BASTARDS is what I called them. Not to their faces, mind you, but inside my head. The neighbors that surrounded my childhood home, each and every one of them.
To the left of us were Barney and Shirley. Barney served in Vietnam. He owned a lot of guns and shot neighborhood animals whenever the chance presented itself. He never wore a shirt and had a huge beer belly that made him look pregnant. He had a tattoo on each of his forearms. One was a hula maiden and the other was an anchor that always made me think of Popeye. Barney spent most of his time standing around in his garage drinking beer with the rest of the neighborhood bastards. His wife, Shirley, was nicer but always drunk. They had a little black poodle that they sometimes called Peanut, and sometimes called Poo Poo. I'm not sure if either one was its actual name, or if it even had one. The dog barked constantly and often ate its own feces. Years later after I moved away my mom called to tell me that Barney had shot himself in the chest with one of his shotguns. He didn't die, but was paralyzed from the waist down. He spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair, but otherwise went on pretty much as before, drinking beer and hanging out in his garage with the bastards. Shirley had to regularly soak his feet in hot water for some reason, and once when she was drunk she boiled them. Barney didn't know, at first, because he couldn't feel them. After that he caught gangrene, or something, I'm not sure. It's just how I remember my mother telling it to me. Across the street was Jerry. He was about forty years old and lived in a rundown and uncared for house after his parents died or moved away. You would think the place was abandoned if not for seeing the sad form of Jerry haunting it from time to time. Jerry also drank a lot of beer and never wore a shirt. None of the male bastards in the neighborhood ever seemed to wear shirts. Jerry somehow avoided having much of a beer belly, maybe because he didn't eat. He had shoulder length dirty blonde hair and looked like a stoner, though I'm pretty sure he only drank beer. He was arrested twice for riding his bicycle while drunk. He was very quiet, and actually nice enough, but the air of failure that hung about him was oppressive. He used to invite me and my little brother over to his place to watch porn. We sometimes went, but were more interested in reading his comic books. He had a crush on my sister and would wait for her to come home from parties and from the houses of friends. He would approach her shirtless, beer in hand and she would always ignore him and make her way into the house as quickly as possible. Sometimes when he got drunk and locked himself out of his home, Jerry would sleep in the clubhouse my father had built for us in the backyard. My brother would wake me up on Saturday mornings, saying, Jerry's in the clubhouse again.
In the house to the right of us lived the Hulsey family. They were all either overweight or sickly thin. They had bad haircuts and wore food stained, ill-fitting clothes and had names like Janey, Willard and Mickey. Mickey was about thirty five and lived in a little trailer parked in the driveway of their lot. Mickey enjoyed tormenting me with his ugly little dog. It was some kind of Dachshund mix named Sleepy. It was an old dog, sad and useless and probably couldn't have hurt me if it wanted to, but I was scared just the same. I was a sensitive child, afraid of dogs of all shapes and sizes, along with most other things in the world. I would make it a point to walk on the other side of the street whenever I passed the trailer, but Mickey would watch for me, I swear, because he had nothing else to do, and when he saw me he never failed to send the stupid little dog at me. Get 'em, Sleepy, get 'em, Mickey would yell with a pure and terrible joy. The thing would come yapping and snarling at me, and I would keep walking as casually as I could, doing my best to pretend I wasn't afraid, but we all knew otherwise. Me, the bastard and his horrible little dog.
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The Buffalo Nickel:
by Clifford K. Watkins
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