THINGS I BLAME MY MOTHER FOR…

It’s been just over 14 years since my mother, Buzzy (nee Florence) shuffled off to Valhalla, in her case, a perpetual day at the races where the long shots (gray horses of course) always come out ahead, the trifectas pay out five figures,  and the beer is always frosty. To be honest, I don’t think of her much these days but I was sorting through my bookcase when I happened on a photo of us taken a few years before she slid away. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and it got me thinking about all the things I blame her for. 
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A child of the Great Depression whose fireman father died in the line of duty, she left home at fourteen when her mother’s new husband grew too “interested” in her and her younger sister. Armed with only a grade school education she talked her way into a waitress gig at New York’s then-swanky Hotel Pennsylvania. She used her meager wages to support them both, making “poor man’s eggs” (an egg stretched with corn starch and flavored with bacon grease, served with stale bread) for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  When she married my father, a handsome, hotheaded restaurateur, she thought she’d found her fairy tale ending. For a short time they were deliriously happy. Then came four kids, and his passion shifted to gambling, and girlfriends. We lived with the “enemy”, my immigrant grandparents who blamed her for my father’s failings. Since her siblings were either struggling or dead, leaving was out of the question. Pinned down in domestic trench warfare, she still found time to teach me baseball and to instill in me her love books. No Winnie the Pooh in our house; I cut my teeth on Kidnapped and Perry Mason, which explains my fondness for Michael Connelly novels, and gritty crime dramas like Oz, The Shield, and Justified

Florence ‘Buzzy’ Spirito

She ran her house with an iron fist; clean dishes and made beds were mandatory, fast food unheard of. To this day, the only blemish on my record, a single Egg McMuffin consumed in a seriously altered state. If I’m a food snob, it’s all her fault. She taught her four kids to speak their minds, even if it meant upsetting the powers that be, like the time she challenged a school tuition hike by asking the stately Parish Monsignor how many “god damn kids” he was struggling to raise. And she taught me to fight, forcing me to  trade blows with the neighborhood bully while she refereed. I was terrified and she knew it but that didn’t matter. That I took up karate instead of golf, I lay on her. She took the holidays seriously, insisting that we scour the Sear’s Catalog before submitting our Christmas lists, and dressing like a swarthy Arab sheik or a crazed Buccaneer for her annual Halloween visit to our classrooms. Her home, a scant half-block from the schoolyard, was a haven for friends and classmates. Everyone was welcome with no exception and only one caveat: her house, her rules, which meant a smack on the ass if you got out of line. She made it her mission to mend torn pants, scraped elbows and broken hearts. She took in stray dogs, wounded birds, lost turtles and even a stolen monkey. She’s have loved Tanner.

Halloween 1953


When our grandparents banished us from the yard during sweltering NJ summers, she borrowed from strangers to rent a cottage on Barnegat Bay where we could swim and fish in safety. When I started playing basketball she never missed a game, even when if meant a 2-hour bus ride with a team of sweaty boys. We scuffled plenty – mostly over girls and her fear that I might ‘get them into trouble’ – but I loved her to bits and considered her a mentor and friend. By example she taught me to love and respect all women, especially my wife of 25 years, Eugenie, who she adored. After a stroke forced Buzzy (I called her an Old Buzzard and the shortened version stuck) into riding a wheelchair, we’d make a weekly pilgrimage from our Greenwich Village studio to  to give her a shower, a beauty treatment and game of gin rummy, or just to sit on her bed holding hands while she watched her favorite cop show. 

with Buzzy and ‘Victory’ circa 1952

REASONS TO LOVE THE EASTER PIT BULL

Happy Easter and a belated Happy Passover to all our 2 legged friends. While bunnies are very nice (sometimes even a bit scary, for me, anyway),  Lou and I think that perhaps it’s time update the Spring poster creature to something more cuddly and handsome, like maybe a Pit Bull. Based on his special, LOVE MY PIT BULL, that just aired on Nat Geo Wild, the world’s most famous dog man, Cesar Millan, might agree. During the 1-hour show, he discussed the history of the breed (the ‘gameness’ or heart of the Terriers married with the strength and athleticism – don’t laugh – of the Bulldog or Boxer), their former reputation as a companion dog and guardian of children (they we’re known as the ‘Nanny Dog’) and the misconceptions surrounding their alleged propensity for unprovoked violence. According to Cesar, it’s our human counterparts who deserve the condemnation for mistreating us and then channeling our natural desire to please into violence against other animals and people. If you missed it, you can see some great photos on the Nat Geo site, and you can read Cesar’s article, ‘6 Reasons To Love Pit Bulls’ at Parade.com. 

Cesar and ‘Junior’

Thanks to the hoopla created by GIMME SHELTER, whenever people ask, “Is Tanner all Pit Bull or a mix?”, Lou and Eugenie now answer, “He’s part Pit, and part Publicity Hound!” I please guilty, especially since we just taped our first TV interview for the City of Calabasas, CA “Author’s Night” with host and former mayor Karyn Foley. As usual, my chiacchierone (chatterbox) human did the yakking while I gave the show an air or gravitas, looking regal and serene as the camera crew did their thing. Once they tell us, we’ll let you know where and when you can check it out. 
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Here are some pix that should bolster our campaign to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Pittie.

Tanner & Dutch

Pit Bulls…inherently dangerous…to bones and squeaky toys.
Buzz LaBracio and his 6-month-old ‘grandson’

Another ‘Dangerous’ Pit Bull


BLUE RIBBON WEARING, FUND RAISING ‘PET OF THE WEEK’

Saturday marked the end of a hurricane week for me, and my human companions. On Sunday, March 30, we strutted our stuff at the 12th Annual Avondale Charity Pet Show where they  broke their previous fundraising records, the proceeds going to The Pet Rescue Center in Coachella. A certain Pit Bull Johnson and his human Boswell sold copies of GIMME SHELTER while my ‘mom’ Eugenie, displayed her amazing stone sculptures. We met tons of great people and pets including Joan & Kathleen Hopp, Kathleen’s son, Colton, his pal, Connor, and a super fine petite hottie named Jenny, and Joan’s sleek, shy pit girl, Nikki. As a ‘Thank You’ for my part, the Avondale gang presented me with my first blue ribbon, which I’ll always treasure. 

A Blue Ribbon Day
E’s mom, Melissa with ‘Jenny’!

We’d barely returned from Palm Springs when Eugenie opened the Malibu Surfside News and shrieked, “Look who’s in the paper!” It was a picture of me as ‘Pet Of The Week’, curled up in my bed, the essence of a dignified yet lovable pit bull. Seems mom slipped it to the paper on the QT, the sweet little rat.

Saturday, April 4,  meant another long car trip, this time to Lemon Park in Simi Valley for their 4th Annual Bark For Life cancer fundraiser. It was a gorgeous day in a gorgeous spot where Lou & I reprised our roles as ‘Grand Marshals’, surrounded by gangs of dogs and humans all strolling to raise money for a noble cause. Kudos of organizer Laura Leonard (rescue mom for 3 dogs) and her legion of volunteers and sponsors. We have one more event left on the calendar – a cable TV interview. After that, I’m taking a break and demanding a raise in my ‘pay’ of chicken treats and squeaky toys. Either that, or Lou can dress up like a pit bull and do it all himself.

The ‘family’ @ Bark For Life

Lou & Tanner with Doug & his rescue Cane Corso, Sasha

‘BOWLED’ OVER…GIMME SHELTER ON ‘PROBATION’

Thanks in no small part to this pit bull, Lou and Eugenie were invited to attend the 2014 Academic Bowl for incarcerated youth this past Thursday, March 20. The event was held at the Autry National Center in Griffith Park and featured the 4 top teams from the county wide competition. After a Jeopardy-style quiz, a debate on funding for arts education, and a power point presentation on the need to add ‘Art’ to the current emphasis on S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering & math), the girls from Road To Success Academy at Camp Scott emerged victorious. All of the teams were very poised and well prepared and everyone enjoyed watching them revel in a positive spotlight. 

Lou (3rd left) Erika Brunson, Principal Zan Mason & the Camp Gonzales School staff

A few days later, Lou and Eugenie accompanied our book angel, Erika Brunson, to Camp Gonzales here in Malibu where she donated 100 copies of GIMME SHELTER to the juvenile court school for use in the upcoming summer ‘Freedom School’. Zan Mason, the Santa Monica Mountains district principal, and the Gonzales staff gave everyone a warm welcome and offered some terrific suggestions how the book could work to bolster the learning theme of ‘Discovery’. My favorite idea was Erika’s suggestion that ‘the dog’ (me!) be allowed to come to Camp when Lou speaks to the students about the writing process. We’ll keep you posted as things develop.  Right now, we’re off to Palm Springs for the Avondale Country Club Charity Pet show where Lou, Eugenie and ‘the dog’ are the guests of honor. We’re hoping our efforts help bring in lots of cash for this year’s charity, The Pet Rescue Center. Pictures to follow.

‘The Dog’ having his morning yogurt

BIG GREY DOGS…LITTLE GOLDEN MEN…’SKY’

Mom and dad have been working very hard lately, keeping me in bones and dog toys. So to decompress, the three of us took off last weekend for the Central Coast. The ostensible reason was the 14th Annual Solvang Greyhound Fest. Billed “The Danish Capital of America,” One weekend every year, the town (renowned for its quaint, European-style architecture and decadent bakeries) puts out the Danish ‘Welcome’ mat for former racing dogs and their human adoptive parents. Over the course of two days, we saw hundreds of the sleek rocket hounds. I invited them all to play but only a few of the youngsters answered the call. At first I thought the leggy divas were just too full of themselves but then some rescue folks explained that Greyhounds spend their early lives in kennels, surrounded by only their handlers and other Greyhounds. Not surprisingly, they tend to view other dogs, even this lovable Pit Bull, as an alien species. At least no one complained about having a ‘gangsta’  pit bull crash the party. Whenever someone did ask about my lineage, Lou would say, “Tanner’s a Greyhound that’s been hitting the weights and taking ‘roods”. In addition to ogling dogs, we took the opportunity grab some fine eats at La Super Rica in Santa Barbara,The Hitching Post in Buelton and Root 246 in Solvang. 
Tanner & Eugenie crash the 14th Annual Solvang Greyhound Fest
Tanner & Lou soaking up the Danish sun

Every year, the three of us put our heads together to pick the Oscar winners. Lou thinks he’s the expert, but mom and I took him to school in 2012 when Uggie led The Artist to a Best Picture win. Thanks to SAG screeners, we managed to see most of this year’s nominees and here are our predication: Best Director: Alfonson Cuaron for Gravity. Best Picture: Dallas Buyers Club, with Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor nods Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto. Kate Blanchett cops Best Actress for Blue Jasmine, while Jennifer Lawrence of American Hustle grabs her second golden dwarf for Best Supporting Actress. Finally, Best Screenplays to 12 Years A Slave (Adapted), and Dallas Buyers Club (Original).

Speaking of awards….A few weeks back, the American Kennel Club held its 138th Westminster Dog Show at New York’s Madison Square Garden. We watched both nights and felt that the American Staffordshire Terrier was clearly the pick of the blue blood litter. In case you’re wondering, our choice had nothing to do with the fact that I’m an AmStaff. We also liked the Pug (for Dudley) the Irish Setter (for Rebel) and the Miniature Bull Terrier (for Maynard). The crowd went gaga for Nathan, a goofy Bloodhound but, in the only pick that mattered, the Judge selected ‘Sky’ a wire haired Fox Terrier, as this year’s top dog. Disappointed as we were, we were happy for Sky, who’s a hometown Malibu dog.
‘Sky’ takes the Blue Ribbon at MSG

LOVE IS IN THE AIR…STEAMY VALENTINE’S IMAGES: DOGS IN BED

Yes, we know we’re late with this but we were busy celebrating Lou’s Valentine birthday or, as mom calls it, his birthday month. It’s a lot of commotion but he’s a very good pet guardian who deserves the fuss. I didn’t get to go along but they started with dinner at the Sage Room in Agoura on Thursday, then lunch at Joe’s, Venice on Friday, take out pizza from Gjelina (also on Abbott Kinney) then a Sunday afternoon UCLA basketball victory over Utah (courtesy of Popito), capped off by a birthday feast at Gene and Sandra’s, complete with a Sweet Lady Jane chocolate cake. 
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Since the past week was devoted to love and lovers, we thought you’d get a kick out of these stories that came across our desk. First, there’s a heartwarming (in one instance, moose warming) video about humans coming to the aid of animals in need. There’s also a side-splitting clip of a combative kitty, doing his best to deter the postman from the ‘swift completion of his appointed rounds’. Then there are these photos of a zookeeper’s mamma dog (I think a Canne Corso) that stepped in to raise an orphaned chimpanzee. So what if the new ‘pup’ has hands, not paws. 


‘All you need is love!’

Finally, take a peek at the shocking images I promised earlier. Be sure to shoo  the kids and puppies away before screening these. Don’t want to give them any ideas. 

B.R.A.G.ing RIGHTS – COOL NUNS – FAREWELL TO A MENTOR

I promised Lou we could share this post but first I wanted to crow a little about how GIMME SHELTER was just named a 2014 B.R.A.G. MEDALLION Honoree in Nonfiction. The Book Readers Appreciation Group is a private organization whose mission is to discover new and talented self-published authors and help them give their work the attention and recognition it deserves. Their primary focus is fiction but they selectively consider non-fiction books as well. In light of the rigorous selection process, we’re very flattered to be selected.
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Since Gimme Shelter is the story of a homeless pit bull that ‘saves’ his wayward human guardian, we thought we’d share the tale of some elderly nuns who courageously adopted a senior rescue pit bull named Remy. Given the recent scandals involving the Catholic Church, it’s great to see these ladies walking their talk in the style of Saint Francis. Read the story.


I begged Tanner to surrender the keyboard so I could say ‘farewell’ to my good friend and mentor, PETER CHETTA, who passed away earlier this week. Peter taught English at my alma mater, Iona College, for 53 years! We met when I was just a green and not especially literate sophomore, grappling with the giants of American Literature. A lawyer and Fullbright Scholar who spoke Chinese, Peter was a gentleman, and raconteur, a man who could and would relate to anyone, regardless of their station. A man for all seasons. A diehard theatre and opera lover, he saw thousands of shows, amassing a huge collection of Playbills, signed by such luminaries as The Godfather himself,  Marlon Brandon. No venue was too small or remote, which explains why he got to see your truly back in my acting days. Regardless of the show or my part, he was always upbeat and supportive. And he was especially thrilled with GIMME SHELTER, as if by writing it I’d fulfilled the potential he saw in me. To paraphrase Horatio’s speech to Hamlet: “He was an admirable King (of teachers).  We shall not look upon his like again.” 
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Lastly, some long overdue book reviews:
Point Dume by Katie Arnoldi – Not For Locals Only.  Marry The Endless Summer, Savages and Slackers, shake it up and add a local perspective and a wicked sense of humor and you have Katie Arnoldi’s novel Point Dume. The action centers on the Malibu culture clash between the old-time surf culture, the rich yuppie invaders and cartel pot growers using the nearby mountains as an ‘el norte’ nursery but Arnoldi’s real forte lies in skewering the players on all sides. If you’re wondering what Malibu was like before it was ‘Fabulous’, Point Dume will set you straight and entertain you, too.


The Sacred Art of Listening by Kay Lindahl – I became aware of the book at an open mic night where Ms. Lindahl spoke. Her gentle wisdom moved me to buy the book and I’m glad I did. Veteran New Age seekers will recognize much of the wisdom in this slender but impactful volume. In forty short but moving essays, the writers explains how listening differs from mere hearing, and how learning to truly do so can be a life-altering event. 

2014…THE YEAR OF THE PIT BULL

Lou says that, according to the Chinese calendar, 2014 is the Year of the Horse. I say, hogwash; as far as I’m concerned this is the Year of the Pit Bull. Among the goals I’ve plotted out for my humans is to sell several thousand copies of GIMME SHELTER, and to get the book adopted as part of the curriculum at the L.A. County Juvenile Probation Camp Schools where Lou teaches part-time. On top of that, we’re aiming to work with Project Unleashed so we can help a whole gang of homeless dogs and kids at risk. 
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Lou sometimes gets discouraged so I had to point out all that we accomplished in 2013. For example, in January we published Gimme Shelter as an e-book on Amazon. The following month saw the arrival of the paperback version, both courtesy of our ‘angel’ Kathryn Galan. April saw a great Pet Life Radio interview with our friend and animal advocate Megan Blake, a flurry of newspaper articles in the Malibu Surfside, Malibu Times and Around About Peterstown (NJ), plus an SRO author’s night at Diesel Books in Malibu. May brought a similar gig at Bank of Books, a Top 10 ranking in The Times book list (Malibu Times, that is), a magazine photo shoot with the amazing Roxanne McCann, and featured placement on Amazon’s dog section. In June, Lou penned a story on ‘Adopting A Pit Bull‘ for India’s WOOF! Magazine. July saw us featured in the Malibu Times Magazine. In August, we kicked off the American Cancer Society’s first Malibu  ‘Bark For Life’ event, were featured in stories in the Agoura Patch and Acorn, signed books at the Westlake Barnes & Noble, and reprised our Diesel reading at their Brentwood store. September found us gracing the pages of American Dog Magazine, where we received a glowing review, and chatting with Tom & Sandy on on Live 805, KVTA (listen here). During this stretch, our paeano, Al Santillo, was busy selling copies of Gimme Shelter faster than we could print them. Grazie, Al. In October, we spent a great Saturday holding court in the author’s corner at Agoura Hills’ Reyes Adobe Days. December brought a nice surprise – a #16 slot on Diesel’s Top 50 Books of 2103, and another story on Dogs In Winter for WOOF! If that weren’t enough, along the way we made a ton of new dog friends like Chip & Alicia from Project Unleashed, the folks at Malibu Pet Companions, Linda Blair’s Worldheart Foundation, Animal Advocates Alliance and the Canine Adoption Rescue League. Couple that with a slew of parties, dinners, Eugenie’s gallery show and a slew of crazy days with the Trancas Dogpark gang and it added up to one delicious, stupendous circuit around the sun.

2014, The Year of the Pit Bull!


A few months back, we posted about neuro-research confirming that dogs are people, too. Well, now comes shocking word that cats, yes, cats, have human feelings, too. According to ‘According Animals Dignity’ by Frank Bruni in the NY Times:This [trend] is only going to build, because at the same time that scientific advances force us to gaze upon the animal kingdom with more respect, the proliferation of big and little cameras — of eyes everywhere — permits us to eavesdrop not just on animal play but also on animal persecution. It’s all documented, it all goes viral, and we can’t turn away, or claim ignorance, as easily as we once did.


SLIPPIN’ INTO DARKNESS

No, this is not a post about the classic War tune. It’s Lou’s diatribe against the annual shift to Standard Time. Before we get to his rant, reprinted from GIMME SHELTER, it might helpful to note the origin of the spring/fall time shift.  According to Time Magazine’s blog, Daylight Saving Time, one of the universe’s great mysteries, like the afterlife, or who really killed JFK…dates back to the good ole’ days when we did everything based on when we had sunlight. It got more serious when Benjamin Franklin decided to be “that guy,” suggesting we all get up earlier to save money on candles. Thanks, Benji. It was a major blow to all the unhappy, unhealthy, and unwise people who love to snooze.The practice wasn’t formally implemented until World War I, when countries at war started setting their clocks back to save on coal. Daylight Saving was repealed during peacetime, and then revived again during World War II. More than 70 countries currently practice Daylight Saving Time, because they think it saves money on electricity (in the U.S., Arizona and Hawaii have opted out). But studies show that Daylight Saving Time actually results in a one percent overall increase in residential electricity. And that it messes with sleeping patterns. Oh, and also it may cause heart attacks, according to the American Journal of Cardiology. So it’s no surprise that more and more countries are reevaluating whether to hold on to this relic from the past.”

Viva Daylight Savings Time!


Lou disagrees. As he makes clear every Fall, he DETESTS the time change. A self-admitted ‘boy of summer’, he gets the blues when it’s dark before dinner. Here’s his take from our book: “Ever since I was a kid playing hoops in the schoolyard till the last shred of light, I’ve hated the time change. Darkness has its advantages, and even makes sense in some places like work-driven New York, where the residents look harried and the buildings grimy during daylight hours. Once old Sol goes nighty-night, however, and the shimmering lights come up, the City takes on a magical glow. Freed from their desks and cubicles, put-upon Manhattanites retreat to theatres, museums, and restaurants where they actually look…happy. It’s different in California, the land of Endless Summer where diehard surfers, hikers, and bikers relish the outdoors the way that cultists lap up Kool-Aid. Mandating premature darkness and forcing them inside where they’re stuck watching reruns of Gossip Girl, is just plain wrong. If the Golden State ever mounts a secession movement, the time change will be our rallying cry.”

NO CIGAR…BUT SOME NICE WORDS

Earlier this year, Eugenie and I convinced Lou to enter GIMME SHELTER in the annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards Competition. Although he won’t admit, we all felt we had a good shot to win the big enchilada. Turns out we came close, but no cigar. We did, however, receive a very positive commentary from the judge that we’d like to share: GIMME SHELTER is a well written, sincere account of a special friendship between Mr. Spirito and his dog. Unlike many pet-human memoirs, this once tells an appealing story with a real arc for both the author and the dog Tanner.The author does a nice job integrating his early family experiences with his ‘current’ story of acquiring and caring for…the rescued pit bull. It’s important for the reader to have some context about the author’s anger issues, and the italicized passages provide real insight…Another element that works well is the information and advice on pet / dog owning, presented at the end of the chapters. This is a generous extra, which elevates the book above the run-of-the-mill.”

Tanner on alert for the sound of treats

Courtesy of Karma Rescue, here’s a great poem by Joe Hernandez-Kolski that captures the joie de vivre of our four-legged pals and the need to step up the rescue efforts until they all find two-leggeds partners. (cute dog, too)


Attention Tanner fans and Pit Bull lovers! Don’t miss the freeGIMME SHELTER’ HALLOWEEN GIVEAWAY, October 31 & November 1.  See why American Dog Magazine called GIMME SHELTER “Wonderful, interesting and insightful” and why Actor/Author Harry Hamlin said “I loved this book!” To get your free copy, just go to our Amazon page. Don’t have a Kindle? Download the free reader app for your PC. Mac or iPad. And please share this with your friends.