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  • Dogwalker
  • Written by Arthur Bradford
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  • Written by Arthur Bradford
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Written by Arthur BradfordAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Arthur Bradford

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On Sale: January 22, 2002
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-375-41385-8
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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short stories (26) fiction (22) stories (8) dogs (6)
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Tender and satiric, hilarious and humane, Dogwalker plunks readers down in a land of misfits and the circumstantially strange–where one young man buys drugs from a dealer who locks his customers in a closet, while another lands a cat-faced circus freak for a roommate, and yet another must choose between his pregnant wife and the ten-pound slug he’s convinced will bring him a fortune. And throughout these stories moves a divinely inspired collection of dogs: three-legged, no-legged, dogs that sing, that talk, and that give birth to humans. Brilliant, perplexing, and moving, this is a daring debut that strolls along society’s fringes and unearths strange beauty among its misfits

Excerpt

Catface

part 1
room for rent

The disability payments were being cut down since, according to their doctor, I was getting better. I had been without work for months and needed money so I decided to share my place and split the cost. My place was small. They called it a “studio apartment,” which meant it had only one room. The kitchen was set off in the corner and my little bed sat over against the opposite wall. It was a cozy arrangement.

My first roommate was a guy named Thurber. He breathed very heavily through his nose and when he spoke the words came out in high-pitched squeaks. Thurber moved quickly with jerks and twists like spasms and for a while I thought he was diseased. He had dark circles under his eyes. Before he moved in I had placed two small green plants on the windowsill but once Thurber saw those he pitched them out the window. “Damn plants!” he yelled after them. Later on I brought in a larger banana plant and he screamed at me, “Get that fucking plant out of here!”

Thurber had answered my ad for roommate-wanted by showing up at my door with his bags. I am a somewhat meek person and I let him stay even though I was suspicious of his shifty appearance. Thurber said he was a good cook and would prepare fine meals for me. I said, great, I like good food as much as the next guy. As it turned out Thurber hardly ever cooked and when he did he made a chaotic mess which sat there for days until I cleaned it up myself. Thurber’s taste in food was always too hot for my palate and his dishes usually looked nothing like whatever he said they were supposed to be. “This is Lemon Chicken,” he once said. But the food in question looked more like baked beans, or maybe some kind of Sloppy Joe.

Thurber snored loudly, too, and this was finally why he had to leave. “Thurber,” I said, “you snore like a pig and I can’t sleep. Perhaps you should find somewhere else to go.”

“I don’t snore,” replied Thurber, but he left the next afternoon. As he packed up his stuff he casually slipped several pieces of my clothing into his bag. He also took a brand-new toothbrush of mine and a large lamp. I was standing right there watching him.

My next roommate was a woman named Cynthia who claimed to have some children whom she kept at her sister’s house. I never saw them. Cynthia read three or four magazines a day and it wasn’t until a few weeks of living with her that I learned about her hooking business. When I was gone she would take men into our place and give them head for ten to twenty dollars apiece. According to her she never had real sex with them and I’m inclined to believe this because I have been in whorehouses before and they have a certain electricity to them. It’s in the air. I never felt this electric feeling when I walked into my home. A man who lived next door told me about all the male visitors and so that night I said to Cynthia, “What’s going on here?”

She said, “Oh, I just give them blow jobs for money.”

After Cynthia, Clyde moved in and he stayed for only three days. He had a large duffel bag full of clothes but he never changed outfits once since I knew him. He liked his blue jeans and T-shirt, I guess. Two guys with toothpicks in their mouths showed up on Clyde’s third day and they stood in the doorway staring at Clyde for quite some time before one said, “Let’s go, Clyde.”

Jimmy moved in next and he was a real card. He told jokes to me all the time and some of them were very funny. I remember one in particular about a rabbit working in a gas station which had me laughing off and on for hours.

“You should be a comedian Jimmy,” I once said.

“That’s what they all say,” he said.

As far as I could tell, Jimmy helped out a man who took bets on college sporting events. I’m not nosy and I don’t pry into the lives of other people. Jimmy had simply told me that he was “in sports management.”

I appreciated Jimmy’s sense of humor a lot and then one day Jimmy did something which made me appreciate him even more. He brought in a small orange tent and set it up right inside the apartment. He put his blankets and pillow in there and said, “See, this way I have my own room.”

Jimmy and his tent had been in the apartment for nearly two months when we heard a loud knock on the door.

“It’s me, Thurber,” said the voice behind the door. It was high-pitched, whining even.

“Come on in, Thurber,” I said, but I did not get up to open the door for him.

Thurber rattled the handle a little bit and then whacked the door with his hand. It was locked. I still didn’t get up and so after a while he went away.

Jimmy said, “I know some friends who could kick that guy’s ass.”

“That would be nice,” I said.

A few days later Thurber came into our apartment. He let himself in with a set of keys he had kept from before. His lip was fat and purple and both his eyes were black.

“I need to wash up,” he said.

Thurber limped over to the sink and splashed water all over the place. “A group of men kicked my ass for no reason,” he said.

“If you had keys,” I said, “why didn’t you let yourself in earlier?”

“I never even met those fuckers before in my life.” Thurber was covered in water, pink from his own blood. He looked terrible. His hair was greasy and his clothing was matted with dirt.

“You look terrible,” I said.

Thurber spied a group of potted plants by the window and lunged at them. His skinny arm knocked them over and the dirt spilled onto the carpet.

“Why is there a tent in here?” he asked me.

Jimmy answered him from inside. “It’s my tent, asshole,” he said.

Thurber looked down at the tent which had just spoken to him.

“You’re kidding me,” he said.

“No, I’m not,” said Jimmy’s voice. “And those were my friends who kicked your ass. I asked them to do it.”

Thurber was amazed. He stumbled around and stuttered a bit and then walked out the door. He left drops of water all over the place and a putrid smell which lingered in the air for a while. The plants lay overturned on the carpet.

“Keep me posted on any developments with this Thurber fruitcake,” said Jimmy one day as he packed his bag.

“I’m going away for a while so I won’t be around,” he said.

“Okay, fine,” I said, and then that day I found myself a pet dog. I didn’t know how long Jimmy would be away and so I wanted some company. I have always wanted a dog.

The dog I found had only three legs. He was missing a front one so he hopped forward on one paw. Like most three-legged dogs this dog managed quite well for himself and I didn’t feel sorry for him at all. While Jimmy was gone the dog and I went out for frequent walks and once I got a citation for not having a leash on my pet.

“I’m really sorry about this officer,” I said. “It will never happen again.” And I meant that. I want no trouble with the law. I used a piece of rope instead of a leash though...


From the Hardcover edition.
Arthur Bradford|Author Q&A|Author Desktop

About Arthur Bradford

Arthur Bradford - Dogwalker

Photo © Karen Bradford

Arthur Bradford's fiction has appeared in McSweeney's, Esquire, and The O. Henry Awards. He is also the creator and director of How's Your News?, a traveling news show produced by the denizens of Camp Jabberwocky, the oldest camp for adults with disabilities in the country.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with

Arthur Bradford

author of

Dogwalker

Q: Your stories have appeared in McSweeney's and Esquire, but this is your first published collection. How long have you been working on this project, and what was it like to gather your stories together? Did you write new stories specifically for this collection?
A: Some of the stories in Dogwalker were written as long as four years ago, but I wouldn't say I've been working on this collection for four years. I have always been a little unsure of whether I could make it as a writer so I've held other jobs and worked on other projects this whole time. I've also written a lot more stories than this, but these were the ones which I thought might work as a collection. I wanted to do a collection where the narrator is constant throughout, so that there's a little unity. About six months ago I went through all my stories and sorted out the ones which might fit into this category and this is pretty much what I came up with. The first story I wrote with this type of narrator was "Catface" which was later selected for The O. Henry Collection, so that gave me some confidence to try some more. Gathering these stories together was fun, but I realized when I read them that I have certain mental preoccupations and they keep recurring in my stories.

Q: Throughout your stories we meet outcasts, misfits, and mutants whose disabilities range from physical to emotional to economic. What inspires you to write about bizarre--and often unlikely--circumstances?

A: I'm trying to write stories that are interesting and enjoyable. I want people to read them and enjoy the experience and feel entertained. A lot of the best stories revolve around strange people, people whose decisions and logic and circumstances are not easily understood. Likewise, I want the situations and plots to be surprising and unusual. I know that some of the things which happen in these stories are not likely, but sometimes I wonder if they are not possible in some way.

Q: All of your stories are told in first-person narrative by nameless, male characters who could be read as the same narrator throughout the collection. Why do you use this common voice, and how autobiographical is the way he lives in, and reacts to, the world?
A: When I think about the narrator of these stories, I think of someone a little bit (or maybe a lot) like myself who is strangely fascinated by weird people and animals, and is also not very judgmental about it all. He is very open to these situations. Personally, I've found that I seek out oddballs; I like strange and eccentric people a lot. The narrator is a little different in each story, but he's always a basic variation of the same form, which is in a lot of ways based on me and probably also some of my other favorite narrators in fiction and non-fiction (William Burrough's Junky, Hemmingway's narrator in The Sun Also Rises). Sometimes the autobiographical link in each story is very literal, like I did work at The Texas School for the Blind, and I did once lose a mattress out of the back of a friend's truck. Other times it's more of just a feeling-- like with "Dogs" I was living in a house with 11 dogs and all I thought about was dogs. I never had sex with any of them though. I chose the title Dogwalker because that describes me pretty well. I spend a lot of time walking around with my dogs. I'd say the narrator is me in an alternate universe.

Q: You've worked with people with Downs Syndrome and other disabilities for more than eight years. How has this experience influenced your writing?

A: This experience has definitely influenced me a lot. Like I said before, I like people who lead unusual lives, and very often a person with a disability fits into that category. Although I've worked in several different places, most of my experience comes from spending eight summers at a camp for adults with a wide range of disabilities. For six years I spent every summer living in a small cabin with five men with Downes Syndrome. It was just me and these five guys, all in their forties and fifties. We had such a great time. Sometimes living in that cabin was like living in a sort of separate universe and I think I picked up some unusual speech patterns from those guys. I would often stay up late writing in that cabin until one of them would wake up and tell me to shut off the light.

Q: Do you think people with disabilities might take offense to some of your fiction?
A: What I hope comes across most of all in my writing is a real appreciation and love for the characters. I think it does people with disabilities a disservice to portray them in a sappy or sentimental fashion, or for that matter, to avoid portraying them at all. I make films about people with disabilities as well and I think this question is more relevant in regards to these documentaries where the actual person appears on film. I know these people are proud of who they are and what they are doing with their lives. It seems to me that to hide them away, avoid portraying them in fiction, or to represent them as sentimental objects of pity, that is the real offense.

Dogwalker is a book of fiction, with characters based on the types of people who truly exist in the world. I've seen them and know them--some of them I know really well. Although the stories are sometimes gritty and unsettling, my hope is that in the end they hit a positive note.

Q: Describe your writing process.
A: Well, I'm not very disciplined. I tend to write late at night because I get distracted during the day. I write most of my first drafts on an old manual typewriter, a really old one. It's a big black metal "Woodstock" from about 1920. I try to write everything down at once, in one sitting. The longer stories in this collection are divided up into sections. Each section represents a different sitting, a different idea for the same story. After I type it out I look it over with a pen and decide if it's worth re-typing into the computer. I have many stories which don't make it to the computer. When I put it into the computer I make some changes and often add a few sentences here and there. I like the typewriter for first drafts because it means you can't change anything right away, you just have to put it all down.

Q: Did you do any research for these stories?

A: I never really set out to research any of these stories. I try to lead an interesting life though. I guess the closest I came to research was when I applied to work at the state mental institution in Austin, TX. I wanted to work the night shift like Ken Kesey did when he wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. I thought that might inspire me to write a book that great. They turned me down at the institution, but suggested that I apply at The Texas School for the Blind because of my previous experience. I did work there for a while, and there are two stories in this collection that involve blind people.

Q: Almost every story in this collection involves a dog of some kind--whether it has three legs, flippers, the power of speech, or is biologically average. So why dogs? Why not cats, or frogs, or a mongoose or something?

A: As I guess you can tell, I'm just a dog person. I love dogs very much, especially big ones, hounds, and retrievers. I think they are funny and often have good senses of humor. Plus, they give unconditional love. It's so beautiful. And sad too sometimes because we humans often betray them. I have two dogs myself and they are always around when I write, so they tend to creep in there. I'm interested in other animals too though. There's the slug in "Mollusks", and I wrote a story about bees and one about a cat which got thrown out a window by mistake, but those never made it into the collection. It's funny you mention frogs because I've been interested in the recent reports of high rates of mutation amongst wild pond-dwelling frogs. I've tried a couple of times to write something along those lines.

Q: Who are some of the writers who have influenced you, and what advice would you offer to young writers?
A: I've always liked the classic "young adult" writers like Mark Twain, Jack London, Roald Dahl, Charles Dickens. They write so clearly, and they know how to entertain. Like I said before William Burroughs’ Junky, Denis Johnson’s Jesus Son, Hemingway’s Sun Also Rises, Charles Portis' The Dog of the South, Lars Eighner’s Travels with Lizbeth, Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It, Jim Carrol’s The Basketball Diaries. Those are some great books written in first person which I have read over and over.

Advice for young writers? Yes, lots of it. But I guess I'd just like to point out that almost all of these stories in this collection were rejected by some publication at one time or another, some of them have been rejected a lot, in fact. Find people you trust and listen to them.

Q: What is next for you?
A: Right now I’m working on a couple of new stories, one which I'm recording for the new McSweeney's (it comes with a CD), and one which I'd like to add to the collection, if it works out. After that I will set out to write a novel. I've wanted to do that for a long time. I also want to make another movie, but I think I'll try to finish the novel first.


From the Hardcover edition.

Author Q&A

Arthur Bradford's desktop includes an animated version of the story "Roslyn's Dog" from Dogwalker, drawn by his mother, and some favorite pictures of the dogs he knows. Also featured are pics from "How's Your News?" -- a documentary movie filmed with people he met at the summer camp where he's worked for nine years.

Praise

Praise

“Funny and huge-hearted. . . . Reminds us how much smarter the back of the brain is than the front.” –Esquire

“The most outlandish and energetic writer I can think of.” –David Sedaris

“[Bradford’s] desire to talk about the heart in a way that’s not navel-gazing, but rather earnest and real, burns through. Dogwalker soars. . . .” –San Francisco Chronicle

“Anyone who’s ever wondered at the weirdness of the world will be grateful for these offerings.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Bradford conjures weird modern-Gothic worlds that obey the carnival logic of dreams. His stories are stealthily tender and strangely moving.” –Bookforum

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