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Even the Parakeet Was Unimpressed : THREE SQUIRT DOG, By Rick Ridgway (St. Martin's Press: $12.95; 182 pp.)

October 16, 1994|Dennis Romero | Dennis Romero is a Times staff writer

"Three Squirt Dog" is a hunk of gurgling cherry-red, 5-liter turbo-charged steel . . . that goes absolutely nowhere.

It's the summer of '83 in Cleveland. In this first novel, Rick Ridgway speaks through Bud Carew, a 21-year-old with a "buttwipe B.A." and "no solid employment prospects." Bottom line: Bud's that snotty, P.C. record store clerk who tries to shove his esoteric haircut music down your unwilling throat. He fuels his life with canned beer, PG-rated adventures and unimaginative sex scenes (all the while dropping music, literature and pop culture minutiae that would humble even Dennis Miller). What little plot there is starts with a youth puke-fest, peaks with B-movie high-jinx involving a backwoods cop and ends with more adolescent sex.

Bud's mom is in a hippy commune in Oregon. Dad died four years ago. Bud lives a freewheeling life at the pad of uncle Dewey, a record-store owner. He works at the store, and at the local supermarket--stocking food (and eating it). His life revolves around sex, sex and sex. The novel's few twists involve scheduling the act around his girlfriend's periods, her family vacations and his stereotypically slacker-esque work schedule.

Ridgway tap dances all over the pages of "Three Squirt Dog." (The book is named for a make-believe rock band; squirt equals urination.) Scenes speed by, and one-liners are omnipresent. There are smug exchanges between Bud, womanless friends Zak and Tony, uncle Dewey, grosser-than-thou teen-age brother Omar and godsend girlfriend Jane. The lines are so complementary to each other, the language so uniform, that the characters melt into one large snot-nose youth, using the language of the "dweeb," the "bush-head" and "DNA mistakes."

You expect a laugh track. Even a parakeet gets a line. "Pretty vacant," it says.

Trying to out-Coupland Douglas Coupland, Ridgway mixes his high-octane gruel with feel-good innocence. Boy loves girl and all is right with the world. Don't worry, be sappy. (Douglas Coupland's "Shampoo Planet" involves a hippy mom, a love-struck twentysomething protagonist, and plenty of digs. But the thematic vibes are much heavier.)

Ridgway wants us all to recall the days of fresh flesh, flatulence contests and adolescent Angst. But we don't need to read 182 pages to do that. He wants us to be in awe of his rhythm, cadence and made-up youth vernacular. Save it for a poem. And he wants us to buy into what little guidance he offers. A phone call to Psychic Friends Network could be cheaper.

During a drunken, candle-lit chat, a cameo character drops in and does his Jesus Christ comic act for the kiddies: "You really want to know my attitude toward earth and its discontents? I can sum it up in six easy words: You broke it, you fix it."

Heavy soliloquy--check.

Most of the philosophical vibes are of the Butt-Headian variety: "I just like things that feel good and look good and smell good and taste good . . . it's in my genes," Bud says to Jane after sex. (Butt-Headian translation: "I don't like stuff that sucks.")

OK, so we're trapped in 1983 with no compass. So give us some laughs, some love, some adventure. The laughs are sophomoric, based on hygiene, bowel movements and dim-witted straw-man characters. The sex scenes are clumsy. And the adventure involves ransacking and roughing-up a red-neck cop.

Then there's the marketing fraud of "Three Squirt Dog," which might have more to do with the publisher than Ridgway. Judging by its bright, pink-squirt-on-yellow cover, the novel is another generation exposition. Kids. '80s. Pop culture terrain and multi-hyphen refrains. One problem: Ridgway is 47, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, his hometown paper. You won't see that on the jacket, in the press release or even get it from the publicist--who dodged the age issue. He would have been 36 in '83. Sort of confirms young America's sneaking suspicion that baby boomers are manipulative when it comes to media.

Of course, knocking the book based on Ridgway's age is a false argument. The book falls on its own. But it seems to have suckered some late-comers to the Generation X media circus. The New Yorker compares its simplicity, carnality and positive vibes to rock 'n' roll itself.

That's too bad, because young authors such as Coupland, Erika Taylor ("The Sun Maiden") and Bruce Craven ("Fast Sofa") rock much louder. And they have places to go.

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