About one week out of major abdomen surgery, it starts.
Not the pain, or my clock-watching hours of when I could take my next pain pill.
No, that would have been easy.
A week after they gutted me like a pig, Nick, my visiting 74-year-old stepdad, starts in with the naked ladies.
Of course, to him, they aren't "naked ladies." Nothing so harsh or classless.
To Nick, they are wonderful photos of the fantastic female body. Objects of his desire since he married my mom and moved in with all those "art" books of naked people. When I was old enough to figure out I could make my penis do tricks to his glossy photo books, I'm glad I was never caught desecrating his art. Especially since it's hard to control where that sticky stuff goes.
And now, many years later, my stepdad is back at it, reminding me he loves the naked ladies.
You'd think I caught him staring at the pictures in Maxim or Stuff I've got tucked away in the bathroom.
Somehow, he's found my better half's stash of beauty magazines, which she's got lying all over the kitchen. The living room. The dining room. Our bedroom. Her office. You get the idea. But obviously she doesn't. Half of them are still wrapped up in cellophane, waiting to be torn open by 74-year-old fingers.
"Check out the curves on this broad," says Nick, as I lie on our cheap couch and moan in pain.
Of course, he's lying on the expensive leather couch, and looking at a copy of Vogue, sideways.
"Those model chicks just don't do it for me," I explain to Nick.
"But these curves, the beauty of the female body . . . ," he says, trailing off.
I clutch my stomach in pain and force myself to stand up to see what he's talking about. Perhaps he has found a photo of a vagina in one of those over-perfumed magazines. That'd certainly give me a thrill or two. I've never seen anything like that. A vagina in Vogue? A crotch in Cosmo?
I limp over to Nick's couch and find him staring at some chick in fishnets. Frustrated, I tell my stepdad that if I wanted to see that, all I need to do is go to The Rocky Horror Picture Show like I used to.
"So whatta ya want from me?" demands Nick, sort of pissed.
He's been trying to cheer me up since I was released from the hospital, and it seemed the only way I could repay him was to moan and groan in pain, and have Nick be my chauffeur, driving me from point A to point B. And sometimes point C. C, of course, being the drugstore. A place we've been visiting too often.
I tell Nick I'm sorry, I'm just in pain, and maybe we should do one of his crosswords.
"Fuck that," says Nick. "We gotta get you outta the house and up and around."
It's decided, among my better half, Nick, and my torn stitches -- never mind my barking Yorkshire terrorist, P.J. -- that we are going to watch greyhound racing at some dog track on Washington Street.
We're waiting on my better half -- MBH -- and watching Animal Planet when I ask Nick why he wants to go. But he just points at the TV show.
It's the AKC Eukanuba Championship in Tampa, Florida. All sorts of dogs parade around in front of crowds and cameras, and they all seem to have smiles on their faces.
"See, George," says Nick, as we watch a cairn terrier trot across the green Astroturf, "his tail is wagging! Why isn't yours?"
I feel like telling my stepdad that I wonder whether his tail would wag, too, if all that came out underneath it was pain.
But I don't say a thing. Nick's right. I gotta cheer up, disemboweled and all.
While MBH continues to burn up the phone line, Nick and I gasp as we see some of the world's most beautiful dogs make their way across the screen.
I know why I'm gasping, but I ask Nick why he is.
"Because they're naked, George," says Nick.
"So," I say to my 74-year-old dog lover, "do their eight nipples turn you on?"
He thinks about it for a few seconds, then responds, "I'm a leg man, myself."
I tell him it's all about the tail and he tells me I'm a sick fuck.
Yup, things are almost feeling normal again.
With MBH finally off the phone, we head to what we can only guess is Phoenix's original greyhound racing park. It takes us more than half an hour to park in the huge lot, but not because everyone in town is there to see our four-legged friends run around in circles. No, everyone is parking in the damn lot because of some street fair. Yeah, there are rides and stuff for the kids, and the food does smell appealing in that "I'm gonna barf it up in 10 minutes anyway" sort of way, but we're there on a mission.
To see some tail.
As we enter the large building with the race lights on it, the stench of the place hits our noses much like an uncleaned New York subway station. Or even a bus terminal.
It's that foul odor of dried urine, alcohol, cigarette smoke, and human waste.
Not the poopy kind, mind you, but the kind you see sitting at subway stations, not getting on the trains when they arrive. Or worse, the kind you see lying on the subway train, taking up four seats, smelling like hell, and more often than not, playing with himself.
Home sweet home.
How I long for my days back in the big city.
"This place stinks and I want to leave," says MBH, right away.
I look at Nick and he looks at me. Then we look at one of those crane games. The kind you put two quarters in and try to grab a prize. Except the only prizes we see are "The Luck of the Irish" wristbands, watches, and key-holders. We decide these people are desperate for luck.
And when we have a good look around us at the crowd, we decide we are right.
Although no one looks downright homeless, a lot of these people look like perhaps their houses just may be on fire. It looks like some of them haven't changed clothes in days, and the dog track seems more of a hunting and gathering establishment to them than a place of recreation, something we're looking for.
"I'm afraid to go to the bathroom," says MBH, as we walk around, checking out strange crowds of people gathered at each of the two low-rent bars.
While MBH finds a restroom, Nick and I talk about how the place seems more like a run-down off-track-betting hellhole than a racetrack.
Then I ask Nick the question.
"When's the last time you've been to a dog race?"
He explains that it's been at least 50 years.
We both decide a lot has changed in 50 years.
"I bet they don't even have that guy with the pole who runs around with the rabbit pelt anymore!" exclaims Nick.
I'm not sure whether to believe him or not, but when they trot out that electro-bunny, I see there is no way a human could reach those speeds.
A few minutes before a race is to begin, Nick explains we should all bet to show. That means if our dog comes in first, second, or third, we win money. Sounds good to us, although I just know number 8, Boc Slamminsam, is going to win. I had watched as they trotted him out on the track, and he looked about as desperate as I did. I don't know, maybe he ate some bad kibble, or perhaps even had a hole in his stomach like mine. Whatever it was, it was driving him nuts, and I could tell he was going to run the fastest. Because he was in the worst pain.
Anyway, at the start of the race, those dogs come flying out of the gate, and they're fast. And the crowd is loud. Like at some cheap horror movie theater somewhere. "You better watch out for that ax," some lady would scream. "Uh-oh, you better not turn on the flashlight!"
It's the same thing, only this time they're yelling, "Go, dog, go!"
And of course, number 8, my dog, wins.
As I go and collect my measly 50 percent payoff, I bitch and moan about listening to Nick. I should have bet to win, and not played it safe.
Later, Nick tells us, "I'm no good at picking horses, especially when they're dogs."
Finally, we've had enough, as MBH starts to cough and wheeze.
As we make our way out of the place, I do a little victory dance. Nick catches me in the corner of his eye.
"Feeling better?" he asks, with a nice smile on his face.
I tell him I'm not, and the surgery still hurts like hell.
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The way I figure it, I can still milk this for a couple more weeks.
Or at least a visit to the zoo, a visit to a movie or two, and perhaps even a free video game.
But man, am I gonna have to do battle with my 12-year-old nephew and 10-year-old niece, who want Nick back -- now.
Ow, my stomach!