Long ago, my brother Jerry had a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Petunia for a pet. “Why did you name her Petunia?” I asked him. Well, what is Porky the Pig’s girlfriend’s name? Petunia! And so, in a moment of sheer brilliance my brother had a pet Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Petunia. He was always proud of his naming abilities thereafter.
Petunia had quite a personality. She attracted people from all over the neighborhood since no one else had a pig for a pet. They would drive by just to see Petunia in the yard. One day, Petunia escaped from my brother’s yard and within hours someone had returned her home to my brother. Everyone knew where she lived. Petunia was very friendly, especially if you were eating. She would butt her head against your leg until you gave her something to eat.
I used to visit my brother quite often, so I used to see a lot of Petunia. I liked her, but not in the same way I would have liked a dog. When I moved next door to my brother, I got to see way too much of Petunia, but I was sorry to see my brother move away. But not just because I would miss Petunia!
Once, when he moved to his new house, Jerry left a case of beer on the rear deck to cool off for a party, and Petunia managed to puncture through the cans with her teeth. She drank the whole case of beer! She staggered around the backyard until she fell over and passed out. There were empty beer cans all over the deck.
My brother loved that pig more than any pet he ever had, including our dog, Duke. Some days, he paid more attention to Petunia than to anyone else in his family. Once when I was at Jerry’s house, I noticed that Petunia’s toenails were painted red. Jerry had painted her toenails and his wife Rita wasn’t too happy about it. She said, “He never painted my toenails!”
Duke was the best dog that our family ever had. When we lived at 4405 S. Wood Street, he followed my brothers and me home from school. He really did. At first, he followed us at a distance and that was fine by us because we weren’t sure if he would bite us. He was already full-grown and he was at least part Golden Retriever and maybe a little bit German Shepard and Chow Chow. We were sure that, since Duke got along well with the whole family, he probably was also part Mexican.
He followed us into our backyard and we went into the house. When we looked out the window later, he was still there. We gave him some bologna and went back inside. The next day, he followed us home again and we gave him some milk this time. He let us pet him and he seemed very friendly. He was too clean to be a stray dog and he didn’t have the battle scars of street dogs, but he didn’t have a collar or dog tags either. We never let him into the house because we knew our mother would get mad at us. But Duke kept following us home after school. He knew what time we got out of school and he would meet us at the corner of our block and follow us home so we could give him something to eat.
One day, my mother came home from work and asked us about the dog on the back porch. “What dog on the back porch?” I asked, knowing we were about to get in trouble. We didn’t admit to anything. Eventually, my mother brought Duke into the house and we all started playing with him. He was really happy with us and never even growled when my little sister pulled his ears or fur. We asked our mother if we could keep it, but she said it probably belonged to someone else and they would eventually want him back. We could keep him until someone claimed him.
We were so happy to have a dog again. And the good news was that he was already house-broken. At first, my mother would open the door to let Duke go out by himself thinking that he would eventually go to his real home. But he always came back. After a while, I started walking him without a leash. He always stayed close to me and he would never run away. I walked him all over the neighborhood so that maybe Duke would recognize his original home, but we never found his original owner. Soon I knew I was Duke’s master because one of the neighborhood bullies threatened me with Duke at my side and Duke growled at him ready to defend me.
Duke had some pretty good street cred, too, because when other dogs would see him, they would run away. I didn’t need a leash to control Duke because he so obedient that he listened to my every command. However, he loved to chase squirrels, but he would only do say when I gave him permission. Whenever he saw a squirrel at a distance, he ears would perk up and he would growl, but he would stay by my side until I said, “Go get him, Duke!” And he would run at full speed toward the squirrel. He never once caught a squirrel because the squirrels were usually too far away from us and too close to a tree that they climbed to escape. Only once, did I think that Duke would actually catch a squirrel in his mouth. He was rapidly closing in on a squirrel that was foolish enough to try to outrun Duke instead of climbing a tree. I think that Duke slowed down to give the squirrel a running chance and the squirrel got away.
When we moved to 2509 W. Marquette Road, Duke moved with us. By then, he was part of our family. Somehow, I remained Duke’s master. My brothers and I had to be careful when we wrestled because Duke would attempt to bite my brothers in my defense. Even after I married and moved away from my mother’s house. Once I was visiting and I started wrestling with Tato, my brother Jerry, in the basement just like in the good old days. Duke just stood there watching. He was a lot older now and he didn’t growl at my brother as he once did. Well, I could still out-wrestle all my brothers even though we were all about the same size now. I managed to throw my brother down on his back on the sofa. I jokingly said, “Sic him!” and Duke ran and bit my brother’s face. I really didn’t think he would attack my brother. I immediately grabbed Duke by his collar and he finally calmed down. My brother had some puncture wounds on his face from being bitten a few times. I apologized profusely to my brother. Neither one of us thought Duke would attack. But he did. I was still his master even though I had lived away from him for about a year. I still feel badly about this even now as I described the incident.
Duke lived to be very old, but we never knew his exact age since he was already full-grown when he started living with us. Eventually, he had so many health problems that my sister had him put to sleep. He was such a great dog that I can still visualize him.
Irma was a Mexicana who lived on my block when I was about ten. We lived at 4405 S. Wood Street in Back of the Yards and she lived two houses south of us, upstairs from my friend Carlos Mojaro. She was about six years older than me, but everyone in the neighborhood knew her. She was very pretty and friendly. She always had a boyfriend, but never for very long.
Of course, then all the rumors started about her reputation, if you know what I mean. Even when she wasn’t home, some guy would come looking for her. Sometimes they weren’t even from the neighborhood. Irma’s mother–I never did learn her name because everyone simply called her Irma’s mother–would always look out her second-floor apartment window and shout for them to go away and stay away from her daughter! There was no element of mystery here.
Everyone knew that Irma’s mother was also very friendly with the men in the neighborhood, but only more so than her daughter. She was a single mother raising a son, whom was rarely seen coming or going home, and a daughter. The whole family was very popular with everyone in the neighborhood except for all the neighbors who lived within a half-block of them. They also had a dog–no one knew her name, but we always referred to her as Irma’s mother’s dog–that would often escape from the apartment and wander the neighborhood, occasionally biting children who wanted to pet it. Their dog also developed a reputation of being overly friendly with the other dogs in the neighborhood, but somehow never had any puppies. One day as I was walking our dog Duke, he approached Irma’s mother’s dog out of curiosity and she tried to bite Duke, but Duke ducked and bit her first. Irma’s mother looked out her window and yelled at me. I tried to explain that her dog tried to bite mine first, but Irma’s mother just started swearing at me. There was no talking to her.
One day, I saw Irma go into her house with her boyfriend. I could hear her lock the door as I sat on the porch with my friend Carlos. A few hours later, her mother came home and Irma wouldn’t let her in. Her mother started to swear at Irma as she looked out the window down at her mother. She kept saying, “You better let me in right now!” But Irma went inside and closed the windows even though it was hot outside. By then a crowd had started to gather. Irma’s mother kept shouting, “I’m gonna call the police on your boyfriend!” Then one of the women neighbors started arguing with Irma’s mother because of her dog that had gone into the neighbor’s yard. Irma’s mother asked for a reprieve from the argument because her daughter was in the house with some guy and she couldn’t get in. I was sitting on my bike out in front watching the scene. There were well over fifty people watching.
Then, the woman tells Irma’s mother, “I’m not surprised your daughter’s in there with some guy!” “What do you mean?” asked Irma’s mother. “You daughter’s a whore!” Irma’s mother just laughed. “You’re a whore, too!” We were all expecting for a physical fight to break out, but nothing. Irma’s mother just laughed that off, too. Finally, the woman says, “I’ve seen your dog fucking all the other dogs in the neighborhood! Even your dog’s a whore!”
This was just too, too much for Irma’s mother to take. She grabbed the woman’s hair and said, “You can call me a whore and you can call my daughter a whore, but don’t you ever talk about my dog!” Then Irma’s mother scratched the woman’s face. By then the police arrived and broke up the fight. The two police officers wanted to know what the fight was about and Irma’s mother said that the woman had called her dog a whore. She looked at the police believing that she was justified in attacking the woman.
Eventually, the police said that they came because a girl was locked in the apartment by her boyfriend. They went up to the front door and kicked it open. Both officers went upstairs. Everyone watching was excited because it had been a while since the police had been to their house. Well, Irma’s boyfriend ran out the back door and came out to the front of the house. He saw me on my bike and said, “You have to give me a ride!” Actually, he was much bigger than me, so he rode the bike and I sat on the handlebars. He rode a block away and took off running. I never saw him again.
When I rode back to Irma’s house, the police were out in front talking to Irma and her mother. I don’t know what happened after that because by then my mother came outside and made me go in the house.