Chapter Ten: “Rat House”

ELLIE

I awoke to horrible shrieking squeals of pain and agony. Bill was beating his dog. Ellie, a chocolate Labrador retriever, had gotten out of the yard and killed some of the neighbor’s chickens. Bill reasoned the only way to teach the dog not to kill was to beat it senseless. I didn’t understand and neither did the dog.

The dog couldn’t figure out cause and effect, just as I couldn’t puzzle out karma. To the dog, killing chickens was one thing and getting beaten was another unrelated thing. To me, being an asshole was one thing and bad luck another. Where was the justice? Justice being the thing that makes us aware we did wrong and were being punished for our actions. Karma seemed a nebulous entity, taking one seemingly unrelated event and tying it to a future event. Where’s the causality? To the dog, with her dog nature, killing chickens was justified, part of her nature. Getting beaten was an unjust event in the dog’s life, one where her master was a complete bastard for no good reason. To her it was just bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She was a convenient excuse for violence. To Bill, he was judge and punisher and teacher, but he failed at all three because it was a dog and a dog doesn’t know.

Bill thought the dog knew, dog owners always give their dogs human attributes like guilt and shame that don’t exist in their true natures. The “guilty” look a dog has when it “knows” it did something bad is just a look, that’s all. Nothing in that look is knowledge it did something bad that will affect it later in life, whether it’s a beating in the morning or a disapproving word from its master. No, the look is what is called “hang-dog” and has nothing to do with guilt or innocence, justice or hope, peace or free will. Does karma affect dogs? Does a dog have Buddha nature?

As I said, the piteous cries from the dog woke me up and I staggered out of my room to see what was happening. In the yard I was disgusted at the sight of Bill whipping the dog with a belt. It reminded me of my father beating me with his belt, though my father was far less vicious and a tad more merciful.

“Bill, what the hell are you doing?” I shouted.

“This dog killed the neighbor’s chickens. I’m teaching her a lesson.”

I don’t argue with a man with a weapon, even if that weapon is only a belt. I turned and went back into the house. I was the only one there besides Bill and the dog and presumably a dead chicken or two. I wondered how long the beating would take and how long I’d have to endure the wailing from Ellie.

All these thoughts entered my mind as I took my wake-up piss. It was not a good way to start the day. Philosophy is best pondered in a stuffed chair with a fresh pack of cigarettes on the side table and maybe a pad and pen in hand or in a tavern over a couple of pints of beer, not standing up taking a piss and listening to a dog cry in pain.

 

 

Eugene seemed unaffected by Ellie’s unfortunate punishment. He was detached from his family, yet they were around him constantly. His brother, Chuck, lived in a house on the other side of Rainier Avenue South on South Director. It had been too small for Eugene, Bill, and Buzz as it only had two bedrooms and the landlord didn’t like Ellie hanging around. The landlord also disliked them for not mowing the lawn and performing other necessary and routine household tasks. Lazy fucks didn’t mow lawns. The one time Buzz tackled the lawn it was early morning and the dew was all over the grass and the hand mower couldn’t get through. He gave up and went back to bed, leaving three-quarters of the lawn unmowed.

Chuck had two young daughters, so the house was perfect for his family. His wife was nice, but we seldom saw her. Chuck would come over to the Rat House some times and hang out with Bill and Buzz and drink a beer or two, but he was really a family man and I respected him for it. He also brought his own beer.

When Eugene moved to the Rat House it was specifically to have a band headquartered and living in the house. This was to create unity and to immerse us in band life. It made it impossible to miss practices, but it also made us hate each other. In many ways we were a family, one as dysfunctional as one related by blood. With Bill and Buzz on Howard’s side as well as Ritchie I was feeling out-numbered. Ellie seemed to spend more time at the Rat House than at Bill’s apartment, chickens notwithstanding.

We were writing and learning songs at an accelerated pace living together. We would practice five or six times a week, rather than most bands once or twice a week. We had twenty songs including covers of the Kinks, Brian Eno, and the Beatles. Yes, Howard learned “Tomorrow Never Knows” or at least a One Hand Clapping version of it. Despite everything that went on between us, he was dedicated. I have to give him credit for indefatigably trying and striving.

He probably thought we’d make it big and he’d have money, lots of money to do with as he wanted. I was beginning to have my doubts, but I wasn’t ready to go back to work yet. The checks kept coming from unemployment and the food stamps kept the larders full.

 

 

We played Paula’s party and made $300 for playing the whole afternoon and evening. We didn’t have enough songs so we played our set twice as well as improvising several extended jams. I don’t think anyone noticed. We played in the garage and I heard someone say, “I can still hear them,” over the stereo that was playing in the living room. I didn’t care, we had a core of about five people, including Paula, watching us and that was an accomplishment. Plus, there was a keg there so we drank for free.

Afterward I asked Paula how it went. She was effusive in praise for us, but not forthcoming was praise from her compatriots.

“You know how they are! They’re still stuck in the sixties. Maybe if you played some Creedence Clearwater Revival they would have come out to the garage.”  I wasn’t sure if she was joking or not. Creedence? “Keep On Chooglin’” for a cover song? I didn’t think that would work out. One of her co-workers compared us to Wire, which I thought was very apropos.

The $300 went into the band fund, which we all agreed was for when we went into a real recording studio. Then we could have a professional demo, or maybe cut a record.

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