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Before and After: Fourteenth Street

Before and After: Fourteenth Street.


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Dog Whistle

Dog whistle


Apparently I have a dog whistle. Pitched too high for normal and decent men, my dog whistle ensures that drug users, drug dealers, and losers of all breeds will inevitably ask me out. I don’t know when or where it was installed, but I believe it caused some brain damage. This damage causes me to take these losers up on their suggestions of “gettin’ together, namean, chillin’, buy you a drank, go chill at the crib, somethin’.” A translation for non-dog whisperers: “I want to take you on a cheap, casual date that requires little to no effort on my part, and I expect sex afterward. We’ll find a dive bar and I’ll fill you to the brim with well drinks and half-meant compliments.”

My mother offered the dog whistle theory late last night, after one of these dates devolved into a crime scene. For the second time this summer, a helpful bystander felt it necessary to call the police because a man was threatening me at the top of his lungs. I left before the police actually arrived and no charges were filed, but my perceptive parent knew I had been in a fight. I responded to her voice-mailed suggestion to “call no matter how late” and when she answered, my voice was trembling.

“What happened?” Mommy asked, her voice shrill with concern.

I feared Mommy more than I feared the most recent dog-date, so I told the truth.

I seem to go for the same breed of dog every time: tall and dark-skinned with big eyes. Puppy-dog eyes, come to think of it. I leashed this particular dog with the suggestion of walking by the river. He said he had been having a bad day and I wanted to make him forget about it.

Forgetting seemed impossible for Frederick, a probation violator who feared an upcoming drug test. He whined to a Wendy’s employee about the cost of bacon and told me that he wanted to save his money to buy food in jail. I guiltily ate my junior bacon cheeseburger while he sipped water and insulted the well-dressed church folk thronging Fountain Square during the National Baptist Convention. Jones seemed to lump these tourists with apparitions from his past, including his selfish mother, a “witch among witches” who had sacrificed him to the foster care system. I feigned sympathy. My grandmother helped raise 30 foster children before she retired, and none of them had the poor judgment to smoke marijuana while on probation. The judgmental part of my brain said, “Shannon, let’s go. This loser wants to play that deck of ‘society messed me up’ cards, and I don’t want to hear it.” The bleeding-heart liberal part of my brain said, “Well, Shay, society did mess him up! We can’t just abandon him!”

I will vote Democratic until I die, but never again will I let the liberal part of my brain accompany me on another date. I spent two hours listening to Fred systematically blame everyone but himself for his situation, and even let him malign me.

By this point, we had wandered to a riverfront concert. I don’t drink beer, and didn’t ask for any, but I still got an earful. “Why you bring me here? I don’t want to be here with all these fucking white people buying all this overpriced beer and shit!”

I whirled on him, losing one of my dangerous heels. Then the cover band started playing “Blister in the Sun.” The best bass line this side of 112’s “Only You”; it reminded me of better days and simply required me to sing along. I plucked my shoe from the soft dirt and lurched at top speed towards the stage.

The bass played so loudly that my glasses vibrated on my face. The Websters tore through covers of fifteen great sing-along songs. Bouncy girls stormed the stage, and when security rose to meet them, they got security into the dance. I was too shy for such participation, but stood in the thick of things, singing “Mr. Brightside” to a doctor from Children’s Hospital who used his cell phone as a microphone. I thought of making a move, but his date joined us on “Seven Nation Army,” carrying two beers and sporting a jawbreaker sized engagement ring. Still, she smiled at me and we all sang together. Well, they sang. I don’t know the words to “Seven Nation Army.” I was having fun, sans date and sans alcohol. The dog whistle apparently could not be heard over the music.

“Let’s hear it for pretzels, beer and…..luuuuuuuuuuuuuuuube!” screamed the lead singer, acknowledging the night’s sponsors and ending the show. The convivial crush of merrymakers streamed out of Sawyer Point and into downtown, finding their friends and negotiating designated driver arrangements. I headed straight up Broadway, intending to make a left on Fourth Street and catch the second to last 21 as it passed Tower Place mall.

Instead the dog whistle stymied me again. Fred waited behind a beer cart, and grabbed my hand. “You have fun?”


“Alright. Let me walk you to the bus stop. It’s dark out here.”

No shit, I thought but didn’t say. Fred’s route took us west along Pete Rose Way and then up Walnut Street, headed towards Government Square. As we approached Fourth and Walnut, the 21 turned past us and away. The next bus would not come for an hour.

“Man, why didn’t you run?” he groaned. “Now we gotta wait down here till midnight!”

“We ain’t gotta do a thing!” I shouted, yanking my hand from his. “I’m grown! I can wait by myself. Go the fuck away! You didn’t even want to hang out with me so why all the chivalry?”

My throat was already raw from singing at the concert, and I tore up my vocal cords cursing Fred. He told me that I was a fat bitch and he only went out with me because he felt sorry for me.

“Go suck a dick,” I suggested dismissively. “You went out with me because you thought you might get laid before you went to prison tomorrow, stupid. You talkin’ bout I shoulda ran, maybe you shoulda put the weed down, jailbird! Now you gotta worry about dropping the soap!”

A wild punch whizzed past my nose. “Hell no!” squealed some totally random bystander. A muscular teenage boy rushed Frederick, challenging him to fight a man instead of a chick. The boy’s sister called 911. I fled the scene, feverish from unused adrenaline and rising shame.

Some thirty minutes later, the last 21 of the night chugged up to my spot in front of Tower Place Mall. I flashed my UC ID and sat at the very back of the bus. The lights at front of the bus were off to help the driver see. I sniffed up tears, produced a notebook, and wrote down everything that I could remember. I had a personal narrative paper due in the morning, and I knew that what I had just put myself through probably had a lot more meaning than the ‘face your fears’ message of my other paper.

At home on the phone, my mother encouraged me to keep dating, and I wrote that down too. I was on to something, but what the hell was it?

Mommy giggled at one of her own jokes. “What you say?” I asked. “I was writing.”

“You always writing,” she said. “You need to publish something, get an advance. Then you can go to the doctor and have him yank that dog whistle out of you.”

“Dog whistle? What’s a dog whistle?” If I had heard the term before, I couldn’t remember it at one in the morning.

“A dog whistle is a whistle that’s too high for people to hear, but every time dogs hear it they start howling and come running. You have a dog whistle, baby. Losers come at you like bugs come at a porch light.”

We laughed together, and I scrawled Dog Whistle across the top of the page. My mother wished me a good night and said she hoped my Thursday would be better than my Wednesday had been. I hung up the phone, closed the notebook, and started getting ready for bed. I wasn’t asleep for an hour when the urge to write hit me harder than Fred could ever hope to.

“A dog whistle,” I scrawled, “will only work if I blow it.”

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