Karen was screaming, I had literal gutter water dripping down my face, and Bernadette Peters was auditioning for the part of Fantine in “Les Misérables” in a mud puddle at my feet. If that sounds like a shit show to you, it’s because of Karen…and also…I started this story somewhere near the end. I’m actually not even sure if the woman in question is named Karen, but when we circle back to the end of this story, I guarantee you’ll agree she was at least born in the generation of Karen.
We had had a slush storm earlier that morning. The kind that closes down Virginia, but that Ohio would pour flavored syrup on and send children out with snow pants and face masks so they wouldn’t be late to John Deere Club. As happens in Virginia around 5pm, the weather was shifting to confuse commuters, and I was taking Bernadette Peters out to see if she would take a shit in the grass. (Bernadette Peters being the dog, not the Tony Award Winning, star of Rogers and Hammerstine’s Cinderella with Brandy, Guest Host of the Muppet Show, Bernadette Peters. I might have clarified earlier.)
Bernadette Peters, or Bernie, or BernDog, or Berns, or the newly dubbed #BernieTheBasicBitch, was being a pain in pumpkin spice latte as only a Basic B knows how to be. Bernie is about 7.34 pounds, and could fit in a Birkin Bag. The thick layer of 7-11 Slushie was cold on her tiny little paws, and she was making little honey bee mating patterns in the snow instead of “doing her business” as my mama says. Despite her dance moves, I knew she had to go. Dog owners, particularly those that live in apartments, know the pooping schedule of their creatures better than they know their own. I sometimes find myself watching Jamie Lee Curtis commercials and wondering if Bernie needs probiotic yogurt and wishing I cared about my own health as much as I care about hers. (This morning I ate Cheetos for breakfast. Bernie is strictly gluten free.)
I stared into Bernie’s little eyes. I begged. I pleaded. I squatted alongside her and poked and prodded her tiny little tummy, and pet her tiny little head. She gave me side eye as large rain drops began to fall out of the sky. It was a look that said, “No thank you. I would like to shit in the house, please”.
I pulled my hood up and tried changing locations as the rain sped up, and our coats, both fur and artificial, became soaked. I found a small strip of grass that wasn’t swamped with rain water, and was letting her sniff the area for dog dominance purposes when a car sped by. A tsunami of gutter water cascaded down the side of my face, legs, and into my boots. I yelled out a series of curse words I had learned watching British crime shows as poor Bernie shook the water off her fur and tried hiding her face in my left boot.
Enter Karen. She spun around on the steps like Liza Minnelli trying to open a shower curtain, oblivious to the tsunami, or really, it turns out, her general surroundings. “What the ACTUAL HELL are you doing to that poor animal?!” she screamed at me, leering into the early evening darkness.
I let my mouth fall open as I looked down at Bernie who let her tail fall between her legs. I think between stammers I mentioned the car, and maybe the gutter water. I might have said something about my wet underwear. In hindsight, I’m beginning to understand the reasons she might have feared for Bernie’s life.
Karen gripped the handrail of the steps leading back into the bar that she was probably thrown out of later. “You are a MONSTER!” she yelled at me, separating each word for emphasis, as the rain poured down over Bernie and me.
“But–my-my-dog!” I stammered, “My dog has to– to-to-!”
“I don’t give a shit about your dog!” she snapped back.
This was very confusing. I searched my pockets for pen and paper so I could take notes.
“You are wearing a coat, and look at HER!” She gestured at Bernie, who sunk low into the mud puddle on command, tail between her legs, her automatic reaction when anyone is yelling, not that Karen would know that, she didn’t even properly introduce herself. If she had bothered to ask, she would know that Bernie once hid in her cage for over an hour because I vehemently, and vocally, disagreed with RuPaul. But like I said…she didn’t ask.
“Are you fucking kidding me, Berns?” I thought. Sarah McLachlan “In the Arms of an Angel” played softly from some expertly hidden patio speaker, probably painted green and hiding in one of bushes Bernie peed on earlier as Bernie began to whimper. “Good Lord. Look alive girl! You’re going to get me arrested for animal abuse! Tell her about your new dog bed! I’ll get you whatever gluten free, dog treats your basic dog self needs! I’ll get you Activia! Anything you want!” Bernadette Peters sunk lower into the mud puddle as I glared in frustration.
“WHO RAISED YOU!” Karen continued, tossing her dry feathered hair under the protection of the bar’s awning, “You look like the most privileged piece of shit I’ve ever seen! You’re standing there all warm in your COAT and your dog is freezing and wet! Who do you think you are!”
Water dripped off my hood into my eyes. I blinked in her direction as she wavered on the steps, her stance wide, her arms out. The gutter water had formed a kind of Instagram Filter over my eyes, and if I squinted just so, she could have been standing in the lights of Studio 54, ready to disco. I was out of words and afraid what I might say if I opened my mouth. I had already talked about my wet underwear, and after that, there just aren’t a lot of nice British crime show words to follow up with.
“Shame!” Karen yelled in a growl, invoking the lowest of blows, “Shame on you! Shaaaaaaaaame!” She slammed the door to gutter water Studio 54 behind her, as a cluster of guests gathered to the window, drawn to the horrific scene of animal abuse on the front steps.
I stood frozen on the sidewalk, looking at the angry white faces glaring from inside the solid glass windows of the bar at the top of the steps, rain pouring down my face, gutter water forming a paste between my hair and my skin, Karen’s yelling from inside bar mixing with Journey on the patio’s sound system, all the while Bernadette Peters continued to be an absolute drama queen at my feet. Whining. I looked down at my puppy to give her a pet.
Bernie had decided “to do her business” right on the steps of the bar, with Karen’s entire circus crew as witnesses. Berns licked a drip of mud off my boot like it was Dom Pérignon, leaned into my leg like we were watching the sunset and not an angry mob of middle aged women, and wagged her tail.
I swear to god that dog deserves a Tony.