Sometimes a workingman gets bored.
It's the same grind, shift after shift, everything heading forward like a crippled sludge barge into the vague promise of those sacred sixth and seventh days--the weekend. Those 48 hours can be a gamble, but you've got to play to win. At least, that's what a guy in a rest home once told me. You know--have a few drinks, attend an art opening, tweak the tortino fantasia recipe, kick a little ass, whatever. American leisure time can be a beautiful thing.
Especially when you're at a Holistic Health Expo and you've got a chap like Master Choi standing above you, dressed in a black karate suit and plastic face guard, waving two chromium batons above your prostrate being in a sitcom-length, $30 Poki session designed to remove negative Ki toxicity.
Except that I didn't do that. My negative Ki toxicity may well be as high as an elephant's third eye, but I opted to pass on the master's powers. Though I did spend a few minutes observing Choi's action up close as he cleansed some belly-down lady. She looked like she was dead or asleep, the neg-Ki-tox apparently evaporating into the cosmic forgiveness of the ozone layer.
After a while, I moved on along the rest of the booths, listening to psycho-health spiels and tossing back blended mixtures of various fruits, grasses and proteins handed out for free in those same little cups you pee into at the doctor's office. All of these drinks were deep-green in color, and many possessed a certain tropical tang.
I saw three people with their eyes closed sitting next to each other, holding Autoharps being played by three other people kneeling in front of them. A fellow in a multicolored vest, who resembled a kind of poor, spiritually enlightened man's Joel Gray, stood there bellowing out long tones. He was in charge, providing guidance.
I talked with a woman who had a delicate, skeletal brass pyramid on her head. Her name was Sue, she was an "expert" in magnetotherapy, but I don't remember a word she said. I couldn't take my attention away from that delicate, skeletal brass pyramid on her head. I suppose it was commanding my psychic energy and channeling it straight into her skull. Heed the words of the ancients, and Sue, too, my friends: Beware the riddle of the pyramids.
Passing booth after booth, I skipped a number of other healing alternatives and finally forked over five bucks for a 10-minute physical therapy session with Y.M. Chen Dipl. Ac. (H.K.) CNMT. OBT. I don't know what any of that stands for, but I can tell you it is not a Web address. That's simply what it said on his business card. He wore dark, baggy pants that appeared to be a poly-blend, and a light blue surgical shirt, the combination of which put me at ease.
And Chen had the magic fingers. I've never felt better in 10 minutes for five bucks in my life.
I sat propped forward in one of those backless chairs that makes you feel like a helpless, relaxed Swede, my head smashed face down in what looked like a padded toilet seat from a Tiny Town lavatory. With, of course, a paper towel between my skin and the vinyl for hygienic purposes, Chen had me in a trance as he slammed the heels of his palms into the work-tensed regions of my back. The crowd noise melded into a calming murmur, my thoughts drifted willy-nilly from a Roman Gabriel football card I lost in 1973 to the most recent episode of When Animals Attack to how I could possibly write this column and expect it to be interesting.
Nine minutes of brutal heaven later, Chen pulled me into an upright sitting position and wiggled my head around like he was washing a golf ball. I opened my eyes a crack, and I could see that many holistic-health aficionados were watching, yet I was beyond self-consciousness. I sensed that they were envious of my serenity. And I did not blame them.
I arose, purchased a corn dog and glided out of the Civic Plaza. The weekend had begun.
Look up "excitement" in Roget's Thesaurus and you'll find words like "arousal," "stimulation," "working into a lather," even "lathering up," displayed in bold print, but you won't come across "an evening at the Wiener Dog Nationals."
I don't know why, because there was plenty of the "e" word to be had at Phoenix Greyhound Park, where the third annual Nationals were taking place mere hours after they shut the doors on the Holistic Health Expo.
That's right, both of these events were taking place on the same day. It's not just any city that can offer this kind of stimulation.
Classic oldies radio will tell you that kicks just keep gettin' harder to find--and classic oldies radio is usually pretty hard to argue with--but it has not witnessed the likes of Peppy, Lute, Rimshot, Oreo, Clem or Pookie Doodle--minimal-clearance racing dachshunds--barreling down a 50-yard straight-away toward their frantic owners, who are coaxing them with screams, stuffed toys, favorite tennis balls and fox horns. All for a fabulous grand prize of dog food.
But I witnessed this, as a big orange moon hung just above the track and the aroma of grilling franks filled the air. Yes, there are strange and beautiful things to do in Phoenix on a Saturday night, and some include free parking.
Before the actual racing began, the dachshunds were paraded in front of the stands by their owners. Common wisdom has it that pets resemble their masters, or vice versa, but this is not the case with WDs. The dogs all looked like dachshunds--short legs, sausage torsos, long snouts, droopy ears--and the owners looked like all kinds of things that weren't dachshunds: lizards, koalas, ravens, chipmunks, mastodons, poodles; an interesting mix.
As the parading took place, I heard people around me say things like:
"Drink yer beer, I wanna see yer ears light up."
"Ahhh . . . they're smelling each other."
Clearly, the crowd was primed for sport.
Max the dachshund is eight years old, and weighs in at a hefty 24 pounds. With a top speed in excess of nine mph, it's easy to see why he waddled home with the big prize at last year's competition. And when it comes to dealing with the press, Max plays his cards pretty close to his vest.
When we get a little prerace interview time, I decide to start with the easy questions, gain his trust. I ask Max if he's a good boy. He looks at me. I ask him if he's a cute little puppy. He turns his head a bit. I pull his ears for him. Nothing. I decide to stop beating around the bush--I'm a New Times writer, for Christ's sake--and go for the jugular. I ask him if he figures he stands a chance against Sasha, the 1995 Nationals champ, who at five years younger and 16 pounds lighter would seem to have the advantage.
Max is cool, I'll give him that; he doesn't even growl.
It's almost time for the first preliminary heat and the competition is down at the gate of the 50-yard course. The dirt on the track is smooth and raked clean; I walk out and feel it. Track dirt is fine, elegant stuff, almost damp. Similar, one would imagine, to the earthy loam found in Injun Joe's cave.
The tension in the crowd is palpable. The cotton-candy man has ceased his shouts of "Yummy, yummy, yummy, good for your tummy!" As the Wiener Nationals are about to begin, the Hebrew Nationals pop and smoke on the griddle.
And they're off!
It's mass confusion as dogs dart all over the place, some even toward the finish line. The crowd is on its feet, the owners yelling, emoting, gesturing, doing whatever it takes to get their little beasts to triumph. The really desperate ones chase their animals. But it's Eddie who takes it. Eddie. Twenty-five pounds of doe-eyed fury. A good doggy.
A Cinderella story out of nowhere is Pumpkin, the little dickens who leads the pack in the second prelim. I later find out that her secret training ingredient is liverwurst. She's German, after all.
It is in the third race that all hell breaks loose. I've never seen anything quite like it on any field of play. Immediately after leaving the gate, the dogs seem to revert to some state of feral abandonment, running almost everywhere but in the direction they're supposed to. Finally, Toby takes it by judgment call, only because he is the closest to getting close to the finish line. Even his favorite tennis ball--Penn, by the way--fails to attract him all the way. Heat four is back to normal and Maggie triumphs, beating out two of my personal choices, Hercules and Dinki.
Now it's time for the big grudge match, Max versus Sasha. Seasoned versus young, experienced versus newcomer. No matter how you slice it, this pairing is going to produce fireworks aplenty. They leave the gate, but there's no hesitation, no running into the crowd; heavily slobbered-on stuffed toys are not needed to coerce these two pros across the finish. But Max, the grand old man of the turf, winds up getting a great big eyeful of Sasha's brown rear end as she beats him across the line. She wanders off to the cameras, the blue ribbon, the winner's circle.
Who knows? Even if Max opts to cease formal competition and bow out of future Nationals, with his level of racing talent, I'd wager he'll be in big demand for stud service.
The theme from 2001 blares on the PA. The crowd, ripe with anticipation, moves in tight at the fence for the final race of the night. The winners of the preliminaries are going snout-to-snout to determine who will be top wiener for 1997. Smoke from hundreds of cigarettes wafts up into the lights, fans climb up on grandstand seats for a better view.
And there they go. I don't know if I can properly describe what it's like to stand at the end of the track as all those tiny little paws come speeding straight at you, those ears flapping, haunches rippling, eyes aglow with the passion of animal intensity. So I won't even try. It's Hans who takes first place, it's Hans who will be munching kibble from the victor's bowl tonight.
I am drained. I exit the place with the rest of the poor slobs who have to face the time clock come Monday, but when I see the bossman's face, I'll be smiling. I've had excitement, tasted tension, witnessed fierce competition and holistic miracles, all in one weekend. And there was still time to get a 12-pack and a Gallagher video on the way home.
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