Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Horror at 1915 Moonlight Road

The other day I took my dog for a walk.

Like always, I took him back behind my house, and we walked along the railroad tracks. Charlie, my lab retriever-husky, likes walking back there because there are a million weeds growing for him to smell and piss on. I like walking there because it greatly limits the chances that I run into, you know, people.

We'd only been walking for a few hundred feet when I noticed Charlie drifting toward something. Out of the corner of my eye it looked like a fat, headless duck. But when I looked closer I saw that it was in fact a fish, and one of considerable size.

You'll excuse my mistake: I see a lot of dead birds on our walk, not a whole lot of dead fish. While walking the tracks, I do see the odd person -- some of them very odd -- but very few of them are carrying fishing poles. Even if you've killed off a liter of rum, I just don't think they're biting.

I pulled Charlie away before he put got near the fish, and we pressed on. After a while I decided we'd come far enough, and we turned back for home. Again we passed the fish. Strange indeed, but once I got home it was out of my mind.

. . .

By the time the first whispers came out that Michael Vick was tied to a dogfighting ring, they were no longer whispers. There are no small stories today, because everything echoes off a thousand outlets big and small. We'll wring the news out of anything that's damp, but this story had legs and would be made to walk.

From late April to early July, the story was like stones in a river: pieces hit and rippled, hit and rippled.

If those were stones in the water, then Tuesday, via the smoking gun, came the landslide -- an 18-page, 84-point indictment of Vick and three others -- and the resulting wave has buried the entire sports landscape. The only thing that compares in this year is the fallout from Lebron's 48-point masterpiece against Detroit. The year 2007 in sports may historically belong to a 48-point rise and an 84-point fall.

As soon as all of this started, I basically got the hell away from Vick, having been burned by Jason Kidd. I was not going to defend an athlete out loud or in my own mind simply because I like what he does on the field. I don't know Michael Vick. I never did.

And he's not just a benefactor in this document. He's one of the stars. He's there on the ground floor -- "and MICHEAL VICK, also known as Ookie, decided to start a venture" -- he buys the house at 1915 Moonlight Road, he got his "Bad Newz Kennels" headband, he's at fights, and most damning, he's there at the very end.

"In or about April 2007. . .and VICK executed approximately 8 dogs that did not perform well. . ."

I finished reading and leaned back in my chair. My mouth was suddenly dry. I tried to think of something to think or feel. I just felt numb.

I got up. I called my dog. We went out the back door for a walk.

I didn't even see it first. We had gone only about a hundred feet and I could smell it. That fish. Soon we were next to it, and then past it. But even when I was upwind, I couldn't get the smell out of my nose. It stunk. It would, from that point forward, be harder to ignore.

. . .

Roger Goodell made it clear early in his term as NFL comissioner that he would have no patience for wrongdoing from his players. And this came as no surprise. But much more revealing to me was that player leadership had requested harsh penalties. No more "protect your own," no more "no snitchin'." The players themselves said, "This is too much."

That all came out in February, and over the next couple of months, we saw Goodell's rough justice. And the league was served notice: no more messing around. If you're doing something, get out now, because anyone caught on the wrong side of anything is getting suspended and is losing money, or worse.

I don't think Mike Vick is a stupid guy. I think he understood the implications. And the things written in that indictment carry right through the Pacman saga. The only thing I can take away from his continued involvement with "Bad Newz Kennels" is that he didn't think he was doing anything wrong.

Do I think that some of the allegations about 1915 Moonlight Road may be embellished or remembered incorrectly or just wrong? Yes. I'm willing to listen for Vick's version. But this investigation cites at least four sources. And the number of other people listed -- construction workers, dogfight enthusiasts, friends -- who would have acquired knowledge of the operation over the six years in question makes me believe the investigators are pretty sure of what they've got.

Do I think that pitbulls are predisposed to some level of violence? Yes, in the same way that poor young men might be more predisposed to crime. But they're not gang members until somebody trains them.

Do I think that this kind of thing happens often in some parts of the South? Yes. But there was another thing that was pretty popular in the South about 40 or 50 years ago. And that thing was called widespread and violent racism. Some people let it happen, others embraced it. History has not remembered them well.

And I'm sorry I have to make this point. But earlier this year, Vick teamed up with the United Way to donate $10,000 to Virginia Tech, which had been Vick's college. (Although I'm tempted to call it his "college team.") I probably shouldn't doubt anyone giving to charity.

But just so we're clear here, this was $10,000 from a guy who signed a contract in 2005 that came with more than $30 million in bonuses. Bonuses means it's upfront. As in thanks for signing, here's your check with EIGHT zeros. This of course excludes his endorsements. And he's "teaming up" with the United Way for 10 grand? (Ten thousand dollars, by the way, is slightly less than the amount that was allegedly wagered on a single dogfight in March of 2003.)

At the moment I also can't find any evidence that Vick ever actually visited the campus of Virginia Tech after the shootings.

Perhaps he had other things on his mind. Because a short time before or after Vick made this pledge and the run-of-the-mill statement that came with it, he is alleged to have participated in killing eight pitbulls.

. . .

I was brought out of my haze by the sound of a train engine. It was coming up behind us. "C'mon, Charlie," I said, and we turned back.

He doesn't do a lot of tricks, but Charlie's a great walk. He listens to me, and he would only be interested going somewhere if I was going there too. In the year I've known him, Charlie has become completely devoted to me. And if he's devoted to me, he is consumed by his love for my girlfriend. He follows her room to room, lying outside the bathroom when she showers. He sleeps when she sleeps, and he whines to me when she's gone too long.

I've never really valued dogs as tools. It's not in my nature to train my dog to hunt or roll over. And I don't need to "show them who's boss." Charlie had a rough life before he ended up at the humane society, and that came through when he was scared of me for weeks after we brought him home. And every time he met a new adult man, Charlie winced and clung to the girlfriend.

Charlie had been beaten, undoubtedly by a man. And when we first got him, he had several marks on his nose and a ring of stitches on his elbow where his dominant brother had bitten into him. He shakes uncontrollably at the sound of thunder or fireworks, and he can't stand to be left alone for too long. At least once a night I have to wake him from his nightmares.

Needless to say, his life has left him with a meek personality. There are very few things he'd qualify to be as a dog, other than a loyal friend. He just doesn't have it in him.

". . .executed the pit bull that did not perform well. . .executed at least one dog that did not perform well. . .executed at least one. . .executed at least two. . ."

. . .

We passed the fish, one last time. I could see that it's rotted and been picked down to the bone. Soon it will be completely gone. In 10 minutes I would forget about it. But for a moment, I was downwind. And my God, the smell.

. . .

It's been hot here in Minneapolis, and if it's hot for me it's worse for Charlie.

I got him some water, and I poured him way, way too much food.


-/<- said...

Brilliant writing. It's been too long since I've read these masterpieces of yours. I'm looking forward to reading your (future) book.

ARS04 said...

Man that was really interesting, keep up the good work...Peace Adam

DiYgrrL said...

You brought a little tear to my eye at the end there. What a beautiful piece of writing.
Your perspective really brings this tragedy to an emotional level.
I hope more people read your piece!