Dog Park Decadence

The Phantom Surfers and Neil Hamburger run with the big dogs at Phoenix Greyhound Park.

"Well, we love you, player," I tell him, patting him on the back. "Unfortunately, we couldn't hear your act at all. Sounds like your voice is about done."

"I drove here all the way from Las Cruces, New Mexico," he explains. "I was there trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records for doing a 39-hour comedy routine. I got as far as 36 hours and my voice gave out."

"Better luck next time," I say. "Since we weren't able to get the full Neil Hamburger Experience, can you lay some of that funny bone on us, baby?"

"Sure, here's one: Why did Madonna feed Alpo to her infant child?" he asks.

"Search me."

"She had no choice, that's what came out of her breasts!"

(Pause. Sound of crickets chirping.)

"I don't get it," says Jett.

"That's the point," I tell her. "It's kind of an Andy Kaufman/Tony Clifton riff. Though Madonna does look like a real bow-wow these days."

Hamburger and his entourage stroll on to the bar, and we stroll with them, 'til we spot this one blonde roller derby babe, as cute as she can be, hobbling along on crutches. She tells us her track handle is Annie Choakley (real name, Meleah Roadarmel, 23), and that she normally manages the HCX Hair Salon on Mill Avenue in Tempe, but now everything's on hold because of her injury. Says she got it just one month into doing the roller derby thing.

"We were in a scrimmage round during team practice," relates Choakley. "This was about six months ago. I fell and hit my tailbone really hard. I tried to get up and that's when I realized I'd broken my leg in two places."

"Ouch," says Jett.

"Yeah, I had a metal plate placed on one of my bones, but the doctor didn't prescribe antibiotics, so I got a really bad internal infection, which led to the second surgery. They took out a stomach muscle and placed it in my leg. I have another surgery coming up in five months. This is where they took out the muscle, by the way."

Choakley lifts her shirt to reveal a long, purplish scar snaking vertically down her tummy.

"I skate really well," she continues. "It was just one of those freak incidents. It really changed everything about my life. I went from being very active to being in a wheelchair, then on crutches."

"Poor kid," I say, my heart going out to the plucky lass. "Think you'll ever get back out on the track again?"

"The second I came out of surgery, my mom was like, `You can't do this anymore. Promise me!' So I promised her. I'll do anything behind the scenes for these girls, but I don't want to go through this ever again."

Not that my fat ass was ever inclined to hop up on roller skates, but Choakley's tale of woe will likely keep me safe and snug in my Pumas for the rest of my life. We wish Choakley a full recovery and finally make it back to the bar. There, the most interesting person is this Tony Soprano-lookin' dude, a gambler puffin' an eight-inch stogie, by the name of Dmitri.

"They call me Mr. Saturday Night," says the grizzled gambler, drink and race book in front of him. "This is my regular seat. I'm very superstitious."

"What did you make of Neil Hamburger?" I wonder.

"Dead meat," chuckles the Greek. "I've been coming here for five years, and this is Neil's third or fourth time being here. It's the biggest crowd he's ever had. I don't know if it's because of the roller derby girls or what."

Dmitri tells us he's in sales, and that he moved out here from New Jersey for the weather several years ago. He seems to know his stuff, so we ask him to break down the science of wagering on the tail-waggers.

"There are a number of ways you can bet on a dog," he tells us. "You can handicap 'em, or you can bet on favorite numbers, colors, or names. I go with the names. My favorite dog was named Buddha-head. I used to joke with the waitresses that Buddha-head's sister was Gimme-head. My new favorite is named Mao Mao Mama."

"I've heard some gamblers actually watch the dogs poop."

"Well, you can go outside where they parade them before a race. Some people feel that if the dog takes a shit or a piss, it makes them lighter. But it's all relative. How much lighter do you feel after you take a dump?" he asks me.

"'Bout 10 pounds," I reply. "After which, I usually want to take a nap."

"See, you wouldn't necessarily run any faster afterwards," he says.

"Unless you're clocking him before," says Jett. "I've seen Kreme flatten folks like Roadrunner cartoons on his way to the bog."

"Speaking of which," I say, rising from the bar. "You'll have to excuse me. Feels like my pal Jett has once again inspired me to greatness."

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