dognapped! how mattie was kidnapped & held for ransom

fear #22: harm to my dog; fear #23: loss of my dog; fear #24: people
East Village, NYC, August 2002: Less than one year after 9/11, and my world is chaos both inside and out. A seven-year, live-in relationship has ended. Through a friend of a friend, I’m subletting a five-floor walk-up studio for $1,100 in the East Village. It’s me, my cat, my journal, and a case of Rolling Rock. And oh, and my new dog Mattie.
    Mattie: a 17-pound, fluffy black cocka-something I’ve adopted on a whim. A friend had discovered her while loft-hunting in Chinatown. Apparently Mattie’s former owner had left her to the apartment superintendent, but he already owned a rottweiler who ate small dogs for lunch. I find Mattie alone in an empty loft, leashed to a radiator, with a bowl of water on the floor. She clamps onto my leg for dear  life. I never knew you could stroll home with a new dog like a lamp you just picked out from Crate and Barrel. 
    Mattie arrives in shaky health. The vet guesses her to be 3 or 4, never spayed, and she has blood in her urine. She needs to pee constantly. We take countless trips to the vet (and the curb) with no improvement.
    Meanwhile, a girlfriend and I impulsively sign for a two-bedroom rental in Williamsburg. I inform my sublettor that I’ll be leaving at the end of the month. My sublettor and I have no proper lease for my studio—just our signatures scrawled on a torn piece of notebook paper. I promise to pay him the next month’s rent, even though I’ll be gone, so I'll have given him proper 30 days’ notice. He wants the money now, but I won’t have it until payday. 
    The next day the sublettor calls me at work. “I’m in the apartment,” he says. “You need to put the $1,100 check under the door or I’m not letting you in.”
     “You need to leave the apartment or I’m calling with the police,” I tell him. He refuses to leave. I call 911 and two cops meet me on the apartment stoop.
   We climb the five flights of stairs as I explain the situation. I open the door to my apartment. There's a broken picture frame on the floor. He's gone. 
    And so is Mattie.
    I begin sobbing. “He—he took m-m-my dog!” The two policemen listen to me intently, as if I’m the city mayor, not a hysterical chick who’s lost her pup.
    "M'am, this is extortion," they explain, "and it’s against the law. In fact, if he were holding your dog for more than $1,500, it would be a felony. Call him up. Tell him: the money for the dog. One clean exchange, otherwise he'll keep holding your dog for more money."
    Since when is my life an episode of “Law and Order”? My best friend arrives, the only person I know who has $1,100 cash and is level-headed enough to talk to a dognapper. The cops coach him on the phone script and he rings up the sublettor. My sublettor wants to meet at the GNC on the corner of East 14th and 1st Avenue. He’ll bring the dog for the cash.
     The cops prep him for the meeting. “Here’s the cell number,” they say. “We’ll be staking the place out from the Blimpie’s across the street. First sign of trouble, you call.”
    I can only imagine one scenario: Mattie’s dead. This sublettor, this friend of a friend, seemed a normal enough guy--in his thirties, a little nervous maybe, but not a murderer. Now he's suffering from post 9/11 trauma, he's freaking out over the economy, he's practicing taxidermy on my dog. My friend heads out like a knight into the city's dangerous wilds.
    The wait is interminable—long enough to empty a bottle of wine and a box of Kleenex. Finally, the phone rings. “I'm here with Mattie,” my friend says. I sprint downstairs, and my friend steps out of the police car, a bundle of fur, my Mattie, cradled in his arms.
   Back in my apartment, he fills me in:
   “So I go to the GNC store. He’s there but he doesn’t have Mattie. He wants $500 bucks now, and then he’ll get the dog. I tell him the dog for the money, one exchange, just like the cops said. He refuses and walks out the store. Suddenly, these two huge guys in t-shirts and gold chains appear from the vitamin aisle, follow him out the front door, and nab him.
    "‘Mister, you got 30 seconds to stop being a jackass,’ the bigger one says.
    "The two cops from Blimpie’s squeal up in a car. Then I realize: The guys decked out with the bling are undercover cops. The police sent them into the GNC. 
    "They want to handcuff him but I tell them it isn't necessary. They push him into the back seat. ‘You're gonna take us to the dog.’ We drive to the lower east side, where he was keeping Mattie at his girfriend’s place.
    "The cops have all his information. You have up to seven years to file a report.”
    Later that evening, after drying my eyes and assuring myself that Mattie is safe on my lap, I confer with my friend, and we decide to give the rent money to my dognapper. My friend meets him late that night at Starbucks with the cash and a note I’ve written. “I have seven years to press charges,” I tell him. “Please don't ever contact me again.” 
    Mattie gets major surgery soon after: a new holistic vet, whom we still visit today, quickly diagnoses her as having stones in her bladder. He removes two nickel-sized rocks that look like pretty agates you’d find on a beach. She’s about 13 or 14 now and in great health--considering she was abandoned, adopted, kidnapped, and operated on before turning four. 
    It's taken me years, but I've paid back my friend, moved into another studio, signed a real lease, and remain on excellent terms with my landlord. Mattie's innocent regard for me--her eyes misty blue now from age--never suggests her dramatic beginnings. When she isn't napping, she follows me everywhere, wagging the stump of her tail merrily, busy as a bee's wing.


remembering losing a parent, 20 years later

Fear #430958: Fear of Abandonment

February 13 will be the 22nd anniversary of my dad’s passing, due to complications following a cerebral aneurysm. He was 52. He missed my sister’s birthday, Feb. 11, by two days. Valentine’s Day by one. My sister’s first child was also born on  Feb. 11, 2008. My niece's delight over her birthday is helium in the heavy-weird days of February. 
    Early January, 1990: I’m a freshman at the College of Wooster, a small liberal arts school in Ohio that thrives in the shadow of its more famous neighbor, Oberlin. I’ve just returned to campus following Christmas break. The old snow is piled a foot deep on the pastoral grounds, and I’m walking from the cafeteria back to my dorm following lunch.
   Is it along the trampled, snowy path that my R.A. finds me and says: “Your father is in the hospital, you need to go home?” 
    I do remember a white field of snow, walking beside the tennis court. I remember packing some clothes. I remember that my cross country coach is driving the car, and that my best friend Carolyn is holding my hand. Perhaps we’re both in the back seat, leaving the passenger seat empty. I remember watching the rows of cornfields flicker past us as we travel the two hours from school to my home. Or do we drive first to the hospital?
    Days and days and countless car rides back and forth between home and the hospital. Surgery and improvement. Hope and then complications. In the waiting room, every detail seems absurd: the choice of fabric on the chairs, the large potted mall-plants, the empty Pepsi can in one of the pots. I watch people come and go and think: God has chosen this woman to live, or that man, while my dad lies in a white bed.
    No child should see a parent’s body lifeless: I’m telling you this, doctors of the world. Perhaps someone thought we needed closure, or proof, or to say something. Perhaps someone didn’t think. One nurse has tears in her eyes, a wisp of a memory I'm still grateful for.
    On the last day we’re given a plastic bag emblazoned with the hospital’s name and logo. The bag contains a few personal effects: a belt perhaps, a comb and his hair. Is this a ritual in American hospitals, or the odd afterthought of a nurse meaning to be kind?
    Sealed in a plastic sandwich bag, his hair is still high up on a shelf in the closet of my old bedroom. It’s reddish blond, the color faintly seen in the highlights of my hair in the sun. 


i was chased by a bull

Fear #10: Uncertainty
Fear #11: The unknown
Fear #12: Big animals
    Romance, finance, jobs, real estate, getting out of bed in the morning--any worthwhile venture invites uncertainty, challenges us to meet the unknown.  One of my goals this year is to schedule an overdue trip  Japan. What's been holding me back? For starters, the only time I've returned as an adult, about 10 years ago, I got shingles before departure, had a migraine at Aunt Yoko's, and was chased by a bull. While the last scenario is unlikely to recur (unless I embark on a new career as a toreador) it's the perfect example, literally and figuratively, for risk-taking:
This and following photos are mine: so remote
are the isles that I couldn't lazily Google images.
   I'm traveling with my younger sister Julie, who's teaching English in Shimane prefecture, on the southeastern coast of Japan. We're headed to the nearby Oki Islands for two nights, a remote locale in the Japan Sea that is known--if known at all--for raising horses on wild land. I'm drawn by the poetry of free-roaming horses; I'd taken pilgrimages to Ocracoke and Assateague in the U.S. for the rare sight. Alas, in Oki the horses are raised for sashimi, but the chubby equine enjoy magnificent vistas before landing on sushi platters.
    Just getting to Oki is inauspicious. We take a ferry--the sole mode of transport--on a blustery day. Inside, there's a single enclosed mainhold for passengers. No seats, just a carpeted floor with a few hard pillows strewn about. One side of the room is Smoking, the other Non-Smoking, a distinction marked only by the open aisle in between. Above the heads of reclining smokers, mostly businessmen, clouds of cigarette-smoke billow and trespass to the wrong side. The stench combined with pitching waves conspire for a stomach-churning case of seasickness. Green-faced, Julie and I curl up on a cold bench outside. I stagger to the concessions-stand and mumble kusuri, medicine, too weak to summon any other words from my spare arsenal of Japanese vocabulary.
   Thanks to kusuri and fresh air, we recover by the time we dock and arrive at the traditional-style inn: shared hot bath, kimono-style bathrobes, and no central heat. Julie and I roll ourselves burrito-like in blankets and sleep with our legs under the blissfully warm kotatsu. This is, in my opinion, the most genius Japanese invention, a staple of every household: a square, quilted coffeetable with an electric heater underneath. In winter months, the kotatsu is the hub for all activity: eating, reading, watching TV (but not sleeping, unless you are two baka tourists visiting in the chilly off-season.)
   The next day, a bit stiff and arthritic, we walk to the scenic seaside: horses gallop and graze in open, gold-grassed fields. A mare and her colt nibble weeds against a backdrop of cloudless sky and sheer stone plummeting to white-capped ocean. We're the only humans in sight.
   In the distance, we spot an animal grazing alone just at the lip of the cliff. "Look at the pretty cow!" I say, snapping photos, hoping to capture the dramatic scale. We hike along a vague, winding path toward our cow. The cow takes notice, begins to meander toward us. Big cow. Cow breaks into a trot. Big, big cow. Broad shoulders, massive, square chest. Horns? Ain't no cow, damn bull, zig-zagging closer and closer. Julie and I grip each other and turn the other way. What does it want?  The jacket tied around my waist is flapping madly in the wind, but I'm too scared to take it off and look like a matador waving my cape. I desperately calm the flapping by pressing down my elbows. The bull bellows and beelines toward us.
    "Wh-wh-what do we do if he charges?" I whimper to my baby sister. "If we run it'll chase us."
    "We could lie down and play dead?" Julie says.
    Noting the complete lack of fence or shelter within view, two outcomes flash through my mind: gored in the kidney, or mashed into mochi.
    We agree upon the lying-like-possums-plan, and slither away as quickly as possible without running. Then, for no apparent reason, the bull gives a haughty snort and slows down into a walk. He backs off, eyeing us warily, as if to assure that we exit his territory.
    Goosebumped, mad-scientist hair on end, we speed-walk back to the cold inn. Along the way we notice that every other house (where were they before?) has a barn and animals--cows, horses, and bulls. We later learn that, after horse sashimi and tourism, bull-fighting is the third most profitable industry in Oki. Ah yes, bull-ru once charge German rady, the innkeeper says nonchalantly. We are too polite to query further; we mustn't insult our hosts nor the bulls. Being sick on the ferry-ride home isn't so bad, as the enchanting Oki Islands disappear behind us.
My impression of Maria von Trapp, before spotting the bull.