Putting Down the Dog

Julia Skiles told the story to Steven Steinberg, the rapturous Steven Steinberg, on their first, and only, date. She had never told the story to anyone before, mostly because she had never thought to, but Steven was very good-looking and she thought the story had an odd sort of appeal that might distinguish her from anyone else the handsome Steven Steinberg was currently pursuing. She also told the story because it popped in her head just at that moment as she looked at a painting (of a tree with a set of teeth) on the wall of the restaurant. The story, Julia felt, was kinda funny.

Julia told the glamorous Steven Steinberg how her older brother's best friend -- "Yes, 'John!' That's right!" she confirmed, flattered he had been paying such close attention to an earlier story that only involved her brother in an offhand way, a story she had related while they sipped drinks at the bar and awaited their table -- had taken her in a closet when she was only five (John, at the time, was nine and his friend Timothy, sort of a bad sort, was ten) and bitten her, almost sexually, on the cheek. (It was not really sexual; it was merely violent, but an older individual, witnessing the event, would project sexuality upon the actions of both parties.) The bite did not draw blood. It did, however, leave a noticeable mark and Timothy told Julia he would kill her if she told on him.

Five minutes later, somewhat dazed, little Julia walked downstairs where the adults were drinking coffee, laced surreptitiously with Bailey's, and smoking cigarettes.

Eliza Daniels was telling a story, quickly as was her unavoidable wont for she was one of the housewives in this circle who was lonely much of the time and had discovered the joy of cocaine. Her dealer, a delicious young man who read the energy meters, as both cover for his true career and for the access to a wonderful array of clients, had just left her with the largest quantity she had ever requested. She was flying. No one knew any of this, but they all spoke, behind her back of course, about her excitable behavior.

"It's too much coffee," Julia's mother asserted one day after Eliza left. "She has high blood pressure and coffee makes her excitable." Julia's grandmother, Timothy's mother and Jean Richmond nodded soberly.

Little Julia entered the room. Eliza Daniels, in mid-prattle, gasped, rather excessively most of the women would have concluded if they had not forgotten the moment in the ensuing chaos. "Who, in the name of all that is good, bit you!?" Eliza cried, again, rather excessively.

Immediately Julia burst into tears and Eliza Daniels craved more cocaine.

Young Julia, thinking and lying quite quickly for a five-year-old, told the assembled drug addicts, between heaving sobs, that grandmamamamas' dog had bitten her. Everyone got appropriately upset. Julia's mother slugged her coffee; Julia's grandmother slipped out and swallowed a couple of the painkillers (Percocet this week) that she kept at all times in an extra pouch sown into her girdle; Jean Richmond looked around for the bottle of Bailey's; and Eliza Daniels excused herself to use the bathroom.

Tiny Julia continued to cry softly, head pressed into her mother's lap, conscious, on some inexplicable level, that she had just lied.

Her mother hugged her and wondered, at that moment for some reason, whether this precious if not overwhelmingly attractive young child would ever marry.

Her grandmother moped, depressed for both her uneventful life (save for that chance encounter with Tommy Dorsey on her 28th birthday...well, he said he was Tommy Dorsey) and her accursed, and now perhaps doomed, little canine.

Jean Richmond finally located the Bailey's in the kitchen. She took several deep slugs right from the bottle and thought of the first time she drank alcohol from a bottle like this, sitting on her daddy's lap, twelve-years-old, innocent and free, tentatively sipping from his Miller High Life bottle in his flatbed truck. Then, she poured a jigger's worth in her coffee cup and demurely returned to the sitting room and the afternoon's "event".

Eliza Daniels reached the bathroom, realized she had forgotten her stash, got weirded out by the mirror and came flying back in a whirlwind. She told everyone she had forgotten to turn on the oven so she, really, was very sorry, "so sorry dear" she popped to Julia as she flew by, but she just had to leave. And she felt, for the first time, as she pulled the door shut behind her and stepped into the panic-free, people-free outdoors, both guilt for using the drug and an unquiet certainty that the ladies suspected her.

The boys, meanwhile, oblivious to the estrogen overdrive below, continued to play video games upstairs. Timothy never even said anything to John, nor did he ever bite anyone ever again. (Well, at least not until he bit Joy Vidrak while they had sex in this trendy New York City bar the first time they would meet seventeen years later. Timothy, by that point, was an investment banker -- "...a damn good one, too. Honest..." were an often-used series of words in his conversations of the time -- and between sets of the art/funk/hip-hop/reggae/metal fusion band that sounded exactly like any other art/funk/hip-hop/reggae/metal fusion band that ever played, Joy told Timothy that she was both an atheist and a pagan. He told her, smiling all the while, that this was a contradiction in terms. She suggested that he might as well just shut the fuck up his face and come fuck her in the women's bathroom. He, rather intelligently, did.)

And because no one ever came out and spoke on the dog's behalf, little Max was, a week later, put to sleep. The disappointed veterinarian, Dr. Newman, had had a hard time believing this timid little cocker spaniel could have bitten anyone, but as he, Dr. Newman, was preoccupied that day with thoughts of his philandering lover Brad, he just went ahead and did the deed.

Julia concluded her little tale, sipped her blue margarita, and gave the gorgeous Steven Steinberg a funny little smile. She found the whole thing so funny at this point, all these twenty-three years later.

Sadly, the stunning Steven Steinberg was simply confused. Julia seemed so goodhearted, came so highly recommended by his Aunt Pat, a lesbian herself, but this story spoke of a darkness within. As he was doing well in his work, and under inordinate pressure from his mother, Steven hoped to marry soon. He decided, however, under the strain of first-date expectations, that Julia -- based on this story alone -- was probably not sufficiently nurturing, a quality he had been taught to seek out in a mate. His heart sank; the appetizers were just arriving. He had a compulsion to simply get up, apologize, and leave Julia sitting there with her sweet blue margarita and her rather disturbing little post-anecdotal smile. But the sweet Steven Steinberg was a gentleman. Well-trained by his very Jewish (28% religious, 70% identity, 2% unknown) mother to treat women well, he gave a brief sigh and prepared for two more hours of odd revelations from this woman whom he'd never previously met.

Later, Julia would wonder, a bit obsessively, what it was that prevented the handsome and the wealthy Steven Steinberg from ever calling again.

"It must have been that damn blue margarita!" she would reason. "Nobody drinks them anymore, and, ohhh, you know what, even a recent survey in Cosmo says that..."

Julia's friend Stephanie would flick her with a look that said, very successfully it turned out, to just shut up. Stephanie would have, by that time, heard "the Stunning Steven Steinberg" story endless times and she never got it. She, not that she would breathe a word of this to Julia, had had sex with the man on their first date and knew that, in addition to being a poor lover ("...a tongue darter. No rhythm, purpose or style..." she had confided to every girlfriend but Julia), his perspiration was somewhat viscous. The Sticky Steven Steinberg she called him. Or at least she did when she was talking to anyone but Julia.

About the author:

Michael J. Ewing is an actor and a writer living in New York City. He will be appearing in the play "The Owl and the Pussycat" at the Adrienne Theatre in Philadelphia from February 5 through March 2.