Dogman – Forrest Muelrath
October 14, 2023
Above all else, I believe it was the timing of this particular encounter that made it so violently horrifying. To be sure, I am no stranger to the limits of flesh, and have, on more than one occasion, taken a gander beyond the edges of what the human body is capable of. But in this instance, it wasn’t the other side of death that caught my eye. Broadly speaking, what I saw that frightened me so very much was the possibility of becoming something I never wanted to become — something that seemed, perhaps, not quite human at all.
Before continuing, I would like to make clear that I am not the type of person who will try to convince you of the existence of creatures that are not listed in compendiums generally accepted by the greater scientific community — specifically creatures such as the mythical beast known as the North American Dogman. According to legend, dogmen are extraordinarily athletic beasts with the head of a dog and the torso of a man. It has been said that dogmen can run on two legs at speeds over sixty miles-per-hour before, in mere seconds, ripping a person to shreds with razor-like claws and fangs. From what I can tell, all evidence points to dogmen being the stuff of fantasies, invented by storytellers to scare children, or warn friends about the dangers of walking in strange places alone. Perhaps, at one time such creatures did exist, but if so, it must have been very long ago, because there is no serious archaeological evidence to lend any credence to the legend.
I know people who will try to convince you that creatures such as dogmen truly do exist. These people are not always entirely insane. In fact, they are more ordinary than many might expect. I actually encountered a seemingly ordinary man the other day, who, in the year 2023, worked in the most ordinary of places — a certified Honda dealership — as a salesman selling the most ordinary cars — pre-owned Hondas — and in the process of giving his sales pitch, he could not help but tell his customers about his encounters with dogmen. At first, I thought this Honda salesman must be joking, and that his dogmen story was part of his sales pitch — something to distract would-be Honda owners from the real problems of the world, such as owning a used car that frequently breaks down. But no, I tested the salesman on two other occasions, even after he had sold the car, and he emphatically insisted that not only are dogmen real, but furthermore, he had actually encountered a pack of these wild man-like beasts recently in the most ordinary of settings — the New Jersey State Parkway. Perhaps this man was insane — perhaps he takes the perfect dose of psychiatric medication every day so that he can go about trying to convince people that his psychotic hallucinations are real while selling cars with the greatest of ease. Or, perhaps this man has extraordinary abilities and can see things that cannot be measured with technology that exists today. I am not sure, nor will I try to convince anyone one way or the other. All I know is that I too have seen things that are difficult to explain in ordinary terms, and it appears clear to me how mythical creatures such as dogmen might begin to appear in the general collective consciousness of our society.
There were a number of concurrent events which blurred the line between what I generally accept as reality and the unnerving phenomena I witnessed a few autumns ago. For one, I had lost my job eleven weeks prior. At first I was fine with this job loss. In fact, I embraced it emphatically because I was able to collect unemployment benefits from the state for twelve weeks straight. In short, I treated my job loss like a vacation. Halfway through October, I was scheduled to get my final UI check, and then I would have to give two-thirds of what remained in my savings to the landlady, Ms. Early. Beyond that, my financial future was completely uncertain. For material reasons, I did not even feel like I had friends or family I could ask for help from at the time.
Furthermore, I was experiencing difficulties in the area of love. I had encountered a creature who is generally accepted by the broader scientific community to be as real as could be — a woman with beauty beyond the limits of perception. Unfortunately, it seems my senses were in some way deluded in this instance because this creature did not see a similar beauty in me. As often can happen in instances of unrequited love, I was losing sleep because of this encounter, and things began to appear not quite right in my head — little things went missing, like spare keys, toiletries, forks and spoons. There was minor damage to items in my apartment, especially the electronics. One day I discovered about the largest jar of peanut butter you can imagine buying at a gas station suddenly empty, with no recollection of having eaten it whatsoever. The next morning, my computer was suddenly in a state of complete disarray, as if I had been editing locked system files in my sleep. These odd occurrences began happening sometime in September and I had no way of explaining them. Granted, I had been drinking a lot and taking over-the-counter sleeping pills, but I did not believe I was blacking out during my binges.
At the time, I was living in a rented cottage on a gorgeous piece of property about ninety minutes north of the city. A jazz age Tudor mansion estate on seven acres of Hudson Valley land. Three of those seven acres were well manicured, and on those three acres were four houses. The Tudor mansion, which the 92-year-old Ms. Early lived in, and three separate guest cottages the old widow rented out to three separate men. The three men were a school bus driver who shared a birthday with me, a jazz musician who only visited on the weekends to practice his horn, and me, an aspiring novelist who had, until recently, made ends meet by managing websites and converting media files for a large non-profit in the city. The three cottages were all essentially identical to one another. The only dramatic difference between the three cottages is that mine had a storage shed attached to the east wall, which everyone on the property could access. Some items stored in this shed were antiques belonging to Ms. Early — early 20th Century lamps, Victorian chairs, an old letter-press that appealed to my sensibilities as an aspiring author — many items that were too old to be of any use, but too valuable to throw away.
Full of holes, with walls only slightly thicker than cardboard, the structure offered little more protection from the elements than a tall patch of goldenrod. During winter months, I maintained a wood stove day and night, when the inside temperature might fluctuate between near freezing to sauna-like, depending on the quality of firewood I was burning and the amount of attention I paid to the stove. Because there were so many cracks and holes in the walls, windows, and doors, field mice treated my cottage like a supermarket. Nevertheless, despite all the quirks, Ms. Early’s cottage was a good place for me because I could afford to be there alone. And beyond that, the view outside my window was as luxurious as any Park Avenue apartment. Most of the estate’s landscaping features were overgrown, in need of serious renovation, but it was easy to imagine the swimming pool, soapstone patios, marble statues cleaned up and restored, to be used as a set for a cinematic rendition of The Great Gatsby.
Before losing it, I had liked my job fine. It was a good job because it required little effort on my part, but to the people who worked above me, it looked as if I was performing miracles. Also, it was related to something I was interested in — uploading content to the internet. It was a good enough job with good enough pay. I could see the position’s obsolescence coming months in advance due to rapid technological advancement in the field. But I was just as fine with the job becoming obsolete, as I was having the job at all. Better than fine, in fact. When the company announced layoffs at the beginning of the summer, I rejoiced thinking I would finally have three full months to complete my novel while collecting unemployment insurance. After the novel was finished, it would be easy to get another job, maybe even a job where, due to the accolades garnered from the small achievement of publishing a novel, I would feel uniquely appreciated and compensated as such.
Of course the summer did not go according to plan. I was in love with a younger woman and she was relentless in the ways she toyed with my emotions. I don’t recall seeing her after I lost my job. We had many long-distance conversations during that time, but those conversations would always end in fights. She started fucking people on the periphery of my social circle. She seemed to always fuck the worst possible person too — like a person I only knew through the internet, and for some ridiculous reason, out of all the people on the internet, I was feeling the most inferior to the one she fucked during the moment she decided to fuck them. I wasn’t fully in control when I invited another woman to visit my cottage — a woman who had gone to school with my ex — but if you had asked me then if I thought inviting this other woman would instantly solve any of the problems I was having in my love life, I would have emphatically said, No, absolutely not.
I annihilated not only whatever remained of my sour relationship with my ex, but the majority of my entire social life over the course of about 18 hours. From the moment my crush arrived it was clear she was there to assist me on this path toward self-annihilation.
It was a warm late August day. She was wearing a pleated skirt, no shoes, carrying a fifth of my favorite bourbon as she skipped up the driveway. The sun was shining on us, so I suggested we make cocktails with peaches that grew near the edge of the manicured lawn. By the time the sun went down, we were laughing at every one of each other’s jokes, and I had observed, on no less than three occasions, that she was not wearing anything under her pleated skirt.
When the sun went down, the first whiff of autumn blew over the Catskills and pressed the two of us closer together. Autumn was our season. The previous Halloween we had cheated a kiss. When the cold wind began to blow she put on a sweater, but it was clear something else would need to change as the air grew chilly. The moon was coming up, and I told her about a mausoleum on the property — large iron doors surrounded by moss-covered cinder blocks, leading directly into a hillside. Have you been inside? she asked. I had not. What’s inside? I don’t know, but I doubt it is dead people — maybe a ghost or two. Take me there.
The iron doors appeared rusted shut so I grabbed the satchel of tools I used for maintaining the old diesel Mercedes I used to drive. With an extended pair of angled pliers and a large flathead screwdriver I managed to quietly pry open the door. Ms. Early’s bedroom windows looked directly out onto my part of the yard. She was almost certainly asleep. Those days, Ms. Early spent most of her time in bed and the lights in her house were always dim. I was afraid I might disturb her by rattling the rusty iron door, but it opened easier than expected — I probably could have done without the tools. It didn’t even squeak when we pulled it back far enough to slip inside. Holding tight, my crush and I tried to scare each other. Wait, she said, don’t put your light on just yet. Be careful of spiders and snakes, I said. She grabbed on to me. Later she would tell me that she knew I was afraid because she could feel the hair on my arm standing on end. She attempted a jump scare by silently whipping out her phone and flicking on the flashlight.
The mausoleum was remarkably non-distinct. In the weak cellphone flashlight, I could not see any spiders nor snakes. In fact, it seemed like someone had recently cleaned the space. There was no rotting smell of damp vegetation or cobwebs in the corners. The mausoleum was narrow but long, and her flashlight did not light even a quarter of the space. She waved the light around looking for the back wall as she pushed me forward. Finally, she found the rear wall with her light. There were certainly no dead bodies in there. Maybe there never had been. The mausoleum could have just as well been a garden shed. Still, we looked for something to scare us so we could keep holding one another.
What is that? she said, pointing her light at a pile of mishmash in the rear corner. I don’t know, I said, a dogman nest? What the fuck is a dogman, she said laughing. Just then, something rustled the mishmash and our muscles tightened, truly afraid. We quickly turned and started toward the door giggling about dogmen.
The sturgeon moon laid a silver pall across the estate. On the way up the front steps to my cottage, she lifted up her skirt and backed into me before we started making out. It may have been the last great sex I’ve had. We pressed into each other with desperation. We knew our sex was hurting other people, but that fact only made us more desperate to pleasure one another. She came multiple times, then I came. After, while I lay on the couch panting, I blurted out Dogman sex in the dumbest way imaginable, as if those two words were the last words remaining in my vocabulary while she massaged my cum into her belly. She wanted more. She wanted to moan at the moon in the open air like a dogman. Stark naked, she dragged me out on the lawn and seated me on an adirondack chair. Rubbing herself on my lap, I started to get hard again. Just as she was sliding me into her ass, I looked up into the darkened windows of the mansion, and saw, clear as day, the silhouette of not the landlady, but her recently hired Peruvian caretaker wringing her hands around an object as she watched my crush slide up and down on my cock. I almost stopped everything, but my crush moaned long and deep, as she threw her head back and gagged my open throat with her long hair, her body becoming increasingly out of control. I also lost control and we came in the bright night air with her legs spread wide facing the landlady’s caretaker.
After my crush left late the next morning, the hangover set in. It’s hard to imagine a hangover as devastating as this one. It lasted for months. By the time the whiskey and peaches had passed through my body, a series of other self-inflected wounds became apparent. First, the festering wound of my ex. We yelled at each other for hours as I paced around the yard until I chucked my phone into the woods as hard as I could, shattering the screen. There were a few fleeting moments when I could take solace in the memory of the sex with my crush, hopeful that it would happen again. Then my crush told me that she couldn’t talk to me until things settled down. How long is that going to take? I don’t know, six, seven months? Alone in my cottage, mere days away from the end of the unemployment benefits, I began to feel like everyone I knew was talking bad about me, as if everyone knew the thing I had done under the sturgeon moon in front of my landlady’s Peruvian maid, and they all thought it was terribly unethical, and I could no longer be trusted because of it. In my dreams, I was thrown in the back of a garbage truck and when I tried to scream, my teeth fell out of my mouth. I took stock of what I had. Rent plus $300, an old car, a busted-up laptop, and an extremely sloppy novel manuscript.
The novel was nowhere near done and I had no desire to continue writing it. I couldn’t even bring myself to write routine cover letters for job applications, never mind create the anticipated beautiful work of art that I expected to save not only my life, but everyone else’s life also. I had written one blazing first chapter just after my crush drove out of my driveway with my cum spilling out of her bare ass onto the seat of her car. I knew the moment I started writing that I was on to something good. I wanted to show it off and sent it to a friend. Wow, he said in a whiny, facetious cartoon voice, you can actually write. Yes, I said softly, as I seethed in silence, my anger misplaced and perpetually increasing, of course I can write you illiterate jack-ass. If you could read, you would have known this all along.
After that one chapter, however, I could not write. I was no longer the person who wrote that first chapter. Some transformation had occurred. I was not pounding the keyboard in hurried strokes, racing ahead before I forgot the feeling. Instead, I was yelling at the same old girl and chucking my phone into the woods. I wrote the one chapter from a brilliant perspective of a man trapped in a house. It felt real. Writing it felt like fucking my crush’s ass in front of the Peruvian caretaker. After that, I tried writing from other perspectives to fill out the story — other characters that were not me during that one moment. I invented people or stole pieces of people from my past. Reading it back felt bad. It felt like Seroquel. I started writing schizo to counter the Seroquel feeling. Seroquel is a fantastic drug. It helped me sleep through my entire jail sentence! I typed in large bold font in the middle of the page, copying the text from a Yelp review. There was no thread. My connections got scrambled. Neurons were misfiring. I thought if I kept going in that direction, I might get locked up. I had been locked up before, and I was dead set on never getting locked up again, but I was careening out of control, schizoposting on my own beautiful work of art. I had a dream that all the guys my ex had fucked drove up on my lawn with muscle cars and snarling wolves. Dogmen. I became afraid of suicide. I typed in the center of another page, What do you say to get admitted to the psychiatric hospital in a way that won’t damage your reputation with potential employers?
I only saw two other friends before leaving the cottage, a lesbian couple. They were fighting and they wanted me to take care of their cat until their relationship got back on track. They told me the cat would make me feel less lonely. I think they could have been right about the cat making me less lonely, but the cat got outside through some hole I had never noticed. I looked for the cat, until one of the lesbians called me to check on him. After getting reamed out for losing the cat, I looked for the cat with greater urgency. I left food outside at night and the food was always gone by morning. He’ll come back, I said. Two nights later, I heard a caterwaul like I had never heard before, long and moaning, like my crush, and then hissing followed by another long and frightening yowl. When the caterwaul stopped, I knew that cat was gone for good.
It was the last week of October. Rent was due in seven days and it was cold. I did not want to buy fuel to heat the house because I thought I might have to leave. I bucked-up a dead tree with my chainsaw and burned it in the wood stove. The wood smoke permeated my hair and clothes. The next day a librarian made me aware of this fact. Oh, heating with wood this year, she said gently waving the stench out from under her nose. Probably not a bad idea given the fuel prices! I found no humor in what this librarian said, and in fact felt she had over stepped her bounds and invaded my privacy. I was there to get books, and she did not like the smell of my wood smoke tainted clothes, she should say so exactly instead of making remarks about the price of fuel and my perceived inability to pay for it. Later I would realize I decided right then and there that I would not be returning my library books.
When I got home from the library, I wanted to call a friend but my wifi wasn’t working. Of course I assumed it was the bill — another hit to my dwindling savings — but the automated customer service rep informed me it wasn’t the bill. After desperately going through all the normal procedures to fix my wifi, I at last realized that the password had been reset. That’s weird, I thought, who reset my password? I changed the network name vengefully, YourCatIsDead, directed at no one at all.
Two days later I went to the library again. While I was at the library, I got a notice from my ISP that a movie had been illegally downloaded on my network, Firehouse Boys. What the fuck, gay porn on my network? I had not been watching gay porn. I had jerked off plenty thinking about my ex fucking all those other guys, and I did not need any gay porn to do that. Was I doing things in my sleep to somehow make me feel more foolish and embarrassed than I already felt?
When I next arrived home, the wifi network had been reset again! The horn player, I thought. The horn player was driving up here in his stupid Subaru Forester and playing his horn while illegally watching gay porn on my network. Of course a horn player would do that, I thought, I bet all horn players watch gay porn. They do it to improve their embouchure! All horn players know this secret. It’s only us non-horn players who don’t know about it. I screamed at my wall, Horn sucking forester driver! and changed the name of the network to Blow Someone Else’s Horn! After the wifi network was securely reset, I walked two miles down to the gas station to buy a 12-pack of beer and a pack of sliced cheese.
When I schlepped up the long driveway, I had already deposited three empty cans along the lakeside road on the way home. I saw the Peruvian caretaker standing in the same window, wringing her hands around some object. Maybe my new wifi network name turned her on, I thought. Stupid bitch. Man, I got to get the fuck out of here, I said aloud as I kicked another empty beer can toward the darkened horn player’s cottage and cracked a fifth one, foam sizzling out all over my already stained paints. I sat at my lone table in my one-room cottage drinking beer and eating sliced cheese, while looking out the window at the horn player’s front door. I drank my seventh and eighth beers like that. I didn’t look at my phone or computer the entire time. I tried to read a poem but it made me sad. I tried to listen to music, but not understanding music was worse than not understanding a poem. As it got dark, I got drunk.
Eventually, I took a double dose of over-the-counter sleeping pills, even though I knew that it could permanently wreck my liver if I took them while drinking. Then I decided to watch a TV show until I could sleep. When I went to stream the show online, I noticed the network password changed again. This is fucking outrageous! I screamed so loud the slender windows shook. As I was screaming, it sounded like the logs took a major tumble in my wood stove. The crashing logs were so uncharacteristically loud and frenetic that I was worried fire might come tumbling out. I stared at the stove wishing it would explode, then stomped out my cottage door to slam my fists on my horn-playing neighbor’s door.
The horn player wasn’t home. Who the fuck fucked with my network? It was dark and foggy, and I was yelling cuss words. On a whim, perhaps out of habit of looking for that old dead cat, I went into the storage shed, which was on the other side of the wall from my wood stove. There was rustling from the dark stove wall, and I could make out a wiggling pile of mishmash. What the actual fuck! I screamed, this time loud on purpose hoping the bus driver would hear me in case I was about to be bludgeoned.
A creature — a man, I suppose — jumped out of the mishmash and started running toward me. He had a spindly naked torso, and a puffy reflective orange sleeping bag wrapped around his head. I don’t remember seeing his pants, but I imagine gray sweatpants. I found his shoes in the shed afterward. They were flip-flops, like the kind you might find at the drugstore. He was taller than me, but I was stronger. I was still screaming, high-pitched now, as he ran by me, out of the shed, and leaped over the mausoleum doors, into the woods. I stepped into a shadow and stood still, barely breathing for what must have been seven, eight, nine, minutes watching the wooded area where he had disappeared, listening for anything — hopefully the school bus driver — but anything at all coming toward me. Nothing came. Silently, I inched through the shadows, toward my door and into the house.
I quickly tossed two book-cases with about 200 books away from the far corner of the cottage interior. There was one way for a dogman-sized creature to get in without breaking a window, and that was through the door. There was one big window to the right that looked out toward the mausoleum and one small window over the kitchen sink. If that dogman was going to bust through a window, it was going to be the big one. A single pane of glass about six feet by four feet, and two off the ground, which had been nice to sit drunk and watch the deer through. I kicked those books away from the corner as fast as I could, threw an antique chair, a golf club, and then my round dining table into the corner. If that dogman was going to shred me, he was going to have to come through my wooden table with a nine-iron swinging at his temple.
I am strong! I shouted in my chainsaw voice. You are not as strong as me, you spindly fucking mutant!
I locked the door, flicked on an outside light, and powered-off anything that glowed in my cottage. Grabbing the sliced cheese and tossing it in the nearly empty 12-pack box, I threw myself into the corner behind the table.
For the first eighty, ninety, one hundred minutes, I stood behind the upturned table and watched the lit-up lawn while peaking over the oak tabletop. Nothing unusual entered the scene. I slowly slipped my hand in the beer case and started nibbling on a piece of cheese, with one hand firm on the golf club, my eyes still glued to the window. I thought about calling the police, but I wasn’t sure what I would say to them. Fucking dogman, I said.
Eventually, I eased the table down into its proper position, lopsided on my pile of kicked around paperbacks, then sat down on the chair behind the table. I cracked a beer and sucked it down, eyeballs quivering at the lawn, then crushed the can and threw it at the clanging sink. Fuck you! I screamed long and hard before cracking another beer.
I started to feel sleepy — the over-the-counter sleeping pills. Sneaking a glimpse at my phone — no messages, ten minutes after nine PM. Nine hours till dawn, ten hours to clear outside light if the weather remained wet. One beer, two slices of cheese
I started to count everything. My furniture, my clothes, my kitchenware, my electronics, my chainsaw — my saw was in the shed. Fuck this. My money, my bills, my books. In the morning I would leave with my saw, my money, and my books. I would drive to Saugerties where the Woodstock festival was held in 1969. In Saugerties there was a Howard Johnson’s. I fucking love HoJo’s! I shouted. I picked up an empty liqueur bottle that was setting nearby and smashed it on hard wood. My finger was bleeding. Good. I squeezed the shattered bottleneck over my index finger and tapped it on the tabletop, hoping the dogman would see me tapping my bloody bottle hand. Eight hours and fifty-three minutes to go.
If I listened to a certain kind of music it might be easier to stay awake. A few weeks previous, I had listened to a ten-hour loop of ufologist Tom DeLonge’s verse in “I Miss You” by Blink 182 and stayed up until four am typing gibberish. After about seven hours of that Tom DeLonge verse, I passed out and had terrifying nightmares before waking up for the final forty-five minutes of the loop. No way was I doing that with the dogman outside. If I was going to listen to any music, it was going to be The Secret Life of Plants by Stevie Wonder. A concept album for a movie about the book titled The Secret Life of Plants. Nothing made me feel more alive than listening to that album while thinking about the guy who wrote the book about hooking plants up to EKG monitors and then beating those plants with sticks to see how their EKG readings would respond. I love punching plants, I thought, I love Stevie Wonder. No way, dogman, was I going to listen to that music, because then I couldn’t hear you if you started scratch, scratch, scratching on my door. So I thought about the album, with its atonal synthesizers, weird ass percussion, and those big wonder harmonies. I thought about it for nine hours. I couldn’t accurately recall more than three seconds of the actual music, but I pretended like I could recall it all. Slowly the fog grew purple, then the sun peaked through, and it was a sunny late autumn morning.
I threw my books and a few clothes in trash bags, and tossed the trash bags into the back of my car with my tools. Yesterday, I had three-hundred dollars, but now I wasn’t paying rent, so I had twelve-hundred dollars. Twelve hundred would be nearly three weeks at HoJo’s, or maybe I could drive somewhere warm if my car would go. Staring into the woods above the mausoleum, I backed into the shed and grabbed my chainsaw. Pulling the rip cord once hard, I started the saw and revved the engine for a long time, ripping two-cycle engine sounds across the estate. I then walked over to the dogman nest against the shed wall and started kicking around the mishmash. What the actual fuck. There were peach pits, nine of em, stacked up like a pyramid. Beside the peach pits were six McIntosh apple stems. My McIntosh apple stems neatly laid out in a row. There were also the flip flops haphazardly tossed during the dogman’s cowardly escape, and then some weird drugs. An orange prescription pill bottle, and a glass crack-looking pipe wrapped up in my dish towel. My spoon with junk on it. What kind of junk? Peanut butter. Fuck you phrogging fucking dogman! A phrogger is a person who doesn’t have a home so they secretly sleep in other peoples’ homes. In that moment thought I might be dealing with a dogman phrogger. Very dangerous, I thought. I started my chainsaw, ratatuptuptuptuptupt, and walked out of the shed with the saw in one hand, and the crack pipe in the other.
The Peruvian caretaker was standing there in the sights of my Mercedes Benz hood ornament. Damn, I wish I had a gun. Later in the HoJo’s mirror I realized how fried my eyes were, how frazzled my curly brown hair was, how there was blood all down my right hand side because of the liquor bottle. The Peruvian caretaker started intoning an angry Spanish chant. I saw her fat wooden rosary draped around her neck. Stupid Catholic bitch, I thought. I used my three Spanish words. No hablo fucking Spanish you dumb bitch! Rent, rent! she screamed at me. Perro y pendejo! I shouted back, then threw my saw in the trunk, crushed the crack-pipe under my boot, and started the diesel engine. As I rolled that old car past the mausoleum, I noticed the door was slightly ajar. I rolled down the window and shouted, Fuck you phrogging fucking dogman! then wheeled down the drive to HoJo’s.
When I looked up at HoJo’s, I noticed the only other vehicle in the lot — a red pickup, cab and cargo bed stuffed to the brim with cheap home goods, much like my Mercedes was stuffed to the brim with everything I owned. Welcome home. Half joking, I asked the concierge what the weekly rate was. She was old, and too sweet for the likes of me in that moment. She took her time responding, We offer a slight discount for weeklies in some cases, she said. Great, I handed her my debit card, the cheapest room for one night, I said. You haven’t seen any dogmen around, have you? No pets allowed, sir, she said. After my card went through and I signed the form, I said, Is it alright if I take a leak in the pool? The pool is closed, sir. I’m sorry, I said, I didn’t realize this was the nice Howard Johnson’s! It’s an Adam Sandler joke – stupid old nice bitch.
In truth, HoJo Hotels are a national treasure. The streamlined, dayglo orange furniture and ornamental detail standard in every room. The fake houseplants, the abstract-expressionist strip-mall art, the casino patterned carpeting that makes you feel like your head has detached from your body when walking down the long halls. The Saugerties HoJo’s is in tip-top shape, too. If I had any sense about me, I’d be writing the state of New York to suggest the Saugerties HoJo’s be preserved as a historical landmark. As I walked into my room, I began to regret being rude to the sweet old concierge, because I thought maybe I should apply for a job at that HoJo’s. Then I noticed the smell coming from the room across the hall. Burnt chemicals. What the fuck was that? It smelled like the phrogging dogman.
When I went out to the car to grab my toothbrush and a novel I hated, I looked into the windows of the room across from me. The guy was in there with all the lights on smoking dogman drugs, right in the open window, like a glowing billboard advertising self-annihilation. Son of a bitch. I could not stop cussing. It would be days until I stopped cussing out loud to myself. Some cop at the gas station eventually put me in check. You alright son? said the cop. Yes, sir, just a rough week. But until then, that red pickup guy was up there smoking the drugs his girlfriend wouldn’t let him smoke at home, or so I gathered.
I thought about asking to change rooms. It smelled ratchet. Like burnt steering fluid and cigarette butts. I couldn’t sleep. Two nights in a row, I did not sleep, not even when settled in at the glorious Howard Johnson’s, because of the dogman drugs. I sat there staring at the HoJo’s door, still waiting for something inexplicable and terrifying to bust through the wall.
Something terrifying did happen at about 1:30 AM. I heard a scratching shuffle come down the hall. Before there were just two of us sitting there on the edge of civilization at HoJo’s with the drug smoke. Now there was a third one, and this third one surely was already beyond the edge of civilization. When I heard the guy across the hall open the door, looking through the keyhole I could sense who had come scratching down the hall. It could not have been anyone else. I propped the HoJo’s chair against the door handle to further secure the locked door. Once again, I was stuck in the corner of a room, listening for the dogman. This time I could hear his noises — wretched dogman sounds, intermixed with mindless drug prattle and dumb laughter, when the dogman and the owner of the red truck did some kind of acrobatics in the HoJo’s bed. I sat behind the late-seventies futuristic HoJo’s orange table and listened to every bump, moan, and howl. Six or seven months. That’s how long I would have to keep the dogman at bay before my crush would be willing to speak to me. Six or seven months, twelve-hundred dollars, and a forty-year-old car weighted down by paperbacks and shitty clothes. Six or seven months, and then we would see where I was at.