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This year’s been good to me in many ways.
I’ve made new friends, found old friends and most importantly, remembered lost friends.
You probably think all the WiseGuy has to offer you is stories about horses, Jockeys, race tracks and horse racing experiences. Well, that’s not always true.
This story is about my special day, April 20th, today. Of course there are a bunch of other important days to me and I can go down the normal list everyone else has or wants to forget in the past.
Marriages, divorces, children due dates and conception dates. Anniversaries and birthdays and holiday events. Reunions, communions and bar mitzvahs. Turning points, a race won, and a race lost. The list goes on and on.
Exciting and boring. Happy and sad. . . What? Screech to a stop! A happy and sad day together on one date you ask? Yep, it happens more often than you think. Those kind of days usually stand out above the rest although in reality we all know what’s most important in our lists. Days are as different to us in meaning as is the stars in the night sky. True for sure, that is if you really take the time and take a close look while you try to remember each one.
April 20th. That’s my day. Seems to anyone as an ordinary and inconspicuous day. Isn’t it non-alluring and bland to you?. But look closely and it’s not. It’s not at all and especially not to me.
I bet you didn’t know the actor Ryan O’Neil was born on 4/20 along with the great singer, Luther Vandross. ‘Circles’ is still one of my top 10 songs in my mind’s playlist and I still think Tatum is a hottie.
Did you know in 1906 on 4/20 the San Francisco devastation from the earthquake was finally under control. Firefighters ended the spread of flames in San Francisco on this day after the earthquake two days earlier on April 18th. Nearly 700 people lost their lives from the earthquake and fires and 200,000 were left homeless. That was a significant day and sad for most although the fires were out for good.
Northern Ireland’s 1000th victim was on the 20th of April in 1974. The continuing violence between the two para-military organizations in Northern Ireland claimed its 1,000th victim with the death, early in the morning, of a simple gas station owner named James Murphy in the County Fermanagh. That was a sad day too yet some thought it was a milestone. I wonder if Mr. Murphy thought is was an important day?
Who can’t remember the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon on the 20th of April in 2010? The BP Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible offshore oil drilling rig kills 11 workers and injured 17 others. Following the explosion, a sea-floor oil gusher began pumping oil directly into the water. By the time the gusher was capped in mid July more than 200 million gallons of crude oil were released into the environment. That day sucked and the day it was capped was a good day.
Then on this same day, April 20th, 2010, the Arizona sun was shining low on a windless afternoon while the forgiving temperature hung right around the mid-eighties. My family was out on the grassy area behind the house. To most everyone else I’m assuming everything seemed fine.
Not for me.
My friend, my dog, Katie, died on this date at exactly 4:17 before the sun went down. I struggled to help her as she struggled to leave us that afternoon. I can still remember her last breath. I cried like a taunted school girl all night and the next few days. I took off work. To me and to my family, this day was a very, very, very sad day.
I hate this date and yet I love it at the same time. When 04/20 pops up on my calendar in the morning of it, it makes me remember how blessed I was to have her as a part of me and for me to be a part of her. Truth be known, as the years have passed, I don’t think of her as much. In the beginning, it was every day, all day and all night. A year goes by and its every other day. Two, and it’s maybe once every two or three weeks.
Now I have my reminder not to forget. April 20th helps me remember to never to forget. What a great day that is for me. It’s Kate’s day!
Time travel time —————–
The vet told me Kate was a Norwegian Cattle Dog and that she was special. She didn’t look special when we hauled her skinny butt out of jail when she was a puppy. Bail was only 40 bucks. In the chain-link pen with her was her sister and her hair was just a little longer than Kate’s. The, ‘shedding fear’, is what made me not take her too from the concrete cell at the pound.
Up on the list of regrets in my life and only for me. I should have brought her home too. Let’s get the 435,234th kick in my ass over with, okay? I do it almost every day I remember.
The fact that my daughter wanted a dog and my wife wanted a dog did not sway my opinion of not wanting a dog. The son could have cared less. He had baseball cards to occupy his time. He thought he was going to play pro sports or some other high hope almost all young boys dream about.
Kate came home with us that night and quickly fell into our house’s routine. She took over the couch. Without a command from me, she begins shedding hair everywhere. Multi-colored hair filled the air. You couldn’t count the amount of hair pieces as they drifted through the shafts of light from the lamps, there were that many of them. Once in the morning I squeezed my tube of toothpaste and a hair came out. The follicle-free strands quickly became a staple in my food.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner and of course including any snacks you might find in the fridge or cupboards and, you guessed it, you would find hair. I popped open a beer one time, took a slug, and a hair was in my mouth. I never did figure out how it got inside the can. She must have visited Budweiser before I got her and left a hair for them. I’ll bet you over the years I consumed more hair from Katie than 12 year olds consume Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in a year in the entire world. Now can you fathom the amount?
I felt deep down inside that Kate thought I was a cat. I could well have been as the size of the hair balls I hacked up would surprise even Heathcliff. I went to a meeting one day with a hair in my teeth instead of spinach from the veggie burro I ate for breakfast. I gave Kate some of my burro and she gave me a hair.
I have a lock of her white hair safely sealed away in a sandwich-size ziplock. I haven’t looked at it for some time. I think I will today. Today would be a good day to do just that.
Kate sat down funny, kind of sideways. That worried me because of the hip issue so many dogs have. Kate quickly became my dog and not so much my daughters. Only because I’d fed her under the table and throw long tennis balls for her to bring back but not give up was her secret agenda.
Them sloppy tennis balls in her clenched mouth and covering my hands with slobber was definitely a frustration for me and not her. She’d growl knowing I would never get it out of her mouth and once I acted like I didn’t care, she’d drop it.
Chasing plastic golf balls I would hit with a nine iron or pestering a small group of javelina, Kate was always up for a run. But, she hated snakes and had a special bark when she smelled one out in the back. She was strong too. One time I returned from a walk with Kate on the leash and I was in distress.
I entered the back door bleeding from my knees, head and the pads of my palms, I was confronted by Kim, “What the hell happened?” she asked.
“Snake,” is all I could mutter. “She smelled remnants of a roadkill snake on the road and dragged me down the asphalt away from the horror. I’m telling you, she’s a nut!”
Why you may ask? Why would a brave and fierce Norwegian Cattle dog who is bred to take down even the largest ferocious Eurasian Lynx be afraid of snakes. Well, I’ll tell you why.
Early in her childhood I was too cheap to hire a person to snake-train her so I did it my way. I don’t kill anything but I killed a rattlesnake in the back for research purposes like the Japanese do with whales and placed it, without head of course, on the grass only feet away of the backdoor.
I cocked a copper BB into the Red Rider and hid behind a wall on the porch. I whistled and then called invitingly, “Katieeeee.” My brain was on fire in anticipation of how I was about to save the 40 bucks for snake-training fees.
The cattle dog in her took over as she slowly exited the doorway and hunkered down like a momma Cheetah on the scent of an African Marmot. Butt and hackles up, sniffer to the ground and facing the still rattling, securely-dead and headless serpent. She inched closer. Tail straight up like a flag pole. She inched a little closer. I could hear the sounds of her nose taking in the identity of the coiled reptile in the grass.
Three feet, two feet, one foot, then only inches and POW! The BB left at such a slow speed I could actually see it’s gravity-affected course over the sights of the gun. The target of her black, brown and white hair-covered rear end had been struck with accuracy. She leapt up in the air and twisted her eastern-facing body to the west like a high board diver doing a gainer with a half-twist. Just like Snagglepuss without the infamous announcement, she exited ‘stage left’ and in a blur she disappeared into the house.
I cocked the hunting rifle. “Katieeeee,” I requested her appearance again. I checked and could tell the snake still couldn’t hear me. It’s ears were gone. Kate’s nose appeared at the doorway. With the thought running through her small brain, ‘No way did this weird headless thing bite me in my butt,’ she came out into full view. The Red Rider’s ammo was ready and the sights were fixed. This time she inched slower than before.
She made her way to the end of the concrete where the grass began. Her paw hovered for seconds outstretched in front of her and only an inch above the damp blades. Motionless as if she was thinking, ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ Her decision to go on was final and she planted her first paw onto the bermuda.
POW! The BB arched through the air like a bolt shot out of a wet bamboo crossbow. What seemed like minutes later it met it’s mark on the padding of her plump and hairy hiney. The skill Kate used to exit the lawn equalled precision circles and flares of the greatest pommel horse gymnast who ever lived. I thought I heard Mary Lou Retton clapping.
Next week Kate’s back to normal and were walking again. The snake training was yet to be tested. Some stupid kid must have been flying a kite and lost it as a twenty-foot length of white cloth string lay on the road ahead of us in a serpentine way. “What the hell happened?” is all I remember Kim saying as I entered the house.
I think my nose was broken and I only had one shoe on. “String in the road.”
“What? Look at you.”
“Kate thought a string in the road was a snake so she brought me home again.” Next day I broke the Red Rider in half hurting my hand in the process and tossed it in the trash barrel to burn. Kate watched me start the fire and then she was hungry again.
I had returned from the Belmont with Dan and came back with some souvenirs. Hats, shot glasses, a New York t-shirt and a golf towel from the infamous Bethpage Black, walking-only, golf course.
Bethpage State Park, a mecca for public golf featuring five 18-hole regulation golf courses including the world-renowned Black Course which was the site of the United States Open in 2002 and 2009. I barely survived and I’ve tried waterboarding. It was much easier. The course’s torture is mentioned in, The Bailey Days of Summer, earlier in the WiseGuy Diaries.
Well, one night I wake up to Kate screaming. Yes, dogs scream, and when they scream you know its a dog scream. Doesn’t even compare to a person scream. The sound is much more horrific. I turned on the lights and there on the living room floor agonizing in pain is Kate with her tail tucked and panting with fever. I knelt down next to her as she continued to scream in pain.
Knowing not what to do, I heaped her 40 pounds of hair onto my chest and held her on her back. Her neck went limp and I told Kim I thought she was dying in front of me. Panic struck as Kim helped me wrap her in a towel and rushed her to the 24-hour Emergency Vet. Everyone knows what ’24-hour Emergency Vet’ means, right?
The term used loosely in some parts of our town means, ‘Bank Account Depletion’ or ‘Massive Credit Card Debt’ as that’s what’s about to happen when you walk in the welcoming glass door. A man in a ‘Vet’ white coat comes up to the desk a minute or so after the bell of the door being opened sounded. He wiped his eyes and I could tell he had been sleeping.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Uh, I thought I would just stop by and say hi,” I snarkly answered. “I thought I’d bring my dog with me too. If I knew ‘what was going on’,” I pushed Kate toward him, “I wouldn’t have shown up here at two in the morning to meet you.”
“Bring her in the back.”
The ER Vet told us to go home after two more hours and to come back around seven and he would call us if things were worse with her condition. He assured us Kate was resting and was receiving fluids. The X-rays showed nothing. We told him we would be back and I made sure he had all our phone numbers just in case.
We also left our credit card number with them to cover any cost Kate may incur during her stay at the hospital. Couldn’t be too much I suspected. How much can a saline-drip bag cost?
Monday morning at seven we are at the door and waiting for any news. Kate comes around the corner with a white bandage on her leg and semi-wagging her tail. We walked her outside and I could tell something wasn’t right. She was happy to see us but the pain hadn’t gone away.
“I’m taking her to our Doc,” I announced to the receptionist. She said fine and that she would work up our bill.
I had told Kim years earlier when the, ‘Let’s get a dog’, conversation began that she could, but I would never pay money to fix a dog. I lectured to her how dogs were expensive and how I wasn’t going to ever go into debt for one. Then on that morning, I flopped down the plastic like a hooked mackerel and I didn’t care. Nothing is too much for my friend.
“Two thousand three hundred, twenty-two dollars and seventeen cents,” she said without hesitation or guilt.
I signed the card’s receipt and walked Kate to the truck and put her inside on the seat between Kim and I. I told her that saline is worth more than gold in weight and I never knew that.
My normal Vet spent about one minute with Kate and ordered more x-rays. We stayed by Kate’s side in the room, she was still moaning. He comes out with an x-ray and puts it on his x-ray light box.
“See this?” he asks as he points to something on the film that looked like everything else on the film. “Let’s wait five minutes and take another one.” My credit card leaped out of my wallet by itself and made a run for the door.
“What is it?” I said as I petted Kate.
“Don’t know for sure but the next picture will tell us what’s going on.” That’s what the ER guy said. He takes Kate with him again.
The lady at the desk came in with a broom and dust pan and began sweeping up the hair on the floor. She said she didn’t want anyone to slip.
This time he comes in without her. He slid the edge of the x-ray under the clip on the light. “See this?” Again I looked and only saw blurry white things that looked like blurry white things. I nodded in ignorance. “It moved, see?”
“Why did it move?” I’m sure I crossed my arms in an effort to show my medicinal skills.
“Because she is trying to poop it out. At the rate it’s moving, I’d give her twelve hours and she’ll poop it out.”
“What is it?” I asked again.
“Don’t know.” With the Vet’s medical prowess and personal encouragement, I signed the credit card receipt for a couple hundred bucks and took Kate home to poop.
Somewhere around sundown I looked through the kitchen window and see Kate in the backyard, mouth agape and drooling, back and tail arched in a spinal contortion. I announced to Kim, “She’s giving birth!” I walked up behind her, she was shivering in pain. I looked under her tail and noticed what appeared to be a corner of a rag or wash cloth sticking out about an inch.
I grabbed onto the cloth corner with one hand and gently supported Kate’s rear with the other as I pulled. A brass rivet appeared. With another small tug, the rest of the cloth squished out of her butt and made a smacking sound as the last of it appeared and flapped onto the ground. Kate wiggled and shook in relief and turned to me to see me holding my Bethpage Black golf towel intact. She looked hungry again. That’s a good day.
Kim could only shake her head as she watched me rinse it off with the hose. “Looks brand new,” I said to her as I flopped it over to get the other side. “You’re looking at a 2500 dollar turd. I’m keeping it.”
“How could she eat the whole towel?” Kim said in astonishment.
“I’m telling you, she’s a nut,” I said, reaffirming my position.
My daughter had come over to visit us about a year or so later. It was in the summer and she just wanted to come by and lay out by the pool in the sun. Kate loved to swim. I would have to change out the cartridges in the filter after about four times of her being in the water. Massive hair clogs would bring the pressure up to bursting levels in the system.
My female child shows up. Her and Kim stood in the kitchen admiring her newly purchased bottoms of her swim suit. The tag fluttered as they both admired the color and small-talked about how nice it was. So boring to me. My daughter continues,”I’m not going to wear it now. I’ll wash it first and save it for my trip.” The two hens cackled some more and giddily walked back to the bedroom to slip on their suits.
She stayed the whole day and ended up spending the night and the rest of the weekend. Around noon on Sunday she decided to go home and came in talking to Kim. “Hey Mom, what did we do with my swimsuit bottoms? I can’t find them.” The two searched around and since she was late for some other appointment with a friend she said, “It’s here somewhere, I’ll find it later.” She left.
I thought to myself, ‘Bet I know who has it.’
A couple of days later after work I was in the back cleaning up. Kate had left several presents for me to scoop up with the shovel and as I was sliding the shovel along the grass I noticed the last thing I scooped up had color other than the usual brown. I set it aside and blasted it with the hose until the turd shape was gone. My efforts unveiled a very nice looking bikini bottom although the color had changed to a yellowish tinge. The tag was missing.
After throwing it in the washing machine, I laid the suit outside to dry. Hours later, I set it in the dresser drawer in the second bedroom to wait until the next time my daughter would be over to find it. That didn’t take long. Free dinners are always inviting.
“Oh, you guys found my suit bottoms.” There was a pause. I held my breath until she broke the silence again. “What happened to it. Look at it. It’s yellow and faded.”
I leaned around the corner and simply said, “Kate made a turd out of it. You gonna try it on?”
Kate had an internal bank account. If I ever needed some extra cash, I would hose down a few turds and would always find a couple of bucks.
She was also very smart. She knew what a towel or pillow was and would get them if I asked her to bring me one. Her favorite song was “Saving Grace” and she learned to sing it while I played the worst rendition of it on my harmonica. I think she was the smartest dog there ever was. At least to me she was.
During the last few weeks when Kate was really showing she had little time, I spent each night with her on the floor and made sure she was covered and warm. Every night around one or two I would carry her out so she could go to the bathroom. I knew it was time when I found Kate outside lying in the sun and a rattlesnake with its head still on, had slithered up to her while she was sleeping. Getting the snake’s attention that time was tough because I didn’t want to wake her. She couldn’t smell anymore.
I buried her out by the campground in the back, full of smokers, a kettle Weber, a red hammock and a picnic table. We hung a bell cast in brass at Paolo Soleri’s Arcosanti foundry from a limb over her grave. When it rings in the wind, I can tell exactly what is ringing and for a time thought it was Kate saying hi to me. I always say it out loud when it rings, “Hi Katie baby.”
I put a cross on her grave and painted it a nice shade of yellow pastel. Kate loved yellow tennis balls. I made a strawberry planter and put it behind her in the shade. Kate loved strawberries too. Now we simply grow them for the squirrels and could care less of the cost. I placed her harmonica there against the stone. I’ve picked it up a few times before it rusted inside and played her song for her.
Kim added another picnic table out by her cross and officially named the area, Kate’s Camp.
I made a video tribute to her for my family to always have and share hopefully on a special day they might have forgotten. You can see it on the video below.
A friend, Tammy, gave me a nice engraved stone to put with her. I put cut flowers on holidays in a glass cigar tube buried in the ground in front of the cross. I will always miss Kate.
You see, we all have special days and today is mine. Such a great day to remember her. So great, I think I’ll look for her hair in the baggie and put some of it in my food.
Hey, did I tell you it’s Kate’s Day? What a great day it is!
“The best part of life starts at the top of the stretch.”