Saturday, March 30, 2013

THE ROCK Chapter 4: Murphy


CHAPTER 4 : Murphy

It’s been almost two years since I lost Murphy and there’s still a rankled rawness in writing about him and within my original draft of Book One, this chapter wasn’t initially included.    

But as excoriating as it still is, Murphy was so much a part of Malcolm’s story early on and mine, their influence upon one another is significant and I realize now it’s impossible to disinclude it.     

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Murphy was all of a month or two old when Stevie, my girlfriend at the time, brought him home as a surprise for me.  I’d met Stevie years previously and was turned on to her in a lightening second for a couple of reasons.  First of all, she was named after the lead singer of Fleetwood Mac due to her tall stature and flowing hair. 

Stevie was also a die hard vegan and animal rights advocate, her big heart always standing up for those who couldn’t speak for themselves was what also drew me to her.  Still, when I came home to find that she had rescued a Pyrenees pup, a potential brother to Malcolm, I was none too pleased. 

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Even though Murphy was a cute lil feller as all pups are, I could tell he was a powder keg set to go off at anytime.  But the flaws weren’t his fault.  Stevie had pretty much down and outright stolen him from a groomer at the vet clinic she worked.  The groomer left him outside day and night, through sweltering heat and treacherous electric storms and by the time he was brought into the clinic, Murphy was listless and pretty much lifeless. 

But within a day of being brought home to our townhouse, he perked up enough to begin a reign of holy terror.  He wasn’t house broken but he was so willful even at that age that he actually tried to break the house instead. 

First of all, Murphy didn’t have ‘accidents’.  Nope, as I came to learn, his incontinence was intentional.  He didn’t shyly or sheepishly urinate in a corner, he ran around the entire living room with a steady stream of pee like he was making performance art or something. 

And he couldn’t be left unattended for too long in our townhouse.  We kept him barricaded in the kitchen to try and limit and confine the damage he wrought but even still he found a way.  For the first few days, Murphy would just knock down the pet doors and pee and poop all over the house.  But when I reinforced them to the point at which escape became impossible, it was like we left the Tasmanian devil in the kitchen. 

He’d chew on cabinet knobs and when we removed those, Murphy actually gnawed on the kitchen walls stripping it of wallpaper leaving teeth marks in the sheetrock.  It was like the Pyrenees version of Hannibal Lector and Linda Blair from the Exorcist had just moved in with us and I wasn’t about to call a priest.  I wanted him out of our townhome and out of our lives.

I felt bad for the lad for his lot in life and that he had a shitty, neglectful parent.  But that he was an unruly, untrained, misbehaving child, the real reason I didn’t want Murphy was because of Malcolm. 

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My attention had become diverted from Malcolm and even though he never displayed the slightest sense of jealousy or what I would later learn as ‘resource guarding’ over Murphy, I still felt guilty that he wasn’t the one and only anymore. 

It was a long, hard road for me to learn to love Malcolm and I wasn’t about to share that.  And I wasn’t about to take that journey with another dog.

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Author’s Note on Author’s Notes:  I’m no longer calling them this anymore because it makes me sound like a pretentious boob.  Henceforth, they’ll be Yer Big Dog’s Notes. 

YBD’s Notes 1:  I have a big opportunity so I'm going to have to move my posting from Friday to I'm not quite sure yet til I work out the specifics.  But rest assured, I'll keep sharing the story with you every week.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

THE ROCK: Chapters 1 to 3


THE ROCK, THE RIPPLE, AND THE RIVER. 



BOOK ONE:  THE ROCK

Prologue

This is a love story. 

And like all great love stories it’s a tale of a journey against all odds, fraught with danger and full of magical encounters and adventures.  Of a love that travelled thousands and thousands of miles across 16 lands through forests, mountains, swamps, and flatlands in hellish heat, arctic cold, and savage storms. 

But this isn’t your typical love story.   There are no fair maidens, no knights in shining armor – just a cast of unlikely characters on an extraordinary journey.  Nor does this story end happily ever after.  But oh, what a glorious journey it was. 

It didn’t begin as a love story.

It began with a dog named Malcolm......

Actually, it began with a stripper from San Antone.

Prologue II:
Leesburg, Virgina 2009

“A What???”

“A stripper from San Antone”, I answered excitedly to Theresa who had left the balcony to take the empty plates into the kitchen. 

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Theoretically if you go back far enough in time you can trace the origin of everything.
I was two bottles of wine into a perfect evening of grilled swordfish steak and her husband, Ray’s, guitar when Theresa had asked me how our travels really began.  They were one of our host families for a few nights as we passed through the Washington DC area.

Hudson and Murphy, my trusty travel companions known endearingly as The Fuzzybutts, and I were hiking a contiguous trail system from Pittsburgh to the nation’s capital some 315 miles of a low grade, nicely manicured pathway that is part of the Rails to Trails network.    

At that point we were on the second stretch known as the C & O towpath that ran right between the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, used years ago to run coal up to Maryland, and the Potomac River.  It had been in disuse for well over a century and the lock houses and gates are now mostly in ruins.  And the waterway that once was the Canal is now pestilent and pea porridge green that smells of swamp stink and host to mosquitoes the size of sparrows. 

Still, so much history and beauty we had found on the trail but it was nice to be out of our tent for a few nights and with such kind and gracious hosts. 

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Initially, I answered, as I had so many times over the roughly 1,700 miles we had trekked up to that point and to so many hosts and kind strangers we had met along the way, that our story began with Malcolm, a Great Pyrenees I lost to metastatic bone cancer in 2006. 

I think Theresa sensed there was more to it so she pressed.  “No, I mean, how did it really begin?”
And that’s when it hit me like one of the super-sized semi-trailer tractor trucks that almost plowed into us on the road pretty much weekly. On a good week. 

“Oh.  OH.” 

I shook my head in startling realization as I hadn’t really thought about it.  Not in any of the months since we left Austin, Texas in March 2008 or the many miles we had logged since, because moving forward doesn’t lend itself to looking backwards. 

But I was thoroughly enjoying the company and our conversation and it seemed like the right night to reflect.  I stroked the big wedge shaped heads of the Fuzzybutts sprawled out next to me on the deck, poured myself another glass of wine, and began regaling Ray and Theresa with how our story really began. 

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Lindsey was an exotic dancer from San Antonio, Texas.  She was a woman of exceptional beauty and intelligence with a biting wit to boot and we took off the second we met.  But we were like two brilliant stars that, when brought too closely together, they collapse and although our affair was brief, Lindsey and I remained friends throughout the years. 

In the fall of 1997 I received a call from Lindsey and true to her nature, she got straight to the point the second I answered the phone.   

“Do you want a dog?” she asked impatiently borderline impudently. 

But I answered in my usual fatuous way with her, “Why, what’s wrong with it?”

She went on to tell me some crazy story about how she and her sister while taking a trip into the hill country found these cute puppies and they both got one but her sister wasn’t taking care of it or something to that effect.  Just listening to it was exhausting and it sounded complicated to me so I asked if I could think it over.

“Nope need an answer now”, she replied tersely, as though I was merely one on a long list of prospective takers and she had no time to court me.

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At the time I was living with my brother in Castroville, a small Alsatian bedroom community southwest of San Antonio, and even though we had an entire acre fenced in, the truth is I didn’t want a dog.  I’ve always lived the ‘work-hard, play-hard’ lifestyle and my many passions consumed just about every spare second I had. 

Plus, I’d never had a dog in my adult life and had no desire to start then and there.  Add that to the fact I was in school pursuing a BBA and had little time for anything else.  It was at that point in the conversation my mind had already begun constructing a spreadsheet with a cost versus benefit analysis when something inside of me spoke, I swear unconsciously and unwillingly.  

“Okay.” 

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Such a simple decision made in a flash of a second would ultimately send shockwaves across time touching thousands and thousands of people throughout the world.  It was a decision that would nearly cost me my life but restore my faith, and it was a decision that would change me forever. 

THE ROCK:  CHAPTER ONE
I Don’t Even Like Dogs

August 2009.  Oldtown, Maryland.

Gerry, a retired white bearded postman whom I had only just met earlier in the day, sat across from me on his two-sectional sofa.  He regarded me intensely yet curiously like a bug on a rock as either an entomologist bent on studying it would.  Or a madman intent on squashing it.

There was a looming, uncertain feeling in the late night air that made me a tad edgy.  His wife, Bettie, the only certified animal rehabilitation rescuer in western Maryland - and the only reason I was there in their house that evening, had retired earlier leaving only me and him watching TV on the couch. 

But I was regarding him equally as I had done so with dozens of strangers before him.   

Engage and smile graciously.  Then disengage but don’t seem confrontational or discourteous.  It’s a survival strategy you learn to hone on the road staying in unfamiliar houses and with hosts utterly unknown to you but no matter how skilled you think you’ve become in survival, you’re never entirely certain you’ve mastered it.    

When you’re on the road, you see, you never let your guard down.  And you never let anyone around you know it. 

The TV was dialed into some BBC thriller Gerry was raving about earlier in the evening that involved serial killers. Great.  That’s exactly what I wanted to watch while surrounded by dozens of venomous snakes.  As part of Bettie’s wildlife rescue efforts she had saved rattlers, copperheads, and a whole host of other lethal reptiles that were encaged in their living room plus one evil prairie dog in our spare guest room hell bent on breaking loose and putting the hurt on me, Hudson and Murphy, gnashing us to the bone.   

What the hell am I doing here when I could just as easily be camping out on the C & O towpath as we had done hundreds of nights before? 

And then, after many uncomfortable commercial breaks, Gerry spoke. 

“You’re not at all what I expected”. 

Honestly, I wasn’t surprised at all that these were his first singular utterances to me nor taken aback by the apparent effrontery.  By that time, I was kind of used to it.  Most people I’d met on our journey had prior expectations and a mental image of what this ‘Man’ who had sold his stuff and started walking cross county should look, sound, and seem like - A super human genetic hybrid between Bear Grylls and Gandhi. 

The folks in Bowling Green, Kentucky even asked me if I drank beer.  I still laugh at that. It was like I was made into the myth that William Wallace was in Braveheart, a ten foot tall giant who shot lightning bolts from his eyes and fireballs from his arse. 

I was about to launch into the ‘Aww, shucks I’m just a southern boy’ speech when Gerry interrupted my thoughts and continued his. 

“No, I mean, you’re like a normal guy.  I was expecting a vegan, PETA card carrying, animal rights zealot doo-dad.” 

‘Heh’, I laughed under my breath and thought to myself.  You don’t even know.  I never even used to like dogs. 

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That’s not entirely correct but it is technically and my love of and devotion to dogs developed despite my upbringing, shit, despite me and not because of it. 

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Belton, Texas.

Growing up, like most normal boys, I had a whole host of creatures I called pets whether furry, scaly, slimy, or feathered at one time or another - from box turtles to lizards, tarantulas, gerbils, scorpions, and even a ball python.  But our household was home to the softer, more mammalian and snuggly kind, too.    

There was a Siamese cat we had, Papanicolaou, named so by my mother after the doctor who developed the Pap smear for reasons to this day that still elude me and remain inexplicable.  Then there was Wally, a ghostly white cat with extraordinary hunting abilities. 

Jenny, true to the black lab breed, was just about the sweetest dog I ever did meet. Loyal and full of love, I think I drew a picture of her once in grade school.  But man, her noxious farts would disperse a room full of my friends in 0.2 seconds like tear gas and a flashbang and that’s the lone, lasting memory I really have of her. 

Sure, my younger years were replete with pets of all sorts, but not necessarily a love for them. They were all well-kept and cared for in the Robinson household but they were always in the backdrop of our daily lives.  I cannot recall one single vacation we took as a family where any of our dogs came with us. 
Reflecting on it now, it seems the animals in and out of our lives were playthings meant to preoccupy me and my three brothers and for my parents as filler to float the holes in their marriage.  As I am older now, and though a bit wiser and longer on in the years, why companion animals sometimes become surrogates to our personal disappointments and stand-in symbols for something darker still remains a mystery to me.

I grew up in the Deep South where animals were treated like chattel: Bought, sold, traded, or discarded like farm implements or any other piece of property. 

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When Lindsey called me that fateful day asking me if I wanted a dog I should have never let my guard down.

Why I did is a question that still haunts me.  

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“There is no greater glory than a good piece of wood in hand, the path underfoot, your dogs at your side and the call of the wild leading you on.”

How many years it took to earn the right to write those words...
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There are many reasons I could offer up as to 'Why' I initially didn't want Malcolm in my life like I had no compelling need or even the slightest desire to have a dog.  Or I was busy in business school and my upbringing just didn't lend itself to a loving nature towards companion animals.  
But this isn't a fluff piece.  I am writing this with the purist of intentions like scientists trying to understand something unquantifiable and seemingly, eternally elusive.  The thing that keeps them up late at night in the lab, calibrating, testing, and toiling then recalibrating, retesting, and toiling is the same thing that keeps me up late at night.   

Only we use different instruments.  This book is my microscope, the focal point of which is aimed squarely into the depths of my soul and the lens I chose for it, the lens I use isn't either refracting or reflecting, it's a piercing one.  
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Inglorious (sic) Basterd

The truth is I've always been a self centered, singularly absorbed, solipsistic sumbitch hyper focused on myself, something that's taken me a long time to understand and accept.

It wasn’t my fault but hell, I was having fun in my twenties and I had no interest in being encumbered.  I was exceedingly well educated, rakishly handsome, dapperly dressed, dating models, and in an upward spiral to what I thought was my destiny.   

And then everything changed.  Not immediately.  Nothing ever does.  
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But even after I had Malcolm for a couple of years I still wasn’t what you would consider a dog lover.  I didn’t go to parks to meet other dog people and whenever we were out for a stroll and happened upon one of them I hurried by. 

They creeped me out kinda like the cheerleader and beauty pageant moms of the south who live fanatically and vicariously through their kids. Think Toddlers and Tiaras.  I won't even mention the other one. 

I felt uncomfortable being around dog people, you know the ones who talk all about the color, consistency and regularity of poop like a carat rating then hit you up with play dates?  I had absolutely no interest in discussing Malcolm’s bowel movements with complete strangers or hearing how special their little snowflake was.  It’s like they lived in this one-dimensional universe and I was a stranger in their strange land.

A girlfriend once goaded me into going to some sort of dog event up in the hill country and it didn’t do anything for me.  I wasn’t interested in talking to anyone there so I found a secluded patch of flat grass far away from the others and just hung out with Malcolm.     

I didn't know if I was protecting myself from them or protecting him. 
   
Whatever, I wanted no part of it, which, in the grand scheme of things is a cosmic irony why I was picked for this mission.  

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Of Metaphysics and Men

Noone likes being under the scope but it's a responsibility some must bear.  John Donne famously wrote, "No man is an island in of himself".  It's a quote that's almost always abused and misused.  
He should've written instead, "We are all rocks part of a great mountain.  Some of us choose to be pebbles, some cobblestones, and others gigantic boulders.  But we are all, each and everyone of us, part of it."  

Though I studied Donne and Johnson and all the rest in a 17th century literature class in college, I had no idea what any of that meant at the time and even if I did, I could have never predicted nor been prepared for that one day back in 1997 in Castroville, Texas when I got the call from Lindsey.  
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Unexpectedly, unwillingly, and definitely undeservedly, I became part of something bigger than me back then.

Malcolm became the rock that I broke myself against.  
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THE ROCK: CHAPTER TWO

The Gospel According to Malcolm

“Look to the rock from which you were cut and the quarry from which you were hewn.”
Isaiah 51:1

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Malcolm was all of a few months old when I met him for the first time back in 1997 and he didn’t seem like much of a rock to me.  More like a powdered cream pastry or a lump of Crabapple blossoms freshly blown from a tree. Or the thing that sat atop Albert Einstein’s head well after he was a genius.  I didn’t know what to think of him.

Malcolm, though nameless to me then, had kind, curious and unexpected eyes that drew me in.   But what I couldn’t see at the time was a stoic and ancient story behind those eyes and that the white and innocent fluffiness of the Great Pyrenees belies an intense and fierce nature.

While their exact origins are uncertain, it’s widely believed that Pyrenees date back to 1,000 BCE and is one of the oldest pure breeds still extant.  They hail from the mountain range that bears their name and were born and bred by Basque farmers to protect their livestock from wolves, a job they performed then and now expertly.  

I didn’t know any of this when I stared at him in the back of my Nissan Pathfinder, still ambivalent and wondering what in the hell I had gotten myself into.  Picturing it now, the contrast was stark; his small, wobbly body all alone in the rear of my empty and capacious SUV.  I wonder if he was as unsure as I was about the arrangement but what I did know, I had to eat and since I was in Austin that morning that meant Ruta Maya.

As I was ordering a cafĂ© au lait and one of their righteous blueberry muffins I stopped mid-request and said, “No, make that two.”  After all, the lil’ feller had to eat and who wouldn’t love a muffin in the morning?  Feeling pretty damn pleased with myself and already owning up to my new role, I fed Malcolm his half and he graciously ate every last buttery, sugary crumb.

Yep, things we going just swell on my drive back to Castroville when I heard a gurgling, churning sound like something being dredged up from the bowels of hell.  And then that cute little Crabapple spewed the Ruta Maya muffin all over my SUV.  Oh, but he wasn’t done yet.

Somehow, blueberries triggered a chain reaction that went from his fore to his aft and he squirted poop like a Jackson Pollock painting.  Only the canvas was the cloth interior of my Pathfinder.  

I once read an article about senses having memory.  How long after you hear a song can you recall the singer and album?  When do you forget the name of the person you just met?  What scientists found is smell has the longest and most eternal of memories.

Case in point.  You’ll never forget the acrid, eye watering, migraine inducing smell of a skunk after your first introduction.  And til the day I die, I’ll never lose the memory of what happens when you combine blueberries and feces.  All I could think about while I was still trying not to swerve off of I-35 was the scene from Stephen King’s movie Stand By Me about blueberry pies and the state fair.

I pulled off the interstate at the nearest rest stop and, after cranking out every single paper towel from the dented, rusty, dispenser, cleaned up the mess Malcolm had made.  Surprisingly, given my upbringing, I wasn’t mad or mean to him.  I just went about it, cleaning the truck as best I could.  But I couldn’t help wondering if I made the wrong choice not only for me but for Malcolm, too.  After all, I had just fed him something that clearly was disagreeable to his digestive system and it had become apparent I had no idea what I was doing. 
  
We were somewhere around New Braunfels and the Canyon Lake exit, about the halfway point to Castroville, and I was wrestling with myself.  I should just take him back.

But I didn't.  I slid into the driver's seat, put the gear into drive and headed down south on the freeway.  All I could think was, “This is going to be a long trip home.”

Some fifteen years later, and we're still so far away.  
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Arriving in Castroville for the first time, full of fear and fully unaware of what was in store for me and Malcolm, I had no idea where to begin.  After I let him romp and stomp around our acre of fenced in backyard, I took him into our solarium, and there we sat nose to snout regarding each other, both of us unsure what came next. 

Talking to the little tyke seemed like as good as any place to start so I began. 

 “These are the rules of my house and if you respect them, I’ll respect you.”

And then I enumerated them for him. (1) No chewing on anything that isn’t previously designated as ‘chewable’, (2) No interrupting me when I am working, (3) You’ll only speak when spoken to… and the list went on and on. 

With his big brown eyes open wide and a sweet smile, Malcolm appeared to listen attentively and agreeably, which I assumed we had reached a meeting of the minds.

I nodded my head, got up and patted his.  “Good talk”.  Whew, that part was over and our ‘contract’ was signed, sealed, and delivered.  “You see”, I thought to myself, “It ain’t that tough”. 

The ink wasn’t even dry before Malcolm ate the contract and pooped it out into my Cole Haan loafers.  And over the coming weeks he set about, like the Tasmanian Devil, to destroy everything I held sacred.  He peed on an antique edition of Grey’s Anatomy passed on to me from my father. 

And after I had passed out from a long day, my clothes draped over the nearest chair on the way down, I awoke to the horror to find my Hermes tie, a gift from my girlfriend, severed and all slobbery in the little rat bastard’s mouth. 

And he was shitty about it, too, and he knew it!. He was like, “Thanks.  I needed a new chew toy”.  And every time he pissed in the house and by this time, no square foot had been spared, he looked up at me all innocent like, “Oh, I’m sorry.  Did I do something wrong?  Was that something you treasured?”  And then he cranked up the nozzle a few notches. 

I mean, come on, do dogs have four bladders like cows have stomachs? 

But it wasn’t Malcolm’s fault.  The truth is he was untrained.  And so was I.  You see, I had a preconceived notion based on my upbringing of how to raise a dog but it wasn’t long before I had to accept the reality that I was way in over my head.  I purchased a few books on Pyrenees and the experts described the breed as ‘independent’ but I became to understand that as a Texas euphemism for ‘stubborn sumbitches’. 

But I was too.  

Indeed Malcolm and me became a perfect study in what happens when an immovable object meets and unstoppable force. 

But the old model on which I was raised of ‘establish dominance and punish unruly behavior’ just wasn’t working.  It was will against will and that just made it worse.

It would have been somewhat tolerable I suppose if he showed the slightest shred of gratitude.  He had a good life at our humble little abode in our small Alsatian community and he wanted for nothing. 

I’ve never needed much by way of affection in life but there’s nothing like a good snuggle every now and then but Malcolm wanted no part of it.  I’d have to wrestle him up on the couch for it and, at times, he’d relent for five minutes, tolerate me, then jump right down and be on his way with a “KThnxbye”.  And that damn near drove me daffy. 

Nope, Malcolm was too cool for that.

Thinking about him now, he was a man’s dog.  Hell, he slept like Superman and pissed like Steve McQueen. 

There was a tiled corridor from the den to the solarium where he slept most nights and he would face the wall with his right paw extended, almost touching it and his left tucked in.  Malcolm’s legs would be stretched far, far out which made him look like The Man of Steel flying, only in the old, old movies when the first word of the term 'special effects' was more exact and telling than the second.  

He slept differently and he peed differently, too.  Or unlike any of the male dogs I grew up around.  He didn’t hike it but he didn’t squat like a girl either.  Rather, Malcolm planted all fours squarely on the ground and arched his legs like mounting a motorcycle with a certain machismo that would’ve made the King of Cool smile.

It was fascinating, albeit foreign to someone like me, to behold Malcolm. 

But still we struggled.  I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and everything I tried seemed to end in utter failure.  There was a chasm between us that I ultimately deemed unbridgeable.  Despondent and downright convinced I was utterly incapable of caring for Malcolm, I called Lindsey and tried to give him back.  True to her nature, she said, “No”, and then promptly hung up the phone.

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And then a miracle happened. 

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The term ‘Miracle’ can have many meanings especially when you’re talking about a puppy; the first pee on newspaper, the first poop outside or when it’s a Pyrenees, the first paw. 

But for me and Malcolm it meant blankets.

I’ve had chronic back pain most of my adult life due to an injury sustained on a job and then a subsequent car crash in Corpus Christi when, on my way to a deep sea fishing expedition,  a Dodge Ram driving 50 MPH slammed into my rear end rupturing a disc. 

For as long as I can recall, beds made it worse but couches made it tolerable. 

Back in Castroville, I slept on the living room sofa while Malcolm was asleep all Superman style on the cold corridor tile, and even though we were close in proximity we still seemed worlds apart. 

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Then one morning, after what must've been a fitful night, I awoke and found Malcolm sleeping not in the tiled hallway but right next to my couch.  

“Why hasn’t he done that before”, I wondered?  And then I realized that at some point my blanket had partially slipped off me onto the floor upon which he lay.

I tested that hypothesis the very next night.  

After I retired to the couch, I deliberately took half my blanket and draped over me and the other onto the floor and closed my eyes pretend like. 

Moments later, sure enough, Malcolm plopped himself down onto the blankets and fell soundly asleep. 

It wasn’t my notion of ‘snuggling’ or even what I wanted or expected out of a puppy but that night I realized something I’d never ever thought possible from a dog.  He was trying to communicate with me. 

But about what?  Are cold tiles giving you piles?  Is Timmy stuck in the town well?  

Hell, I didn't know.  And at the time, he didn't even have a name.    

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You’d think a creative type wordsmith like me would have no problem at all naming a dog but even after months together nothing came to mind.  And it wasn’t due to lack of diligence.  I researched mythologies from around the world and the only name I came close to was Loki, the Norse God or mischief, which seemed fitting.  . 

Still, I remained uncommitted until my brother, Mark, came into the living room one night and spoke the name ‘Malcolm’. 

“That’s it”, I said without any hesitation and up until now, I never understood why I pulled the trigger so hastily. 

To the extent of my recollection, I’ve never known anyone or anything named Malcolm and couldn’t find any personal, historical, emotional, or grand significance to it either. 

And maybe that’s the reason. 

I didn’t want this dog and maybe giving it a name that I had no attachment to meant I could get rid of it cleanly and easily.  

Or maybe even then I had absolutely no idea what I was up against and it was still so foreign to me.  

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Over the coming months Malcolm would accrue many nick names.  

One of the rules I had set forth on our first day together was I absolutely refused to ‘cutesy-tootsy baby talk’ him like girls do.  Southern men just don’t do that   

But Malcolm had a way of breaking down my preconceptions and down and outright bigotry towards dogs. 

One morning in our first winter together, I was taking a long soak and he nosed the door open to the bathroom and I started singing the ‘Rubber Ducky’ song to him but instead substituted the name ‘Chubby Bubby’. 

Other names followed; Smiley Britches and then later on, Snow Monkey.   

And I loved singing to Malcolm as he listened to me with rapt attention, whether I sang Queensryche, Emmy Lou Harris, or Luciano Pavarotti. 

From nicknames to sing songs to finding any and every excuse to picking up a new chew toy on my way home from school, the little feller was growing on me. 

Malcolm rarely left my side and I his.  With one exception.  Church.

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One Saturday morning I was headed out to worship at the Alsatian Golf Club, the only church I knew at the time.  As I suited up and strapped my bag on my shoulder, Malcolm got all excited as though he was coming with. 

“Oh, no”, I said patting his head.  “This is a man’s sport and no dog’s allowed.”

Unconvinced, he sidled up to me with a sweet expectant look.  Whether I was spent from the constant battle between us or resigned to the inevitability, I said to the little wedge shaped head dog, “Fine.  But I’m driving the cart.” 

“And don’t bark in my backswing.”

Malcolm didn’t.  He turned out to be an exceptional caddy, riding shotgun in the golf cart, spotting my errant balls, and chasing the geese and gophers from the fairways.  And although he couldn’t keep score so good, his card always erred on my side. 

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I think then and there on the fairways of the old Alsatian course, I was entering into a new chapter of my life.  Malcolm had become my mate.  

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But my naive misconception of the true nature of our relationship almost cost Malcolm his life several times over and I had a whole helluva lot to learn.  


THE ROCK: CHAPTER 3

Inflection Point

Inflection point –

Noun. 
1. Math. Point on a curve at which the curvature changes from convex to concave or vice versa. 
2. Business. A moment of dramatic change, especially in the development of a company, industry, or market.  
3. Dog Owner. The absolute moment at which you realize you don’t own a dog, it owns you. 

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As I reflect back on our first six months together, it’s still surprising that both of us made it out alive. 

But me and Malcolm were now mates, having a helluva lot of fun, mixing it up, playing golf, and side by side twenty four seven.  And we were developing a routine.  As the sun sneaked up over the Medina River that abutted our land, we’d awaken, Malcolm stirring from the blanket beside the couch and me uncrumpling from the two-seater I slept on that didn’t quite fit a man of my size, then head out to the backyard and take our morning piss.  Ah, what a way to start the day. 

At the time I was pursuing a business degree and was thoroughly involved with accounting and finance type clubs but at every study session at Calcutta’s Coffee House and at every school sponsored event I attended, Malcolm came with.  ‘I Go, He Go’ was how we rolled and there were very few exceptions to that rule. 

At one of the FMA or Eco-Finance meetings I was chairing, I can’t recall which, I met a fellow named Eric Gamble, a rapscallion, scraggly looking, screw-the-system sort and we became friends.  He got his rebellious bent and respect and admiration of nature I suppose from his grandfather, the founder of Ozark water, but Eric was more than that to me.  He was a fellow dog lover and at the time, I knew very few of them that I cared for, tolerated talking to, or even respected.   

He and his striking Great Dane, Lily, lived on 200 acres south of San Antonio, a place that became a second home to me and Malcolm.  On any given weekend, we’d go out there to romp and stomp, pound our chests, and explore the wild and untamed.  Cheese-Mo type stuff, you know?  At least I thought it was just that.    

Yep it was beers for me, bitches for him at our weekends at Patron’s Ranchito (as Eric’s place became known by me), and by bitch I’m speaking of the most beautiful Lilith, a name that if you understand its origins, was most aptly picked by Eric.  Fawn colored yet fiercely independent, she was the Mamasita of the little ranch and Malcolm fell in love with her the moment they met.   

One of my favorite memories is driving up the half-mile bumpy, pot ridden, red sandy loam, unpaved drive to Eric’s house and before I had a chance to park the Pathfinder, Malcolm leapt out the half opened passenger seat window to greet her.  Like all proper Southern Belles, Lily asserted and like all proper Southern gentlemen, Malcolm submitted. 

And once the dance was done, they tore off together to wallow in the nearest mud pit or livestock tank, which, for those of you who never grew up on a farm, is like a pond but with an indelible and unforgettable stank to it.  Maybe that’s where the name came from.

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Indeed, those were our salad days. 

Back then, I thought that idiomatic expression meant just the good times, the life of Riley.  I don’t know where it came from but I recall the Shakespearean play about it being green in judgment.  And that I was.

You see, it’s easy to be mates as Malcolm and I had become.  Friendship doesn’t and shouldn’t really require a whole lotta moving parts.  Parenting does but at that time, I still didn’t see myself as one.

So at what point does an inflection, the inverse curve, begin?  What causes it and why?  For some I suppose its love, loss, beauty, pain, tragedy, triumph, despair or desperation. 

For me it was fear.  A fear I’ve never felt before the weekend we were at El Ranchito de Patron, one sweet sunny South Texas day.  

I still recall that day with absolute clarity.  It was the day that I became a dad for the first time but it was also the day I almost killed my son. 

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Farmers in the deep south are pretty unforgiving when it comes to stray dogs and they shoot them on sight, the second the innocent and unknowing paws trespass onto their land.  

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Not all strays are sweet natured and innocuous, that's true.  We've encountered a few predatory packs on our travels but the 'shoot first' mentality that's pervasive down there is a special kind of ignorance and absurdity that often ends in tragic and unnecessary consequences.  

I just didn't know it at the time.  

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We were spending the weekend at the Ranchito in Somerville, Texas.  Eric and I were thoroughly involved in a crazy project of some great momentary importance that I can't recall while in the near distance, Lily and Malcolm were mixing it up, playing slap and tickle, rolling in dead Armadillo carcasses or whatever the two of them did when we weren't watching.  

By that time, I had grown comfortable enough leaving him off leash so long as he remained within earshot, but like a bat using echolocation, it was a range I tested every ten minutes or so just to be sure.  Kinda like an out of water version of Marco Polo.  

I must have lost track of time because when I stopped for a sec to call out to him there was no response.  Again.  And again.  No hide nor hair nor fuzzybutt tail after repeatedly calling out to Malcolm.  

There are minutes that defy physics and logic and somehow condense down into microseconds and this was one of them.  I stopped the construction job I was working on at the time and started walking in the direction I last spotted him.  

My pace became hurried, the pitch of my voice increasingly excited and desperate, I ran to his usual haunts but he was nowhere to be found.  Frantic and half-crazed now, I scoured as much ground as I could and still nothing but I was the limiting factor.  By then Malcolm was missing for at least half an hour which meant he could have been 5 miles from us.

Eric had a beat up work truck that we jumped in and tore ass along the perimeter of his property, across adjacent country roads, up down, back, again and again searching for Malcolm.  I remember at some point I heard gunfire in the distance and my heart sank. 

Plummeted actually, down to a deep dread and desolate darkness and that day I experienced two emotions I'd never felt so singularly affecting and utterly consuming:  fear and hate.  

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If indeed that was the gunshot that killed my boy I would turn it on whoever fired it.  I'd take their life with as little consideration and hesitation.  Even the simplest minded person could have seen Malcolm's smile had no ferocity in it and in spending a split second with him, sensed his gentle nature.  I had all but given up on that possibility and was hell bent on avenging him.  

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After several hours, our search was unsuccessful and as the twilight wasn't too far off, we returned to Eric's house.  And although the ending had already been wrought in my mind, I called to check my voicemail messages at our home in Castroville in the off chance Malcolm had been found and they called the number on his collar.  

I remember hearing the voice of a woman, an angel she seemed. Malcolm had wandered onto her property, a few farms down, and she'd lured him up to her house with some treats.  He was safe she said and.... I didn't listen to the rest... and within minutes, Eric and I were there and Malcolm and I together again.  

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I wept quietly, privately and though I was eternally grateful to the gods for his safe return and the Angel of Somerville, still a silent rage seethed within me.  

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A Great Growl was growing inside of me and it felt both prehistoric and preternatural at the time.  I’d never been a parent before but the innate instincts of one had lain dormant inside me that I discovered that day when I damned near lost Malcolm.  

The terror I felt took me to the Dark Side and by Dark Side, I mean being a Dog Person.

I realized just how uneducated, ill prepared, and uninformed I was about pet parenting and I started reading indiscriminately about Pyrenees, puppies, and about raising big dogs in general. And it was then I learned a term I was never properly introduced to before but became the absolute bane of my existence.

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Bloat

A term I previously associated with a late night that consisted of a dozen or so Dos Equis and take out from Taco Cabana.  Like people, dogs get gassy, too, I assumed, but upon learning for the first time bloat could lead to catastrophic and complete organ failure and death, I was panic stricken.    

For months thereafter I hadn't a single restful night as I became obsessed with bloat.  And every article I read, website I came across, and story I learned of only compounded my dread. 

When Malcolm didn't finish his meal, he had bloat.  When he didn't have a bowel movement at his usual time of day, dammit it was bloat.  I was constantly sticking my head to his belly listening for peristalsis, or stomach gurgling, to assure me his systems were functioning normally. 

In short order I’d gone from ‘Don’t want dog’ to ‘He’s my mate’ to ‘Okay I’m a dad’ to “Mad dog man’.  I wasn’t a parent anymore.  I was a hyper-maternalistic maniac who was probably seriously freaking Malcolm out with my obsession over his bowels.  And all of my friends and family, too.  

But my mania wasn’t just limited to bloat.  Shortly after nearly losing Malcolm, I became hell bent on protecting him from outside threats to the point that I installed an electric fencing system in our back yard.

Malcolm had escaped a few times before and I couldn’t figure out how until I let him outside and hid in our sun room until he tried it.   I’d read about dogs digging holes underneath gates, squeezing through them, or even the more athletic ones jumping over fences but nothing like how Malcolm got loose. 

Our backyard acre was enclosed by a standard four foot high Cyclone fence and there was no way Malcolm could clear it.  Instead, he put his front paws on top then stuck his hind paws in the first or second openings in the weave and then somehow, miraculously, threw his fat butt over the fence in a painfully uncoordinated way. 

An Olympian, surely not, nor would he ever be invited to perform with Cirque de Soleil, but after a few rolls he got up quite contented, dusted himself off, and tore ass down to the Medina River to wallow in the mud. 

The only solution I could come up with back then was to electrify the top of the fence where he positioned his front paws.  I grounded a single looped wire from a system I purchased at a local feed store that assured me the voltage was so low it would act a deterrent only and not a detriment.  But the first time I saw it in action, Malcolm jumped straight up in the air, clearly frightened.  The look on his face I never wanted to see again and I immediately deactivated the electric fence.  

I just didn’t have enough parenting experience how to balance enrichments and risks and to compensate for that deficit, I suppose, I systematically started to insulate him from all external threats.  Or maybe I was protecting myself. 

But it all culminated when my girlfriend brought home a Pyrenees puppy she had rescued that day from an irresponsible groomer.  I came home late that night and she had hoped to surprise me with him, but the second I saw the dog, I told her to start looking for a home for him. 

Unquestionably, there was no way I was going to make Malcolm feel like he had to compete for my love nor was I going to permit anything to breach the bond we had developed. 

The dog could stay with us for a week, I informed my girlfriend, after that, the Pyr pup had to have a new home.  I was adamant I didn’t want it, wouldn’t accept it, and damn well couldn’t have another in my life. 

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I couldn’t have been more wrong as ‘that dog’ would one day be known as Murphy. 

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Author's Note:  The cover art for the trilogy was brilliantly done by my dear friend Jamie.  I wanted to start telling the story in 2011 after losing Murphy, it didn't happen.  She's an amazing artist and here's the link to her portfolio.  Thank you for shining through and if you're from Philly, you're from Philly.