On Writing About Rizzo & Dogs

Years ago, actually many years ago, I wrote what would become my first Rizzo book. It was called like a deuce, which was a reference to the Bruce Springsteen song Blinded By The Light. The lines went:
He was just blinded by the light
cut loose like a deuce, another runner in the night
blinded by the light
Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun
Oh, but Mama, that’s where the fun is.
Springsteen was referring to a souped up car, like “a little deuce coup” to quote a Beach Boys’ song, but I intended a double meaning. Rizzo just wasn’t a sports car zooming around in the night but also a wild card, as in “deuces wild” in poker, so he was in essence unpredictable. He was my journalist protagonist who was too cocky for his own good. And Rizzo in the first Rizzo books (like a deuce & Rizzo & Mike) had a dog who was a little wild, too.
Now Rizzo as a character stayed with me and aged in a series of books I wrote using him, mainly because various agents I had couldn’t seem to sell any of those books and I just refused to let him go. He became, as had many of the characters in those books, personal friends of mine, as real to me as real friends of mine, who in many ways influenced the characters in those books. The bantering between Rizzo and his best friend Peter was so similar to the bantering over dinner tables, in kitchens, in bars, walking on the street, in theatre lobbies that friends of mine and I indulged in all these many years. Those characters were, in essence, my friends and me. And the nameless dog that was, as Jimmy Powell once quipped after reading the earlier book, the second most realized character in the novel, was my dog Frodo, alive in those pages, a ghost in the novels to follow, haunting Rizzo, and also that other character who pops in and out of various novels of mine, Anthony Provenzano.
So it wasn’t unusual that one day last week when I was talking via skype with my old friend Chuck Thegze, he started asking me about some parts of my life he only became aware of by reading my blog. Now Chuck has known me since he was the West Coast editor of Avon Books and he tried to buy my book Rizzo & Mike for Avon (that was 1978) and though the house eventually passed on the book, Chuck and I became good friends. We both still remember the night we played pool in some pool hall in Santa Monica and also the night he came to my house in Santa Monica for dinner of my famous red clam sauce and he met my ex-wife Jane (who wasn’t my ex-wife at the time) and my dog Frodo, who left a lasting impression on all my friends and family.
So we got to talking about Frodo, who in Chuck’s mind is spiritually connected to the Rizzo books and to LA even though Frodo was a native NYer just like me who just happened to spend part of our lives in Ohio (perish the memories) and LA. He wanted to hear the story of my first night in LA, when after having driven across the country in a make-shift caravan with 3 cars, a U-Haul 24 foot truck, 6 adults (Dave Capus, his girlfriend soon to be second wife Peg, Dave Reed, another friend of David’s named Bill, Jane, and me), one child (Peg’s daughter Ivy), a cat (Dave Capus’ whose name, sorry, David, escapes me)and my dog Frodo (and yes, he was named after that character in Tolkein’s books in the hopes he, too, would be loyal and brave, which he was, though a bit wild, too, perhaps because of the way I played with him.). The two Daves, Jane and I, and the dog drove ahead to find lodgings for us all and that first night we all stayed in a 4 person motel room in Canoga Park which allowed pets. We did find a 5 bedroom house in Simi Valley where we all lived together for 2 months but that’s another story. The first night, though, the two Daves went off scouting out bars while Jane and I drove into Beverly Hills to have dinner with my only friend in LA, Rip Crystal, & his girlfriend who would eventually become his wife, Fran.
Whew. That was a long intro.
Anyway, we hired some kids to stay in the motel room to watch Frodo while we were gone and when we came back around midnight, the room was empty but there was a note to call their mother. As it turns out, she had the bright idea of bringing them all to her house, and Frodo, who probably thought he was being kidnapped, bolted out of their door at his first opportunity to escape and disappeared somewhere in Canoga Park miles from the motel, lost and probably scared, which pretty much sums up how we felt when after spending 2 hours driving throughout their neighborhood calling his name every 100 feet or so, finally dragged ourselves back to the motel thinking we had lost him forever on our first night in LA.
However, much to our surprise and relief, he was waiting for us expectantly on what was to be our bed, his tail wagging profusely, those cries of joy coming from us all, and the two Daves laughing as they explained how Frodo was pacing up and down the block in front of the motel waiting for someone he knew to come home. How he found his way back was a mystery; however, that night I let him sleep between us though insisting he stop wagging his tail.
There are so many stories featuring Frodo but my favorites revolve around his total loyalty to me. As a puppy, he wouldn’t eat unless I sat next to him on the floor and would throughout his life insist on climbing onto my lap while I was trying to write, hunched over my trusty Smith Corona, even when he grew up to be a 60 pound dog. He was black & tan, half German Shepherd and half Collie, with a slightly pointed head and those long, floppy ears which I refused to have clipped. He was fixed late in life (when he was five) by Jane who had him living with her the first time we separated in North Hollywood because I agreed to let him live there to protect her since she lived with another actress and both felt safer with Frodo around. Besides, I lived in a much smaller place in Malibu and it was really too small for him. How he became neutered, though, without my permission happened because he bit the first boyfriend she took up with after leaving me. I loved him for that, but was distressed she had him fixed and almost took him away from her. But I relented because I did worry about her and Lauretta, her roommate.
The other time he proved he was my dog was just before I left LA after losing my store. I had been housesitting at Ren Weschler’s mother’s house for the two months prior to leaving and Frodo was staying with Jane and her soon-to-be second husband Jack. Our agreed upon understanding was that arrangement was only temporary until I left for NY because up until that time he was with me but I couldn’t have him at Ren’s mother’s house. A few days before I was to board the plane for NY I called Jane to arrange picking up Frodo. She then asked if I could change my mind and let her keep the dog because, as she said, “Jack likes him.” I thought that Jack was getting Jane but there was no need for him to also get my dog and told her to let Jack get his own dog. She kept pleading, though, so I offered a compromise. I told her to bring Frodo to the acting school where she was working when no one else was there and that I would come to the school, sit for a while talking to her, and then get up to leave. If Frodo followed me out to my car, he went with me to NY. But if he stayed in the school with her, she could keep him.
Well, that’s what we did. He was happy to see me, jumping, running circles around me, and finally calming down enough to lay on his back so I could rub his stomach and chest. After a while, when he was resting quietly, I got up to leave. As soon as I stood, his ears perked up, and as I walked to the door, he got up and followed me. We walked down the stairs to the parking lot together, and when I opened the car door, he climbed in, and laid his head on my lap as soon as I was seated behind the wheel. He never even looked back. And thus we flew off into the sunset together.
He would let me take a bone out of his mouth without once objecting, chase a stick for hours and dare me to take it away from him, bark at anything or anyone that came within a block of whatever house we lived in but could tell the sound of any car belonging to a friend of mine within 150 feet of the house and stand, his tail wagging, at the door waiting patiently for them to enter, would walk next to me off his lease and would stop on a dime if he tried to chase another dog or squirrel when I yelled “no!” He had the saddest dog eyes and the wettest nose which he would somehow find a way to stick inside my shirt. He loved spaghetti, lettuce, and raw peanuts, and would go through a large box of milkbones in less than a week. I loved him more than I’ve ever loved any animal and it broke my heart when after fifteen years, he finally couldn’t walk anymore. Taking him to the vet who finally gave him an injection that put him to sleep forever was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I cried for over ten minutes in that vet’s office, unable to leave him there, still seeing his eyes as he looked up at me just before the needle went in. I had him cremated, and his ashes sit on my desk today, just as they have sat on my desk these 20 some odd years since that day, physically with me just as he is with me in spirit, still in my memory, my heart, till I join him once again to play fetch in some heavenly field.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.