RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Sunday, March 9

Carbon 14 article: All-American Story of Killing Dogs and Wrecking Cars for Fun

(This also was in some issue of Carbon 14 magazine, which is a fine glossy periodical full of smut and wrestling and whores and rock-n-roll. This is one of my favorite things I wrote in the past two years, and I sent it to an old professor to get a letter of recommendation for some bullshit and she stopped talking to me afterwards. People get shook up over you admitting you slit a dog's throat.)
My wife and I both had our respective dogs before we became attached ourselves; in fact, one of our first “dates” was after some party, taking what was left of a half-gallon of Jack Daniels and what was left of a quarter bag of kind bud, rounding up both our dogs and “borrowing” a friend’s minivan to go to Montana. I finally passed out behind a K-Mart somewhere near the West Virginia state line.
Once we actually were married, the dogs ran together for years, making it to almost ten years apiece, before they both died in the tragic ways dogs in the country always die – getting hit by trucks or mauled by pit bulls or always something fucked up. So we looked a little too easily for new dogs to replace these old ones.
The first one to come along was a small, scared hunting dog who came from the woods, cowering in anticipation of beatdowns, wagging her tail, looking for food. I didn’t really want her, but the wife and kids, even though she’d never get close enough for you to pet her, had attached themselves to this stray. That became our first new dog – Burdock. You could hardly ever touch her, and if you did it was because you cornered her and she’d cower down onto her belly, holding her head under her body, but still wagging her tail, the classic runaway beaten stray.
We acquired our second dog to complete the new pair from my youngest sister. Where I grew up – Farmville, Virginia – is a hopeless shithole where factories have plywood windows and folks’ favorite leisure activities are testing life’s limits through suicidal recklessness. This may involved machines or drugs. My youngest sister had gotten wrapped up the local art of meth abuse, leaving the house only to go to her job as a waitress, her and her boyfriend holed up in their shitty cave-like house along a back road, indulging beyond their limits to pull back. Turned out her boyfriend had also started dabbling in crack use as well, and the whole time they had this part lab, part chow, big yellow goof of a dog named Buddy who basically stayed chained up at the front door so as to scare away all the more thievish members of the black folks who lived nearby. One night, while driving home from something or another, my sister dropped her cigarette in the car, and her boyfriend held the wheel while she fished for it. He decided it better to slam the wheel to the left and smash them into a tree because he had, without her knowing, been stealing thousands of dollars from his job to help keep up his taste for crack rocks. Car burned up, destroyed half of what my sister owned, he ran off and disappeared and the cops explained they were looking for him, sister got her wake up call and moved back home to get herself back together. So we took in Buddy.
Now previously, before they had moved into the shithole they lived in, Buddy was riding in transit in the back of a pick-up truck, which he dove out of, hobbling off into the woods miles away from where he left and where he was going. They looked and looked for him, but never found him. Three weeks later, he came limping down the road, goofy as ever, and he had made it to his new home. My sister’s boyfriend had found him a few years earlier from some other similar mangled discovery, so Buddy was a sort of impervious freak of an animal, more feral than pet-like, though friendly.
Buddy and Burdock – our new pair of dogs – never worked. They ran the roads around the farms we lived near too much, dragging home deer carcasses, coming home with scrapes from scraps, and just being general nuisances. They scared my kids half the time, and when they dragged in an unskinned baby deer I realized they weren’t just finding hunting leftovers in the woods but actually running down weaker deer. I never could see the logic in having a dog in a rural setting and keeping them penned up or chained, but I tried to train them. No luck though. Buddy’d chase every motorcycle or dump truck that drove past and Burdock came home with trash or critters in her mouth all the time. I waited for the day for some redneck hot shot trying to be Jeremy McGrath on his crotch rocket to wipe out because the dogs dove out the tall grass in the ditch, trying to bite his rear tire.
I had tried half-assedly to find somewhere for the dogs to go, asking around and calling the local shelter, which was always booked beyond capacity. The last straw came when I got home one day and my wife was down in the field, hollering for me. We have three goats, and we don’t milk them, but I’ve become attached to them. Goats are weird creatures, and a lot of fun to play with, though they’ll clip your knee from behind like a mid-‘70s middle linebacker. Growing up a metalhead, it seemed so perfect to have these weird album-cover like creatures, and I forever wanted to name them things like Exodus or Kreator or Cirith Ungol or some other band from my youthful doodles of skeletons thrashing stages in front of a thousand impaled, decapitated bodies on notebook paper meant for math problems. Having two daughters and a wife though, the goats ended up with names like Carrot or Gingerbread or Lavendar all the time.
Well, the dogs, who had gotten more feral than we realized, cornered our oldest goat in the pasture and mauled her. My wife fought them off and was holding them at bay, standing protectively over the dying goat, holding our two-year-old, who for months would ask in broken child talk, “Goat hurt? Goat die?” I grabbed both dogs and threw them in a couple rabbit hutches I found in a dumpster one time, and went down to tend to the goat, who had bled a lot and had innards dragging along underneath her. I’ve always been the one to feed and play with the goats and I’ve got a weight bench out there by their pen, so I’ll get high and lift weights and sit in my chair and just hang out at the edge of this field with the goats a lot of the time, so they became attached to me, as goats are very social creatures. This goat perked up when I got there, so instead of dying like she should’ve easily done, she just kind of wobbled on her gnarled-up legs, looking at me like, “Yo, fix this shit.” There was nothing I could do, and I didn’t have money enough to do things like pay a phone bill, much less spend it getting some timid animal lover to overcharge me to act like my goat was my grandfather and sew her and operate her and all that crap. After about an hour and it getting dark, it was obvious the goat wasn’t going to go on her own, so I threw a towel over her head, and she was pretty weak from blood loss, so I leaned on top of her, suffocating her to finish what the dogs had started. A friend who has farm animals told me the quickest way was to slit their throats or shoot them, but I don’t keep guns and couldn’t quite build myself up to using my Marine Ka-bar knife to slice the family’s elder goat.
The problem now was the dogs had to go as well. As a kid growing up, we had stray dog killings from time to time, when we’d look around and realize we had about seven half-wild mange-ridden beasts running around the yard all the time, and my dad and his buddy would pull out pistols and shoot them all down when necessary. Like I said, I don’t keep guns, so the knife was the only way to go, and that seemed pretty fucked up to me. I took the smaller dog – Burdock – with a rope tied around her neck as a lead as neither dog had a collar, and took her back into the woods behind my house. I thought to myself how easy in physical effort (not in mental effort) it had been to choke out the goat, so I mistakenly thought I could just strangle this little stray hunting dog, even though I had my knife with me. I tightened the rope and wrapped it around my fist and pulled, pushing against the back of the dog’s neck, straddling it out in the pitch black woods, and no matter how hard I did this, the dog never would die. I’d let up to see what was going on, and the dog would whimper meekly and wag her tail. Here I was, a grown educated man, sitting on top of a dog who’s whole life had been beatdowns and torture, trying to strangle her. It creeped me out, like I was some degenerate killing a hooker, putting me far too in touch with some primal shit inside us all. Finally, after about ten minutes of this, when I realized there was no turning back because I’d probably brain damaged the dog so I couldn’t just let the rope loose and have her wobble around like a halfwit now, I had to slit her throat with the knife. Now I’ve cut deer before that have been dead for a short time already, but never cut the throat of a live animal. Sitting there in the heavy dark on a stump, wanting to make sure the dog died, and hearing the sounds of blood pumping through a gaping slash across the neck… it was some fucked-up sounding shit that etched right into my heart. There was no way I could do that to the bigger dog, the one that had been chained up outside my sister’s house for years. Maybe I’m too weak or too emotional, but I didn’t really want to start making a practice nor even one more memory of doing shit like this to a dog.
So I pulled the bloody rope lead off of Burdock, buried her, and put it on Buddy, driving him to the shelter that was forever overfull in the middle of the night, and looping his ass to the front gate for them to find in the morning. It might not have been right in their eyes, but they’d probably mind that less than me killing his ass with a foot-long blade.
The whole incident, though normal old school farm activity, knocked my non-old school non-farming ass out of whack. The creepy degenerate killing a hooker parallel kept bouncing around in my head, and I just didn’t feel right. I felt like a piece of shit about the whole ordeal, even though I did what I had to do.
Anyways, I had been building myself up for months for a spring road trip out to rural Illinois to this giant demolition derby called Metal Mayhem, with a $10,000 purse. It’s one of the biggest demo derbies of the year, with almost 200 cars, and me and my boy Brown were hyped. I was hoping this trip, and just wandering the road free of responsibility, even if just for four or five days, might wash me of my guilt.
Going to the midwest was interesting, as I’d never been out there. Chicago creeped me out in its endless sprawl and sterilized appearance. My mother was actually born in Chicago, and it was strange to imagine I could’ve been bred here instead of rural Virginia. Before and after Chicago on the trip though, the midwest just tweaked me and Brown out, as it was nothing but flatland, forever.
Demo derbies are big-time in this part of the country. Whereas back home, they might have five or six in the whole state of Virginia all year long, in the midwest, demo derbies are big affairs, and crews of guys will actually form teams of drivers and travel a couple of state in any direction to go for bigger trophies and meager pay-offs. The make-up of the land has to have something to do with it, because back home with the hills and mountains and curves and creeks, you’d be hard-pressed to drive for half an hour without seeing a plastic bouquet on a guard rail or wooden cross in a ditch where someone died in a car wreck. Out in the midwest, the roads are so straight and the land so flat, I imagine it’s hard to really wreck a car bad enough to fuck yourself up, so the demo derby gives these guys, who all seemed to be pretty young, to test life’s limits through recklessness, just like the folks back home.
The day of the derby starting up, it was drizzling and cold, just pure miserable weather, which also made the pits muddier and slower, so the 40 car overflow heat for $2500 we were watching took almost three hours to finish up. This was going to take forever. It was great enjoyment watching how cars could become so mangled, with tie rods broken and one car even having its tire turned sideways so one wheel laid on the ground like a frisbee, and the engine still powered through, forcing the smashed metal to move around further than it ever should. But demo derbies are like porn in that any sane person doesn’t need to sit there and watch eight hours straight. This was at the Ogle County Fairgrounds in nowhere, Illinois, families all hunched together in the grandstands, sad sacks like us standing around against the concrete railings getting rained on and mud splattering at us from the fight pit. Me and Brown made a pit stop out to the car to pull a couple beers out the cooler, and sitting in the car, raining, miserable flatland, we decided fuck it, we’d go back to the hotel and get good and fucked-up and just come back tomorrow for the second day when hopefully the weather would be better.
On the way back, we stopped at some dive called Labon’s Oasis for a beer or two. It was a beautiful place – biker-style rednecks sitting around in satin jackets drinking Old Style tall cans. I put “Longhaired Redneck” on the jukebox, and we drank a couple, soaking in the local vibe. All these guys and girls looked like the type of folks who would’ve ran with my parents, except all these people talked funny, with that northern midwestern accent. And the jukebox had nothing but outlaw country and southern rock, full of my homeland twang. I found the whole thing amusing, as I’m sure if we had stayed all night, one of these guys would’ve eventually talked shit to my dreadlocked ass since I was a stranger. But for now, I just flashed my chipped-tooth smile, wild dimple behind a unkempt beard, got a knowing grin from the sad waitress while we settled up, and we went back to the hotel.
The next day it was raining even harder, so we decided to meander back towards home, so we didn’t have to drive twelve hours on Monday. And most of the midwest was not to our liking. We had occasional joys – riding through a Hispanic part of southside Chicago where folks obviously understood the importance of loungin’, and we got a shit-ass room in Dayton, Ohio, where we were surrounded by the comforts of a ghetto with bass-thumping by now and then and dingy Chinese buffets and check-cashing joints and the like. Tweaked out chicks would walk through the hotel parking lot, two of them catching me opening the door to stand there and drink a beer and trying to come in to wait for their ride, which in all likelihood would’ve been wherever we drove them. Fuck all that. I know tweaker chicks, and they never look as good as they remember themselves looking, and it’s never worth the trouble.
The next day, after what seemed like forever driving along 35 south through Ohio, we started to see signs of the land having depth to it and not just being stamped into long square fields. The four-lanes of 35 through Ohio narrowed down to two once we crossed into West Virginia, and it started to look like home again. Me and Brown started to unclench. Sometimes going on a road trip is good for nothing more than reminding you of what you love about where you ended up in life. Piedmont Virginia/North Carolina has been my home my whole life, except for brief forays in one direction or another, and whenever I get back towards that part of the country, whether in my own car or someone else’s or on a Greyhound, it feels like home more and more each time. Shit, I’m raising my own kids there now.
About half an hour into West Virginia, we saw a van pulled over on the side of the road with a lady frantically waving her arms. There were a couple cars in front of us and a couple behind, and the ones in front kept on trucking. Me and Brown decided to turn around and see what was up, and the car behind us honked at us for taking so long to find somewhere to turn around. When we got back to where the van was, a tractor and trailer had pulled over already with the driver running back to the van full speed. I pulled behind him just in time to see him reach in the back of the van and a body fall out, head first, into the gravel, feet still in the van. I ran over and asked if anybody had called 911, and the driver pointed me to his truck to get his cell phone. After calling, I handed the phone off to the frantic lady, because I didn’t know where the fuck I was. This kid, probably about fifteen, and with cut marks all over his arms already, had somehow wrapped the seat belt around his neck in an attempt to commit suicide while no one was paying attention to him. He was lifeless, no pulse, with his eyes open and glazed over, just like my goat’s looked after I choked her, foaming at the mouth. But a minute or so after the truck driver had cut the belt from around his neck, he started choking and gasping a little and his pulse came back and he was still alive. There was a purple ring around his throat from where he’d tied himself, and he just looked all mangled. As he came to, his first words were, “Am I dead?” And we told him no and made him lay there and wiped water on his head, and he started to get all freaked out, asking about his mom and about what happened and how he didn’t mean to do it, and I just told him to calm down, don’t worry about none of that shit right now. He just laid there, feet still in the van, sobbing lightly. He asked, “Am I going to be all right?” and the frantic lady who had been driving the van said, “You’re going to be just fine. These angels stopped and helped you.” She looked at me and the truck driver, “Every morning, I pray for angels, and they came today.” And she hugged us and the volunteer rescue squad showed up, so me and Brown cleared the fuck out quickly, anonymously.
Oddly enough, and even though I didn’t really do anything, that incident seemed to have righted me after sitting on top of a dying dog’s back in the dark. I don’t feel like there was anything special about it, nor do I feel like I did myself any karmic good by stopping along some foreign road to have a small hand in keeping some sad kid from killing himself, but I feel like I got myself even-keeled again. That old bullshit cliché is life’s a gamble, and clichés tend to be true, but in most gambles, there’s a lot more losing than winning, so that the house comes out on top. I feel like if I can get through all this bullshit called life and deal with all the bad hands it feels like I’m always dealt coming from where I come from, and relatedly thinking the way I think, if I can come out even, then I’m doing pretty damned good.
EPILOGUE: I went to that local shelter looking for some kittens to get as a surprise for my daughters the other week, and on their little dry erase board it had written on it “Buddy adopted”. Now, my Buddy had no name tag, so that couldn’t have been him; but also knowing his history of dodging all the death that surrounds him, it might be, and he’s probably getting into the trash in someone’s back yard right now.
Also, the biggest demolition derby that happens in Virginia is going on next week at a local fair, the same place I go to the dirt track races from time to time. It’ll be nice to watch cars destroy each other in comfortable environs where people have the same bad accent I do and I can see the blue ridge skyline in the distance.

1 comment:

kami said...

this is a great piece of writing Raven, really beautifully done. fuck em if they cant understand how it goes down. too many people have their heads in the sand and just assume everything will work out somehow but it doesnt. sometimes we have to get our hands dirty too.