That was good enough for Homeboy and I, especially since the price of rent was half for five times the living and yard space compared to what we were paying in Chicago. I’ll never forget that hot August afternoon when we turned onto our road after the final stretch of driving through Utah and Nevada - it looked just like the exterior shots of Breaking Bad, only with more broken-down cars on blocks sitting in driveways. We walked through our new digs, taking in the cinder block fences and faint smell of a dead skunk in the backyard. We were home.
After only a few weeks of living La Vida Vegas, I started to notice that life in our neighborhood was a bit different from my village back in the Midwest. One night when walking Boris, we came across a yard that had no less than 653 lawn ornaments and other assorted outdoor tchotchke. Homeboy said it reminded him of a mini golf course, while I thought of a golf course back home that inexplicably has Snow White and the 7 dwarves dotting the fairways. I looked closer at the extravagant yard to realize Homeboy was spot on, as the yard was made of Astroturf. People out here have Astroturf lawns, just like the Brady Bunch. Only there was never an episode where Alice had to fix the vacuum cleaner to sweep up the yard, and sure as shit there was a woman out on her Astroturf lawn full of ornamental decorations repairing her vacuum cleaner. So that she could vacuum her lawn.
I let out a sigh and felt grateful that our rental unit had a “desert landscape” AKA a yard full of small stones and palm trees. I can barely be bothered to run the lint roller over a black dress after an encounter with a hound; it will be a cold day in Hell before I ever vacuum my lawn.
After a few months of living out here, I noticed that the house at the end of the street with all sorts of “Condemned” signs on it was actually occupied. I was first tipped off when the gate that was previously chained up was gaping open. Next was the trash accumulating in the back yard. The final clue was when I saw some Meth Heads aimlessly wandering the streets. Now our neighborhood is a mixed bag of characters, but for the most part people are friendly and keep to themselves. So when you see the skeletal figure and vacant eyes of a person on meth meandering your streets, they stand out.
Naturally, I declare the abandoned house at the end of the street to be a meth house for squatters. I worry briefly about the possibility of one breaking into our home, but then I realize the 38”-inch off-brand flat screen and dusty leg lamp in our front window probably do not make us a hot prospect for someone looking to score easy money through larceny. Although, these are people on meth we are talking about, so logic goes out the window.
Anyway, I decided that the house was a meth house based on the inconclusive evidence of it being condoned and that there were some strange folks in the neighborhood. By now, Homeboy had developed a high tolerance to my hyperbole as well as my fondness for drawing dramatic conclusions and was dismissive of the theory. Just because the house was empty does not mean there are junkies squatting in it. I decide to stop worry about it and as long as the meandering Meth Heads don’t bother me or my hound, then I should ignore it.
One day I am driving home from the market and I am passed by a cop racing to my neighborhood. My heart briefly leaps into my throat as the quick thought of “OhmygodIhopeHomeboyandBorisareokay!” flashes through my mind. I know deep down there is no reason to be worried, but instinct kicks in and I want to get home to my boys. I follow the cop’s trail onto my street and let out a sigh of relief. They aren’t in front of my house. They are at the meth house. And there are seven other cop cars. And a variety of skeletal people on their knees in hand cuffs in the front yard. My fleeting fears of something happening to Homeboy fly out the window as I race home, bust through the door and triumphantly yell, “Look! It WAS a meth house on the corner!!!”
We are frequent walkers of our hounds, which makes us a bit of an anomaly out here. From what we’ve observed, most people living in our neighborhood keep their dogs outside at all hours. It is a rare sighting to see someone walking a dog, so much so that we’ve gotten to know the other walked dogs. There is the old-as-dirt Chihuahua that his geriatric owner happily takes 20 minutes to walk 15 feet with the pooch. Note: This dog is old. When it barks, dust comes out. If we walk past its yard, the poor beast barks staring off in the wrong direction as it likely cannot see or hear anything. Homeboy and I always try to avoid crossing this dog on a walk out of fear that it just might keel over from the presence of our hounds. No one wants the death of a dust-barking Chihuahua on their conscience. There is also a pit bull who, contrary to what most media outlets would have you believe, is as sweet as honey. Meanwhile, SallyMonster (our newest addition) tried to eat him every time she sees him.
As a result of our frequent walks, we’ve gotten to know a number of dogs in our neighborhood. There is one I call “Chill Pitbull,” who might be the mellowest dog I’ve ever seen (different from the Sweet Pitt we pass on walks.) The two Rottweilers next to him will be losing their shit as Boris and SallyMonster walk by, but Chill Pitbull just sits, barely flapping an ear as he suns himself on the patio. Meanwhile I am wrangling a frothing Boris and trying to rationalize with him, “You have no chance with two Rotties, you dumb ***k!” There is a beautiful German Shepherd who I dream of liberating- this guy is always always barking at us, playful lonely barks. I want to liberate him, but he seems well-fed and does bark at my dogs so I do not pay him much mind. Across the street there is Slim, a sleek muscle of a Doberman who always barks at us when we pass. I am more afraid of crossing the owner than Slim himself as his yard is decorated with pleasant signs such as, “If the dog doesn’t get you my gun will” and “Protected by the 2nd Amendment. If the first shot doesn’t get you, the second one will.”
These dogs have carved out a little place in our hearts as they are the characters in the place we call home. However, no neighbor dogs have captured my affections quite like Scooter and Jeremiah.
A few houses down from us lived an old man. A crazy old man. His yard and driveway were filled with various crap - an old air hockey table, empty 5-gallon water jugs, flags, pots, and other assorted household items. Perhaps most noticeable was a large van that had a window air conditioner installed into the backside panel. Whenever we walked by, the van would bark at us. At first, we did not pay much attention to the barking van. We would walk by with Boris, the van would start barking and the old man would come out and yell in a gravely voice, “Shut up Jeremiah! Scooter, keep it down!” With time we realized that Scooter and Jeremiah lived in the van. This alone would have been startling, but it was more so when we considered that there were three dogs living in the backyard, why were Scooter and Jeremiah forced to live in a van?
Rather, why in the Hell are there dogs living in a van period?
I got my answer one evening when I took the hounds out for a walk. The old man was wheeling a shopping cart through the neighborhood and stopped to talk to me about some puppies he had that he was looking to give away. Apparently one of the non-van dogs had a litter. I asked him why he kept Jeremiah and Scooter in the van. He was surprised I knew their names, I told him I hear him yell at them frequently when we walk by and the van barks at us. He told me that he used to be an auto mechanic, when he had his shop Jeremiah and Scooter liked to hang out in an old truck. Once he retired, he found they were more comfortable living in a van than in the house or yard. Hence they chose to live in the van instead.
I got home and filled in Homeboy, and we continued about our business of walking the hounds, only now we always greeted Jeremiah and Scooter as we walked past their van. There was no doubt in our mind that this man loved his dogs; we just hoped the self-installed AC unit on the van would make it through the Vegas summer. Frequently the old man was out in the yard, playing with the dogs and tinkering with different things. There was something comforting about seeing him as we walked past his van, eyeing the meth house across the street to see if there were any signs of squatters repopulating the property.
And then we came home to find a shopping cart in the middle of the street. We rounded the corner, clearing the cart to see the air hockey table and defunct van getting hauled off. Since then, there has been no sign of Scooter, Jeremiah, the Old Man or any of the other dogs that lived in the house. Our best bet is that they were evicted, mostly because I do not want to entertain any notion of faulty AC units or meandering early-dementia men. Wherever they are, I hope that they are well.
And that they know I miss the sound of a barking van in the morning.