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Dirty Red Kiss
Derek Henkel

The park near where I live is divided into sections. The outside perimeter, where the cement picnic tables and metal trashcans are, is where the homeless people sit or camp out. There is an asphalt trail that weaves its way through them, where the dogwalkers from the nearby animal shelter do their thing.

I was in training to be a dogwalker, but it didn't last long. Their way of introducing volunteers into their program was just like an animal behavior modification program. You had to keep coming back every week for a short amount of time to learn more about the system. It was way too controlling for me. I was able to interact with the dogs after my first session and could handle even the wild ones on a leash.

The facility itself is quite impressive, in fact it's well known for the high quality of care the animals receive. The dogs are kept in a neighboring kennel and get assigned a number that equals the level of goodness or ease they have interacting with people. The lower the number, the more well behaved they are. If I was a dog there I would be a six, somewhat in the middle, not unruly, but not submissive either.

The rooms where the animals are kept are nicer than some apartments I've been in. They have furniture and TVs. The cats' TVs show videos of birds and squirrels. The dogs' TVs show videos of families and other dogs.

On my last day there I was visiting with the dogs, going into their rooms and petting and talking to them. There was a two-year-old Cocker Spaniel and we bonded instantly. It was true love and it broke my heart. I wanted to carry him to the front desk, fill out the papers, and take him home. But I can't have a dog where I live. So I just spent as much time with him as I could. When I had to go on my walk I let him lick my face.

About fifteen minutes later a very nice yellow woman adopted the Cocker Spaniel. I smiled at the people I was working with, and made small talk with them as we walked the dogs around the homeless people in the park. When my shift was over I signed out, put my volunteer apron in the laundry basket and knew I would not be back.

The main section of the park is a soccer field surrounded by a high chain link fence. The field is kinda tore up and muddy. The brown people play soccer there. It's pretty empty during the week, except for the occasional pick up game with neighborhood folks wearing street clothes. On Saturday the little league teams play there and on Sunday after church, the men play. Some spectators stand outside the fence drinking beer and listening to loud music from their car stereos. Sometimes, they set up a small grill in the parking lot and barbecue.

You know what I'd like to see on that field? A soccer game with the homeless people. I'm sure I'd have to be the one to put the wheels in motion. I would buy a soccer ball and go some weekday afternoon. I'd have to take the day off from work, but I think it would be worth it. I'd wear some sort of sporty clothes, maybe even buy a whistle and wear it around my neck, and approach each homeless person and convince them to play. We would push their shopping carts on to the field and put them along the sidelines, so they  could keep an eye on their stuff, then divide into two teams. It might be too much for them to run the entire field. We could always play using half of the field. It would be fun for them. Exercise is always good. I know they get a lot of exercise with all the walking they do, but still, they might like the feeling of competition. It might be hard to console the losers.  Hopefully, there would be graceful winners.

Afterwards, I would go to the grocery store across the street, and buy a gallon of orange juice and some paper cups while they cooled down. I would even buy some of the chocolate chip cookies they make in the bakery in the grocery store. I could give each of them a cookie and some orange juice. I could even have some certificates printed for them, like the ones you get at work for doing something the boss wants to be recognized for recognizing you for. The only thing is they really wouldn't have any use for a certificate of achievement. It's not like they have anywhere they could display them.

About the author: Derek Henkel lives in san Francisco. His first novel is at

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