Friday, May 28, 2010


(Front row seats to the hurricane)

By midnight, all the guests had arrived, and we all assembled in the back porch. This place was even more shielded by the storm than the patio. We were fortunate that the winds were blowing from the southeast. Had they come from the opposite direction, the trees from the neighbor’s yard would have most definitely had fallen into to our yard and probably on our house. The trees from the other side of the yard were at least 100 feet from the house, if not further. Believe it or not, the porch was probably the safest place to be other than the living room. The power was still out but our eyes adjusted to the darkness. There must have been some places closer to downtown with power because we could see the trees silhouette against the sky against a faint light.

Also by this time, the storm’s power intensified. The winds were always strong but would be intermittently fierce. It was sort of like nature taking a deep breath to blow out candles on a birthday cake. That was about how long the ‘fierce’ part of the cycle lasted, 30 seconds, followed by the sustained winds. It was during these gusts that the trees would bow, seemingly at a 45 degree angle. We could hear snapping, and at the time I thought they were simply limbs and small trees breaking. The air was mild and the rain itself was cold. For some reason, I thought precipitation from a tropical system would have been warmer. Most of us enjoyed the show, except for Bobby. He was still a little skittish. However he was not as vocal and agitated as he was when he first arrived.

What about the dogs, how did they respond to the inclement weather? Abby was having a wonderful time. Abby always loved guests, but she was infatuated with Nikki. Throughout Abby’s life, she looked to Nikki like an older sister or a mother. Even when Abby grew older and took on a more dignified and stately manner about her, she would revert into a silly, frolicky puppy whenever Nikki came around. Abby went from person to person and room to room inspecting everything. Things new, different or unusual always piqued her interest. She was quite busy that night.

Nikki always loved our house as well as me and my mine. Some may wonder if they were scared and how would we know. All I can say is that by judging Nikki’s and Abby’s behavior that night, they did not appear to be scared. As a matter of fact, both Abby and Nikki went for a swim after midnight. I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t let them stay in there long. Even though they were relatively safe, if something did happen to them when they were in a pool during a category one hurricane, I would have been derelict in my responsibilities to those dogs. I escorted them out of the pool and shooed them into the house.

Father’s response to the storm was drastically different from the other dogs. He was huddled in fear all by himself in my mom’s closet. He would have stayed there all night, but when my mom went to bed, he hopped on the bed for comfort and company. My mom went to bed around the peak of the storm around 2 am. She shared the bed with her grand-niece, Abby, Nikki and Father.

I’ve often wondered what Father would have done if he were still homeless. Where would he have hunkered down in such a storm? I’ll never know.
My cousin’s husband and I were the last ones to go to bed. The intensity of the storm was fading, and I wanted to get to bed before sunrise. I’ve found that trying to fall asleep after the sun has risen is difficult and at times almost impossible. We made it through the night unscathed. No trees fell on our house or cars. We wouldn’t know the full extent of the damage until the next day when we could have a better view of the situation.

That was the first hurricane I had ever been through.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hurricane Fran: Prologue

(This is the part of Dabney Hall I entered and exited.)

As I stepped out of Dabney Hall sometime around 10pm, I saw and felt the heavy rains and winds and knew that the storm was going to hit closer to us than the meteorologists had predicted a few days earlier. Then, the weathermen were saying that Fran was going to glance off of the NC coast. The next update the next day predicted that Wilmington would be directly hit. The last forecast I heard was that Fran’s path would pass between Fayetteville and Wilmington, a good 80 miles from Raleigh. However these winds and rains were something I had never seen before. I had a hunch this was going to be different. I knew we were in for a rough night.
I decided to stop by the Harris Teeter at the Cameron Village on the way home. It wasn’t too far out of the way and I liked it better than the Kroger, Food Lion, or Winn Dixie nearer to where I lived. Even though the prices are higher, the selection is better and there are lots of cute coeds shopping there. However on this night, the place was almost empty, and I’m not just talking about the patrons either. Once I saw the beer and bread had been depleted, I knew something was wrong. It reminded me of days in winter when a snow storm warning had been forecasted. Although the city will be shut down for a day, people load up on bread, milk, eggs and beer. I bought a few frozen items such as some chicken nuggets along with some beer, soda and chips.

I took the back way home instead of taking Morgan to New Bern like I usually do. I was one neighborhood away from mine at the intersection of Glascock and Wake Forest Rd when I noticed that the power was out and would be out all the way home. As I pulled into the driveway, the house was dark but seemed to stand out ominously against the backdrop. I love our house and hope to one day retire here, but at times it can be intimidating the way it stands on the hill looming over all those passing by. When the power is out, the place seems to retain its own inner glow making the house take on a menacing façade.

My mom had some candles burning so I didn’t have any problems finding my way around a powerless house. However, I was hungry; it was late and the lack of power frustrated and irritated me at first. Fortunately I kept my wits about me, went to the patio and started the charcoals. I cooked the chicken nuggets, some hamburgers and a couple of other things and finally washed it down with a beer. Our patio is covered with an aluminium canopy and the way the house is shaped along with the direction the wind was blowing, I was fairly sheltered from the brunt of the storm. At this point, this was the prelude of things to come. My mom told me that things would get worse since the storm was going to directly hit Raleigh as a full Category 1 hurricane with the brunt of it around 2am. What I was seeing then was just a harbinger of things to come. My mom also told me that we were going to have some guests. Not by coincidence, the guests lived in trailers and didn’t want to ride out the storm in their homes, and I can’t say I blamed them. My cousin, her daughter, husband and Nikki were coming up.

Even though my cousin’s mom lives beside her in a brick house, my cousin didn’t have the stomach to suffer through a storm in the same place with my aunt’s boyfriend. Again, I can’t say I blame them. The guy was, we later found out, bipolar as diagnosed by his psychiatrist. It was nice the doctors had a name for his situation but as far as I knew, the man was coo-coo clock crazy. I’ll say more about him later.

The other guest was our hairstylist. Bobby cut hair for several family members, including mine until he moved back to Johnston County because he was sick with cancer. One day at my dad’s poolroom back in Greensboro, someone blurted out a question to me: I bet a homosexual cuts your hair? This was not the kind of place where people drank with their pinkies sticking up. These people drank straight from a bottle or a can, and the drinks were American brands such as Budweiser or PBR. Lite beer was looked upon as la-dee-da. This wasn’t a rough and tumble place, but if one was looking for trouble, it could be found there for someone not watching his step. I was speechless. What could I say? The guy could cut hair. Sometimes OCD has some benefits.

Bobby arrived at our home a little while after I started the grill. I remember him sitting under the patio with us fretting about the wind and rain. The other guests didn’t arrive until an hour later. We had a full house that night and we would have a show that none of us would ever forget.

We were going to have a hurricane party!

Abby is fixed

Abby was around 5 months old or so when she was spayed. By this time, it was apparent she would be a big girl. (Her dad was 115lb from what I heard.) Abby was also growing a little independent. No longer would she wait for me to go to bed until she went to bed. When she was a young puppy, she would patiently lie at my feet while I read something or watched TV. Another reason she waited for me to go to bed was that she was too small to climb in to bed by herself and had to wait for me to enter the room, pick her up and put her in bed. Now she could walk to my bedroom and climb in to the bed by herself and didn’t need my assistance anymore. She was still very much attached to me, but she was showing some signs of independence.
The operation took place in July or August. I don’t even remember the day she was taken down to the vet by my mom for the surgery. What I do remember was that she was not allowed to swim for a week or so in order for the incision to heal. This meant I couldn’t swim for a week or so because my being in the water would be too much for Abby to bear, and she most likely could not be stopped from getting in the pool.

For the next day or so, things went uneventfully. However by the third or fourth day after the surgery, the skin by the staples was red and inflamed—a sure sign that the area was infected. My mom took her to the vet who confirmed what we had suspected. Abby needed a follow-up surgery so the area could be cleaned and re-stapled. My mom called me at the lab to tell me about the unscheduled surgery and was quite upset as was I. Abby didn’t have to stay overnight and was released to my mom in the early afternoon.
When I returned home that night, I felt like Goldilocks after I took a look in my room: someone had been sleeping in my bed! I know I was in grad school which mitigated my living with my mom, but to have your mother sleep in your bed when you are gone during the day was odd. I asked my mom if she had slept in my bed and she said yes. Abby was so worn out that she went straight to my bed. My mom didn’t want her to be alone so she took a nap with my baby girl which made Abby elated. I still miss that old bed. It was probably 40 years old, so old that the mattress had a pronounced dent in the middle. (This was also the same room where my brother and cousin were born. I’m not sure if they were born in that bed, but I wouldn’t be surprised.) I called it a ‘hole’. The bed slept wonderfully which my mom agreed.

Later that night, things returned to normal. I slept in the bed with Abby. This was the last night that Abby huddled close to me while she slept. When she was scared or hurt, she would often press her body as close to mine as possible such as on that night. As a young puppy, Abby was inseparable from me in bed, but she found out I was a fitful sleeper thrashing around in bed all night during my dreams. She learned to sleep at the bottom right of the bed to stay out of my arms and legs flailing and kicking around. But on this night, Abby, scared and hurt, wanted the comfort of being close to me like when she was a young puppy.

The operation worked; Abby never had any puppies.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

She was so cute, I could have squeezed the you-know-what out of her.

(I haven't found any photos of me hugging Abby, but I did find the one above with Nikki.)

She was so cute that I wanted to squeeze the shit out of her. For the most part, it is a figure of speech, but in my case with Abby, it wasn’t far from the truth. I often called Abby my ‘Huggy Baby’ because I used to hug her all the time. Sometimes if I was excited or overly enthusiastic, I would squeeze, once in a while too hard. Abby normally liked the attention even if she was sometimes smothered with it. A couple of times she whined at the discomfort I inflicted upon her. One time in an overzealous state, even by my standards with Abby, I squeezed her so hard that she vomited. She wasn’t mad at me, but I was embarrassed that I hurt my baby girl. I always checked the vigorousness in which I hugged her from that incident on. I didn’t stop hugging her and kept doing it even on the day she died.
A few years later, when that series on National Geographic aired, The Dog Whisperer, I learned several ways to deal with an unruly dog with behavioral problems. It turns out that I had stumbled upon several of these training techniques admittedly by luck. For example the hugging. To me, hugging Abby was an outward manifestation of my love for her. However from her perspective, not only was the hug a way for us to bond, but it was a show of my dominance over her. Abby had natural tendency to lead and take charge, regardless if she was dealing with people or other dogs. By me asserting myself over her in what I thought was a simple hug; I was able to find a way to check her sometimes aggressiveness and keep her in line. I needed whatever luck I could find because I had no idea how to raise a puppy when we bought Abby.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Better Than the Orkin Man

In the early to mid 90’s, my grandmother’s house, which is now my mom’s, had a rodent problem. There were mice and rats in the yard and in the house. The rodents never made their way into the rooms of the house, but they got uncomfortably close nonetheless. In the yard several feet from the pool was a birdfeeder which wasn’t exclusively used by birds. Naturally the squirrels had their fill. There was almost no way to fight that battle successfully. I never tried shooing off the furry tailed rascals. However when the mice ate the bird seed scattered on the ground by the squirrels, I was repulsed. The squirrels were discriminate about which seeds they would eat. Preferably, they ate the sunflower seeds and would pilfer through the bird feed picking those out and shoveling the rest below to the ground. It was there that the mice would be waiting, in broad daylight unbelievably.

I tried taking care of this by purchasing a pellet gun and shooting the uninvited guests. The pellet gun was a pump action model. I would keep the pellet gun handy at the patio, and when I saw a mouse under the feeder, I would pump the gun 5 or 6 times, take aim and fire. I always hit them, and they all died except for two. One of them rolled down the hill, but I was able to reload and finish off the job with it. The other time, the mouse rolled down the hill but was able to limp back up the hill and go to the edge of the woods where I caught up to him. He was a mean little bastard. When I approached him, he actually lunged at me a couple of inches. I let him live. It didn’t matter, no matter how many mice I shot, another was there soon after to replace him at the buffet. I felt like Sisyphus.
As annoying as the mice were, it was the house rats that scared the hell out of me. There were nights I could hear them scampering around up in the ceiling. That spooked me out, and there wasn’t much I could do about this problem. I learned to ignore it, but in the back of my mind, I knew what was lurking above.
One night, I was going to retrieve something from the storage room by the garage. Upon opening the door to the storage room, I heard some scratching around inside there. I reached up to grab the cord to turn on the light, and that is when I saw a huge fucking rat run up the side of the wall and into a hole in the ceiling. I know he was more scared of me than I of him, but had he ran towards me instead of away, not only would I have run, but I would have screamed like a little girl. When I say huge, I mean this thing from snout to the end of the tail was well over a foot. His girth was bigger than that of my forearms. I actually forgot why I went to that room in the first place, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t go in there anyway.
Fast-forward a few years when Father is on the scene. I never saw Father kill a mouse or a rat, but given his proclivity to kill little animals, I would be surprised if he did not like rats or mice. Father, when he was in his ‘killing mode’, was like a mechanism and he couldn’t be stopped once he was in that mode. For example, one time when he was going after a cat, he would not listen to me as I tried calling him off his chase, but he was intent to kill channeled his attention and senses to just one thing and he was oblivious to anything else not involved in the hunt. The cat got away.

About a year after Father moved in with us, I noticed a few things. There were no more mice in the back yard, rat encounters in the garage or rodents scurrying around in the ceiling. Was there a cause-and-effect between Father’s arrival and the rodents’ departure, or was it a mere coincidence? Who knows, but a good argument could be made that Father took care of these little beasts. But if he had eaten rodents, it makes me a little queasy thinking about it, and not for reasons that immediately come to mind. Something that will make one go ‘ewww’ is that I kissed Father in the mouth just like I did with my babies. Father wasn’t quite as vigorous about kissing as Andy or Abby, but he did it all the same. To think that the mouth that had touched a rat’s ass had touched my mouth is revolting. For obvious reasons, I try not to think about it.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Natural Born Killer

Related to Father’s proclivity to fight was his seemingly natural ability to kill. I’ve seen him kill two animals, live, and have seen blood dripping from his chin after he had dined on another wild creature that he had killed in the front yard while I wasn’t there. Once a dog such as Father has tasted blood, it is hard for it to eat exclusively Alpo. I imagine the taste of blood is a craving for him almost the way we humans will crave things such as ice cream or pizza. Whenever Father saw a little animal, I have no doubt hunger triggered in his mind that overwhelmed him.

One incident where I saw Father eat a little animal took place by the pool when Abby was still young. My mom, Abby, Father and I were under the patio so the incident took place on a spring or summer afternoon. We heard a commotion in the trees lining our neighbor’s yard. It was out of place and unusual, but it sounded like a heavy wind blowing by the way the leaves and branches were stirring around. We looked in the general direction of the noise and saw a mourning dove heading straight towards our back yard followed by a hawk. Once the hawk saw that people were nearby, the predator aborted its hunt and flew back into the woods. The mourning dove landed in the pool, a little shaken but still alive. The only thing wrong with it was that its head was scalped when the hawk’s talons dug into to the prey. My next thought was that the bird was going to drown to death since mourning doves are not aquatic birds. Fortunately for him, he was able to scramble to the pool’s edge and crawl out. Abby, my mom and I inspected the hapless but alive bird. He had beaten the odds. Abby was curious but she did not look upon the bird as prey or food. With a furrowed brow on her face, Abby sniffed the bird in a bit of confusion. It was about this time that Father walked over, took a look at the bird, chomped down on it, jumped over the fence and ate the thing, feathers, beak, talons and all.

Another time I saw Father kill for food was when he chased down a squirrel in the front yard. I was impressed with Father’s top-end speed. He could really accelerate. Even though the squirrel had about a 40-50 foot head start on Father, he still was able to close the gap and reach the squirrel. The squirrel was with in feet of safety. He made it to the tree by the mailbox. There was a pile of leaves around the tree that it had dived into before it made it to the tree, but Father was able to root around in the pile and pull out the now dead squirrel. Father walked back to his girlfriend at the time, a red chow, and gave the bounty to her.

Somewhere in the front yard on the border of your neighbor’s yard, there was a nest of moles. Father loved eating those little things as snacks. I never caught him in the act of digging for them, but I have seen him with a dead mole in his mouth. There were other times when I’ve seen him drink out of the pool after he was feasting on these animals. Father’s dark coat made it difficult to see blood on his hair, but when he was drinking out of the pool, the blood would seep into the pool from his chin. It was nasty and gruesome reminding me of that famous shower scene in Psycho.

Abby found out about Father’s smorgasbord and had to sample for herself. She developed a taste for the moles, and for the rest of her life, she would often be seen digging around the area where she first found moles that she had eaten.

A Cat Nap

(Here is a photo of me on the couch although at the time of the cat-nap, I was 15 years older as shown above when the incident described below happened.)

At the time this story took place, Abby was around seven or eight months old and had been housetrained by then. However, once in a while, she had to go late at night. She knew how to awake me so there were no problems that night getting me to let her out. I let her out back, a fenced in area, so I didn’t have to watch her while she did her deed. In previous nights I let her out, Abby would lollygag around exploring every corner of the yard, sniffing any different or unusual smells. I would call her name, and unless I yelled at her, she’d ignore me and continue doing her thing. I can understand why she was so curious about the night activities because of all the animals criss-crossing our yard. I’ve seen snakes, frogs, raccoons, foxes, deer, opossums, hawks, owls, rabbits, cats and dogs in our yard at night. It’s a different universe out there as far as Abby was concerned who only had a whiff of it from whatever smells and odors were left over from the nighttime activities.

So, on this night, I knew this was going to take a while. Instead of sitting there waiting for Abby to finish her back yard inspection on, I decided to go sit on the living room couch which turned in to lying on the living room couch. Without realizing it, I was down for the count and slept solidly for about an hour. Waking me up was Abby’s plaintively crying at the back door. It was so pitiful. She was all alone in the dark on the back porch all by her babygirl self, a singularity alone in the universe. I let her in and we went back to sleep. I think that whenever I let her out at night again, she got out and right back in with no farting around like before. When I moved to NJ and my mom was the sole caretaker of Abby, Abby started her funny business again. Abby could push my mom around, and she knew it. It became like clockwork for Abby who would wake my mom up around 2am so she could view the nighttime visitors outside. Right now, there are some readers who are thinking ‘She may have had to really go.’ Trust me, she could hold it. One time she held it for 36 hours, but I’ll discuss that in another entry. She had unbelievable bladder control. When Abby woke up my mom, she was asserting a dominance which she had over not only other dogs but people as well.

But on that late night in the dark back porch, she was my tiny little angel all alone in the world showing her vulnerability.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Roger and the Speed Trap

(My mom's old Pulsar)

Roger’s forlorn and ragged condition had at least one redeeming feature or at least on one day when my mom was traveling from Greensboro to Raleigh to visit her mom. The trip, sometime in the mid 80s, and my mom still had her red Nissan Pulsar which she eventually traded in the late 80s for a red Nissan 240SX. Back then, I-40 ended in Greensboro so the trip taken then was on I-85 to Durham where one would have to take US-70 which would take the traveler straight to Raleigh. The trip at the time was well over an hour and a half. First, I-85 was 2 lanes in both directions, but now it is 3 or 4 depending on where you are. Second, it didn’t take many slow drivers going in the left lane to clog traffic. The whole concept of “Slower Traffic Keep Right Except to Pass” meant nothing to NC drivers who often felt that as long as they payed their taxes, they could drive in any damn lane they wanted and as slow as they felt. A third reason the trip was slower back then was that US-70 was dotted with red lights. Lots and lots of red lights. However now that I-40 has been extended from Greensboro, through Raleigh and on to Wilmington, the Greensboro-Raleigh trip is just over an hour. And yes, the increased speed limits helps a whole lot too.

My mom was on Glenwood Ave almost near Crabtree Valley Mall which meant her trip was almost over. Something to note about Glenwood Ave. near the mall is the steepness of the hill especially for an area close to the coastal plains. A car in neutral can roll down this hill, a hill which has an 8% grade, and reach speeds well over 60mph. This wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that the speed limit is 45 in that stretch. That area is a notorious speed trap.

It was in this stretch where the crux of this story takes place. My mom and her lead foot were going well over 60 by her own admission. At the bottom of the hill, she saw a cop behind her about a quarter of a mile weaving in and out of traffic making his way towards her. My mom not only didn’t slow down, but she almost made a clean break. Before she was able to make it to the Beltline, the cop finally caught her and pulled her over.

“Ma’am, do you know how fast you were going?” the cop asked. My mom said no. “65” he replied. My mom feigned ignorance and surprise “Really, that fast?” At this stage, my mom was in trouble. It wasn’t until the officer looked inside my mom’s car and saw Roger floundering in the front seat that my mom’s fortune would change.

The car, whose AC had broken, was sweltering in the summer heat. On top of that, an almost hairless Roger panting heavily in the front seat must have brought sympathy and pity from the officer.

The officer said “Ma’am, most people slow down when they see a cop behind them, but you just kept going.” My mom responded “it was too late then to do anything.” The officer laughed and while looking at Roger said “Mam, I’m going to let you go so you can get your dog inside. He’s having a rough time out here. Please slow down.”

And that was how Roger got my mom out of a speeding ticket.

Friday, May 14, 2010

He was a lover and a fighter.

(GSD = german shepherd)

There was no doubt that Father was a ‘Lover’, after all his name derived from his sexual prowess in fathering god knows how many litters of puppies. Now I want to mention the aggressive side of Father. I’ve commented before about my apprehension of Father’s temperament. He was ‘semi-feral’ and furthermore, he was mean to me when he first came around our home. It turns out my misgivings about Father were not unfounded. I would later find out that Father knew how to fight and would readily scrap with any dog that challenged him. I’ve noted in this entry how Father tried to kill Abby in Abby’s first week at our home. This is just the tip of the iceberg concerning Father’s disposition to fight. What made Father’s belligerent tendencies around other dogs even scarier was the fact that Father was good at fighting. He pulled no punches and literally went for the jugular.

For example, a couple of stray dogs ventured to our house one afternoon curious to check-out the canine scene. When the pair saw Father who was on the other side of the fence from them, one of the dogs high-tailed it out of our yard. The schnauzer stuck around--dumb. Father jumped over the fence (the new fence had not been installed at this time) and faced off with the schnauzer. Not only did the dumb little shit not run away, but he squared off with Father and postured defiantly. This dog was about to have a bad day, almost as bad as a day can get for a living creature. Father didn’t bark or growl. He immediately sized up the dog, took his right front paw and knocked the schnauzer to the ground and in a near simultaneous move, clutched the interloper by the throat and lifted the animal off the ground. Father then began to shake his head back and forth vigorously. Now, did the schnauzer realize the dire situation and began screaming for its life. Father handled that thing like it was a rag doll. Had I not intervened, Father would have killed the trespasser, but I yelled at Father and by the time I opened the gate, Father dropped the dog, and the schnauzer ran away. We never saw him again.

Another fight I saw Father get in was with a German shepherd about 20 pounds heavier than Father. The dogs first met while Father was accompanying me on a run one afternoon. As we jogged by this dog’s house, he started barking and yelling at Father. Father was scared and rightly so. I had to protect Father from the bigger, aggressive, unfenced, and unleashed dog. We turned around and went back home. GSD 1 Father 0.

A couple of days later, the very same gsd came to our house. I guess he felt emboldened by Father’s fleeing and ostensible cowardice the other day and wanted to drive Father completely out of the neighborhood. This took a lot of nerve for the gsd to invade Father’s territory. The gsd walked up the hill where Father met him. This time, Father would not back down. I can’t fill in the details of the full encounter between those two, but the most vivid recollection I have is both of them on their hind legs with both of them baring their teeth. Even though Father gave away 20 pounds to his opponent, Father somehow gained a strategical advantage in this fight by locking down on the gsd’s throat with his jaws. Once again, Father was going for the kill, and once again, I had to intervene to save a neighbor’s dog that bucked up against Father in a losing battle. The gsd tucked its tale and ran away. A few days later, he had the nerve to return to our house, but this time all it took to ward off the trespasser was Father’s barking. The gsd didn’t even step foot on our land. We never saw him again.
There was a close call at the vet’s office one visit. In the waiting room, Father was sitting to my left while to my right a few feet away was an extremely high-strung Jack Russell Terrier. The little loud and yappy bastard constantly barked at Father for 5 minutes straight. The owners did nothing to curb his obnoxious taunting. I guess they thought it was cute. Meanwhile, Father was either too scared or weak to snap back at the dog. He may have been still recovering from the car sickness he suffered on the ride over. Father was also scared of the vet, so he couldn’t give his full attention to the little snot. Finally, Father was about to snap. He slowly lifted his head, turned to face the Jack Russell Terrier and let out a slow and low growl. Normally Father doesn’t give a warning to a dog he is about to kill, but these circumstances were unusual for him and he was out of his element. The JRT immediately shut the hell up and actually ran behind its owner. Finally, the owner spoke up and said to his dog ‘You better shut up or he’s going to kill you.’ Father would have killed him. I had no doubt.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


(From the spot the photo was taken just past the mailbox was the route Abby took when she was chasing a squirrel as described in this passage.)

“This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Was there ever a trite overused expression more annoying than that especially when said by your parents right before they were about to administer a spanking to you? In the times one of my parents said this to me, one of the first things to cross my mind was “Sure, let me have the switch, and I’ll beat your ass instead.” Of course this cliché was a hollow meaningless expression to me until I had to dole out discipline to Abby when she was a puppy. I should say now that I am single and have no children. Abby and Andy are the closest things to children I have. Yes, I know they are dogs, and in the end, children count for a whole lot more than a dog does, but nonetheless, I love the babies.

One day I was doing some yard work in the front. The front yard is not fenced in. The part of the yard I was working in was around 100 feet from the street, maybe more. Even though the yard was not enclosed and Abby was not leashed, I thought it would not be a problem for her to hang around me while I piddled around the front doing a few chores. While I was removing some steps in the front at the top of the hill, I caught Abby in the corner of my eye making a bee-line straight towards the street chasing a squirrel trying to make an escape from me and Abby. Immediately, I yelled at the top of my lungs “Abby, Abby, stop, stop.” She halted and made a U-turn but not until she had actually made it to the pavement. I kept yelling at her. She was so scared that she ran from me around the house and to the back yard. Before I made my way to her, my mom knew something wasn’t right with her. She could tell by Abby’s demeanor that something wasn’t right. Also, Abby had gone on the stoop by the patio. Whenever Abby sat on the stoop like that, something was wrong. It meant she was either scared or mad. For example, when she was young, I put her in the pool one time in an attempt to make her swim. My effort failed and only made her mad at me. She almost instaneously jumped out of the pool and ran straight to the stoop. I can’t begin to describe the ugly look she gave me that day, but suffice it to say that if looks could kill, I would have been dead that day. And so there she was on that stoop waiting for me to get her.
As I rounded the corner, my mom quickly asked me what was wrong. She could tell Abby was scared. I would explain to her what Abby had done. In the mean time, I had to whip Abby’s ass. My mom hated it when I did that which I found this odd. In my childhood days, she was quick to meet out punishments, deserved or not. On this day, she would not talk me out of spanking Abby. My spanks involved hitting Abby on the base of her tail or on her rump and was accompanied by a harsh reprimand. I hated doing it, but I could not have Abby running unfettered into the street. She had to know her boundaries. One thing I’ve noticed about disciplining a dog is that the most effective way to teach them is to catch them red-handed. The more closely associated the negative feedback was to the infraction the more likely the dog would learn from its bad behavior.

Some can say that I was at fault for letting Abby unleashed in an unenclosed area like that. True, I do take some blame for that. Had a car hit Abby that day, I would have felt awfully and had considerable guilt on my shoulders ever since. However, Abby made it through that unscathed, but I had to teach her about where it was acceptable for her to go. Abby learned her lesson. For a dozen years after, Abby spent many days playing in the front yard and without a leash on her. Never again would she run in the street. She had a few close calls, but she learned her lesson. I hated being the ‘bad guy’ but had I not spanked her on that day for her running in the street, she may have ended up killed by passing car. She wouldn’t hate me for my disciplining her. She didn’t hold grudges like that, fortunately for me.

"Why doesn't he walk away?"

(Circled in yellow is where the physics post-doc mentioned in this entry took his leap. In the red circle is the lab where the Japanese post-doc tried to go on a rampage.)

The conversation described in this entry took place at Dabney Hall, shown above. When I was in grad school at NCSU, Dabney Hall was where the chemistry research labs were located. Now, I think some of the research has relocated to the newer labs over at the Centennial Campus a few miles away. The Centennial Campus is an industry-academic alliance where the two groups form a synergy in a cooperative effort to advance research in the sciences and engineering.

The stories generated by that building could probably fill a book. I’ve already told the story of the explosion in my hood which happened a few weeks before I started using it. Another news worthy event was the suicide attempt by a Chinese physics post-doc while I was at NCSU. I was writing my thesis at the time which meant my lab work was finished, and I wasn’t in the building at the time the incident took place. Post-doc-ing can be very strenuous. These people are essentially indentured servants to their academic advisors; the advisors hold all the power and they know it often pushing their researchers to the point of physical and mental exhaustion. To say this postdoc was stressed is obvious, but I didn’t know the details of this man’s relationship with his academic advisor. The local news covered this story of this poor bastard who saw no way out of whatever troubled him. Sometimes postdocs don’t turn their rage inward like this guy but instead lash out and try to kill fellow research group members. It should be noted that the chemistry building is joined at the hip with the physics building. It was at the top floor of the physics building at the breezeway adjoining the chemistry building where the postdoc took this fateful leap. This was about a six floor jump. The first thing I thought when I heard this news was ‘why didn’t he go to the top floor of Dabney Hall, which is two stories taller than the physics building?” The postdoc survived the fall. Some of my students who were in one of the sections of organic labs I was teaching said the bone was sticking out of his leg, there was blood on the ground and the guy was yelling. Whatever problems this man had must have seemed trivial to what he was going to face from that moment on.

There was another story about a guy on the same floor as me but he was in the chemistry department. He was a Japanese post-doc. I didn’t like the guy. He seemed like an asshole. It turns out my hunch about him was dead-on accurate. One day he was stalking around the lab with a 5lb hammer in his hand looking for a graduate student who he accused of sabotaging his experiments, one of the worst things one can accuse a fellow scientist of. (The only other thing that is worse is plagiarism.) He didn’t find her that day, but he did encounter another post-doc. When asked what he was doing, the Japanese post-doc said he was going to kill the graduate student, who just happened to be the intervening post-doc’s fiancé. The Japanese guy was out of his gord. He went on to say that when he was done w/ the graduate student, he was going to kill the other post-doc. Even though this event didn’t make the news, the campus police did arrive and escort the man off campus. Fortunately no one was hurt. The academic advisor was out of town, but when he returned to campus later, the Japanese guy was not only relieved of his position, but he was deported as well, and the little bastard was never to be heard from again.

Dabney Hall wasn’t a place of joy, especially for a graduate student or of course a post-doc. Not all days were bad or miserable but not too many were happy either. I did like to talk a lot to anyone who would listen to me. Maybe I would have been a better graduate student, especially as far as success in chemistry is defined, if I had not talked as much and kept my head down and did my work. One of the conversations I remember in Dabney Hall was with a fellow graduate student in the Comins group. I particularly liked talking to foreign students. I am not a well traveled man, but speaking to someone at length about his/her country is a good way to learn about a different world and culture. In this particular conversation, I was telling Yu-mei about Father. I told her how he was a stray and how he came and went as he pleased. We didn’t tie him up on a leash nor could a fence keep him in. She seemed puzzled about Father’s behavior. “Why doesn’t he walk away?” she asked. I guess in her culture, the concept of loving a dog like it was a child was a little odd to her. I guess she also assumed that every dog yearns to be free, and if given the chance to make a break, the dog would do so. Father had all the chances in the world to walk away from us and never return. However, Father always came home. Some cynics will say that he only stayed for the free meals. Nothing could be further from the truth. Father loved being part of the group, our family. He loved playing with us out front and by the pool. He also loved going nighty with my mom, Abby and Andy at night. If all we were to him was a meal ticket, he would not have exuded so much joy and happiness when he was around us. Our relationship with Father was conditional. We had to give him more freedom and liberties than a typical pet. He had known another world and for him to fully transition to a ‘house-pet’ status was not possible. We gave him space and freedom, but he always came back.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


(That is the gap in the fence mentioned in this entry.)

Upon finding out that Abby could jump the backyard fence, my mom purchased a new fence that was not only higher but enclosed a greater area of the backyard than the old fence had. This new fence would not only be able to keep Abby contained but would give Abby much more room to play in the back. This would also keep Father inside as well. As noted before, the new fence was at least a foot higher than the old one. Initially, at least, only one of our three goals was reached with the new fence. Abby did have more room to play. It also gave her more room to go to the bathroom. She would prefer to go towards the back as far away from the house as possible so she would have some privacy when she did her business.

However, on the other two goals, the fence failed us. Father wasn’t able to leap the fence and nor was Abby, but Father was able to climb over the fence. And climb he did. When he grew older and was not as energetic, Father would crawl under the fence if he was too tired to climb over. I never bothered chastising Father for absconding from the backyard. I was impressed with his physical prowess and thought it was cute too. I also realized that Father’s semi-feral background made it difficult to contain him as if he were a typical house pet. Once an animal has had a taste of freedom such as Father, containing a dog in the confines a yard or a house can make the dog feel trapped and imprisoned. I realize allowing a dog to roam around unleashed is illegal and there could have been consequences if Father were to have hurt someone or someone’s pet, but it was a chance I took with a type of ‘conditional’ ownership I had with a pet like Father.

As noted before, Abby could not jump the fence, but for a while, a short while when my tiny angel really was physically tiny, Abby was able to squeeze through the fencepost and a wall to break free herself. When she did abscond from the backyard, she didn’t go far. She stayed in the side yard or front yard. I don’t know what she gained from the experience, but I’m sure boredom and curiosity were driving forces behind her escapades outside the backyard. The last time Abby took one of her babygirl trips out of the backyard, not only was she caught red-handed, but she was stuck outside of the fence and had to directly face her naughtiness. My mom told me that as she was driving up the driveway, she saw Abby out of the fence and running in the side yard. Abby, once she saw my mom’s car, hustled as fast as she could to the gap she escaped from and tried to get back in the backyard. For some reason, she was able to exit the gap but not able to go back through. My mom caught her and told her she was a bad girl. But don’t feel too bad for Abby. My mom’s disciplining Abby was toothless and weak. It drove me nuts considering how she disciplined me and my brother while we were growing up. She was quick to use a belt or switch, too quick often times. While raising Abby, though, I was the disciplinarian and not her. I hated that role, but sometimes a stern tone or even a spank was the only way to get through to Abby. I loved her a whole lot, but she could be so head-strong.

We addressed the issue by placing some cinder blocks in front of the gap. In a month or so, that gap would be a non-issue. Baby-girl kept growing and growing and eventually expanding and expanding. She was no longer a tiny angel in the literal sense, but in my mind, she was always my tiny little angel.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Family Condition?

(Shown above is Petey and my great-grandfather.)

It has often been asked if behavior is inherited or learned. My only contribution to this debate is an anecdote about my grandfather and his burro. In this way, one can see that my eccentricity about pets was a predestined trait that was an unavoidable destiny of genetics. A project of mine lately has been to scan every single photo my family has. So far, I’ve scanned over 1300 pictures and yet have a way to go. One of the photos I came across was a picture of my grandfather’s pet burro. I could see that my grandfather was a little weird when it came to pets. Could that weirdness when it came to how I treat my pets be somehow an inherited trait?

In the early 50s, my grandfather had a notion to buy a burro. Sure, the man grew up on a farm when he was a boy, but by his own admission to me in his later years, he hated farming and as a boy, he shirked his farming chores at every chance he could. Fortunately for him, his dad allowed him to pursue his academic talents, and my grandfather obtained his BS in chemistry at Wake Forest (this was while Wake was actually in the town of Wake Forest, which is in northern Wake County. Later, the Reynolds family, as in RJ Reynolds, gave Wake Forest a large endowment on the condition to relocate to Winston-Salem.) And he received an MD from the University of Chicago. The man worked and lived in a small town. There was no reason as a matter of practicality for him to have a burro. Nevertheless, he bought one.

How he found this particular animal puzzles me to this day. The burro, Petey, was from Mexico. There was no internet back then, so finding an animal like that from a place so far away is a mystery to me. Petey was shipped to NC via train. My grandfather picked up Petey at the train depot in downtown Raleigh and brought it back home in his car. Back then, cars were gas guzzling behemoths so large that they practically had their own gravitational field. Petey rode in the trunk along w/ my aunt’s boyfriend, Chissel.

Petey had his own shed in the back and a fenced-in backyard for him to roam around. The only traces of Petey’s existence are that shed which we use for storage and a few old fence posts from that old fence from over 50 years ago. Parts of that old fence are still around but have been overgrown by vines and other plant-life.
I heard bits and pieces about Petey when I was growing up. Some people rode Petey around the back like he was a horse. My grandfather and my aunt’s boyfriend often rode him. Petey could get temperamental by baying and bucking when he had enough of someone sitting on his back. My grandmother, understandably concerned, didn’t like her husband riding Petey. When my mom and her sister would play in the pool, Petey would come down the hill to see what was going on. He wouldn’t play with them, but he did like hanging out. As far as taking care of Petey, those duties fell mostly on my grandmother’s dad, Daddy Carroll. By this time in his life, my great grand-father had retired and moved down from CT with his wife to be close to their daughter who now lived in NC. He did many odd-jobs and maintenance work at his daughter’s house, so taking care of Petey fell in his lap.

There was one story that I had only heard parts of as a kid. The older relatives told us kids how Petey harassed the maid, Georgia. Whenever she would go out and try to hang the clothes to dry in the backyard, Petey would run out of his shed and make a beeline towards Georgia. Georgia would run screaming and yelling into the house when Petey did this. What I didn’t figure out until I was older was that Petey had a boner when he was chasing Georgia. Fortunately, Petey never caught Georgia.

Petey died several years after he came to my grandparent’s house. He contracted pneumonia on a particularly cold stretch of winter and succumbed to the disease.

I never bought an exotic animal like my grandfather did, but my behavior to my dogs has been eccentric nonetheless. Maybe I was fighting an inexorable march of eccentricity when I was a kid, but once Abby and Andy came into my life, a floodgate of quirky and offbeat behavior came pouring out.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Day at the Park

(Above is Withers Hall at North Carolina State University. Many undergraduate teaching labs are there as well as classrooms and offices.)

A big milestone in mine and Abby’s relationship took place on a late summer afternoon one Sunday. My cousin invited my mom to Jordan Lake to spend the afternoon with her and her family. Abby too was invited. My cousin, her daughter, husband and Nikki went camping at the campsites operated and maintained by the Jordan Lake State Park authorities. Jordan Lake is a reservoir in the Triangle area close to Durham created by the damming of the Haw River. The Haw River eventually empties into the Cape Fear River, one of NC’s biggest rivers, and flows past Fayetteville and Wilmington. I was also invited but was unable to go. I was busy teaching labs and Sunday was when I graded papers. Grading lab reports was a pain and what I liked the least about teaching labs. I found it best to grade all of the papers at once so that I would grade the papers in a consistent manner. You can bet your bottom dollar that if I took off one point for a rounding error on one paper but two points for the same error on another paper, those two students would find each other out and the ‘2point’ person would hurt me down to point out how unfair I was in my grading. So, I needed a large block of time, and in grad school, Sunday was the only day when I had that much time available to grade.

Back to the story. I thought they were supposed to return home, my mom and Abby, around 6 in the evening, so when 6pm came and went I started to worry when there was neither sighting of them nor a single call. Finally, around 8pm, my mom reached me on her niece’s cell phone. The reception was broken and crackly, but I could hear my mom say that she and Abby were fine, but that they were unable to leave the park and would not come home until the next morning. The park rangers have a strict policy of when the gates open and close. Once the gates are closed for the night, no one goes in; no one goes out. Everyone inside is on lock-down until the gates open the next morning.

I was in a near panic. My imagination went awry and all I could see was that my mom had lied to me and that instead Abby got lost. I further thought that my mom was making up a story to find time until they found my baby girl. I came very close to driving the 45 mile trip out there and getting my baby girl but I had a few beers that afternoon and didn’t want to chance a DUI. (Did I mention that the students seem smarter after I’ve had a few beers and the grading goes more smoothly?). All I could do was wait.

The next day, Monday, was a school day. I had labs to teach so I had to go to school. Normally, after teaching labs, I would go to the research labs (as opposed to the teaching labs) and do my own lab work. On this day, I changed my routine and went home to see how Abby was doing. My mom’s car was in the garage so that was of some relief to me, but I had to see my baby girl. I checked the living room and den, but they were not there. It turns out they were both layed out in my mom’s bed. When I came into the bedroom, they didn’t even notice me at first. That is how tired, worn out and deep asleep they both were.

I leaned over the bed and hugged Abby. She thwapped her tail on the bed and without lifting her head, licked my face and fell back asleep. Those two were tuckered out and it showed. I went back to school, relieved knowing that my baby girl was safe and secure.

Upon returning home later that day, my mom filled me in on what happened. Abby had a wonderful time. She played with Nikki, swam in the lake, got to eat people food at the cook out and spend the night with Nikki and my cousin’s family. My mom shared a tent with my cousin’s daughter, who was 13 at the time, Nikki and of course Abby. Abby had quite a good time. My mom, on the other hand, was miserable. She had no air conditioning and no pillow. There were deer all over the place, their eyes reflecting in the light. My mom has a hang-up about wild animals. In times when a bird has flown into her house, she immediately evacuates the house screaming the whole way out and would not return until the bird had been removed from the house. (I wish I had known about this phobia when I was a kid.) Her irrational fear of wild animals can petrify and immobilize her so that night must have been hell for her. My mom’s sleepiness was attributed to the fact that she slept three, maybe four hours tops. Abby’s sleepiness was due to the fact that she had been in over-drive the previous day and had worn herself out with all the fun and activities at the lake.

I had been fretted and saddened by the fleeting thought of what would happen if Abby was gone forever. Fortunately, that time wouldn’t come until over a dozen years later after she had lived a full, happy life. She wasn’t just a dog or a pet to me. She was my sunshine angel beauty queen.