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Packs On the Prowl

(The following essay slipped into the Black Hole Writing category. I fished it out while it's still relevant.)

When the wolves broke out, so did our hot dogs.

The recent coyote attacks in the tri-state area had me thinking about an incident from my childhood. It was the 1970s and a pack of wolves escaped from the zoo at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, NY. It was a sleepy little zoo, not nearly as impressive as the one at Central Park, but it was accessible to our family. We could walk there on the weekends to visit the old goats and feed them a dusty carrot or two.

One day, news broke that a pack of wolves had escaped from the zoo and were spotted roaming the streets of Flushing. My mother listened to the news on the radio, over and over. She knew our lives revolved around walking everywhere. To school, my dad’s dental office, the market, the subway station. We didn’t have a car. We had sensible shoes and tokens for mass transpiration.

My mother always carried a floral plastic tote bag on her daily jaunts. Her purse was for personal, lady-like stuff. Her tote was for protection—an umbrella in case of rain, tissues in case of allergies, and so forth. With the wolves on the prowl, she added an unopened, uncooked package of hot dogs from our fridge. These were my favorites. Plump, juicy, delicious, just like it said on the wrapper. Mom must have seen the disappointment in my face when she chose them as a weapon, and not dinner, but explained this was life or death. If the wolves came near us, Mom said she would throw the pack of wieners at the animals and we’d run like crazy.

I remember thinking I wanted to eat one of those hot dogs. I also wanted to see my mother run like crazy, since she never did any type of physical exercise. She didn't even own a pair of sneakers. And then my thoughts continued to drift: wouldn’t the smell of meat attract the wolves? How long would it take before the dogs spoiled? If people knew what Mom was toting around town, wouldn't they think we’re strange? This was the ’70s and Twilight wasn’t around yet to make wolves sexy. But there was no arguing with my mom. She was on a mission to protect her pack. 

Just recently, a coyote snatched a little dog right here in my suburban town. The poor terrier was just out in the backyard doing his thing before bedtime. It prompted me to Google: “Wolves escape from Flushing Meadows Park in the 1970s.” I only found a few sketchy tidbits with references to the paranormal, animal mutations and UFO sightings. No reputable sources. No further facts to expound on what I recall from nearly forty years ago. Still makes me wonder what really did happen.

Mom listened to the radio like a hawk for what felt like weeks. I remember family outings in warmer air and with lighter coats, and then with chilly gusts and pilly gloves, all with the hot dogs in tow. Every once in a while, I would peek at the wet, slimy, graying dogs just to make sure they weren't growing eyes and feet. I secretly wished the wolves would slink out of an alleyway, just to see my mom in action. Would she throw the entire tote at them, and run like crazy? Would she tear open the 10-pack and toss each dog out, one by one, to buy us time to run like crazy? How many wolves are actually in a pack? Would there be enough dogs for wolves? My imagination kept busy as we walked home.

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