Large Animal Veterinarian
All the leaves had come and gone, and the Blue Ridge fireworks had all been extinguished. Like every year, Autumn had drawn in the leafers, and ushered them out again, with some blustery winds and a 60 percent chance of precipitation. In late October, I left my good friend Jenny’s house in Asheville, North Carolina, after a week long stay; an on-tour vacation.
I am an Americana, roots musician, and have spent the last year touring this wide country, playing shows, visiting friends and family, and coming across more than my fair share of intricately odd situations.
I was on the way to my next show at the small, multi-use, arts venue called The Water Heater in Ronoake, Virginia that evening.
I came through Buckner Gap, moving in on Tennessee, while my mind was still reminiscing of the past week, filled with friends old and new, music, food and the odd libation. All the while my clothing and instruments constantly reminded me of the 4 hour campfire we all three had endured, just the night before. As I wound down the other side of the mountain, I saw what appeared to be a black garbage bag in the middle of the road, filled with trash, or clothing, or something that has enough rigidity to make the bag a big lump in the middle of the highway. Unfortunately this is not uncommon, people do litter, believe it or not.
But, seeing as there were three Police cars and two Game and Fish trucks parked next to this bag, I figured that maybe it was something else, not quite so innocent. And, of course, having my mother’s genes, I immediately brewed up the most greusome senerio that I possibly could: It was a body, I decided. And it had probably been cut up with a hacksaw into smaller pieces and placed into this black bag for more convenient handling, and cleaner transportation (automotive resale value goes down with a blood-stained trunk, I am pretty sure).
This instance reminded me of a day a few years back. I was driving with my dear mother, to Santa Fe and l would like to say that we were on the way to pick up the new box set of special release ‘Law & Order’ DVDs, but truthfully, I cannot. About a half hour into our drive, we passed a large, white delivery truck. But, the especially intriguing and suspicious thing about this particular truck, was the fact that it was unmarked. I know, I know what you’re thinking…. hot dog buns, the Tom’s truck, maybe some other inedible ‘food-item’ corporation for the Chama Valley School District to fill their vending machines (and consequently, their clinics) with. Well, wouldn’t you be misled. “It is all part of their plan,” my mother would say, with a grin on her face, having it all figured out. Because, as we all know, any unmarked vehiIle, is most definitely one of three things:
a) a vehicle to hide and transport kidnap victims,
b) transporter of some kind of stolen goods, or
c) a fully functioning meth lab on wheels.
So, with that being said, be extremely mindful when passing any unmarked vehicle, because, if an accident should occur, there is bound to be one of three things that may happen…
As it turns out, this dark lump (which I am sure made no assumptions of me) was in fact quite a large black bear, who had been hit by a vehicle, and was either dead, or at least maimed and unconcious. I was the last car to pass before they lit the flares in my rear-view mirror, and started to hold up traffic in order to double check and secure the bears unconscios state, drag the poor creature off of the highway, and take it to the vet.
“Your sign says ‘large animal,’ what exactly are your limits?”
Jimi & Hendrix
This marked my second time driving up the Pacific Coast Highway. Traveling on Highway 1 is always a special occasion (due to the classic combination of beauty and danger), so this time I decided that my company would be some honey cured pipe tobacco, and a Thermos full of Pu-Erh tea. And this, is good company. I was headed north from Los Angeles, having wistfully watched the Denver Nuggets lose in the NBA playoffs, and spending some quality time with my grandmother, and her various boyfriends. Since my grandfather’s death years ago, my grandmother has regained a good deal of youth that had slowly withered away while doing little but caring for her ailing husband. She is now hustling a handful of bridge leagues, and anyone who has grandparents that started dating again in their eighties – for the first time in sixty years – knows that it is a completely adorable and almost unbearably humorous thing.
Her modest house overlooks the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, and the little land left on the Penninsula that until recent years was covered in tall, windswept grasses, wildflowers and anise – now mowed under for multi-million dollar villas with fountains, round-a-bouts, and synthetic cobblestone driveways. The whole kit and kaboodle, so to speak. During all of the visits to California as a child, my dad and sisters and I hiked down from the house, across the anise covered field bordering the cliffs, and down to the tide pools to oogle over sea urchins, crabs, starfish, and all the other wildly colored, alien creatures that our high desert home (thankfully) did not posses. We had plenty of other things to be worried about, rattlesnakes, black
widows, flash floods, la Llorona, etc. I have to this day retained a vivid memory of the fragrance of the field – the sweet scent of licorice, crisp salty sea, and the yellow earth that our footsteps distured.
I was heading to San Luis Obispo, for a couple of performances, before continuing up the coast to Oregon, and ultimately to my sister’s house outside of Seattle. I had three shows in SLO, one at an upscale restaurant, one at a lunchtime pizza joint in the student center of Cal Poly, and the last at a pleasant little coffee house, right off the main drag. In an effort to save money, when travelling in a region where I do not have friends or family, I have taken to the online, couch-surfing community. Spending time in strangers houses is always, quote me, always an interesting thing. Sometimes
good-interesting, sometimes not-so-good-interesting.
For my stay in SLO, I chose to stay with a fellow who seemed like a nice enough guy. And, he was a nice enough guy, don’t get me wrong. We’ll call him Bart. I phoned Bart when I had finished my first show, and asked for directions to his house. Unbeknownst to me, this was not the ideal night to stay with him. One, it was Saint Patrick’s day, and two, it was Bart’s birthday. St. Patty’s and a birthday can only mean one thing – drunk. Even a non-drinker would probaly somehow end up drunk. But, Bart is no non-drinker. Bart graduated from Cal Poly, got a high paying job for some sort of solar energy technologies company, and lives in a house that his parents own, with three other frat-type guys and two dogs. After a mash of incomprehensible phone calls, I finally found the bar where he was, picked him up, followed his ever-so-eloquent directions, got to the house, I got set up with a room, and we both went to bed.
Now let me return to the two dogs. The two dogs, Jimi and Hendrix, are the catalyst of this chain of events. I was told by Bart to come and go as I please, because the house was never locked. I thought this was great, not considering why the house was indeed left unlocked. So in the morning I left the house, to go for a hike, planning to return to the house, grab my instruments, and head for the Cal Poly campus to set up for my show. I arrived back at the house at about quarter of twelve, to an empty house… except for Jimi and Hendrix. As soon as the beasts caught a whiff of me, the went wild. And I mean wild. They knocked over plants, knocked down some chairs and a coffee table, and nearly broke through the windows to have me for lunch. While I was standing by my car, thinking of what I would do, Bart drove up – and the dogs stopped barking, sat down, and wagged their little, innocent tails. While I pretended I was talking on the phone, he hopped out of
his car, greeted me, and walked inside. I hung up with my imaginary friend and followed, and when I walked passed the dogs, they just panted and wagged as I went to my room to gather my things. I headed off to my gig, played, got back for supper, and went to bed.
In the morning I woke with the sun, due to the broken blinds that could neither be raised or lowered, from their fully open position. I decided to have a walk around town to find a bagel and some coffee. I dressed, put on my shoes,and while pulling on a sweater, I thought of the dogs. This made things slightly more difficult, because I couldn’t just wait for Bart to get home everytime that I needed to come back to the house. Then I got an idea. I would leave my window cracked, pop out the screen, just enough so that it still looked like it was in place, but I’d be able to remove it from the outside, and lock the door to my room. So, I got up from the crusty futon mattress on the floor, and looked at the locks on the door. There was the lock on the handle, and a chain lock, like you’d find on any motel room just outside of Vegas. When I tried to shut the door, it didn’t quite make it. The door jam had swollen, or shrunk, or something just enough so that the latch couldn’t quite close. So I latched the chain lock, feeling that it would be quite adequate to keep the dogs at bay. Feeling quite proud of myself, I hopped out the window, falsely put the screen back in, closed the window to a only a crack, and went to reward my self with a poppyseed bagel and a large cup of coffee.
After a nice day out on the town, browsing galleries and bookstores, reading, and drinking tea, I thought I’d go back to the house, gather my things and head to my final show. So I slowly meandered back feeling quite confident that I had outsmarted the mutts. When I arrived, and walked up the driveway, they went berzerk. It felt as though they had been waiting for this moment all day. This was worse than the first time. Far worse. But I smiled, greeted them warmly with a smug nod of my head, and continued to the side of the house. I slid the window open, popped the screen out easily, and
hopped through my secret entrance. The dogs, hearing something in my room, attacked. No holds barred. Growling, barking, and snarling, Jimi and Hendrix attacked my door. The latch slipped and the door jolted open about 5 inches, until the chain lock was the only thing between Jimi, Hendrix, and me. I jumped over to the door, but just as I was near it, a snarling, slobbering head, complete with snapping jaws, popped through the crack.
The opening was just big enough to fit the dog’s head through, stopping at the shoulders, but, too small for the dog to pull its head back out. I then realized my challenge; how to remove the dog’s writhing, snapping head from the door without strangling it to death, or getting any of my limbs torn off, because I could not open the door any further, as the chain lock was in place, and I couldn’t close the door to unlatch it. So, as one swift motion, I put my boot on the top of the dog’s head, and kicked him through the crack, slamming the door shut. After the a quick yelp, the dog started again with the snarling, barking, and clawing at the door. As I leaned on the door, out of
breath and heart pounding, I realized that I needed to plan my escape. But, once I took any weight off the door, the dog would wedge his head in, and be stuck again. So with my back firmly against the door, I thought.
My only resources in the room were a chair, a dresser, and a handful of instrument cases. I slid my back down the door, to the ground, and while keeping all the pressure I could on the door, slithered down to where I was lying on the floor, hooked the chair with my foot, and slid it over toward me, and then did the same with the nearest guitar case. I wedged the case under the door handle, and wedged the chair in behind it. With a little reluctance, I took my weight off the door, and it held. I Put all my other cases out the window, climbed out, and left for the show.
Bart ended up swinging by for my last set, and stuck around after to help me carry some of my things, and so I could give him a lift home. We pulled in the driveway, unloaded my stuff, and walked in the quiet house. I began thinking that this was eerie silence, and got ready to act as tough and nonchalant as I could. When we walked into the living room, Jimi and Hendix were lying on the floor, almost snuggling. They lazily looked up, and greeted us with tired eyes. I stood there in disbelief. I leaned over and gave each a pat on the head, while they laid there yearning for more. Both dogs immediately rolled over on their bellies, asking silently for a more involved massage. Just as I got up from petting these lovely animals, I heard Bart try and open my door. He turned to me and said, “It’s stuck.” with a puzzled look on his face. Now, there would be no saving face. Ideas shot around in my head, of excuses, or suave reactions – nothing. I nodded, and left the room.
A minute later when I opened the door from the inside, after some banging around, Bart stood in the hallway, with a guitar case in each hand. He looked at me, looked at my dischevelled room, set the cases down, said “G’night.” and turned and left the room.
In the morning, I got up before anyone in the house had woken, and decided to just go. No explaining, no nothing. So I left – through the window.