Last year, October to be precise, our companion of 14 years, Pepino, suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right hind leg.
This is a very brief love story: a story of love for others, and how that love translates into riches. We can be rich in many ways, but the kind I mean is money.
Despite his paralysis, Pepino, the old tough boy, refused, to be picked up and cuddled, dragging himself to his bowl and to his regular spot by the front door. Pepino was your regular size Shih Tzu, stubborn to no end, and with an independent streak that was more human than canine. "C'mhere" to Pepino meant "Go the other way." At times I'd think he was pigheaded rather than stubborn.
Hard as I often tried, I could never teach him a manly thing. After I retired from business, where I was a successful investment banker, I became a college adjunct professor of Economics. I've been teaching unruly college kids the rudiments of macro and micro-economics, and I feel confident that I have a terrific talent for teaching.
For years I've felt that Pepino had a high IQ, or above average to say the least. At times I've felt that perhaps he could outthink some of my own students. Yet, though I managed to teach him many tricks, the noble beast refused to learn to raise his leg and pee like a he-dog.
Oh, well, at least I convinced him not to growl, bark, sniff at our guests' crotches, and other common tricks.
Being apartment dwellers, in the mornings we let Pepino pee in his washable pads, but in the evenings I'd take him for a long walk. We are fortunate to live in a gorgeous penthouse on Park Avenue (a lovely avenue in New York City) where one can find trees in the median. For many a day--or late afternoon or evening may be more accurate--I tried to teach Pepino to pee like a he-dog.
Repeatedly I'd lift my leg and placed it against a tree at the stop light intersection, north of our building, hoping that Pepino would eventually catch on and imitate me.
To be an investment banker you must have thick skin, and I am proud to say, I don't embarrass that easily. So, I would turn a deaf ear to the taunts, jeers, indignities, and insults from cab drivers and other motorists held by the stop light, as they saw me in that ridiculous position, trying to teach the pooch how to act like a man.
Pepino never got it and eventually I gave up. "No sense in changing Pepino's basic instinct--a contrarian he is!" I thought. Yet, I knew he had absorbed and internalized what I was trying to teach him, not because I'm smart but because Pepino wasn't a good poker player--everytime he learned something he'd stick his tongue out and hold it out for about 5 seconds.
Dr. Grossman--Pepino's regular Vet--examined my beloved pooch carefully, and as he shined a light into the old boy's pupils, he said, "Pepino is in pain and suffering. It's best for him to be put to sleep."
Stunned by what Dr. Grossman was saying, I could hardly contain myself, fighting an inner wave of violence building within me. I remember thinking, "You insensitive, incompetent nitwit, for fourteen years we've fattened your wallet and all you got to say is ‘put him to sleep'?"
But instead, I only mumbled, "Isn't there something you can do-surgery? I'll pay for it!"
Grossman only shook his head meaning "No." Then he said, "I'll leave you both," --that is me and my wife Mary Patricia-- "to talk for a moment, and grieve. It's time for Pepino to go to dog heaven."
As soon as Grossman was out the door, Mary Patricia hugged me and burst into tears. I held her close to sooth her pain, my heart thumping, and my throat voiceless.
Only twice in my life have I ever shed a tear: the first time was during the TET offensive in Vietnam in 1968, when I held one of my men --who had been mortally wounded-- in my arms as he asked me to call his mom in Missouri and tell her he loved her. Oblivious to the small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and madness around me, and with my man's body still warm in my arms, I well remember the acrid smell of gun powder and the bitter tears draining into my mouth.
The second time was when the market crashed in 1987 and --following a contrarian gut impulse that I had learned from Pepino-- I shorted (selling short is betting on the losing horse) Cisco and other Dot.com stocks and made a a substantial amount of money--a maneuver that allowed me to buy this penthouse on Park Avenue. When I took my profits out, I couldn't fight back the sweet tears that coursed down my cheeks.
Mary Patricia and Pepino are the love of my life, and for many years I had chased the elusive buck just like any ambitious person, but one thing changed my fortune.
Wanting to make money happens quickly when you think of those about you--not yourself. Before I realized this fact, my success was more spiritual than monetary.
But let me go on. Dr. Grossman returned with an assistant and both of them got busy to set the cold aluminum-steel table where Pepino was to be euthanized.
Fearful that I was going to break down and cry a primal cry that I felt traveling up my spine, I asked Grossman to wait five minutes while I ran to the corner market and buy a pint of vanilla ice cream. Without waiting for a reaction I took off.
Moments later, looking into my eyes, Pepino let me know that he enjoyed more than ever in his life his last taste of ice cream. The pooch left this bitter world with a sweet taste in his mouth.
The assistant laid Pepino on his side, and Grossman found a vein. And just as he was injecting the hemlock or whatever killing agent they use, Pepino lifted his left hind leg way up --just as I had shown him many times-- and he peed like a he-dog. And I swear, he also stuck his pink tongue out.
Speechless, all I could do was cry--for the third time in my life. Truthfully I don't remember how Mary patricia got me home.
The writing techniques I employ in this article I learned from Mary Duffy's writing manual: