By Patrick Vecchio
The sun was in my face. Which is not to say I was facing it. Rather, I was standing in line on a baked sidewalk with the sun like a heat lamp to my left. It was in my face like a bully getting in your face: “You don’t like me? You don’t like me? Well, what are you going to do about it?”
What I planned to do about the cruel sun in this drippin’ hot hour before sundown was buy a Mexican sundae at the ice cream drive-in where I was standing in line. The girl at the window who took my order had been gone so long I figured she was looking for someone from Nezahualcóyotl to make the sundae, and the guy who was next in line stood off to the side in a sliver of shade. If he had walked up to me, stuck out his hand, and said, “I’m Mr. Don’t Mess With Me. Don’t even look at me,” I would not have been surprised, nor would I have looked at him. I would have turned and stared into the sun, even at the risk of blindness.
His hair was black splayed with gray, down to his shoulders, arrayed in an as-yet-uninvented synonym for “wild.” His strapless shirt showed off his tattoos to maximum advantage. These were more than badass tattoos. They were graffiti you would find spray-painted on the side of a church by the devil himself.
He stepped up to the window, and his next four words swept his bad-assness away:
“Three doggie dishes, please.” Dishes of ice cream with two dog biscuits.
This was an opening and I took it because I’ve always felt I can’t know too many badass guys. I figure if they know me, or at least recognize me, they are less apt to beat me up.
The opening: “What kind of dogs do you have?” I asked. Like English or Spanish, “Dog” is a major language. Most people who have dogs speak Dog.
“We’ve got a basset out back who’s 18 years old,” he said. “We’ve got a Jack Russell that somebody left in a dumpster. And we’ve got this other dog, part Lab, who followed me home. Smarter than hell.”
He looked around the corner to the back of the stand. “Hey, Dum-Dum,” he called. Sure enough, Dum-Dum the part Lab trotted around the corner and sat by the man’s side, looking up with that “what fun things are we going to do now, Dad?” look.
The girl behind the counter had returned to the window with my sundae, so I took it and said to the guy, “Good luck with your dogs.” When I got to the back of a stand, a woman was sitting at a picnic table with two dogs. One was a basset with high mileage.
“What a handsome fellow,” I said to her. “He’s 18, right?”
And then I leaned toward the Jack Russell, which she had on a chain. Dogs usually can tell who Dog People are, but this one leaned back and showed me his teeth—and it wasn’t because he thought I was a veterinary dentist. I backed off. The terrier needed its space.
“He’s not our most friendly one,” the woman said. I replied, “Well, I wouldn’t be too friendly either if someone had left me in a dumpster.”
I walked to my car thinking how everyone has a story. Even Mr. Don’t Mess With Me.