Friday, July 28, 2006


In Which We See the Forest For the Trees...

"Well, it wasn't one of my guys," said the landscaper I had just collared from two houses down. We were standing in my back yard, under the shade of the aspen where the Brownie claimed to have spoken with a mysterious old man who told her to stay out of the backyard or she might get hurt.

Having recently had a traumatic few weeks during which my dog was kidnapped from this very back yard (and I had to kidnap him back), I confess I had jumped to an alarming conclusion: that this man might have been the father of WW, the guy who stole Blaze. WW lived in another state and, having recently been paroled, couldn't leave his state without going through a complicated permissions process. But what if his dad had decided to come here on his son's behalf? What if this was the beginning of a wave of terror?

In general, I love a mystery, but a mystery I can solve, you know? Not being able to confirm who this old guy was for certain was putting me in a bit of a state. So I had been grabbing every landscaping, lawn-mowing, shrub-pruning guy I could find and asking if they had an old man in overalls in their employ, someone who was maybe scouting our back yard, trying to drum up a little business trimming our hedges or limbing our trees. No one knew him, no one except the Brownie had seen him, and he certainly didn't match the description of any of our neighbors.

Come to think of it, he really didn't match the description of WW's father. The Brownie described the man she talked to as being very tall, and WW's dad was shorter than me by a good few inches, so I'd have put him at about 5-foot-7. Of course, to a little girl, that's tall.

And then, of course, I had to consider my source. The Brownie has an extremely active imagination. She talks to trees and flowers, as well as her bicycle, video game characters, and animals, stuffed and live. She's also a serious pretender, capable of imagining that, say, the giant bean bag in our family is actually my brother. And she'll maintain that conceit for hours, even days (as I'll discover when I go to sit down after dinner and she'll scream, "No Daddy! You'll sit on Uncle BB's tummy and make him go blurp!!"). Maybe this old farmer in overalls was just some Farmer Macgregor type conjured from a Beatrix Potter book and the Brownie and her fellow foxes were on the run from him.

In any event, as the week progressed, the Brownie didn't mention the man again, and nobody matching his description showed up on my property (I know because I set up my trusty wireless security cameras, the ones that came in so handy when I was under siege by my dogshit crazy neighbor). In fact, no one showed up in the back yard at all. Not even kids. As with my brother the beanbag, the Brownie was keeping up at least one pretense of her story: stay out of the back yard or you'll get hurt. How exactly someone was going to get hurt, she wasn't specific on, but Thomas became a true believer. For the rest of the week, he and the Brownie and their friends stayed in the front yard.

At least they did until Friday, when two of Thomas' friends came over for lunch. It wasn't too hot for a change, and so Her Lovely Self set out the kids' food on the table on our back porch, which is an elevated wooden deck just off the kitchen, commanding a view of the entire back yard. The Brownie hemmed and hawed and finally decided that eating lunch on the back porch wasn't the same as being out in the back yard, so she sat down to a nice lunch of cottage cheese and fresh fruit. Her Lovely Self was just pouring the lemonade, when she saw something moving out of the corner of her eye.

She looked up, just in time to watch that aspen tree fall right to the ground.


Afterwards, she told me it the oddest, most graceful thing she had ever seem. When 40-foot-tall trees topple, you expect to hear the CRACK of wood, to see the whirlwind rush of branches crashing through the air, to feel the earth shake as an object that weighs more than your car collapses to the ground.

But that's not what happened at all. Instead, the aspen just slowly leaned to the right and didn't so much fall as lie down. "It was like a giant invisible hand was gently turning it on its side," she said later. The only crack of wood was the slight snapping of two pickets on my neighbor's fence as a large branch broke them. The rest of the branches of the tree rustled a little--as if blown by a mild wind--before coming to rest on the raspberry bushes and vegetable garden right nearby.

The little area where the Brownie liked to have her picnics vanished. It was completely obscured by the trunk of the tree which, however gently it fell, turned my daughter's picnic spot into a gully of dirt. If she and her foxes had been sitting there when the tree went over, they would have been crushed to death.

And the scary part, as it turned out, was not that some stranger in my yard had apparently warned my daughter about this days earlier, it was that there was almost no way any man could have predicted this.

"I call these the handsome killers," said the tree surgeon, who came a few days to give us an estimate on grinding the stump and removing the brush. "There was absolutely no outward sign that this tree was going to fall." Then he explained to me that some trees will get sudden and fast-progressing diseases that affect some of the roots, but not all. Thus the tree will still get water and nutrients from the soil and look perfectly healthy, but meanwhile, the strongest roots, the very anchors of the tree itself, are already dead, leaving you with a handsome, half-ton pillar that with no warning could topple and destroy anything in its path.

I told the tree surgeon about the old man who had warned my daughter to stay out of the back yard. Granted, he hadn't told the Brownie that the tree was going to fall, but it was the obvious assumption to make. The tree surgeon shook his head and smiled. "Well, if that fella comes back, you give him my card. I'd hire him. He must have X-ray vision."

I've been cutting lumber since I was Thomas' age, so I set myself the task of limbing the tree and cutting it down to the stump. Not only would it save me a few hundred dollars, it was a good bit of exercise, especially for my injured wrist (just recently removed from its splint).


Besides, it's not often I get to use my chain saw, and there's just something wonderfully, ridiculously satisfying about propping yourself on a stump with your chainsaw and surveying your handiwork.


The Brownie watched thoughtfully from the back deck as her little picnic area became a rather bright, bare, open spot.





"Are you sad to see your tree go, honey?" I asked as I laid the branches into neat brush piles.

"No," she said, looking around the yard. "Foxo and I can always picnic over under play fort." She paused. "Daddy?" she asked.

"Yes?" I asked, getting back to my work.

"Do you think the man I saw was the bad man who had Blazey?"

I shook my head. I still thought he probably was some itinerant worker wandering through people's yards, looking to drum up work. It really happens all the time in our neighborhood. Indeed, over the two evenings it took me to finish my work on the tree, no less than three men ambled through and offered unsolicited estimates to do more tree or yard work on my property. Alas, none of them was an old man in overalls. I'd have given him the work. Hell, I'd have given him a drink for saving my daughter's life.

"Who do you think he was, honey?" I asked.

She shrugged. "I don't know." She paused. "God, maybe?"

I smiled and shrugged right back at her.

As I said before, I love a mystery.

While I prefer mysteries I can solve, I also know there are some mysteries you'll just never get to the root of.

And maybe that's exactly how it should be.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Thursday, July 27, 2006


In Which There is More Trouble in the Back Yard...

And so the rest of the summer passed uneventfully.

Okay, the next three weeks, anyway.

Wounds healed, routines were restored, what excitement there was to be had was had in ways that perfectly befit summer: I took Thomas to his first major league ballgame; we spent a stupid amount of money at amusement parks, we made plans for end-of-summer trips and back-to-school shopping.

Then, just when I thought things were well and truly settled down, the Brownie came bursting into the house one day and in short order I was reminded just whose life I was living.

The early moments of the event are sketchy. I remembered that Thomas and Her Lovely Self were the next block over, watering plants for a vacationing neighbor. I remembered that Blaze went with them. And I remembered that it was morning, a weekday morning, and I was taking a half-day from work. Which is to say I was nowhere near conscious when my daughter tromped in through the back door, carrying all her foxes and a picnic blanket with her. In the summer, she likes to have picnics with her animals, see, usually out under the leafy aspen on our side yard, especially in the cool of the early morning or evening. It's a quiet, secret-garden kinda place with good shade. Perfect spot for a little girl to hang out and have an imaginary bitch session with her foxes, right?

Evidently not this morning.

"Back so soon?" I asked, looking up from whatever the hell I was doing, probably trying to navigate a spoonful of sugar into a cup full of coffee. "Too hot already? Bees bugging you?" I asked. It had been getting heat-wave-warm earlier and earlier this month, and my daughter had been known to cancel picnics on account of heat, or bees (the foxes don't like either, you see).

The Brownie looked over at me. "Nope," she answered matter-of-factly, dumping her foxes into a handy beanbag. "We just came in. The man told us to."

Whatever the hell I was doing, it must have been pretty engaging, because it was several seconds before I summoned the presence of mind to ask the obvious question. When I finally did say, "Oh? What man, honey?" it was already rhetorical. This was a mid-week morning, a common time for landscapers and tree trimmers and such folk to be puttering about the yards of my neighbors. Sometimes they have to run a large, sharp, piece of machinery or spray some deadly toxin on neighboring dandelions, and when they do, they courteously warn whoever might be nearby. Surely someone like this had just told the Brownie to stand clear.

"The old man under my tree," she answered, arranging her foxes just so in the beanbag. "He said if I came back out there, I would get hurt."

Well, it wouldn't have mattered then if I had been engrossed in open heart surgery. When you've had the kind of month I've had, and you hear your 5-year-old girl tell you that an unidentified man standing under one of your trees has just warned her not to come back out or else she'll get hurt, you drop what you're doing and you pick up something else.

In my case, it was my trusty cricket bat, which I used to keep under my bed (don't ask, I just did, okay?) but now keep in the front closet, within easy reach of the door.

On my way back through the front hall, I paused at the dining room window, which gave me a partial view of the mighty aspen where the Brownie had just spoken to the stranger. It's a dark little grove that tree makes. The branches have been hanging especially low this year and that's deliberate: partly because they enhance the shade, and partly because I've been a little too busy the past, oh, two years, to actually go over to the side of my own house and trim them.

Now I wish I had. I couldn't see anyone.

I poked my head back around the kitchen door. Over in the family room, the Brownie had re-established her all-fox picnic--this time in front of the sofa--and seemed to take no note of my alarmed state.

"Honey, there's no man out there," I said. "Was he working in the neighbor's yard?"

She looked up. "No. I was having a picnic under the tree and he was just right there all sudden."

"Did he touch you? Did he--?"

"No," she said, slightly elongating the vowel sound, her first warning that she was clearly beginning to lose interest in the conversation. "He was just leaning on the tree. He was nice."

"What did he look like?"

Now the Brownie stopped fussing with her foxes and thought a moment. "He was big. He was like a giant," she said at last. "He had old hair (by this she meant white hair) and glasses. Oh, and he was dressed up like a farmer."

"You mean he was wearing green?" I asked, thinking for some reason of old Mr. Greenjeans from the Capt. Kangaroo TV show. But I also remembered one local lawn maintenance company dressed their employees in uniforms that more or less matched the vivid, unnatural shade of green their special chemical mix so often produced in my neighbors' lawns. "So he was in green clothes like the lawn guys?" I asked again.

"Noooooo," she exhaled. "He had a white shirt and farmer pants that come up the front." And she made a gesture that suggested suspenders of some kind. I frowned. Sure didn't sound like the Chem Lawn guy.

Then I understood.

And a wave of fear drenched me like a sudden waterfall.

"Overalls? You mean he was wearing overalls?" I asked weakly.

The Brownie nodded and went back to her indoor picnic.

An old guy wearing glasses and bib overalls.

There was only one man I'd seen dressed like that in the past few weeks: the man who owned a farm some 500 miles away. The man who kept an unregistered puppy farm on his premises. The man who I knew as the father of my nemesis, WW.

Fully awake now, I bolted into the kitchen and set the timer on the microwave for 5 minutes, then handed the Brownie the phone. "If I'm not back when that buzzer goes off, you know what to do," I said. She grabbed the phone like it was a great prize and nodded eagerly. I used to worry about making my kids overly anxious by going over the family emergency plans--you know, the usual What We Do In Case of Fire/Bad Guys/Daddy Knocks Himself Out--but the Brownie lives for these moments. She's a girl of action. Plus I think some part of her secretly wants to call 911 and tell the dispatcher that her father has brained himself on some low-hanging pipe.

"Now lock the doors behind me," I said. Then I was gone.

My neighbors are well used to watching me make a spectacle of myself, but even they were surprised to see me in my state that morning. Granted, I was still wearing my pajamas--a pair of boxer shorts and my t-shirt bearing the legend "Nice bongos"--and my hair was sticking straight up like someone who had just escaped a halfway house for hair product abusers. And of course I had the cricket bat, high over my head as I vaulted the front porch railing and pelted barefoot around the corner of the house to where the aspen sat.

I'd like to think that any man standing laconically under one of my trees, telling vaguely threatening things to my daughter, would have been a little startled to see me. I'd like to think I'd have gotten off one really good swing (and let me tell you, if you had to compose a list of things to have laid upside your head, a cricket bat would go way down at the bottom. It's flat, it gives maximum thwack, and it hurts like a mad bastard).

Except no one was there.


For a brief moment, I felt this odd, hair-on-the-back-of-my-neck chill, like I had just stepped into a forbidden forest. But it was just a little spot of shade on the side yard and in a moment it was pretty obvious no man was crouched there in the shade, trying to hide. I peered over my neighbor's fence, craning around, looking for a landscaper, a lawn mower, a meter reader. Nobody.

I was completely alone in my back yard.

And I haven't even gotten to the strangest part yet…


Sunday, July 23, 2006


In Which the Knuckle Dragger Surrenders Control to Someone More Adroit...

Yes well, as the human returns to his own vomit, so I find myself once more taking to the keyboard. But I stand before you a changed dog. I won't belabor the details. His Verbose Self, a 100 percent purebred Glory Hound if ever there was one, has regaled you with his exploits. And if the truth must be told, I don't have it within me to denigrate him (though he so often invites abuse and it would be rude not to accept the invitation).

You hear every so often about pets traversing great distances to be reunited with their families, but it's not often that you hear the reverse happening. I fear that this time I owe the Man a debt I can never fully repay. For once, he listened to the Girl (she sensed that I was alive, if not well. Of this more at another time) and cast aside his bananas long enough to find me. There are not words--in his tongue or mine--to express my gratitude.

Not to him, of course. But to you. For your well wishes, but also for your great good deed, which arrived in the form of this touching email:

Dear Magazine Man,

In honor of your astonishingly heroic rescue of Blaze, we, your readers, have contributed a donation to the ASPCA. We sincerely believe that your tale is a lesson for all... for all time. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for your astonishing effort and angelic inspiration.


Chuck Mann (whose idea this was in the first place)
Stu Mark
James Cooper
Le Chimaera
Peter DeWolf
Shadow Twin
Geek's Girl (and family including the furry, four-legged member)
Marilyn Howton
Cissa Fireheart

The Man has linked you to your respective blogs where he knows for pretty-near certain who you are. If he got it wrong and your blog is not listed here--for example, cyber Lothario that he is, The Man apparently has had electronic congress with at least two Tamaras, and a host of Merediths and Marilyns--please, please, oh for the love of Dog please cease his anxious bleating about linking to the wrong person or snubbing anyone by accident: Email your link and you will be added to the list.

And if you did not want your name listed, I apologize in advance. I also blame The Man, and suggest you direct your emails of ire to him that he might preserve your anonymity. Just understand that he knows you did not do this for recognition, but he would be a cur of the lowest breeding indeed if he did not celebrate your love and kindness in some way, howsoever small it might be.

For my part, even if I were not a dog, I would be speechless. This generous gesture on our behalf is nothing short of an Absolute Good and it makes me want to roll on the floor and expose my belly to you all.

But if you did not partake in this fine gesture, do not feel bad. Your thoughts and prayers these past few weeks did a great deal to buoy us, not to mention light a fire under the tail of The Man.

I will not soon forget it. Neither will he.

Henceforth, you are--all of you--members of the pack.

That is all.

Except to thank one more fellow--Sir James of Blogwick, whose artful banner was a true inspiration and, with his kind permission, will now have a permanent place here, over to your right, where it shall henceforth denote the most exciting area of this blog. Which would be the collected stories featuring,

Your Humble Servant,

Blazey BHBBBD (nee Blaise)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


In Which I Almost Forgot...

I've said it before, but really, I wanted to thank everyone who has commented or emailed me the past few weeks as a result of my misadventure with Blaze. When he was still missing and I had no idea where he was, I got lots of good advice about conducting a proper search, and while that info turned out not to be necessary, it was VERY much appreciated.

I'm still twinging with guilt over the fact that some of you actually sent me money after my post in which I listed all my expenses in trying to find the dog. I'm a big fan of money, and with a grandfather who wasn't terribly emotional, but who always slipped me cash when I needed it, I've always come to associate money with love, and that's how I looked at it here. However, I had to refuse. I just couldn't accept, although it was very sweet indeed. You know who you are and I don't want to embarrass you (unless you want me to), and I certainly hope I didn't offend you by refusing your lovely gesture. But please, folks, no money. Save it for the book. Or give it to your local animal shelter. They need it more than I do.

Finally, a big welcome to the sudden and surprising influx of new readers. I'm not sure where you've all come from, but I'm awfully glad you're here, even those of you who have privately advised me not to write such long posts. I'll be glad to give you the email addresses of those who have blown numerous gaskets over my gratuitous use of cliffhangers, which are less for dramatic purpose, and more to keep posts short (in this case, "short" means "2,000 words or less"). They would rather I post entries in gigantic 10,000 word glops, you see. So I'll pair you folks off and you can have cage-style death matches over this issue. Whoever wins can just email me, okay? Okay.

UPDATE: I've been informed that I've been nominated for another blog award, so maybe that's where you're all coming from. That award, by the way, would be this one:

I don't normally consider myself worthy of awards, but this one is hard not to want. I mean, when you think "really fucking stupid" I know a lot of you are thinking of me.

What do you want to bet my Big Brother is the first one to comment on this?

Thanks again, one and all, for taking time to come here every day or week. Means a lot. Really.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Monday, July 17, 2006


Fetching Blaze, Postlude...

I don't know what your lives are like, but there's something about mine I don't particularly care for, and it's this: whenever something amazing or unusual happens to me, I find myself expecting to wake up the next day and to discover that the world has changed. I don't know why.

It probably boils down to the fact that, on some level, I never got over the infantile notion that we all have, which is that the world must, of course revolve around us.

Well, around me, anyway.

So if something momentous happens to me--discovering my dad is a drunk, narrowly avoiding death in an accident, finding and rescuing my dog after he was stolen--some part of me assumes a brief recap of the event will be on CNN in the morning, or perhaps front page news in the local paper. Then, of course, I'm ever so slightly crushed to find out no one knows or cares much what I've been up to (present company excluded, of course).

But--and this may be the strangest thing of all--within another day or so, even I won't care much. And the bigger the event, the less impact it seems to have on me. Maybe it's just my way of dealing with shock. Or maybe the change that events have on my life is so great it puts me into some kind of sensory overload so that I don't realize how much I was changed until some time later.

Which is why this past week, instead of embarking on some brave new direction in my life, I found myself enjoying a return to the status quo of work and home life. I made a list of the most pressing things I need to do, and it was so wonderfully ordinary, it almost brought tears to my eyes. Here's an example, with special emphasis on items that might prove to be blogworthy:

--Dog to vet
--Clean basement (do another Giveaway of CRAP?)
--Fill out paperwork for the Brownie (who rides the bus to school this year)
--Make flight reservations for NH trip to the folks
--Finish book outline
--Shop for BB's birthday present (check with Mom to see what he might want/need? New GPS? LL Bean gift cert? Semi-automatic weapon?)
--Call Mercy back

Of everything on the list (and this was a serious list filling the front and back of a piece of paper. Torn from a legal pad), I've made only the slightest dent.

For example, first thing last week, I brought Blaze to visit his girlfriends at the animal hospital. Their affectionate display whene he shows up is usually so gooey and saccharine that I half expect to go into insulin shock whenever I take him to in for so much as fecal test. But last week, when I brought him in for a good going over after his adventure, I thought we going to be crushed by the mob that descended on us. They had everything but balloons and a banner with "Welcome Home Blaze" written on it. He just laid on the floor, wiggling and whimpering, while they oohed and aahed and made boo-boo faces over his injured neck and bruised ribs. I even got a little sugar, once I told them a bit about what happened (I was also still wearing my wrist brace and my eye patch. Not that I was trying to get attention or anything). Blaze has been a little skittish since we returned--I suspect he has the doggy equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder. He was a bit guarded with the girlfriends, and at one point actually hid behind me, something he has never done. But they soon plied him with treats and he relaxed enough to submit to a thorough check-up (you'll be pleased know that, aside from a minor infection for which he is still on antibiotics, Blaze is pretty much completely recovered. Physically, anyway).

While I was waiting for him, I took out a notebook and continued to write down details of our recent adventure. Some of you laughed when I said I was only providing a basic description of events--then proceeded to write four long posts about it. But in truth there was a lot that was left out or glossed over--my kids' reaction to the event (including an oddly prophetic dream the Brownie had); my less-than-satisfying encounter with law enforcement (for those of you who wondered why I didn't just report WW to the local authorities, there was a reason. And no, there was no animal control officer. Not in the middle of nowhere, anyway); my brief but important friendship with the owner of the diner in town; the long detour Blaze and I took on our way home; and quite a lot more. I wasn't joking when I said this was worth a book. I'm long out of practice in writing something book-length, and this seems as good a topic as any, so I'm trying to flesh it out. If nothing else, it will give me something to give all those folks whose hearts I broke when I promised to give them some of my writing during last year's Giveaway of Crap (and you thought I forgot!).

And, as I discovered last week, the story didn't end when I brought Blaze back to the house.

Not too long after I got back, I got a call from Mercy (the one who originally found Blaze when he was abandoned, and who had brought him to the house when we first took him in). She had been wondering and worrying about me and the dog, so she was overjoyed to learn of our return together. She also had an odd invitation for me.

So it was that I found myself at a little suburban park this weekend, where I was met by both Mercy and a very emotional Faith, Blaze's original owner and the person who had actually taken Blaze from our yard. I had mixed feelings about this person--probably always would--but I couldn't bring myself to hate her. Besides, what Mercy had told me was so astounding and wonderful in its way, I had to hear it with my own two ears.

I tell you, though, it must be a sign that I was suffering PTSD of my own, because the day of the meeting, I became so paranoid, I almost pulled a no-show. Even when I did screw up the courage to go, I got to the park very early and did three drivebys in the parking lot, scanning for WW's pick-up truck, or one of the Blazers I had seen at WW's farm (as you may recall, WW knew my dog as "Blazer," so named for his favorite vehicle. I also had my cell phone with me (I almost never carry it outside of business hours) and the cylinder of extra-strength pepper spray my brother had sent me in the box of armaments he had overnighted to me several days earlier.

Like you probably are now, dear reader, I was half-convinced that this was going to be the explosive third act, the moment where I faced the consequences of my actions. Maybe WW had come back, only this time he was out for blood, and had coerced Mercy and Faith to lure me into a trap (no doubt by threatening those close to the women, possibly even his own kids). It would be the final climactic moment in our story, and it wouldn't end with some lame-ass fight involving iron poles and elbows. No, this was going to be a pitched battle ending in explosions and gunfire and bodies littering the municipal grass of the park. And when it was all over, it would come down to a final, inevitable battle between me and WW, a battle from which only one of us would walk away alive.

Except, of course, that none of that happened. Not even close.

Instead, what followed was a very pleasant meeting, in which I gave Mercy and Faith a condensed version of what had happened. Faith was alternately relieved to hear Blaze was back in good hands, and apologetic for having caused Blaze to end up in the wrong hands in the first place. She was disappointed that I hadn't brought Blaze (call me paranoid, but I wasn't bringing Blaze within a mile of his old owner if I could help it), but accepted my reason that Blaze was still recovering from his injuries and not up to a romp in the park (which wasn't exactly true, but never mind).

"It's too bad," she lamented. "It would have been nice to see him one more time before I left for good."

"I heard about this," I said. "So it's really true."

She nodded and proudly showed me two items: a wedding ring and a passport.

From our brief meeting before, I knew she was seeing someone, but I didn't realize she was getting remarried. I also didn't know that her new husband was an Army officer and that he and his new family would be on their way to a posting in Germany before the month was out.

It explained a lot. I now understood her urgency in getting her ex to sign off on certain legal matters--I can only guess it involved custody of the kids--and she wanted it all wrapped up before they left the country, but WW had been deliberately dragging his feet on this issue for some time. My big brother also opined that WW must have supposed I was the Army officer in question, and his misunderstanding may have unknowingly given me an edge in our confrontations (I don't know about that. BB has some pretty odd theories, and maybe I'm better off letting him expound on this one).

Of course, for me, the news meant only one thing: We were safe. All of us. Since our return, I'd been worried about WW returning to get Blaze back. He didn't know where I lived--and I had gone to some pains not to reveal my name or where I lived when we met--but that was an easy obstacle to overcome if he came back and forced his ex-wife into revealing my name and address (something I had no doubt he could do with ease). Faith hadn't done me any favors, but I certainly didn't wish any harm to come to her or her kids.

Now she was leaving the country and expected to be gone for a few years. She was excited about the possibility of travel (she had never traveled more than a few hundred miles out of state, let alone out of the country) and the chance for a fresh start. I was thrilled because the siege I had been mentally preparing for was suddenly called off. Even if WW knew where she was, he couldn't get to her--the terms of his parole forbade him from leaving the country (I'm not even sure he can leave the state without notifying his parole board). In my most cynical, self-serving moments, I had imagined that the best situation for all concerned would have been for her and her kids to disappear, as they had done before. But this was better in a way.

As we walked back to our cars, I was in the midst wishing her safe travels, when she froze there on the grass and stared straight ahead. I turned and saw a large SUV pulling to a stop in the parking lot. It was a Chevy Blazer, WW's favorite vehicle. I froze too.

But then we saw the passenger door open and saw a boy with a skateboard jump out and wave to a woman in the driver's seat. We both exhaled simultaneously.

"Oh, what a fright," Faith said, waving her hand at her face. "For a second, I thought that was--"

"--your ex-husband, I know." I said.

She looked at me. "How do you know that?"

"Well, I saw the Blazers at the farm and his dad told me it was his favorite car." She nodded, understanding. "And anyway," I went on. "That's what he named Blaze after, right?"

At this, she laughed and shook her head, the laugh of a woman who has put up with all manner of crap and injustice from someone. "Oh, he would tell you that," she sighed. "He just hated anything that was the littlest bit religious. That's why he started calling the dog Blazer."

This went right over Mercy's and my head. "I'm sorry, I don't understand," I said.

She smiled. "The dog was a gift to me, and he told me I could name him whatever I wanted. When I was a little girl, my family had this tradition of naming pets after the saints, so I named him--"

"Oh my God! You mean Blaze is really Blaise?" I said. Mercy just looked at me like I was crazy, since both names sounded alike.

"You know St. Blaise," she said, remembering that I was raised Catholic like her.

"Sure!" I said. "Patron saint of animals and wool combers and throats. Kind of a weird combination."

She smiled. "When I was little, my grandfather had a farm and the priest came out once a year to bless the animals."

"Really?" I asked. "I didn't think they did that anymore. I remember getting my throat blessed in church, but that's it."

"Well, I always thought it was a good name for a pet," she said, then paused, and said shyly. "I even said a prayer to Saint Blaise for the two of you."

"Saint Jude would have been better!" I said, and she laughed.

We shook hands then and she left, on her way to a better future, I hoped. Meanwhile, I marveled at this wonderful new gem of information. So "Blaze" was really "Blaise." As with my memories of the previous few weeks, this information struck me as something I felt everyone should know, but that almost no one would. And if they did know, they wouldn't much care. But I did.

See, I knew all about St. Blaise. Not because of any Catholic teaching, but because my grandmother invoked him often. Due to his association with the throat, my grandmother always insisted that Blaise was the patron saint of storytellers. Mostly, she was thinking of her family, none of who were writers, but all of whom were unexcelled when it came to sitting down of an evening and spinning tales to captivate their audience. These were the people who taught me to tell stories, and who listened to some of my first ones. Occasionally, if I told a tall tale, my grandmother would halfheartedly scold me, saying, "Saint Blaise forgive you for telling such good lies!"

Ever since, I've always thought of him as my personal saint. And all this time, I guess he's been my dog's too.

I'll have to remember that for the book.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

Thursday, July 13, 2006


Fetching Blaze, Part 4...

The funny thing was, I almost didn't wear the hard-shell bulletproof vest my brother sent me. It was an old model and awfully heavy. It was one of the reasons I felt slow and clumsy. But my brother, who never asked me to do anything, begged me to wear it. "You think that crazy asshole doesn't have a shotgun?" he yelled at me on the phone. "That vest just might save your life!"

"What if he shoots me in the head?" I asked.

"Oh, well...don't worry kid. If he kills you, I'll go out there myself and kill him back. Besides, I'd need to get my vest anyway."

It didn't occur to me that the vest would be useful against cowboy boots and iron pipes. Granted, WW still knocked the wind out of me and I'd have sore ribs for a while, but at least my ribs weren't what made the cracking noises. That sound was made by blows hitting the armor plates, causing them to knock together inside the vest. Lucky me.

As WW tottered backwards, I crouched on the concrete, trying to catch my breath. Blaze's barking stopped for a moment. I looked up, squinting to see where WW was. Without my glasses, I couldn't see much, but he still appeared to be hopping on one foot and cursing. Only now Blaze was dancing around him now, weaving this way and that, barking in alarm.

I'd love to tell you Blaze had leapt to my defense, but this was no Disney movie. Blaze was almost certainly trying to move to the other side of the kennel, to get away from WW. Somehow, as he stumbled backwards, WW's boot got tangled in a loop of Blaze's chain. A moment later, WW swung a threatening fist at Blaze, hoping to make him move. It worked. Blaze darted around him and pulled the chain in such a way that he clipped the back of WW's other boot, taking his feet out from under him. WW went over backwards hitting the concrete hard, first with his ass, then with the back of his head. He sat up almost immediately, but the whack on the head must have really given his brains--such as they were--a good shake. He stared at Blaze, who was now back over by his doghouse. I was still panting, but I was standing upright, looking down at my tormentor.

The next part's difficult for me to relate. Many of you know that I was raised on comic books, and when you're raised on comic books, your sense of decency and morality runs the danger of becoming seriously skewed away from reality. Good guys fought the Good Fight, which meant they didn't pick on guys smaller than they were, they didn't hit girls, or anybody with glasses, and they most assuredly didn't hit a man in the back, or when he was down. Growing up, I always thought that I was a good guy, and that these rules applied to me.

Well, that night there in that dog kennel I put to rest any notion of being a good guy.

Because while he was down, while his attention was still focused on Blaze, I locked my hands together in one big fist, took two running steps, raised my hands high, and swung down like I was holding a sledge hammer. And the back of WW's neck was a fence post.

There was no dramatic sound effect, only a dull thud and the jolt of impact running up both arms. My injured wrist sent out a flare of pain. My teeth rattled. I hit him in the base of the skull, below the bloody scuff mark he'd just received when he fell. I put my weight into it, and for the first time I was glad to have put on 20 pounds this spring. WW pitched forward bonelessly, almost smacking the concrete with his face. Before he could recover, I threw myself on him, digging my knee as hard as I could into the middle of his back. Then I went into full Drunken Booger mode, elbows flying and head thrashing every which way. I must have looked like an overgrown 2-year-old throwing the mother of all temper tantrums. It wasn't pretty, it wasn't elegant, it most certainly wasn't honorable.

I lost track of time for a few seconds there, then it came back to me that I needed to get going. I sprang up off of WW's back, heart pounding. I had my hands up now, ready for the next round, feeling nothing, no pain , no emotion. My old karate instructor used to chide me for thinking too much during a fight. He said when I thought, I worried too much about hurting the other guy. Well, I guess he would have been glad to see me just then. I wasn't thinking at all. I had nothing left but adrenalin and instinct.

And suddenly, it didn't look like I'd need either.

WW stayed down, groaning audibly. He had blood trickling out of one ear and a huge gash on his cheek. Had I done that? One boot was still wrapped in the chain; I could hear its heavy jingle as he slowly moved his foot.

The chain I thought, casting around, trying to see. A few feet away was the bolt cutter. I bent and scooped it up. Miraculously, my glasses, their frames bent again, lay right nearby. I stuffed them into my pocket, then ran to Blaze, who was still barking, almost hysterically, it seemed. By touch, I found that the chain was padlocked to a metal ring that hung from the prong collar. Squinting, I put the ring in the mouth of the bolt cutter and pushed. The chain and the collar parted and my dog was free.

For a moment, I thought Blaze might jump into my arms and we'd have an emotional reunion, but without so much as a backwards glance, he skittered around the crawling form of WW and bolted straight out of the gate and into the darkness, leaving me behind.

Hoping I could catch him, I grabbed the bolt cutter and the pipe and started for the gate. Then I stopped. WW was sitting up once more, swaying slightly. I wondered if I had given him a concussion, then realized--to my own horror--that I actually didn't give a shit. Then he was looking at me and all of a sudden, my temper rose, blood pounded in my ears. I was starting to feel the pain in my eye, my cheek, my lip, my wrist, my ribs. I'd had a lousy fucking day, all because of this guy. I thought I deserved the last word.

I stepped towards him and he shrunk back, much as Blaze had done when WW approached earlier. With the pipe in one hand and the bolt cutter in the other, he must have thought I was going to lay a serious beat-down on him, as I have no doubt he would have done had our positions been reversed.

I took another step closer, trying to think of something really memorable and appropriate. But my mind was a blank.

I took a third step and now WW was up against the chain link fence, looking from my face to the pipe, to the bolt cutter, and back to my face.

Now, I'm pretty sure that I intended to say something righteous and final. "I ever see your face again, you'll get worse" or maybe "Let this be a lesson to you, WW. And stop being mean to animals."

But to my surprise, I opened my mouth, spittle and blood ran down my chin, and I screamed two words right in his face:

"MY Dog!!!"

Not exactly the kind of last words likely to appear in books of quotations, but what can you do? I must have looked sufficiently crazy, though, because WW just stared at me, unmoving. I held his gaze for one murderous second.

Then I turned and ran.

I closed the gate and noticed a hole in the latch, a place where one might loop a padlock to secure the kennel. There was no lock, so I rammed the iron pole through it. Then I turned around, trying to get my bearings. In the distance, I could hear dogs barking and the far-off muttering of the old man, cursing and probably wondering where his son was with that damned flashlight.

I heard a familiar whine off to my right. There, at the beginning of the long driveway, stood Blaze, his fur matted with blood and dirt, one eye weeping some kind of goop after something (or someone) had scratched his cornea. But his ears were pricked up and he looked at me in anticipation.

"Come on!" I said, slapping my leg. And together we ran for the car.

Later I realized my ham-fisted rescue mission had taken less than 7 minutes. That was all.

But it took us that long and then some to run--well, hobble--all the way back to my car. I unlocked the door and Blaze scrabbled in. I jumped in, locked the doors and started the car. I wasted 30 valuable seconds rummaging in the glove compartment for my spare glasses, found them, then gunned it and tore off up the road as fast as I could. In 10 minutes, we were back on a state highway and I struggled mightily to keep to the speed limit of 40 miles an hour (I didn't want to get pulled over by a cop, for many reasons). Finally, we reached the interstate. I jumped on, but got off at the very next exit. Right off the ramp, I pulled into a gas station parking lot, intending to use to rest room to clean up. Instead, I hopped out, ran to the bushes at the edge of the lot and threw up, my stomach knotted, my head pounding from the adrenaline overload of the past hour.

I sat down on the gravel-strewn pavement under the orange glow of a sodium vapor light and tried to catch my breath. Sweat was streaming off me and now I was the one trembling. In my haste, I had left the car door open. Blaze clambered out of the car and limped over to me. He nudged his snout up under my arm and started licking my sore cheek. Up close, I finally saw how to remove the prong collar and unclipped it from his neck. As I did, I heard an unpleasant noise. Some of the prongs had become embedded in his neck, deeply enough that blood had welled around the prongs, then dried. As I pulled, clots of matted fur came off and Blaze yelped a little, but mostly I think he was relieved to have the damn thing off him. He stepped into my lap, stuffing one of his paws into my crotch, but that was the least of my pains. He tried to lay in my lap like he was a tiny puppy, instead of a big fat dog, and then I started crying. I hugged his smelly, matted, punctured neck and cried into it. He just sat there, his tail making whisking sounds against the pavement as he wagged it.

" okay?"

I looked up. A gas station attendant, evidently on her way to the bathroom, stood at the corner, staring.

"Yeah, yeah," I said, wiping my eyes and snuffling. "Fine. Lost my dog for a while. But I just found him."

"Oh, okay," she said, somewhat uncertainly. Then she headed on to the bathroom.

I pulled myself together, grabbed two duffel bags from the car and took Blaze into the men's room with me. By now, he was limping noticeably and he seemed lethargic. I pinched his skin at the back of his neck and it sort of stuck together, a classic sign of dehydration. I got out the first-aid kit his girlfriends at the animal hospital had put together for me and gave him a shot of fluids under his skin. Then I found the bag containing two cold hamburger patties I had bought at a little diner back in town. They were cooked--no raw meat for my dog. I fished out a bottle of antibiotics and stuffed one tablet into one burger, then gave it to Blaze, who gulped it in two bites. While he chewed, I pulled out the collapsible travel bowl I had brought and put a little water from the sink into it. Blaze lapped it up, then looked at me for more, but I didn't want him drinking so much that he'd get sick.

I checked him over, then dabbed his cuts and puncture wounds with an antibiotic ointment. He had about a dozen blood-engorged ticks on him, so I fished the tweezers out of the first aid kit and pulled them off, taking care to make sure I removed the whole tick and didn't leave anything behind to cause an infection.

While pulling ticks, I found the raised welts on his side where he'd been kicked. He yelped loudly when I barely brushed them. I listened to his breathing for a moment and he sounded okay, but I was going to have to find a vet tomorrow to look at him and make sure he didn't have a bruised lung. I also wondered if dogs needed tetanus shots for puncture wounds. I got an aspirin out of the first-aid kit, stuffed that in the second burger and fed him that. At least he'd be comfortable til tomorrow.

With Blaze's wounds seen to, I laid him on top of my soft canvas duffel, then took a few minutes to gingerly wash my face and assess my own damage. My right eye was pretty much closed, but with my spare pair of glasses, I would be fine to drive home. Everything else seemed more or less attached and in working order. I took off the vest BB had sent me, being sure to first remove the night-vision scope from the vest's inside pocket and returning it to its case. I put these and my black clothes--now soaked with blood, sweat and dirt--into the other bag and changed into a fresh t-shirt and jeans. Blaze, I was astonished to see, was already fast asleep on top of the canvas bag, his doggy snores echoing off the dirty tile of the rest room. I hitched one bag over my shoulder, leaving my hands free to pick Blaze up, bag, dog and all. I carried him to the car, arranged a soft bed in the back using an old comforter and several towels I had brought. Blaze stirred long enough to transfer himself from the bag to this kingly bed. He was asleep again before I got back in the driver's seat.

We drove on for another few hours, until I crossed the state line and felt that WW and his puppy farm were well behind us. I was starting to seriously ache, so we stopped at an ATM for a fresh infusion of money, then laid up for the night at an old motor lodge, just off the interstate.

"We don't allow pets," the short stubby man grunted at me, when he saw me walk in with Blaze in my arms (I had wanted to keep Blaze in the car, but when he woke up and saw me get out, he began whining like a puppy. For the next few days, he wouldn't leave my side). We must have looked like quite the pair.

"How much is a room?" I asked.

"Twenty-five," Stubby said. "But we don't allow--"

I set Blaze on the floor, then counted out the money for the room. I paused a beat, then laid another 20 next to it. "That's for him," I said.

Stubby took the money, pocketing the extra bill, but evidently twenty bucks didn't buy his silence. He grumbled while I filled out the register. "Just don't want to see no hair on the towels or crap on the floor. That's why we don't take pets," he muttered petulantly.

I leaned in and fixed him with the same look I had given WW. "I don't have a pet," I said. "This is my dog."

Stubby just put his hands up and backed away, afraid my brand of crazy was catchy. "Sure, man. Whatever." He handed me a key. "Room 23." My lucky number.

The room was spare, but clean, and with plenty of hot water. As soon as I locked the door behind us, though, I realized I was too tired to do anything but lie down. I set Blaze on the bed next to me and flopped onto the springy mattress. In moments, we were both asleep. Blaze woke up a few times during the night, yelping from his injuries, or from bad dreams. I had a few doozies of my own, mostly jumbled images of me trapped in a kennel while WW stood outside prodding me with his iron pole, or me trying to get Blaze's collar off, only to realize it was locked and I had forgotten the bolt cutters.

But some time after midnight, we both hunkered under the covers and eventually found our way to a more soothing, healing sleep, the kind where nightmares gave way to endless green fields and bounding rabbits and the knowledge that we were free to chase them.

And if we stirred, it was only the twitch of a hand or paw, only the unconscious working of a mouth or wrinkling of a snout as we slept on through the night, as innocent and peaceful as two dogs dreaming.

From Somewhere on the Masthead


Wednesday, July 12, 2006


Fetching Blaze, Part 3...

Within 8 hours, I had returned to WW's farm, battered but unbowed. I had tried to get Blaze back the civilized way and for my trouble ended up getting my swollen wrist in a splint (it wasn't broken, amazingly, but I had one hell of a bone bruise. Still do, actually). I'd also lost a roll of cash, but I had decided that was the last of the money I was going to spend to get my dog back. I'd had enough. It was time to pull out the stops and do what it took--short of murder, I guess--to get Blaze out of that kennel where he was chained up.

It was time to open the box my brother had overnighted me.

Some items I discarded immediately (really, how much use would white smoke grenades be?), but others I secreted upon my person before driving back out to the farm under the cover of darkness. This time, I stopped short of the turnout marking the beginning of the long driveway, parking the car--facing the other direction for a quick getaway--up on an embankment. Then I walked past the turnout and stopped about a quarter-mile down the road, in a little copse of hedge-apple trees and overgrown weeds. On the other side of the trees, I hunkered down in the field and turned on my brother's handheld night-vision scope. Nifty little doo-dad. With it, I could see that it was a straight walk across the field to one of the sheds near the barn. The shed provided was good cover on this side and it looked as though I could make it to the barn without being seen. From there, it ought to be a simple matter to get up close to the large kennel full of Blaze's siblings.

I had been worried that the dogs themselves would alert WW and his dad to my presence, but I was worrying needlessly. The dogs had been barking since the sun set, yipping intermittently at every distant pop or shower of colored sparks. This was the weekend before the Fourth of July, after all, and the dogs were keyed up by every exploding firecracker or rocket that pierced the silence. If they barked when I showed up, WW and his dad likely wouldn't even bother to check at this point.

I carefully put the night-scope in an inside pocket and started across the field. I was wearing the blackest clothes I owned, but even in the full dark, I felt strangely exposed, walking in across the field. I was taking my time--forcing myself to walk slowly, in part so I wouldn't get overly excited, but largely because of what I was carrying. I was pretty weighted down. In my arms, for example, were two large Styrofoam trays of ground beef, enough to stuff a three-generation family reunion with burgers. As I walked, I'd been scattering big clumps of the ground chuck around me, behind me, spreading it across the field as far as I could. The wind was behind me, too, so I could only hope the smell of raw, bloody meat was hitting the keen noses of those hungry dogs.

I tossed the last of the meat about 50 feet from the shed. I ditched the Styrofoam trays and made myself flat against the wall of the shed. I got out the night-scope one more time and peered around the corner.

There was one outdoor light--a fixture over the barn door that spilled a little yellow color across the yard, barely illuminating the large kennel, where I could already hear barking and--was I imagining it?--more than a few keening whines as sensitive noses smelled something tasty coming in off the wind.

From this angle, I couldn't see the kennel where Blaze had been earlier, but I could see a back porch that faced to the north, the direction of the nearest town, and a more or less perfect vantage point to watch the town fireworks. I couldn't see very well into the porch--in the green half-light of the night-scope, all I could see was mostly screens. But in between the ever-increasing pop and whistle of fireworks, I thought I could hear someone talking. Then I heard a loud belch and the familiar clinking of aluminum as a beer can was being crushed. So they were up and awake and on the porch, watching fireworks.

My heart was pounding so fast it made my head pulse painfully, which was too bad. Even with the nifty painkillers they gave me at the ER, the pain of my wrist had traveled up my arm and lodged itself in my forehead. I would have the mother of all tension headaches soon, I realized. As I put the scope away again, I took a few deep breaths, then crouched and scuttled from the shelter of the shed to the far side of the kennel. The dogs barked more loudly now and I tensed, waiting to see if WW would come storming out, having decided the tone of the dogs' barking was no longer that of a pack of mutts answering the fireworks. But he didn't.

A few of the friendlier, friskier dogs came up to the fence where I crouched. They sniffed at me and poked their tongues through the links of the fence. Poor hungry bastards, I thought, as one young dog tried eagerly to squeeze his head through a single chink in the fence just for the pleasure of licking hamburger grease off my hand. It was feeding time, I decided, and reached over my shoulder to grab the pair of handles jutting out of the pack on my back. Out came my brother's heavy-duty (yet surprisingly lightweight) bolt cutters. BB swears they're the exact kind used in covert operations the world over, but how the hell would he know? Aw, it doesn't matter. They came in right handy as, in the space of about 20 seconds, I was able to quietly snip through the bottom links of the kennel fence.

My plan, by the way, was ridiculously simple. I would create a diversion that would force WW and his dad to go in one direction--towards the little stand of trees across the field. Meanwhile, from the opposite direction, I would come in, cut Blaze loose and hightail it to the car. If all went well, WW and his dad would be so busy rounding up the other dogs, they might not even realize Blaze was gone until the next morning.

Whew, boy, you can smell that wishful thinking from all the way over there, huh?

In my defense, the first part went just right. As soon as I clipped enough fence loose, the smaller dogs began wriggling under, casting about for the tantalizing scent somewhere behind me. A few seconds later, I had the whole bottom of one fence column flapping in the breeze. With a great surge and louder barking than ever, the entire kennel emptied and I was almost overrun by dogs.

The jailbreak didn't go unnoticed. I heard the scrape of a chair and saw a shadow at the door to the back porch. WW.

I heard him swear, then yell something at his father. I didn't wait to see if he would leave the porch or not. I stepped briskly around the back of the barn. I heard the scuffle of feet from the other side, then heard the dad say, "Goddamn them! They got out again!" He and WW took off across the field, following the increasingly distant sound of their dogs, barking with what I could only hope was glee. As soon as I was sure they were well in the other direction, I sprinted around the far side of the barn and across the open field behind the house. I wasn't sure if anyone was in the house--a mother or grandmother or a visiting friend or relative, maybe--so I stayed well clear of the dimly lit yard, making a long, wide circle, orbiting the house. I tripped and fell once or twice, but by this time my eyes had adjusted enough to the darkness that I didn't really need the night-scope, so I stumbled on.

It seemed to take an hour--but it was really less than 2 or 3 minutes--before I finally made it all the way around the house and came up behind the kennel where Blaze had been left to cool all four heels. Even with the wind against me, Blaze could smell or sense me in some way. His head was poked tentatively around the corner of the old doghouse where I supposed he'd been hiding since my first encounter with WW. I heard him whine in an inquisitive way, then he came out and I saw a motion I wasn't expecting: Blaze's tail was wagging. I gotta get this dog home, I thought.

I had hoped to snip the fence open from the back of this kennel, but the wooden doghouse was here and I couldn't move it. In any event, Blaze was still tethered by his chain and his pronged choke-collar. The chain seemed a little longer now and I realized that Blaze must have freed a snag in the links. He had a longer run of the kennel, but still not enough to reach the gate.

Finally, after some really tense moments spent deciding what to do, I made up my mind and dashed around the corner of the kennel, opened the gate and stepped in.

Blaze immediately did his happy-dog face-plant, flopping his head and chest onto the ground while keeping his dog hinder in the air. Eventually he lost his battle with gravity and his big doggy ass flopped over, exposing his belly to me in the ultimate canine gesture of love and trust. He's counting on you. Don't you fucking leave him this time, was pretty much my last coherent thought of the night.

"Hold on," I hissed. Between the dim light and my own broken glasses, it was hard to see where the chain began. Instead, I felt around Blaze's neck for the top of the prong collar, hoping there might be some slack where I would wedge the bolt cutters in and snap it. Blaze was trembling again, but he was sitting still while I looked for a catch or latch on the collar.

And then my dog saved my life.

For no reason that I could see, Blaze suddenly shrank away from me, gazing at a spot somewhere over my left shoulder. It took a split-second for me to realize what this meant, then I rolled away from Blaze. As expected, my already damaged glasses fell right off my face the moment I dodged, so I didn't get a good look, but I could feel the breeze of something long, heavy and metallic--a pipe? A baseball bat?--just missing my head. It whanged off the concrete and the blurry form that was holding it grunted as the vibration of the impact traveled up his arms. WW. He must have come back for a flashlight or a leash. Or maybe he wasn't as stupid as I'd hoped, and saw through my simple diversion. One thing was clear, though: he was mad as hell. He could have crushed my skull or broken my neck with whatever metal thing he was holding. I squinted, trying to see his face, but seeing as my vision blurs about 12 inches out from my eyeballs, I wasn't going to be able to discern his features. I didn't need to. As we circled each other there in the cage, it was obvious that he intended to finish this once and for good.

If WW said anything, I didn't hear it. Unlike last time, Blaze was much more animated. Instead of hiding in the doghouse, he was running on either side of us, his chain clinking heavily on the concrete floor. He barked in a high-pitched nervous yip that drowned out all other noise. As he ran by me, I had to hop to avoid getting hit in the ankles by the chain.

As most of you have already supposed, I don't have a very long or storied resume as a fighter. I spent most of my childhood talking my way out of fights, usually with some success, but not always. I got knocked around on the playground and the high-school parking lot a few times, and on all but one occasion, I was the one who ended up in the dirt with a bloody nose. In college, I studied martial arts for four years. Unfortunately, for two of those years, the martial art I studied was fencing, and I have yet to be challenged to a duel, so I guess that investment of time wasn't terribly useful. The other two years, though, I studied karate, but that was half my life ago. To be sure, I studied hard and drilled myself in the moves and routines far more strenuously than I engaged in more cerebral studies, but 19 years later, I remembered just enough to be dangerous.

To myself, I mean.

Granted, I had some skills left. For example, the instructor had insisted that I either wear contacts or train without my glasses. I had torn one of my only pair of contact lenses and couldn't afford new ones, so I sparred with a variety of interesting blurs, putting my glasses on only during the demonstration portion of the class, when the instructor taught us new stances, punches and kicks.

I suppose that became an advantage; I didn't mind not having my glasses and I found that limited vision made my fighting choices pretty simple. Then, as now, if I was going to walk away from a fight standing up, I'd have to get in close and not let my opponent get away. Because if I could touch him, I could hit him. So in college, I adopted the technique of grabbing whatever arm my opponent threw his punch with and hung onto it with all my strength. This ensured that he stayed no more than arm's length away. Then I just started throwing elbows and knees and whipping my head around to butt my opponent senseless (I have a very hard head). Classmates started calling my technique Drunken Booger Fighting, because once I grabbed onto your hand, you couldn't flick me away.

But there was no way I could get near WW, not while he had the pole or the bat or whatever he was holding. He started to come at me, so I reached back and grabbed the bolt cutters. They were only about a foot long, but they looked sharp, and they were sufficient to the task of parrying WW's next swing. The swing after that, though, he knocked them out of my hands. They almost hit Blaze as he made yet another frenzied lap around us, barking and barking.

I lunged for WW, hoping to get in close, but I've become a slow, flabby shadow of my former self and WW, while a bit of a porker himself, had lots more experience fighting. He whirled faster than I could follow with my bad eyes, and swung right for my mid-section.

When he connected, we both heard a flat CRACK. I felt something shift, all the air went out of me in a rush, and I sagged on top of the pipe (yes, I was close enough now to determine it was an iron pipe. Not a bat. Lucky me.) and fell over, my momentum taking the pipe with me.

In a second, WW was next to me. He brought one fist down from a great height and I saw genuine sparks as he nailed me in the cheek, just below my eye. I hit the ground, giving myself a fat lip when I did. A second later, WW laid two good kicks into me, punting hard with those cowboy boots of his. Both times, the sickeningly familiar sound filled the air. CRACK CRACK!

After the second kick, though, there was a pause and WW stepped back, shaking his boot.

"Ow, what the--?" he started to say.

I can only assume he was wondering why his foot should be smarting. If we hadn't been fighting just then, I'd have told him it was probably because I was wearing something my brother loaned me.

Something that looked a lot like this...


Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Fetching Blaze, Part 2...

By the time I met Faith and heard her story, WW was already a few days ahead of me. A fellow Catholic--but far more religious than yours truly--Faith was almost literally sick with guilt. She had her reasons--she felt this was the best course of action to safeguard her kids. I may not have agreed with her method, but I understood the motive. No matter how much I considered my dog a part of my family, the kids came first (a sentiment I have no doubt Blaze would share, were he able to articulate it). I couldn't bring myself to hate her. What was done was done. It did me no good to dwell on it.

Instead, I focused on the job ahead. Faith was certain that her ex-husband had returned to his parents' house, an isolated farm way the hell west of home. Here, "way the hell" does not mean "on the other side of town"; it means "more than 500 miles from my house."

I learned a little bit about WW. Not a lot, but anything was helpful. I learned about his temper, his love of finding petty ways to stick it to people who had wronged him. For example, he likely didn't give a shit about the dog he had coerced his ex-wife into giving to him. It was just a way to stick it to her. He never would have admitted that, of course. He would have claimed he was taking back what was rightfully his.

After all, he had given the dog to her as a puppy. A puppy plucked fresh from one of the many litters his family had on the farm. Once, the family farm had been much like the one my Dad's people lived on--a modest but honest subsistence farm. Then they made their money as unregistered breeders. Their farm, apparently, had been a puppy mill for a number of years. Mostly, they specialized in hounds and guard dogs. As the years passed, they became more careless and the result was that a lot of cute but eccentric mutts were brought into the world. Many didn't last long, but Blaze was one of the lucky ones.

Faith had no idea what WW planned to do with the dog. He was casually cruel to animals--growing up on the farm may have had something to do with that. She supposed he would just take the dog back with him--leash him up in the back of the pick-up and go. Personally, I worried that WW had already dumped him somewhere. Faith didn't think so, for some reason (she turned out to be right. She knew him better than I, anyway).

Faith also clued me in a bit on WW's recent history, especially his jail-time. She told me about this not just to warn me, but also to observe that his recent incarceration had rattled him. He was determined to stay out of jail, and who could blame him--if he was arrested again for pretty much anything, I have no doubt he'd have gone back in the clink for a lot longer than two and a half years. This made Faith think he might be more reasonable than he had been in the past. That's why he was going home, she figured. Here in Monopolis, there were too many old acquaintances that could lure him back to his thuggish, drunken, law-breaking behavior. It was this observation more than any other that made me think I could bargain for Blaze.

The rest is pretty straightforward. I got directions from Faith and followed WW all way to his family's farm. I convinced myself that, with enough of a financial inducement, WW might just hand the dog over. Let's just say I was overly optimistic on that score. But I wanted to keep this as sane and reasonable as circumstances would allow.

So, some 10 hours after I left the Magazine Mansion, I found myself parked at the bottom of a dusty turnoff that led to a 1/4-mile long winding driveway that threaded its way through several sheds and outbuildings before finally ending in front of an old, dilapidated barn and a standard-issue white farmhouse.

I walked in, going right by the sign marked "PRIVATE ROAD. NO TRESPASSING." Underneath that was a faded sign that indicated this was a place that sold dogs.

I saw Blaze almost immediately, just past the last of the sheds, closer to the house, back in the corner of a large kennel made of chain-link fence. The kennel was about 20-by-20, and Blaze had it all to himself, but he didn't have the run of it. He was tethered to a small wooden doghouse by a fairly short piece of stout chain. This kept him confined to a small area of the kennel.

Along one side of the barn, across the yard from Blaze was a larger, more rectangular kennel and from the look and sound of it, it was clear the family still had a few dogs for sale. It was hard to count, but I'd guess there were about 10 dogs, some old, some young, some lying listlessly on the concrete floor of the kennel, others baying and yipping at the approaching stranger. All of them resembled Blaze in some respect, although a few looked very beagle-like and others were clearly Rottweilers, I had no doubt that I was looking cousins or semi-siblings or possibly even parents of my dog. I was, in effect, meeting the family.

At home, Blaze normally responded to any barking, but here he sat in his corner, head down, cowed, looking frail and unwell. It was just as well that I was forcing myself not to give him too much attention as I walked in. As it was, it broke my heart to see him so unlike his usual brave, righteous self.

With all the barking and baying, an older man--who I eventually determined was WW's father--came out of the house and asked in a gruff but unthreatening voice what kind of dog I was after. Instead of answering directly, I asked him about some of the friskier dogs in the kennel. I listened to his answer with half an ear, because the moment I opened my mouth, I could hear Blaze behind me, barking in a strained tone. He'd heard me. I had no doubt he was pulling at the end of his chain, trying to get my attention. I couldn't stand it. While the old man was still in the middle of talking about the rotund beagle who was almost certainly Blaze's mother, I turned and made eye contact with my dog, who was indeed at the end of his tether and alternately barking and shaking his head, as though he was very excited but bothered by something. I walked straight for him and as I got closer, I could see he had some kind of choke-chain around his neck and was practically strangling himself.

"What's up with this guy?" I asked over my shoulder as the old man trotted along to keep up with me. "Why is he isolated from the rest?"

"Oh, ah, um, that's my son's dog. He just moved home and, uh, put Blazer in there," he said.

"Blazer, huh?" I said. Hearing his name--or a close phonetic relative of it--Blaze jumped and jerked on his chain even more crazily. He seemed more panicked than excited.

"My son's favorite," the man said.

"What?" I asked, turning towards the man, thinking I'd misheard.

The man crooked a thumb over his shoulder at some vehicles parked on the other side of the farmyard. "Car. My son's favorite car," he clarified, and I saw that next to an old pick-up truck were two Chevy Blazers in different states of restoration.

I turned back, grabbed the latch on the chain-link gate, opened it and started in.

"He's really nervous around men he don't know," the old man said. "Watch you don't get bit. I don't know how up to date he is--"

But I ignored the man as I stepped into the kennel. Blaze immediately stopped barking and flopped on the hard cement floor, whining submissively. I got close and patted him down, feeling the raised welts on his side and realizing with a lump in my throat that he was wearing no ordinary choke-chain, but a prong collar. He had tugged on the chain so much, several of the prongs had punctured his skin. As I tried to loosen the collar, Blaze buried his head in my lap and I could feel him trembling all over.

"He's sick," the man said. "Threw up all over the back of my son's pick-up and every morning he's been here. Might be worms."

Might be he's freaked out from being dognapped and sent back to live on the puppy farm where he was born, I thought as I patted my dog. "It's okay, Blazey. It's okay," I whispered hoarsely, struggling with the emotion that was rising in my voice. Then I hollered over my shoulder. "He's got this collar stuck in him. Okay if I loosen it?" I'm not sure that I had any definite plan at that point. In the back of my mind, I was sort of hoping Blaze might bolt for the open gate and tear off across the meadow or down the road...or anywhere. Finding him afterwards was a secondary concern. Right then, I just wanted him away from that collar, from this cage.

As I was trying to figure out how to loosen the prong collar, I heard a voice startlingly close behind me.

"No, it's NOT okay!"

At the sound of the voice, I jumped one way and Blaze jumped the other. He retreated into his tiny doghouse and I finally found myself face-to-face with WW.

"The fuck you think you're doing?!?" he yelled at me.

"He's just looking for a house dog," I heard the old man say, adding in a sterner voice. "You don't go getting riled up, WW."

WW wasn't listening, though. His attention was focused on me, and he practically lunged forward. I backpedaled, tripping over a food and a water dish (both empty, I realized later) and found myself cornered. As WW roared at me, I tried to keep my tone low, barely above a whisper. I simply said I wanted Blaze and reached into my pocket for a small roll of bills. I flashed what cash I had, indicating I had money to pay for him. WW was unimpressed and demanded to know who I was, where I was from. I didn't want to reveal my name or where I lived, so I simply repeated myself and here, I fear, my caginess worked against me. In this case, WW convinced himself that I was some boyfriend of his ex-wife, sent to get the dog back. He went off on a rant, shaking his hand menacingly in my face.

And it was then that I realized he was holding a tire-iron.

Evidently, he had been working on one of my dog's automotive namesakes, but was willing to interrupt this to come stove my head in with a piece of metal. I tried to move out of the corner, but WW jabbed me a couple of times in the chest with the pointier end of the iron. The third time he tried to poke me with the thing, I realized rational discourse wasn't going to happen. I grabbed the end of the tire-iron. This infuriated WW. Before I could react, he pushed his hand into my face and shoved me back against the fence. My glasses, their frames bent by the shove, fell right off and landed on the concrete.

(Somewhere in here, I also lost the roll of bills I had in my hand, which I would realize later, at the ER at the little hospital in town, when I was asked to pony up my co-payment).

It was then that I remembered the FEDEX box in the back of my car, and wished I had taken a moment to equip myself with some of the items my brother had sent me when he heard what had happened and what I was planning to do.

Too late for that now. With my glasses gone, my effective visual range dropped to an area 12 inches in front of me (I have a terrible astigmatism). I couldn't see anything more than interesting blurs. But I did see a movement that made me instinctively put my hand up to protect my head. I don't know whether WW was aiming a blow at my skull or not, but an instant later, I felt a dull thonk against my wrist. There was no pain yet, so I was able to lunge forward, twisting my wrist as I moved, hoping to get a hold of the iron. I wasn't entirely successful on that score, but my lunge must have caught WW off guard because he backed up a step, tripped on the same food and water bowls that I did, and let go of the tire-iron. It clattered to the concrete and was almost instantly picked up by his dad, who was by this time in the kennel with us and hollering at his son to go away. I used this moment to spot my bent glasses, which I was only partly able to twist back into shape sufficiently for me to see what the hell was going on.

WW wouldn't leave, but with his dad between us--and holding the tire-iron--he didn't charge at me again. The old man turned to me and I expected to get yelled at next, but to my surprise, WW's dad sounded gruffly apologetic.

"You best get on out of here. My son has a bad time with his temper," he said.

I knew it was pushing it, but I couldn't leave either. "Okay. Let me just get the dog--"

WW's face, already red from his exertions, turned almost purple. "THAT'S MY DOG!" he roared. "You tell that to that cunt wife of mine!" And then, just to spite me, WW turned and kicked the side of the doghouse with the metal tip of one of his pointed cowboy boots, making the structure shake violently and causing poor Blaze inside to yelp out two short, nervous barks. They sounded exactly like the barks he uttered once when he was asleep in his kennel at home and I tripped and accidentally hit his cage. In fact, the only time he's ever growled or barked at anyone in my family has been times when he's been confined in his cage and they've tapped on the top or side. A woman who came to the house to help train Blaze had opined that perhaps he'd been trapped in a cage or kennel when he was younger and had been taunted by someone hitting or kicking the cage. Now I had no problem seeing how true that supposition was.

One other thing was true: It was time to go, although it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Still, I could barely see, my wrist was seriously throbbing, and WW was clearly not someone I could reason with. Clutching my wrist, I backed towards the gate and slunk out of there.

"You tell her, you hear me! You tell her!" WW kept shouting as I backed away across the yard, heading for the road back to my car, holding my damaged glasses to my face, and holding my damaged wrist to my chest. Thomas asked later if I had been scared at that moment and I had no problem admitting I was.

But fear wasn't the only thing I felt, especially when I finally turned around and began trotting to my car. As I went, I heard a familiar barking above the baying of all the dogs, who I realized only then had been barking during our entire encounter. I couldn't bear to look back, but I was sure it was Blaze, calling to me. Each bark sounded distinctly like he was saying, "Help! Help! Help!"

At that moment, the fear I'd felt didn't subside, but it had been overtaken by another emotion: anger.

By nature, I don't have much of a temper, but in my brief contact with WW, something must have rubbed off on me, because I was feeling a growing sense of rage like I hadn't felt in years. When WW had shouted "You tell her!" I had shouted back. "Fine! I'm going! I'll tell her!" Not the wittiest retort, I guess, but I realized now that maybe it was for the best. Maybe WW figured I was gone for good.

He would be wrong, though. I was coming back, as soon as I could. That night, if I could manage it. But clearly the reasonable and sane approach got me nowhere.

It was time to be insane and unreasonable...


Monday, July 10, 2006


Fetching Blaze, Part 1...

I know many of you are already shaking your heads, thinking, Jesus, if he got 10,000 words out of watching his kids for a weekend, how long is he going to milk this?

The answer is: not very.

In fact, some of you may be disappointed to learn that I will be dispatching this episode of my life in two or three relatively undetailed posts, intended to answer only the most burning questions and to provide only the most basic sense of closure.

Why? Well, I'm glad you asked.

(And no, it's not to cash in on a book, although it did occur to me that with everything that has happened, I have enough material in my head to make a book of it, and likely will. But not today. Or tomorrow.)

For one thing, there are more than a few details of this escapade that could get some folks--me, for example--into actual trouble if I revealed them (and I trust the anonymity of my secret ID only so far). My old pal Officer Zoltan Peltz put the fear of God into me back when I thought Blaze had been nabbed by people who conduct illegal dogfights (which was the sad fate of our neighbor's dog). After pointing out that dogfighters were unlikely to return to the scene of a crime just to get my dog when they could simply go to an unsuspecting neighborhood, Officer Peltz then informed me that if I tried to find my way into a dogfight anyway, I myself would be committing a crime, and he personally would see to it that I was prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Not because he cared about me, of course, but because I would be interfering with ongoing police operations to shut these things down and putting his colleagues in jeopardy. Because, of course, if I left him with the slightest suspicion that I actually intended to get into a dogfight, he would be morally (and I think legally) bound to report me to his colleagues.

It was a good speech. I fell all over myself assuring him that I would cross the dogfighting theory off my list and would pursue it no further.

And to be honest, I didn't pursue it further. Zoltan is a cop and he's smarter than I give him credit for. His take on the dogfighting theory made perfect sense to me, so I completely avoided the whole thing.

(But to be completely honest, I'd be saying the above whether I went to a dogfight or not.)

(But I didn't.)


Suffice it to say there are other such examples lately where I've found myself at a crossroads and chose a course in the name of justice rather than in the name of the law. There it is. I'm afraid I'm not the good guy you all seem to think I am. If I am sufficiently wronged, I am capable of playing very dirty pool indeed, even if that means stooping to the level of my adversary and, um, breaking the law.

So now you understand why I didn't involve the police, especially when things got hairy and certain people got the shit kicked out of them. With my luck, I'd have been the one who got arrested. Can't you just see it on Fark?

Man impersonates animal control officer in order to rescue his stolen dog. Jailarity ensues.

I'm not saying that's what I did, by the way. That's just a wacky example I'm throwing out there.


Okay, okay, if you don't buy that reason, there's a bigger one.

It's too soon.

I'm still too close to what happened to relay it to you in anything but a reportorial way, and you deserve better than that. For one thing, if I were to go into detail on everything that happened right now--especially the action-packed 18 hours between finding Blaze and rescuing Blaze (and getting my ass kicked twice)--I probably wouldn't be able to do justice to some of the truly funny moments in my adventure (such as the second fight, which to a bystander probably looked less like a fight and more like two drunk guys who have just been told they have 10 seconds to re-enact all of their favorite scenes from old kung-fu movies). As you may be aware, one of my family's mottoes is, "It's either laugh or cry." People have often accused me of not taking serious circumstances very seriously because I tend to use humor and laughter as a relief valve for the pressure of a tense situation. It may give people the wrong impression about me, but it's better than, say, nervous farting, something to which my brother is intensely prone.

And on that note, here's what I can tell you:

If my life were a TV show, this would be a 2-hour season premiere where we'd learn more about the origins of the mysterious Blaze. To date, all we've known about Blaze is that his previous family abandoned him in the back yard of a rental property when they vacated the premises one summer three years ago. It's not clear how long Blaze was left there, long enough to need medical attention for severe dehydration, in any case.

Blaze was found by a woman I'll call Mercy, who got Blaze to the animal hospital.

What I did not realize was that this woman didn't just happen by the yard where Blaze was abandoned. She knew the family. Well, at least she knew the wife--let's call her Faith.

Mercy knew that Faith was in an unhappy marriage and that a divorce was pending. She also knew that Faith's husband--let's call him WW, my mirror image, my opposite number--was not a very nice guy. Prone to smacking folks around, including his wife and kids. Had a police record and a history of violence.

When Faith finally got the nerve to mention the D word to WW, he had himself a little freakisode. He left the house in a mood that made Faith think it would be better for herself and the kids if they weren't there when WW got back. So they packed their bags and got out so fast, they completely forgot about their dog who was in the back yard, and were too scared to go back when they remembered.

Funny thing is, WW never came back. In one of those awful twists of fate, WW went out on a bender and got arrested on a number of counts. Because of his record, the judge threw the book at him and off he went to jail, and not for 30 days either, but something like 30 months.

When Faith and the kids fell off the map, Mercy drove over to the house, more than a little worried about what she might find. She found nothing, except an empty rental property. Thank goodness she looked in the back yard and noticed a misshapen lump of fur trying to stay in the shade of the crude wooden shelter that passed for a doghouse. You know the rest of that part of the story.

Some time over the next three years, Faith resurfaced and she made contact with Mercy. Faith was both relieved and thrilled to learn that Mercy had taken care of their dog and found him a good home.

I just didn't realize that Faith knew whose home.

Now here's the part that gets a little odd, until you realize that sometimes people just do things that make no fucking sense, or make sense only in the most convoluted way (in case the events depicted in my blog before now have never led you that observation).

Not too long ago, WW got out of the clink and found Faith and the kids. The divorce by then was a done deal and WW had come to terms with it. But there were other issues--such as child support and custody. WW could have made things easy, but easy was not WW's way. Just for spite, WW made things difficult, causing all manner of problems.

Eventually, it became no longer convenient for WW to remain in town, so he got ready to go. As Faith explained it to me when I finally met her, there were some "legal things" she still needed WW to sign off on (she didn't tell me what specifically, but I can only assume it had something to do with custody of the kids. She definitely wanted to limit their exposure to their Dad. Not my business, but can't say that I blame her). WW finally decided to sign off on whatever he needed to sign off on, but WW never made things easy. He had one small condition: he wanted the dog. After all, he had given it to her as an anniversary present.

Faith tried to tell him that the dog was long gone, but WW didn't buy it. Faith and the kids now lived in a small apartment that didn't allow pets, nor could they afford to keep one anyway. WW guessed that Faith had sent the dog to stay with friends or a relative. He knew she loved the dog (as had the kids) and didn't believe Faith had no idea where the pooch was.

WW wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he wasn't a total idiot. He knew his ex-wife all too well. Faith eventually admitted she knew where he was and would go get him.

Luckily for me, Faith allowed WW to believe that the dog had been with her parents. In fact, she had known for months where he really was. At least, she knew the name of the man who took him and what town that man lived in. Since I'm in the Monopolis telephone directory, it was a matter of 40 seconds on Mapquest to get directions. Faith spent a couple of days cruising by the house, deciding what to do, working up the nerve to either ask or take.

And then, by dumb luck, she happened to be parked by the curb on Indiana Ave. early one evening, where she had a clear view of her old dog and the back yard of his new home (even though the dog had lived here longer than he'd ever lived with her, Faith couldn't help but think of this as her dog's new home). She watched the mom and kids go in, then before she could think twice, she purposefully walked across the grass between the houses, heading for the corner of the yard. Her old dog came running over on his lead, curious and friendly. He rarely barked at women and children anyway, and maybe on some level he even remembered her. In any event, Faith was able to quietly unhook him from his runner, put him on a rope and trot back to her car. Once again, the action probably took less than a minute. The Brownie likely never did see the actual moment, but only mistook our neighbor for a dog-napper.

It chills me to think how easy it was for Faith to surveil my family and wait for a window of opportunity. I can only thank God she was no crazed stalker, just a good person in a bad situation.

I can call her a good person because I know she loved her dog, despite what she did. I can call her a good person because I know she didn't tell her ex-husband where her dog had been living, even though the easy thing would have been to tell him and let him go get the dog himself.

I can call her a good person because a few days after WW actually kept his word, signed whatever "legal things" he had to sign, and left with the dog, Faith repented of what she had done. She called her friend Mercy and told her.

Then Mercy called me...


Friday, July 07, 2006


Fetching Blaze, Prelude...

Where to begin?

I guess we'll start in the present and work our way back.

Woke up on the sofa after a few hours sleep. The eye patch was itching something fierce so I took it off. Wasn't like I really needed it--no blood gouting from the socket or anything--it's just that I took a good smack on the eyeball and the eye was blurry and extremely sensitive to light. I found it easier to drive if I just patched it shut.

Blaze was lying on me like a big, heavy, hairy, smelly comforter. He's still a little skittish and hasn't left my side in two days. Also he'd been favoring one side where he'd been kicked in the ribs and he seemed to be limping a little. He looked at me and wagged his tail with a little more vigor than I'd seen in previous days, though. Before I left, I had optimistically put together a kind of doggy first-aid kit, which included the equipment to inject subcutaneous fluids (his girlfriends at the animal hospital advised me of the most likely things I'd need to revive a dog in distress). Obviously they were working. But after our mad dash through the darkness back to my car, he'd been weak as a kitten. I had to carry him into the house when we got home.

I stroked his dirty old head as we lay there in the early light. Then he heard a sound that made him perk up his ears.


For some reason, the Brownie has taken to announcing every trip to the bathroom, including those that take place first thing in the morning. I have no idea why, but it doesn't matter. In a flash, Blaze bounded off me and bolted for the stairs, yipping as he went.

"You better be yipping because your ribs hurt, you big faker!" I called raspily after him.

As you can imagine, the screaming and barking that ensued blew the roof off the Magazine Mansion. I captured a quieter moment.


The Brownie was so excited to see Blaze, she forgot about the bathroom--and so did Blaze, because someone tinkled a little on the floor. I'm not entirely sure who it was.

Thomas was out of his loft bed in one bound and I had to restrain him from strangling Blaze with his hugs (although strangely Blaze seemed to be feeling no pain). My son looked up briefly at my bandaged, puffy, bruised self.

"Oh, hi Dad," he said, then went back to making a fuss over his dog. Even Her Lovely Self seemed pleased to him (except for the peeing part).

So it was Christmas in July as Blaze detached himself from me and began following the kids around all day. He's still pretty sore. Here you can sorta see that he's holding that one paw at an odd angle and he's pushing himself off against the beanbag to keep his weight off his ribs. I don't know why he doesn't lay on the other side. Maybe he's trying to keep that side away from the kids so they don't thump him in the ribs.


Whatever ails him, being reunited with the kiddos has clearly been a tonic to him.

And to them.


"How'd you get him back, Dad?" Thomas asked.

I smiled, although it really hurt my lip to do it.

"There's a loaded question," I said. "I could practically write a book about--"

My mouth snapped shut with an audible click. A book? I thought. Now there's an idea...


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