When I did the Seanachai podcast, I lived in this great, transitional neighborhood in Charlotte. The neighborhood has since transitioned so much and so well that people like me can't afford to live there anymore. But when I was there it still had enough Bukowski left in it to be interesting.
My home was a tiny old mill house on the street behind one of my very best friends. Which was nice. There were also plenty of great places to go within walking distance. And an interesting cast of characters. When I moved in, I was on a downslope in life, but when I moved out, I was on my way up.
This house was the inspiration for the Vampire in My Attic. It was where I wrote and voiced most of the Seanachai and conceived of and wrote How to Succeed in Evil. It's also the house that Hobbs retrieved the stash of money from in The Soak. That a lot of mileage out of one old mill house.
I left the place to move in with my girlfriend, who in the course of things became my fiancee, and then, doubling down on a dubious bet, became my wife. The dubious bet worked though, sometimes long shots do pay off. Against all odds, I domesticated right up and got serious about the business of having and providing for a family.
One of the first steps on this road was the acquisition of a dog. Many couples do this. I did a Seanachai episode about it called 'Floor Pirahana.' Not one of my best, but she was a good if troubled dog. She was abandoned on the side of a road in the Smokey Mountain National park. And found her way to us, malnourished, hair falling out and with the mange. She bounced back quickly enough, And even though she never barked much, she was always on edge. That little bitch was a survivor.
Primarily because she never barked. The consensus was someone dumped a whole litter of puppies out on the side of the road in the National Forest and all the other ones were eaten. And one of the reasons that Annie survived was that she was quiet.
The fiancee and I got a house in the next neighborhood over. But we were still friends with folks in the old hood. Including a girl, we'll call Frankie. I call her Frankie because we hooked her up with another friend of ours who shall for the purposes of this narrative, be called Johnny. The relationship was disastrous. Nobody got murdered, but it was so bad, that after they took a long break and Johnny told me that they had gotten back together, I said, "Aw, but you guys were so great not together."
Some of this of course was selfish, because when you connect two friends romantically, then when it's not going well, you get to hear ALL ABOUT it from BOTH SIDES. And you feel like you have to listen because you are a friend and in some sense, it's your fault, but part of you just wants to sound a collision alarm, spin the wheel hard a-starboard and go full Larry David on the whole situation.
Anyway, when things were going well. We went on some kind of double-date with Frankie and Johnny. It was in the daytime on a Sunday. There was brunching. So we walked over to Frankie's house with our dog and because she was compatible with Frankie's dogs, we left both of them in the backyard and commenced to day drinking in observance of the religious holiday -- or at least Sunday
When we return, our dog is limping. Which, I do have to point out is, at this point, our trial child. This is very disconcerting. There is what appears to be a tiny tear on her back leg. As my wife tends the dog, I walk the fence to see if there's any loose nails or anything. Because it turns out Spiffy -- Frankie's dog has one too -- but it's been there for few days with no limp. There's no evidence of the dogs having been in a scuffle. They always got along great. So I wonder if there's a nail protruding from the fence somewhere. So I walk the perimeter very carefully and find nothing.
So we pack the dog up and go home. I say, let's give it a day, if she's still limping, we go to the vet.
Well, the next day comes and our dog still isn't putting any weight on her leg. And my fiancee is very upset. Not just because the dog is hurt, but because of me. Because I said when we got the dog, that there was going to be an upper limit on how much we would pay for one-time medical expenses. Just like a car, at some point, a dog is totaled.
So we had a fight about that. And after that fight was over, I told her what I will now tell you.
When I was growing up, we had a dog named Sampson. My sister and I named him that because we knew he would grow up to be big and strong. And he did. He was big enough for a child to ride. And he was a wonderful, gentle Great Pyrenees. But as that breed will, he liked to roam. And one day he got hit by a car. Now we were fortunate enough to be able to afford leg surgery for the dog. But the recovery was incredibly painful. There was a cone of shame and everything. And his entire temperament changed. He became mean. He bit my baby sister. And we had to give him away to someone who didn't have kids. Who loved him and had plenty of space for him to run.
And STILL, he managed to find another car to run in front of and got killed. Because the pain had driven him crazy.
So, beyond a certain point I think it is selfish and cruel to try to keep a severely injured animal alive for your feelings. Would Sampson have changed if we had just agreed to have his leg amputated? Who knows. But maybe not.
Because I know a lot of interesting people, I know a vet who collects three-legged German Shepherds -- not even she knows why this is so, but it is. And those dogs are really happy. They don't care they are missing a leg, they joyously get on with the business of sniffing butts and fetching balls and all the other pleasures that make a dog's life worth living.
Digressions aside, we take our dog to the vet. They do an x-ray and they find a bb, in the outside of the knee joint. Someone has shot my dog with a BB gun.
And, it turns out, that someone has ALSO shot Spiffy, the other dog, with a BB gun. Spiffy's BB went all the way through the thigh muscle and was lodged under the skin on the inside of the leg. And while we know that Annie, our dog was shot in the middle of a sunny Sunday afternoon, Spiffy, was shot some days before.
The dogs both have the BB's removed and make full recoveries. But we are stuck with the problem of who shot the dogs with a BB gun. While they were in a backyard surrounded by a six-foot fence.
I commence my investigation, with suspects and fields of fire. To make this easier to understand, there are diagrams in the show notes.
On one side of Frankie's house lived my best friend, his wife, two very young boys their cat and dog. They don't own a BB gun, and in the 25+ years I've known them, have never mistreated an animal. Ruled out.
On the other side of the house lived a young professional couple who were out of town on that Sunday. Ruled out
The Generational Tragedy of the Rundown House
Across the small side street from the young professional couple, them was a rundown house that was generally recognized as a source of trouble in the neighborhood. It was an asbestos shingle-sided hovel, which has since torn down.
It was owned by a grandmother that was regularly overrun by hooligan grandchildren. And perhaps abused by them. This family was not well off, and the grandkids have been a cause of disturbances. Suspects.
The last possibility is the house directly behind Frankie's house. Where a police officer lives with his girlfriend. But before we get to the cop it's worth exploring the dynamic at the unruly grandchildren house. Because, in my experience, it's something of an archetype.
I've seen this same drama play out, exactly the same in multiple places I've lived in Charlotte. This is a dynamic city, growing like mad. Which means that a lot of people see their homes appreciate in value dramatically.
It plays out like this. An older generation busted their ass to own a home. In this case by working in a textile mill. Now, you may think that your job is hard, but you're really going to have to work to convince me that it is "working in an un-air-conditioned 1940's textile mill hard."
Those people have kids. And those people have kids. And as the grandparents start in on the inevitable glide path that we all must travel at the end of life, the extended family starts vying for control of a valuable asset. And it's a horrible thing to see.
In fact, when I lived in this neighborhood, I would often come out of my house to find the old lady who lived next door lying in the bushes or on her lawn. She didn't get around too well. And she would go outside to get the mail and fall down. There she would lie, softly crying for help, because she couldn't get up. On several occasions I was interrupted writing the Seanachai, and How to Succeed in Evil -- by her cries for help.
I would go outside and pick her up and make sure she was okay. Thankfully I never found her with a broken bone. I would ask her where her grandson was? Because her grandson lived with her and was supposed to be taking care of her. And most often, she would answer -- he's inside.
My feeling is if I could hear this feeble old woman, crying out for help from the next house over, this kid could definitely hear his grandmother from inside the same house 1200 square foot house. He always had an excuse when I asked him about it. _I was asleep, I had my headphones on._
When I asked the grandmother why she kept coming outside and falling down she said something like, "I wanted to get the mail. And I ain't been outside for three days." I never saw the grandson taking his grandmother for a walk.
The grandmother passed while I was living there and some relative swooped in and sold the house. I never saw the grandson again, but presumably, he was whisked off to "take care" of another relative. It makes me sad to even think of it now.
So something like this was going on in the run-down, asbestos-sided hovel. Teenaged grandchildren periodically overran the house and caused the minor trouble that grandchildren got into. Two of them, hopefully not cousins, were spotted having sex in an inflatable kiddie pool in the backyard. And while that lacks style and class, I gotta say, I'm grateful that I'm still young enough to recognize the impulse. Puberty is a hell of a drug.
So, there be troublemakers, and it's not beyond the pale to think that they might, in-between the smoking of weed and the bumping of uglies, find some amusement with a BB gun.
But it's difficult to see how they would have a shot from three and a half lots away with no elevation, because of the six-foot fence around the yard. One of them could have crossed the side street and neighbor's yard to poke a head above the fence. And Pow, shoot a barking dog. But that seems unlikely on a Sunday afternoon. Possible, but equally unlikely, is that one of them got on the roof and fired across a street and two yards with a BB gun. Again, in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.
Then there is the cop.
And this is where it gets twisty. See, the Cop used to own Frankie's house and live there with his wife and two children. In fact, Frankie bought the house from the cop, when he sold it after he had his wife committed. I don't know what her trouble was exactly, but I have it on good authority from the next-door neighbor that the fights were many and terrible. They had two children, so this was a tragedy on many levels.
But the house that Frankie wound up with was a nice house, so I can see how, especially if you're living right behind it, with a deck that looks down into what used to be, in happier days, your back yard, you might occasionally be bitter about the whole affair. Especially if you go out on your deck, your neighbor's idiot dog barks at you from your old yard.
Believe me, I get it.
In the course of my investigation (such as it was) Frankie told me that she would often find trash thrown over the fence from the cop's yard into hers. She thought it was the cop's son doing it, but was pretty sure that the Cop knew about it.
The point is, there was no love lost across the top of that fence. Across the top of the fence which provided an ideal and discreet firing position into the backyard. So, we've got motive and we've got opportunity. Let's talk about means.
If you've never had a BB gun, you need to understand how they work. They are powered in two ways, a mechanical spring or compressed air. For the mechanical spring version, you can think of the Red Ryder BB gun from a Christmas Story. Spring-powered BB guns, don't have that much force. You can shoot a dog or say, a friend of yours playing with the woods, with it all day long and as long as you don't hit an eye everything will be fine.
Compressed air is a different story. Especially if they fire pellets. Those can be very powerful and easily kills squirrels, birds, rabbits. Or, lodge a BB in my dog's rear knee joint, requiring painful and expensive surgery.
So I'm pissed that somebody shot my dog. But what can I do? Go to the cops? Well, kinda. I can go to THE cop. Which is exactly what I did. Because I knew the guy. I'd seem him in the gym. He was my neighbor. And we'd always gotten along fine.
So I walked right up the steps, knocked on the door, and told him what happened. Because, my operating theory is that he really doesn't like Frankie and her dog, but might feel a pang of remorse if he discovered that he'd unwittingly shot my dog.
If he did.
So I want to brush him back off the plate a little. And gauge his reaction. There's always a chance, I thought, that he might give something away. So I tell him what happened. And then I ask him if he saw or heard anything?
He quickly explained how the kids at the rundown house were bad news. Even that they scared him -- a bit disingenuous I thought -- but how he, himself, a cop had called the cops on them.
I said that made sense, but I just couldn't see how they could make the shot. that it didn't seem likely they would run through somebody's yard, boost themselves over the fence and fire off a shot at a dog.
And I grill him, but Colombo-style. There are many interrogation techniques, but the best one is pretty simple -- ask someone to tell the story -- then ask them to explain a detail. Then do it again and again and again. Because lies are complicated -- hard to remember, even for just a few minutes -- and they fall apart on their own when the details are examined. Because, if you're lying, not only do you have to make up new details, but you have to remember the details you've made up perfectly. At some point, the cognitive load just becomes too great.
And I call it Colombo-style because you can just play stupid. You know, Ah, one more thing. If you've never seen a Colombo movie, do yourself a favor. Peter Faulk is amazing -- but they're also a very unique subgenre of detective stories. Instead of a who done it? it's how caught em.
The cop, with apparent sincerity, said it was awful my dog had gotten shot. He had no idea how it happened. I even asked him to hypothetical it for me. How do you think such a thing could have happened? I mean you know more about shooting that I do -- that kind of thing.
And he didn't rattle a bit. He didn't lose patience or get upset with me asking him questions. When I said, "I just don't see how it's possible that someone could shoot my dog from over there. He said, "I know, it's really strange."
He was very, very smooth, or, you know, innocent.
Or was he? Maybe he was just so polished at telling a consistent story under scrutiny -- that it was just second nature.
Because, in the course of remembering this story, I reached out to my best friend about it. The one who was the Cop's neighbor for years. And he brought some new evidence to light. When the cop was selling his house, he called in a favor with an animal control guy (a branch of the cops) who came around and threatened my best friend with his dog being a nuisance. Which I think is actually is only true if the dog barks after 10 pm. And then the cop suggested that my best friend get a shock collar for his dog.
Nefarious. Or is it?
So what do you think?
And how has was you think changed as I've kept adding facts to the narrative? Here's another one. My friend, who was bothered by animal control? His dog actually barked a lot. She bayed like a hound because she was a hound. Like that dog barked so much that when Scott told me about the Animal Control shakedown I thought, geez, that dog really did bark a lot.
or if I tell you that Frankie, is not the most reliable of people. A real sweetheart and a lot of fun, but every once and awhile, somewhere between the third and fourth drink, she would turn really, really, horrifically mean. She attacked Johnny with a knife once. She was pretty blasted so Johnny didn't get cut, but that night he legitimately hid the knives in her kitchen. This mean streak was such a problem, we're not friends with her anymore.
So how does that change the story?
Or what if I cast suspicion upon the cop and the circumstances under which his wife was committed?
Or what if we cast the cop as a hero, the only stability his kids had as their mother is ravaged with a terrible mental disease.
Do you see what I'm getting at here? You see how complicated and nuanced this story actually is? In fact, this story might be reading you as much as you're reading it. And if your reading of it is being driven by your opinion of cops -- as much as anything I've said -- you've got a problem.
And likewise, if your reading of current events is driven solely by your interactions with the police, you've also got a problem. Just because you've never had a particular experience doesn't mean it doesn't happen. And doesn't mean it doesn't happen a lot.
And if you get mad at any twist in a story about a real event that doesn't agree with your ideological bent, then you may be truly lost.
Because reality is very complex. For example,
Here's another fact about the Cop. His girlfriend, I think maybe they got married. She's a college professor and about as ardent of a feminist as you might care to find. As left as you might imagine a cop to be right. But they really got on well together. Maybe somewhere in this relationship is the seed of what we need to bring a divided nation together.
So I tell this story -- precisely because it's NOT a great story. It doesn't build to a great climax. And there's no resolution. There's no villain and no hero. Not to say that someone who hurts a defenseless animal isn't a villain. We just don't know who it is. And the person is never caught.
I would say it is a fair bet that a person who hurts animals is an animal that was hurt by somebody else. Not that it excuses the behavior, but this story, like life, is messy and filled with tragedy and suffering every turn.
And that messiness is what we have to deal with whenever we want to make something better. And I think the more ideology you bring to a problem -- the certainty that you know a) what is going on and b) what the right thing to do about it is -- the harder it is to make the problem any better.
I think this is what H.L. Mencken meant when he said, "For every complex problem there is a solution that is neat, simple and wrong."
It sucks not to be able to resolve the question of who shot my dog.
But Frankie lived there for six more years and nothing like that ever happened again. And if I knew, if we had video, what do you think should be done to a person who shoots a dog with a BB gun? What do you think should happen to a cop that shot my little dog who never barked. Do you think the cop did it?
What Really Happened?
I think there's a chance he did. But I think it's very unlikely.
Here's a more likely theory -- the cop's son did it. He had way more reason to be pissed that he had lost the home he had grown up in his whole life. And plenty of reason to be hurt and pissed because of what happened to his mom. He's probably a little messed up by it. I certainly would be.
Then what do you do if you're the cop? Actually, let's refer to him by his most important title. What do you if you're a Dad and your find out your kid is hurting defenseless animals? That's a rough spot.
I don't know what happened. I can't prove any of these speculations. Nor do I think, strictly speaking, that they are true. In fact, I don't even think that stories CAN be true in the sense of being 100% accurate. For me, stories can be true in a different, more powerful way. They can be true in a psychological sense. They can be true like a bell can ring true. Except, in the greatest of stories, the reader or listener is the thing which is rung.
But to work at all a story must leave things out. Mostly the long dull stretches where, from an external perspective, nothing exciting seems to happen. You know, actual life.
Our dog Annie healed up and had a great life. A good 10 more years. Then she developed a tumor in her stomach and we had to put her down. I dug a hole and we buried her in the backyard. I thought it was important for my kids to have closure, rather than to just have their dog whisked away. Somehow that just seemed wrong to me.
But let me tell you, digging a hole -- hacking through tree roots -- on a 98 degree 100% humidity day in August sucks. My neighbor from down the street -- a guy I barely knew at the time -- happened to come by while I was struggling with the grave. When I told him what I was doing, I swear to God, he turned around, walked back to his house, got a shovel, and helped me dig that grave. We're friends now.
Sometimes a stranger shoots your dog with a bb gun for no knowable reason. Sometimes a stranger helps you out with a shitty job on a really hard day.
And the truth of the story -- the story of what people are really like -- lies somewhere between.