Today we have a guest story teller, my son Richard. I once wrote this story down, but I didn't do as good a job as Richard has, because I wasn't there for the most important part of it. So, with his permission, I am going to tell you my part of it and then allow him to tell you his. Originally, I was going to do it in the reverse order, but when I tried to do that I realized that Richard's ending is perfect and for me to add anything at that point would just be stupid. However, I can do a little prequel. Mostly his details are right. It wasn't winter, but that doesn't matter, there was still snow on the ground. And, the parrot did not have clipped wings -- it is just really hard to fly in a small, confined space when a dog is after you.
My friend Tom invited me to dinner for my birthday. I know that you will think my child care arrangements were casual at best and negligent at least, but remember that this was Alaska in the 70s, when the worst thing that could happen to a responsible child of ten left alone for a couple of hours was freezing, and that's not possible in late April, no matter what the song says. For about three months before the influx of unemployed, single men who had come up a full year early to work on the pipeline had begun, I had been leaving the kids (10 and 8) together with the neighbors notified and a list of phone numbers for a couple of hours without concern. I considered a babysitter for that night because of the changed circumstances, but both kids were mortified at the thought, so Tom and I devised the clever idea of copying Peter Pan and using a Saint Bernard as a nanny. Obviously, neither of us gave a lot of thought to how that had worked out for the Darlings. Tom had this huge Saint named Thor who the kids knew and got along with well from visiting his house; the idea was that with Thor in the yard, no one would even think of trying to get into my house. So, Tom brought Thor over, we established him in the yard, left the kids and other animals in the house, and drove off for dinner at the Octagon restaurant. Tom and I hadn't considered that I had a parrot and he had a dog that was trained to flush birds; actually it hadn't occurred to either of us that Thor would ever get into the house.
We had a great meal and in due time headed back home. About three blocks from my house, we could hear a dog barking frantically; before long we recognized it as Thor. Then we began to hear Grandma, the parrot, screaming his favorite word "Rape! Rape!" By the time we got to the house, we were terrified about what we were going to find. We could see that Thor had been tied up outside the window and was lunging against the rope to get in. By now the noise was truly amazing. Our imaginations were painting very ugly pictures. We rushed into the house, and there we found -- two living, breathing children -- no blood, no guts, no death, although they did look both exhausted and frazzled. The living room was chaos. Bird seed all over the floor and furniture. Dining room chairs knocked over. Lamps and cushions and ornaments and books and records scattered from one end of the room to the other. Obviously, something fairly dramatic had transpired. And then they told us what had happened. Yes, we did laugh. But, it was only partly for the reason I later told Richard. Mostly it was out of sheer relief that the horrors we had been imagining had not happened. And, yes, I know I shouldn't have laughed. And I really shouldn't have laughed nearly as hard as I did. But I did, heartless wretch that I am, and I still do.
You ever have one of those nights where you sure the world is going to end and there is nothing you can do about it? At the tender age of ten I had one of those nights. The night Thor tried to eat Grandma.
So, when and where did this piece of childhood trauma take place? The when was early winter, 1973. The where was Fairbanks, Alaska.
1973, the Trans Alaska Pipeline insanity was in full bloom. Hundreds of out-of-work oil workers, eager to get in on the employment boom that was sure to come, were pouring into Fairbanks every month. Right behind them were every form of con-man, hooker, criminal, missionary and other assorted scum attracted by the promise of over-paid young oil workers.
The population exploded from around 18,000 to over 60,000 in less than a year. The crime rate rose by some 3,300 percent. The small town where people left their doors unlocked for years at a time was overcrowded and overrun with lowlifes and scumbags. The perfect setting for what was about to transpire.
My mother had decided to go out to dinner with her boyfriend, Tom. They decided that just telling the neighbors that she was going out for the evening, making sure I knew the number for the police (911 did not exist in Alaska at that time) and leaving Samantha, our overly friendly black lab dog in the front yard was not quite enough to make them feel safe leaving us alone for the three hours they would be gone.
So, Tom brought over Thor. Thor was a huge, but friendly St. Bernard. Unlike Samantha, Thor tended to bark at people he did not know. They felt we would be a lot safer with such a huge dog so prominently displayed in the front yard.
And the US Marine Corps taught Lee Harvey Oswald how to shoot a rifle.
My mother and Tom left for their evening of dining and relaxation and they thought that everything was under control. And why shouldn't it be? Sure, the lock on the front door had no key and didn't work anyway, but there were two dogs in the yard and the neighbors knew my mom was going to be out for the evening. Besides, I was ten and I knew how to dial the police.
Not ten minutes after they left all hell broke loose. It seems that Thor had spied my mothers parrot, Grandma (a gift from some vengeful demon, no doubt), through the living room window and came crashing through the door like a berserker in full battle rage. In seconds the living room was a shambles as two children tried to wrestle a 140 pound, insane dog away from a screaming and panicked parrot.
Together my sister and I managed to shove the psychotic monster out the front door and get it closed behind him. Did I mention that the lock didn't work? Well, without the deadbolt the 1930's vintage door latch was no match for a crazed St. Bernard on a mission of death and destruction.
Before Julie and I could get our breath back and try to get the freaked out parrot under control the damned dog had burst through the door again. This time the beast managed to upset the large, and I mean large parrot cage, freeing the poor bird to fly up to the top of a high bookcase, but not without losing all of its tail feathers to the jaws of Thor. Seems that parrots with clipped wings do not fly that fast.
Again we wrestled the beast out of the house and closed the door behind him. By this time the cats were hiding in a corner screaming their damned fool heads off, adding to the din of barking hellhound, screeching parrot and crying children.
Realizing that the door was not going to hold the beast back for very long I shouldered the door and told my sister to get something, anything, to drive this insane mutt back out of the house. She ran across the living room and retrieved the first thing she saw, a plastic Breyer horse, one of her most prized possessions.
As I pushed against the door with all the strength I had, Julie beat that stupid mutt across the nose with the horse, like an eight-year old St. George, wailing away with all her strength to drive the cursed beast back out into the cold winter night and away from the poor parrot.
We decided that Thor was stronger than both of us and that we would soon lose this pushing match to the beasts' single-minded determination to eat the goddamned parrot. It was decided to tie Thor to the fence, as far away from the front door as possible. Knowing that Thor listened to women more than he did to men we decided that Julie should go outside with the rope (or was it a leash, I don't remember) and tie up the deranged creature.
Now, the judgment of an eight-year old girl is not the best in the world, and neither is that of a ten-year old boy. Julie had tied up Thor as far away from the front door as she could. That ended up being the corner of the fence right outside the window facing the now restored parrot cage. Thor could see the bird and the bird could see Thor. Needless to say, Thor continued to bark his damned head off for the rest of the evening. Neither one of us thought to question this decision.
By the time Thor was finally tied up my sister and I were exhausted. We staggered back to the couch and just stared at the wall, too tired to clean up the disaster that was the living room. Too tired to even think.
At some point in the distant future, my memory says it was days, perhaps weeks, but I know it was only about 7:30 pm that same night, Tom and my mother got back from their date. They walked into the room and asked, incredulously no doubt, what the planet of hell had happened.
Crying and shaking with fear and exhaustion we told her the story I have just told you. My mother and Tom laughed. They laughed because, as my mother would tell me years later, they had left Thor there to protect us and it turned out that the only thing we needed protection from was Thor.
If looks could kill they both would have roasted in boiling lava. Julie and I were absolutely incensed. I don't think I had ever been so angry with my mother. When your kids have survived the closest thing to a life-threatening experience that most sheltered, middle-class white kids will ever see, you don't laugh. Even if it is funny. Act somber, damnit! Laugh after the tykes are asleep. Jeez, why my sister and I didn't grow up to be serial killers is beyond me.
Well, twenty-six years later I can see the humor in it. It was kind of funny if you can detach yourself from the panic that gripped me as the night unfolded. I can, for the most part. But deep inside is the kid that thought the dog had gone insane.