say. "There's something else. Quentin Tarantino's assistant called. He wants to come." Now she looks at me; she even takes the headphone out of her ear.

          "Are you serious?"

          "Yes, but. Big but. She did say that he's interested in filming."

          It only takes her about eight seconds to say "Tell them no thank you."

          "I really think this is one scenario where – "

          "I said no. There is no photography at Lawn Fair. Period."

          Since day one Doloria has had a no-recording policy. At first, it started about the purity of the craft. But she softened her stance once she started to make a name for herself. The first time a TV crew showed up, she allowed it. Who doesn't want exposure? I remember that day vividly because it also happens to be the day we got our name. It was the day that well-known comedian Dubbs Alcott decided to drop in, and an hour later he left needing emergency medical attention. Georges and Sylvia, the French married couple that had been with us since the early days, on account of Georges having been a former client of Doloria's, stripped and screwed in front of the audience that day. Their prompt wasn't even sexual, but that's where they took it. Dubbs Alcott got himself worked up and, unprompted, ran out of his seat in the audience, shouting, "Wait for me, honey!" and as he was running down the aisle he tripped and landed just right on his boner. After he left in an ambulance, with cameras still rolling, Doloria gave actors a "favorite movie" prompt, where five people act out a scene from their respective favorite movie. Pete Ball, the pro bowler, got on his knees and cut his own tongue out. The audience clapped and laughed but people couldn't guess the movie. With blood, sweat, and cum on the floor, and the local news station incredulous but still filming, Georges whispered to Doloria, "C'est l'enfer ici." She realized the liability she had on her hands and kicked the news crew out. She greased the cameraman a hundred bucks. Or maybe it was two hundred.  

          I remember she asked Georges later what he meant. "L'enfer," he repeated. "It's French for Hell." She had been trying to think of a more striking name than Doloria's Improv House, and felt that L'enfer was as good as any. Unfortunately for her, I was not yet her assistant at the time, just another actor, and she assigned Jeny to make a sign with the new name. The next day the homemade sign hung above the door; "Lawn Fair," it read, written in black nail polish. Jeny was fired. We laughed about it so much that she decided to keep it. Georges and Sylvia were not amused. 

          I reach into my knapsack, past the folded note of my two-weeks notice, and take out my eye-drops and put them on the table. She gives me a look. "Do you have to do that here?" she says. Before I was her assistant I was just another person who liked improv. Like her I was a struggling actor. But I could improvise with the best of them. On a good day I could hold an entire scene together, it didn't matter how many people were involved. I had a process: I'd close my eyes, do my little half-second compute compute compute, and then I'd have it.  

          I ask if I can be excused, and she flips her chin up, her way of saying "get going already." In the bathroom I apply eye drops in front of the mirror, and take an extra minute even though I don't need it. In the old days we joked about standing outside and waving a sign that said "Improv." We'd have six or seven people in the audience if we were lucky. Then one day Doloria came in with a sign that said "Cocaine and Anal" with an arrow on the end. She stood outside with it for three hours while I led the group. She managed to wrangle eight additional improvisers that day. 

          Back at the table and there's a stain from the latte on my seat. I see it clearly but sit on it anyways. I don't know if she has seen it. I open my mouth to speak but she interrupts me. 

          "Tell Tarantino or his shitass assistant that if they want anywhere near my studio they better not even have a camera phone," she says. I don't need his exposure. We do not sacrifice. We do not compromise."

          "I'll inform them. If they're serious about it, they'll play ball."

          She smirks, the familiar look of her mind cooking up an idea. "I want to see him in a diaper by the end of it. Pacifier in his mouth," she says.

          I try, at all times, not to flinch, to maintain my poker face, but this comment makes me uncomfortable.

          "What?" she says.

          "Ms. Doloria, you must understand that if you plan it, if you have an expected outcome, it's not improv."

          "Such a purist. Purism is not what made us famous."

          "I just don't think – "

          "Just tell his people no cameras. And make sure he plans on participating!"

          We have always had our differences vis a vis what constitutes real improv. She's right to call me a purist. But maybe if things went differently she'd be my assistant. I'm shuffling with the consent forms and the memory of the squirrel is still fresh. Andy the accountant, a calm, unexciting family man who'd say "dang" at his angriest, was in a scene with Lorna the extremely sexy ventriloquist, who'd heard every possible joke about fisting and hands up asses, and Doloria kept upping the ante, moving the scene to where Lorna was Andy's psychiatrist and also his mother and also his masseuse, and Lorna must have somehow landed on some deep subconscious tripwire for him when she asked him what his deepest sexual fantasies were and he jumped out of his couch and shouted at the top of his lungs "I’M SO HORNY I WOULD FUCK A MALE SQUIRREL IN THE ASS RIGHT NOW!" Any reservations the audience had been clinging to vanished; they exploded, laughing and beating their knees, and poor Andy ran out of there faster than an Olympic sprinter. Doloria, always the opportunist, showed up the next day with her usual bag of goodies, except this time the bag was thrashing. Andy of course returned, and once he was back in the spotlight, she pulled the animal out of the bag and dictated a new scenario: Andy returning from a romantic date with his new girlfriend Squirrella. One thing led to another and Andy's clothes were off and he was asking the animal if it had any condoms. I still can't know to this day if Doloria had noticed the insane look in the squirrel's eyes or the foam around it's mouth when she swiped it from whatever forest she got it from, but when that thing bit Andy right on his cock, she was smiling. 

          She fiddles with her necklace. I can't tell but I think she's trying to draw my attention to a new bone. It's bent like an eagle's talon, but it looks like it belonged to a person.

          "I think I want you to start participating again," she says.

          "Oh?" I say, thinking of the note in my bag.

          She moves her hand down the necklace, to the desiccated eyelids. On my last day as a participant I was assigned the role of a priest. But I was one of those priests that had seen too much if you know what I mean. And then Marnie Quails, who works as a geriatric nurse at Crestwood Retirement Center, was playing God. I told her "I've seen too much! I don't think I can keep my faith!" and Marnie, always sharp as a tack, said "But you are not in control of what you see. Your eyes are my eyes. Your voice is my voice. It is your burden to bear the sin that you witness." I closed my eyes, thinking of what to say, and Doloria subbed herself in for Marnie. A bowie knife materialized in her hand, as if she really were God. No one had seen where it came from. This thing was freshly sharpened because she did it in a heartbeat. It didn't hurt for the first seconds, until the raw air dried my eyes and they burnt in a way I will never be able to describe. I couldn't blink. My searing eyes filled with blood. 

          We lost some people, the ones who couldn't stomach it. But we gained more than we lost. Word had spread; in the nursing home, in the accounting firm, in the coffee shop, in the argon mill; if you wanted the dull existence of working and coming home to your lame children, ungrateful spouse, and repetitive TV programme, then keep doing what you're doing; if you want to involve yourself in something real and maybe leave a piece of yourself behind, come to Lawn Fair. The next week we had a line up out the door and had to turn people away. We've yet to have a day that wasn't sold out since. Doloria has been on Ellen, CNN, Vice, and Oprah. That was when I told Doloria I couldn't participate any more. "Work for me then." she said. "Help me out with the paperwork." 

          There have been lawsuits, and though Doloria has paid for them with ease, she doesn't want to get shut down. Hence the new consent forms. A week after I lost my eyelids, Margot Nunez played a Cuban cigar aficionado and used an Xacto knife to remove Glen Ferryview's middle finger. He pretended not to be in any pain, biting his own lip to shreds, as he punched the sale of the cigar into his invisible cash register. She puffed on the thing so convincingly that I didn't notice the blood dribbling down her chin; what I saw, what everyone saw, was the invisible smoke seeping out of her mouth, over her upper lip, into the cloud around her head. No one has ever asked why sometimes you need props and sometimes all you need is imagination. It wasn't long before the necklaces started.

          "We probably need a policy about animals outlined in the consent form," she says. She takes a sip of her latte, the first sip, even though I placed it in front of her several minutes ago, and she makes a face. It could be that it's too bitter or that the milk's off, but that's unlikely because she orders it all the time. If I know her well it's more likely a face that the latte has gotten cold. I know this isn't my fault, but the face is accusatory. 

          After Andy was bitten by the squirrel, animals made more frequent appearances. Pets were common; gerbils and rabbits made for good props. Cats were impossible to work with because they did not care about improv. Dogs were hit and miss, depending on the breed. Try giving a golden retriever directions. This one lady brought her chow chow in once, and this thing was possibly the best improv performer I had ever seen; it took prompts perfectly and performed like a seasoned veteran. Regiannis "The Hulk" Chamenade claimed for months that he owned a pet honey badger, but always refused when asked to bring it in. Then one day out of nowhere he showed up with it. It was in a cage, but Regiannis had nasty red scratches all over his arms. The animal did not look happy to be there. Doloria bided her time, but eventually prompted him to imagine that the animal was the black knight of Helgor, and that the noble Regiannis had to fight it to rescue his princess. "The Hulk" was not a man easily dissuaded from a challenge. The badger still won the fight.

          Andy had taken a few days off after his incident with the squirrel, but he came back. At first he seemed his normal self. In fact he began to open up more. Normally the humor in his scenes evolved slowly, and as you peeled away at his layers he would grow into a magnificent performer. But he had become more extraverted, more willing to jump right into a scene. Then one day he was clearly not himself. He was nervous and extremely agitated. He yelled angry nonsense and tried to kick Doloria in the face, and had to be subdued. He was told to splash some water in his face and go home, which made him scream in fear. The next day he showed up in worse shape. He was sweating, his eyes bloodshot and his voice hardly recognizable. He had a look of cosmic terror in his eyes as he did a scene as a five-year-old girl picking daisies in a field. When he tried to speak he'd choke on his own foaming saliva. Everyone was concerned. I told Doloria "Maybe we should call 911." She just put her finger over her mouth and said "Shhh." She gave him a skull and said "Andy, you're Hamlet. This is Yorick. Speak to him." Andy stood holding the skull, staring at it silently, for several minutes. His saliva dripped to the floor. Then the look in his eyes changed. He saw something in the black sockets of those orbitals. The terror changed; now it was a look of someone who understood the absolute truth of the universe. I'll never forget it. We still debate what the word was that he uttered. It came out in a guttural growl, muted by spit. Doloria insists the word was "Mother!" I don't think that was it. I believe it was something more significant. Maybe it wasn't even English. He dropped dead right there. Everyone rose in ovation. Those waiting outside could probably hear the applause. Poor Andy. That was the day I knew I couldn't do this anymore.

          I reach into my backpack and fiddle with my two-weeks notice. She's looking at me; she always knows when I'm up to something. I look down and I can see where my writing says "Dear Doloria…" I didn't write "Ms." 

          "What is it?" she says.

          "Nothing," I say. I let go of the note. 

          She closes her computer. "Is there anything else then?" she says.

          "No."

          "I'll see you at the studio." She packs up and leaves, and after she's out the door I pull the note out of my bag and read it. I've read over it probably a dozen times. I put it back in my bag and zip it. I apply eye drops again and a little bit gets on my shirt. 

          "Maybe tomorrow," I hear myself say.

Marcel Proust

          My neighbor Karen had only lived next door for a week when she asked me if I could watch her crazy dog. She had to fly off to a literary conference or something and her dogsitter had cancelled last minute. I said that that would be fine, and she offered me four hundred bucks.  

          She had me come over right away to meet the dog. It was standing in the doorway when we came in, and it had a look in its eyes that made me feel like it had been waiting for me. It was the puffiest dog I'd ever seen. 

          "His name is Marcel Proust," she said, "and he has many proclivities, even for a chow chow." She explained that his walking path was predetermined and that I couldn't diverge from the course under any circumstances. She had a map already drafted that she would give to me. She said that the walk had to last ninety minutes, no more, no less, and if it wasn't exactly ninety minutes or if I veered off course, Marcel Proust would stay up all night howling and would need weeks of therapy. On Thursday afternoons he had a recurring playdate in the park with another chow chow named Little Cinnamon, and when they played I wasn't allowed to gaze upon either dog or they would become agitated. She said that Marcel Proust was obsessed with the notion of dignity, and that he could never be made to see his own poop or the results would be catastrophic. The breeder had told her that one of his parents had been, for a brief moment, a guard dog for a very prominent politician, and as a result had bred a dog with serious anxiety issues, and when I asked how a dog as silly as a chow chow could possibly be a guard dog, she shot me a look like I had no idea what I was in for. She said the most important thing was that he needed to watch Jeopardy every night at 7:30, and that I couldn't be calling out answers, and that if I knew an answer I was to keep it to myself, especially if it was from a literature category. She said she'd show me the guest room where I'd be staying, and when I asked if the dog could just stay at my house, she laughed and said to be thankful that Marcel Proust wouldn't be setting foot in my house, and that she didn't want him getting into my drug stash anyway. 

          "Now come with me," she said, taking me by the arm to the kitchen. "This is the pantry where I keep his dry food. He can open doors so keep it locked. Here is the key."

          "What makes you think I have a drug stash?" I said.

          "Come on. I see all those people, coming to your house every day. They never stay more than a few minutes. I'm not judging, but don't take me for an idiot."

          "Well, if I have to stay here for a few days, it's gonna affect my business," I said. 

          "That's why I offered you the money."

          "No offence lady, but I make more than four hundred bucks a day."

          "Well, if you can't do it tell me now and I'll go find..."

          "It's fine, it's fine. I'll do it," I said. "But I can't do it every damn time you gotta go outta town is all."

          "I do appreciate it," she said. "Now you can't leave him alone for long periods of time. Don't worry about groceries, the fridge is full. His cage is right here in the kitchen; only use it if he gets really out of control. There's a combination lock on top of it, and you'll need it if you put him in there. He knows how to open it if you don't lock it. The combination is written down with some other notes on the map I made."

          We came back to the front of the house and she had her goodbye with Marcel Proust. She hugged him and whispered something in his ear and his expression changed. She said a quick goodbye to me and then she was off. I stood there looking at the dog, and he looked right back at me. I could tell he didn't like me very much, and clearly didn't trust me.

          "Okay, I'll literally be right back, you hang tight for a sec," I said, and then I darted over to my house. I threw open my sock drawer and took a few things out of the stash. I had about twenty thousand in stacks and rolls in there; I looked down at the money  and left it there. I only took what items I needed for the next couple days: papers, pipe, and some pre-measured baggies of assorted things that I would probably still sell. My house was right next door, so if someone came by I would see them. 

          When I got back to the house Marcel Proust had already shit on the floor, right in front of the door. He stood with his back turned to the mess he made, but I could tell he was smiling. 

          "God damn it," I said. I found a plastic bag and picked it up, and then used a dish towel and some windex and went to work on the stain. I spent the next twenty minutes scrubbing, and Marcel Proust stared at me like he was evaluating my cleaning skills. I got it mostly out but I could still see a shadow of brown there that was probably never coming out. 

          I smoked a joint and watched some TV. It was the middle of the afternoon so the only things to choose from were talk shows and Judge Judy. Marcel Proust was in the other room, doing god knows what. I didn't care, I was relaxed. I heard a car pull up outside and I went to the window. It was Aletta, and she was coming up to my house. I opened the door and yelled "Hey!"

          "Hey! What are you doing in there?"

          "Dogsitting. Come on in." She popped across the lawn and came in. I opened the stash bag, which I had on the dinner table, and pulled out a small baggie for her. She slapped the money down on the table and I pocketed it. Marcel Proust trotted into the room and looked at her.

          "Holy shit! Look how puffy that dog is!" she said. He looked very annoyed.

          "This is Marcel Proust," I said.

          "Can I pet him?"

          "I wouldn't. He's somewhat insane. It's probably a bad idea."

          "Well all right. I'll see you in a few days." She left, and I went back to the couch. The dog looked at me like it was game over, like he was gonna rat me to the cops. 

          "Calm down fur ball. let's just be rational, ok?" I said. He put his nose in the air and walked off somewhere. 

          I watched more TV for a while and lost track of time. It was already getting dark when I heard tires rolling up outside. I looked out the window and was not happy to see Danny and Simms getting out of their Escalade. I turned off the TV and peered through the narrow slit in the blinds, watching them as they knocked at my door. Simms banged hard three times and then the knucklehead tried the knob. I must have left it unlocked cause the door opened and they stuck their big dumb heads inside.

          "Shit," I said. I didn't want them in there snooping around. I popped my head out the door and called after them. Danny came back out my front door and spotted me across the lawn in Karen's house.

          "Oh! What are you doing over there? You doing B&Es now for kicks?" Danny said. He whistled and Simms came out like his little mutt. 

          "I'm dogsitting."

          "Dogsitting? Thought you were hiding from us or something. That would be bad." They walked across the lawn, and Danny pushed open the door and they both came in.

          "So, where's the dog?"

          "Uh, In the other room. He does his own thing. Not the friendliest dog in the world."

          "I'll say. I never met a dog that didn't come running to the front door to greet guests."

          "So, what brings you fellas around?" I asked.

          "We're here to collect that thing," Simms said.

          "Hang on, you're a day early."

          "No we're not. It's Thursday."

          "What! Shit." I looked at my watch, as if that would do anything. "I need another day. Just one."

          Simms grabbed me by the hair and dragged me into the kitchen. His hands smelled like tire grease. He pulled the steel sharpener out of the knife block and pushed it an inch or so into my ear, and held my head against the counter.

          "That kinda hurts!" I said.

          "I know, fuckwad. What do you want, a massage?" Danny said. "Now listen to me, you ratfaced little jerkoff. Every time it's this 'I need another day' nonsense. Well that ends now! There is no more other day. So here's what's gonna happen; Simms here is gonna put you in that doggie cage right there, and we're gonna go back over to your place. And you're gonna sit here and hope that we find what we're looking for. If we do, then we'll figure out a punishment for lying to us. If we don't, well things will get a slight bit worse for you. Understand?"

          Simms took the thing out of my ear and stuffed me into the cage. He took the lock and secured it in place.

          "Don't go anywhere Fido, we'll be right back," Danny said, and they walked out. Marcel Proust came into the kitchen and stared at me. He was clearly pissed that I was in his cage.

          "Hey man, this isn't my fault. They put me in here! blame them, those assholes. Actually yeah! They'll be back any minute. You stay here, and when those two pricks come back in here, you bite their dicks off! You can do it, I know you've got in in you!" Marcel Proust just stared at me. 

          After a few minutes the door opened again and they came into the kitchen. Simms was holding my rolls of money in his giant hands like a kid holding a pile of Halloween candy.

          "I knew you were holding out on us you little shit," Danny said. "Enjoy your vacation. We'll be back next week. And, by the way, the price just doubled. Don't lie to me again motherfucker." 

          Danny looked down at Marcel Proust. "Cute dog," he said, and he patted him on the head. Marcel Proust had a great big smile on his face and Danny scratched behind his ears. "We'll be seeing you," he said and they headed for the door.

          "Hey! Let me outta this ca..." I yelled, as the door slammed shut. "Fuck."

          Marcel Proust and I stared at each other. "So, I think Karen wrote the combo down, on a map somewhere? Could you, uh, fetch it for me?" I said. The dog snorted and started to roll around on the floor. Then he got bored and disappeared.              

          I reached for my phone, but it wasn't in my pocket; I had left it on the coffee table. I tried shaking the cage to see if it might come apart, but it was sturdy. I thrashed it around as best I could, and the dog came in and started barking at me ferociously. 

          "Ok, ok! Take it easy!" I said. I looked around the cage for a flaw somewhere, a loose hinge, anything I could do to break it open, but this thing seemed to have been built to hold a god damned rhino.

          "All right, Marcel, what the hell are we gonna do here?" The dog started to bark, one loud, crisp bark, every ten seconds.

          "I don't know what you're trying to tell me buddy."

          Bark!

          "Is it cause I'm in your cage?"

          Bark!

          "Well, I don't know if you noticed or not, but I didn't exactly decide to hang out in here just for fun! Those two assholes tossed me in here!"

          Bark!

          "I'm sure if you would have told them nicely, they would have thrown me in a dumpster or something and left your precious cage alone!"

          Bark!

          I looked over at the clock on the microwave. "Shit, it was time for your walk like an hour ago, wasn't it?"

          Bark!

          "Well, I'm really not sure what to tell you. But, like, just so you know, I've got it worse than you right now. Just saying." 

          Marcel Proust started to run, from the kitchen into the living room, and then back again. He ran out of sight and then circled back into the kitchen, and continued with this pattern, picking up speed. He growled at the carpet and peed on it, and then he ran some more. He ran behind me to the pantry and before I could see how, he fiddled the crazy door open and went rummaging around in there. He came out with a huge bag of kibble in his mouth and he started thrashing it around like a rag doll. The bag looked like it must have weighed 25 pounds but Marcel Proust handled it like it was nothing. The bag ripped open and a river of kibble came flooding out all over the floor. He ate like he was in a frenzy, chomping loudly and snorting, then he rolled around in the kibble mess like a rich kid rolling around in money. Once he had eaten enough, he took off into the living room.

          "Okay...lemme think here," I said out loud. The living room TV turned on. "Marcel Proust? Did you do that?"

           I listened to about 20 minutes of infomercials until the iconic Jeopardy music echoed throughout the room. "Jesus Christ, dog, how are you actually operating a TV remote right now?" I said. Alex Trebek's voice was soothing enough, but god damn it the last thing I wanted to do was listen to fucking Jeopardy and not be able to answer questions out loud. 

          "Marcel Proust, you listen to me god damn it. You turn off that TV right now and help get me out of this cage!" I yelled. 

          The categories had been read and the game was already on. The volume was low, I guess cause dogs can hear so damn well, so I had to put my ear right through the cage bars to catch what Trebek was saying.  

          "This mammal, known for its taste for oysters, doesn't use a shucking knife; it breaks the shell with its armpit to get at the meat inside," Trebek spouted off. 

          Marcel Proust let out a single bark. I sat there thinking about a gorilla eating an oyster, and one of the schmuck contestants said "What is an otter?" Trebek told him he was right and Marcel Proust let out another single bark. He sounded very pleased with himself. 

          "Whatever, lucky guess," I said.

          "This French delicacy, prepared from fattened goose or duck liver, only became legal in California in 2015, after a decade-long ban."

          "Oh that's foie gras!" I said, before one of the contestants chimed in with the same answer. "Couldn't bark fast enough that time could ya, eh dog? How many restaurants have you worked in, eh dog?" I said. Marcel Proust growled. 

          Trebek asked another question and I got the answer, sturgeon, before Marcel Proust or the contestants could answer. "How do you like them apples, baby?" I said.

          It took a while before I got another answer right. Marcel Proust had a few successful barks here and there. Then I got an answer right about the mountain Denali, in Alaska, which my cousin Arnold climbed, and then the next question was the daily double. The question was about European conquerors, and I knew I had to guess either Napoleon or Alexander The Great, but Alexander seemed like a weird guess because I don't think it was really called Europe back then, so I guessed Napoleon and I got it right.              

          In the next round there was a category about South American literature, and Marcel Proust barked at every question. There was another category about dogs and he did pretty damn well at that one too. But from my daily double I knew it was still close. When it was time for final Jeopardy I knew I had to bet it all. The category was Cosmos and I had seen that show. Then that pompous Canadian Trebek popped the question: "This asshole finds himself locked in a dog's cage, and is likely to starve to death or go completely crazy in the coming days."    

          I scratched  my head as the countdown music played. Marcel Proust was silent. At the very last second, I took a wild guess: "What is the Andromeda galaxy?" 

          Trebek went through the contestants' answers; the first two dingbats didn't write anything. The third got the answer correct: the Andromeda galaxy. Marcel Proust howled when Trebek read the correct answer. I raised my fist in the air and bashed my knuckle against the cage. It hurt like shit, but pain or not, I was victorious. After a few minutes Marcel Proust ambled over to the cage and lay down beside it.

          "Looks like there's a new champ in town, eh dog?" 

          Marcel Proust put his paw through the cage and touched my leg. I patted him on the head and he seemed happy. "You're not such a bad boy are you?" I said. He made a grumbling sound and rolled around.

          "Well what the hell are we gonna do now? Karen doesn't get back for like three days. I'm gonna friggin starve to death in here!" 

          Marcel Proust got up and started roaming around the kitchen. He walked over to the mess he had made and ate some of the spilled kibble. He scarfed a big bunch all at once and then strutted back to me. He spat the kibble out of his mouth into a little pile right beside the cage. He looked at me, his purple tongue dangling and flapping. I picked up one of the semi-chewed pieces of kibble and gingerly put it in my mouth. I scrunched my face and chewed. It tasted like a stale, sour nut. He barked, and I ate a second piece. 

          "Thanks for chewing it up for me a bit." Marcel Proust ran off. I could hear a strange, splashy echo, and realized he was lapping up toilet water.

          "Dignity my ass," I said. I thought about how he might be able to bring me some toilet water. It didn't seem possible, but if he could manage with the food and manage to turn on a damn TV and find the right channel, maybe he could do anything. I lay down on the blanket in the cage and looked up at the kitchen ceiling. It was time for my nap.