The Michael Vick case brought back some unpleasant memories from long ago

The funny thing about bad news is the way you remember where you were when you got it.

I remember the color of the walls, the design of the furniture, the program that was on TV and the person I was with on the night John Lennon was killed. The smell of the bed spread I cried into is still as fresh in the permafrosted neurons of my brain as the day I inhaled it. I can still see the sterile glow of the fluorescent light coming from the adjacent bathroom and remember how one of the bulbs flickered. It's been 27 years now, and all those details are as sharp as if it had happened yesterday.

Several years later: James Bulger. He was the British toddler abducted from a shopping mall, tortured and killed by two teenage boys back in 1993. I remember that baby, maybe because I had one of my own at the time and could imagine his mother's horror. I was driving on Tucson Boulevard. It was raining, and the air smelled of creosote. I had to pull over. My windshield was dirty and streaked. I couldn't see to drive.

I was in Bellingham, Wash., several weeks ago when the Michael Vick story broke. Fluffy white clouds scuttled across the sky casting shadows onto the parking lot of a used bookstore. A tattoo parlor across the street was closed; a fancy French café and a Subway franchise two blocks down weren't. National Public Radio was on in the car. I didn't know who Michael Vick was, and I hope that by some weird twist of fate, justice is served, and he's buried neck-deep in a hill of army ants with 10 or 12 Payday candy bars stuck to his head.

The problem is, it got me thinking about dog fighting, which is something I never wanted to do. Ever.

Eight thousand years ago, when I was a lass, I worked in a marine park, a sort of Sea World, only smaller and long since out of business. Like everyone else, I started out as a grunt, bucketing up animal feed, yelling at the school children to stay out of the walrus tank, that kind of thing. Gradually, I moved up the ladder until one fine day, they made me a keeper. I was the happiest 21-year-old ever!

It was a union job, so I made real dough, and I got to spend every day caring for injured marine mammals and birds brought in by local animal control. I raised baby sea lions, took them home at night and bottle-fed them whipping cream and herring mash. On any given night, there were penguins in my bathroom or ducks in the tub. None of my roommates ever lasted very long--it's an odd but true fact that few people can move their bowels with penguin chicks pecking their feet--but for me, it was a friggin' brilliant time.

Except for one thing: a nasty son-of-a-bitch trash-bastard I'll call Luke Champion. He was the union steward, lived down by the docks and was generally accepted to be the meanest guy in the world. A crooked longshoreman, he got everything he wanted via intimidation, mostly because he was so dumb, he couldn't come up with anything else. He had his hand in loads of things nobody wanted to know anything about, one of which was fighting pit bulls.

Oh, he'd brag and yammer about that one to anybody he could corner. It was illegal even then, but nobody in their right mind would have turned him in. Luke was every bit as vengeful as he was mean. Nights off, he was fond of beating up drunks, whores, homeless people and anyone else he could get his hands on. One night, required to work the graveyard shift because the regular guy got sick, he "accidentally" backwashed 100 gallons of chorine into the 100,000-gallon fish tank, killing everything in it: hundreds of fish, rays and turtles. Luke didn't like working the graveyard shift.

Part of my job was ordering meds and clinic supplies every Monday morning. Invariably, when I'd come into work, there'd be stuff missing. Usually it was antibiotics and syringes, but often it was suturing silk, surgical sponges, iodine. Sometimes really expensive prescription meds went missing. Luke was so dumb, he didn't know whether he was stealing expensive or cheap drugs, but he didn't care. He knew damn well a skinny 21-year-old like me was never going to rat him out.

He was right.

So when the inventories were off, I just sucked it up, claiming breakage, spoilage, evil spirits. Eventually, they took that job away from me, figuring, I guess, that I was some kind of moron. But the same thing happened to the next person, and the next. I don't know whether anyone ever put two and two together. Sometimes, the simplest arithmetic can be very dangerous.

So thanks for the memories, Michael Vick. Maybe someday, you and Luke Champion can keep each other company in hell. And here's hoping against hope that God is a pit bull terrier.

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