Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The escape of Prince the Bulldog

When we were kids, a family (let's call them the Smiths) moved into the quad across the street. Rumor had it that they chose the unit because it was next to the canyon, where they could let their vicious German Shepherd dogs run loose. The rumor proved groundless, and the dogs remained in the yard.

There were three kids, all of playmate age, so that was cool. The father was a mostly quiet man. The mother was more flamboyant, wearing a down parka even in the summer, sporting a hairstyle that should have been hanging from an Indian's belt, and favoring virulent shades of lipstick, which she applied by the impasto technique so that her lips always looked like a crimson sectional sofa.

After a few years they got a bulldog, which they named Prince. Prince used the front yard, because, Mrs. Smith said, he would attack the other dogs in the back yard and slaughter them. In addition to his purported killer instinct, Prince had another quirk: he would not, as Mom used to say, "do him's numbers" unless someone were there with him to encourage him while he piddled.

It was no trouble to attend to Prince when the family was home, but what with jobs and school, the family was away from home for six or eight hours at a time. We read the stories of John Wayne and Elvis Presley having 40-60 pounds of impacted fecal matter in their colons at their deaths. Although these stories are only rumors, they are nevertheless cautionary tales: colorectal health is as important to dogs as it is to humans. And so Mrs. Smith's father was enlisted to doggysit Prince during the day and make sure he did him's numbers.

Thus it was that on the afternoon of September 29, 1981, while I was living with Mom and searching for a job, I heard a thin, high voice crying, "Pree-ince! Pree-ince!" Perhaps the grandfather left the gate open. Perhaps the screen didn't close securely. Maybe the grandfather looked the other way. But the truth was inescapable: Prince had hightailed it.

I went outside to pretend to read.

Soon Mrs. Smith roared to the curb in a spray of gravel and raced into the house. From the lawn, where I was "reading," I could hear her muffled sobs. And then the screen door slammed, and Mrs. Smith strode up the service road toward Burnt Mountain, followed by her father, who called, "Pree-ince! Pree-ince!" Mrs. Smith's sobs were no longer muffled but deep, throaty, throbbing, like "Vesti la giubba" sung by a Russian liturgical bass. "We have to find him before nightfall," she wept. "Oh, I feel so helpless!" "Pree-ince! Pree-ince!"

After a brief, fruitless search of the woods, she cantered back down the service road, plunged into the house and called the cops. Then she slammed back outside, and she and her father continued calling the dog. "Here, Baby Bull! Come here, baby!" "Pree-ince! Pree-ince!"

The phone rang! Mrs. Smith hurled herself back into the house. Apparently she had some good tidings from Los Alamos's Finest. She and her father jumped into the car and drove down the street calling the dog. "Here, Baby Bull! Come here, baby!" "Pree-ince! Pree-ince!"

After a few minutes, they pulled onto the parking pad. Prince, who had apparently been visiting a friend down on 47th Street, was in the back seat. From inside the car, the guilt and recrimination began. What if Prince had been hit by a car? What if he were stolen? What if he attacked someone? What if he killed that dog he was playing with? What if Pete from the Pound had caught him? What if, God forbid, the coyotes or bears— No. It was too horrible to contemplate.

Mrs. Smith and her father got out of the car, and she began crying again. "I'm sick about all this! I'm just sick! I could have had a heart attack if anything happened to Baby Bull," she told her father. "Oh, this was a near-terrible tragedy!"

Her father offered a solution to prevent another near-terrible tragedy: "Let's lock Pree-ince in the bedroom whenever I have to leave the house. It's better to have a messy floor than a missing dog."

Mrs. Smith agreed. But it was time to get Prince back into the house. "Make sure his collar is tight," she told her father. "We don't want it to slip off." The father reached into the back seat to extract the dog. "He won't come out! Pree-ince! Pree-ince! Come out!"

Mrs. Smith roared, "Well, grab his collar and drag the little son-of-a-bitch out!"