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Peter Mallory's Blog

By pmallory - Posted on 01 December 2014

1 December 2014

No animals were harmed in the writing of this book!

. . . but you will find a story about a wise old orange tabby named Tom, a scary moment with a startled goose, and a couple of photos showing a scruffy, fuzzy, cockapoo puppy named Jayvee.

I feel bad that my best Jayvee story never made it into An Out-of-Boat Experience. Jay was my puppy during my year of coaching in Long Beach. He would travel to and from practice every day in my backpack as I rode my bike. I would post the lineups and carry gas to my launch while Jayvee would make sure everybody in the locker room knew how glad he was to see them.

As the boats were carried to the dock Jay would fall in line, and as the rowers tied in, Jay would very purposefully start at the bow seat and lick everybody on the face all the way down to the coxswain. Today, whenever I launch a crew for a race, I go down the boat from one end to the other shaking each individual’s hand. I learned that from Jayvee 41 years ago.

Anyway, early that spring Jay was less than a year old and had never had a haircut, so he looked like a cross between a dust mop and a blowfish. One day he was doing his regular thing on the dock, but when he leaned over to kiss John Fletcher in the 6-seat, he lost his footing and tumbled right into the water. John immediately reached down and pulled him up by the scruff of the neck, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Jay came up looking like a rat! Nobody could stop laughing, and Jay was absolutely thrilled to be the cause of such mirth. He spent the practice inside my jacket with his head sticking out just beneath my chin.

Sadly, a few of the most noteworthy animals in my rowing life never made it into Out-of-Boat at all. My very first pet when I was on my own was an enormous super-furry black cat, so furry that I didn’t know if he was a boy or a girl until I took him to the vet school for a checkup. Luckily, I had named him/her Kitty, which worked either way. First saw him walking by the Penn Boathouse after practice one evening in the dead of winter. Must have been abandoned along Boathouse Row. The next night I ran into him again, this time coming down the stairway of Undine Barge Club, and I took him right home.

Fed him once a day in the morning. Terrible idea. Terrible idea! Every morning as we slept, Kitty would come in and stare at me and my roommate Lance, a real stink-eye stare, until we got up and fed him. Then in the evening when a little companionship would have been nice, he was out catting around. Took me something like a year before somebody suggested that we feed him at night before bed instead of in the morning. (I never was particularly quick on the uptake.) Kitty was like a totally different cat! all over us all evening long, head-butting and pawing and talking and purring and playing fetch and being cute and affectionate . . . and every morning he left us to sleep as late as we liked.

Then there was the teeny black bunny I was given one spring as an Easter present by the parents of one of my rowers. (They told me up front he was a boy.) I named him Toby. He immediately responded, “No! I am Kunta Kinte, Mandinka warrior!”

There are plenty of stories of Toby, but they all involve the ever-increasing challenge of sharing an apartment with a Mandinka rabbit, always hoping he will eventually learn to use a cat box. I just couldn’t leave him in his cage. Fairly quickly he built himself a little Fortress of Solitude inside the box spring of my bed. Chewed his way in from below.

Our favorite game was hide-and-seek. I would sit in the kitchen and say. “I wonder where that BUNNY is . . . ” and I’d look all around the room and at the ceiling. In about 5 seconds, Toby would stick his head around the corner and wiggle his nose at me.

Game on!

I would jump up, and quick like a bunny Toby would tear into the bedroom and up into the box spring with me hot on his heels.

Pretty soon I figured he could move a lot faster if he wanted . . . but he always kept it close, which made the game all that much better for both of us. I never did catch him, though he would let me pick him up when food was involved.

After a month or two, it was obvious from the intensifying smell that this was a living arrangement which could not endure. Toby spent the rest of his life with the family of another of my rowers. I visited him after a few years. This baby bunny who could fit into my hand was now the size of a gym bag! I looked for a flicker of recognition, but he only burped.

Then there was the little blue parakeet who presumably had “flown the coop” at his previous home. There he was flying across Mission Bay when he runs out of gas and plops into the water right next to my boat. I scooped him up, took him home, bought a cage and all the trimmings. Named him Birdy. Again, no issues with gender, but I always assumed he was a guy.

Just like with Toby, I felt terrible keeping Birdy in his cage, and so I would let him fly around the apartment when I was at home.

Then after a month or so he managed to make another break, slipped out the open door. Saw him go. Ran out as he disappeared over the roof. My heart sank.

I searched high and low, put up signs in the neighborhood. Finally, there he was . . . in a pet store surrounded by a whole bunch of other little blue parakeets just like him. I explained to the pet guy that this was definitely my bird. Had to be! He was sympathetic when I showed him how Birdy would chirp at me and bite my finger and all . . . but he had a store to run. I got to pay full price. I was just glad to have my Birdy back.

Birdy didn’t grow old with me either, I'm afraid. Must have left again at some point, but the memory is now long gone. However, the sound of him plopping into the Bay that day will never, ever fade from my little pea brain.

Enjoy the book . . . even without Kitty and Toby and Birdy.