Friday, February 26, 2016

One More for the Road: Tribute to a Chihuahua

Cody eulogizes his dog Cheech and discusses a couple Cheech & Chong movies.

At around 4:55am on February 12th, I lost one of the best friends I've ever had. That's when my chihuahua Cheech passed away suddenly, just eight days after his 12th birthday.

I've talked about my dogs on this blog from time to time before. Every time I write about a Spider-Man movie, a story involving my dachshund Zeppelin is also included. When we got his fellow dachshunds Zoso and Bonzo, I marked the occasion with write-ups on Oz the Great and Powerful and Crimewave, the movies their middle names (Finley and Faron) came from. So I couldn't properly celebrate the life of Cheech and mourn his passing without also writing a tribute to him.

We got Cheech when he was just a few weeks old, in 2004. Initially, my mom had gotten him to be my maternal grandmother's dog. She lived in a house by herself and mom felt she needed a little companion. This puppy was so tiny, however, that I instantly became protective of him, and thought we should keep him at our house for a while just to take care of him while he got a little bigger and so we could potty train him, things like that. As we drove away from grandma's house after introducing him to her, I gave him his name. Grandma had suggested the name Peanut, but I felt that a dog of a Mexican breed should have a name that was some sort of Mexican pop culture reference. Clearly, given the names of the dachshunds, I'm a fan of reference names. And I've always been a fan of Mexican-American actor Cheech Marin. So this little chihuahua became Cheech.

For the first year of his life, Cheech and I didn't bond all that deeply. He preferred my mom over me, spent a good amount of time at grandma's, and who he seemed to like most of all was Zeppelin. They became lifelong buddies. When I left to spend a month in Indiana in the summer of 2004 (as chronicled in the Spider-Man 2 article), Zeppelin went with me and Cheech stayed behind. Unfortunately, grandma had a stroke in January of 2005, and because of that Cheech became a permanent resident in our home. With grandma unable to care for him while I went away to Indiana again in the summer of 2005, Cheech had to tag along with Zeppelin and I this time. And during that month, Cheech went from being mom and grandma's dog to being mine as well. He joined Zeppelin as one of my kids.

Since 2002 for Zeppelin and 2005 for Cheech, I have considered those two "my kids". I grew up with dogs, I've known and loved a lot of them over the years, but I was traumatized when my red cockerspaniel Katie passed away within ten days of a cancer diagnosis in 2002. I got Zeppelin the day Katie was diagnosed, and the shock of losing her caused me to become an overprotective parent to the dogs that followed her. Zeppelin was the first dog that was officially mine, not a parents' pet. He was my little boy, my responsibility, it was on me to care for and protect him. He became the center of my life, and in 2005 Cheech joined him there.

Cheech went to Indiana with Zeppelin and I from '05 to '09, and I will always cherish the memories of those summers spent there at my grandma's house with my two dogs. Hanging out, relaxing, writing, watching movies and TV, playing cards, and every two hours taking Zeppelin and Cheech outside on their leashes to let them go potty. I loved those summers. Grandma passed away in 2010, her house and property have been sold off, now Cheech is gone, but that time will always be in my memories.

Cheech went on a lot of adventures with Zeppelin and I over the years. A whirlwind road trip to Red Bank, New Jersey to see an outdoor screening of Kevin Smith's Clerks. A 2011 trip to a convention in Indianapolis. A 2008 trip to a convention in Pittsburgh, a trip that included a visit to the Monroeville Mall, the filming location of George A. Romero's classic Dawn of the Dead. For the rest of my life, when I watch Dawn of the Dead I will do so with the thought in mind that Zeppelin and Cheech both peed in a patch of grass near the mall.

As the years passed, Cheech developed some medical conditions. He lost most of his teeth, so his tongue would always be hanging out of his mouth. There was a very scary period in 2012 when he was suffering from a slipped disc, but we nursed him back to health. He had a collapsed trachea, he had a heart murmur that gradually worsened. Because of this, he had to stop going on long road trips after 2012, as the excitement got to be too dangerous to his health. I've continued to visit Indiana, but Cheech has had to stay at home in Ohio, and thankfully mom had retired by that time, so she could take care of him (and Zoso and Bonzo) while Zeppelin and I were away.

On February 10th, the dogs all went to see the veterinarian. There were no issues, no concerns, Zeppelin and Cheech just went to get their annual checkup and Zoso and Bonzo tagged along to get their toenails trimmed. Zeppelin was the one I was worried about that day, he was a nervous wreck. He hates going to the vet, has ever since he had surgery in early 2013 (see the Spider-Man 3 article). Cheech just sat there, calm and cool. The results of his checkup weren't great, though. The doctor was blown away by how bad his heart murmur was, saying it was a 5 out of 6 (6 being the worst a murmur can be), and advising us that when it reached the 6 out of 6 stage Cheech would start having prolonged coughing attacks and would need to go on medication. He was stunned to hear that Cheech wasn't showing more symptoms of heart trouble - he would cough from time to time, but only when he got worked up about something, and never for very long. Other than the occasional coughs, he showed no sign of having any troubles, he acted the same as always. There were problems expected ahead, but Cheech was good for the moment. It had taken two years for his murmur to go from 4/6 to 5/6, so we had some time. During the ride home, he had a cozy spot on my lap right beside Zeppelin.

We left the vet's office at 2pm on Wednesday, and roughly 30 hours later Cheech had a more prolonged coughing attack than ever before. His breathing was labored for a little while afterward, but he still had an appetite. He ate his food, then wanted to steal some of Zeppelin's. Whenever he would move around too much, he would start coughing again. I began to worry that his days of needing medication might already be arriving, but he would calm down, relax, and the coughing would stop. I hoped that if he could just get some rest that he would get through this coughing spell.

Cheech would sleep with mom at night, so when Zeppelin and I went to our bedroom that night I left Cheech with her in hopes that he would settle into his usual sleeping spot and have a restful night. There was no thought in my mind at all that he could be dying. Even if his heart murmur had worsened, we were going to be able to fight off heart failure for a while with medicine. I was 100% certain that I would see him again in the morning. But as the night went on, Cheech continued to have the cough attacks followed by labored breathing. He was in a fast decline, and mom texted me at 4:50 in the morning to say she was worried that he wasn't going to make it. By the time I received the texts and came out of the bedroom, he was gone. After a restless night, mom had finally gotten him to settle into his usual sleeping spot, and within moments of lying down there he passed away.

I left the vet's at 2pm on the 10th sure that I still had a good amount of time left with Cheech. Within 39 hours, he was gone. Apparently he went from holding up surprisingly well given the severity of his heart murmur, directly into heart failure. His little heart just gave out on him.

If he had to go, it's good that it was something so quick, but he was gone so fast that I was left in a state of shock and disbelief. Although I got teary in the moment, it wasn't until I started notifying others about his death a few hours later that I really broke down and cried. Telling others about it made it more real. In the days that followed, I would sometimes have to look at the texts I received from mom that night or at the Facebook posts we had written about him to confirm that it really happened, it wasn't just a terrible mistake, a bad dream. I'm so protective of my dogs that I sometimes have nightmares that bad things have happened to them, but I can fix the situation simply by waking up. Everything's fine in reality, they're with me and healthy. But this time I can't fix things by waking up. It doesn't feel right that Cheech isn't here anymore. It doesn't feel possible.

We've had dogs that have passed away in the years since 2002, but they weren't my dogs in the way Cheech was. I haven't hurt like this in fourteen years, and this is the first dog I've lost since I became the "overprotective parent" dog owner. It's a painful reminder that no matter how much you protect them, you still only have them around for a too-limited time.

Moving on after the loss of a pet is very rough. It hurts so bad to have lost Cheech. I have cried many times in the days since. Been depressed. There's an empty feeling in my chest, like part of my heart has gone with him. 12 years is a lot of time to spend with a dog, but I wish I could have had Cheech around for much longer. I can only hold on to those 12 years of good memories and try to take solace in knowing that we gave him a good life. He could have ended up in the hands of anyone when he was a puppy, but he ended up with us, and we gave him a lot of love, care, and attention, and spoiled him like crazy. He was loved. He is loved.


Cheech's namesake is really named Richard Marin, but he was given the nickname Cheech as an infant by an uncle who said the baby looked like a chicharrón, a piece of fried pork. The nickname stuck, big time. In the early '70s, Cheech Marin formed a comedy duo with his friend Tommy Chong, and the success of their stand-up act and bestselling comedy albums quickly led to them starring in a series of movies, the first of which was 1978's Up in Smoke.

While cruising in his low rider with the license plate MUF DVR, Cheech's character Pedro De Pacas sees what he believes is a busty woman hitchhiking on the side of the road, not noticing that this lady has a massive beard - it's Chong as Anthony Stoner, a rich kid who is a major disappointment to his parents. He needs a ride after his Rolls Royce broke down and, although disappointed that this hitchhiker isn't really a woman, Pedro takes Anthony in.

The directorial debut of famed producer Lou Adler, Up in Smoke doesn't have much in the way of plot. The script, written by Cheech and Chong, basically plays out like a comedy album would, it's a series of vignettes wherein Pedro and Anthony stumble from one comedic scenario to another, having amusing interactions with each other and a handful of characters, like Pedro's 'Nam veteran cousin Strawberry (Tom Skerritt). The guys are on a perpetual search for weed and keep avoiding getting busted by overzealous police officer Sergeant Stedenko (Stacy Keach) by accident and luck.

If someone were going to describe the plot, they'd probably need to mention the fact that Pedro and Anthony are roped into smuggling marijuana from Mexico into California by way of a van that is made entirely out of weed (through a new process that creates fiberweed), but that's really not as big of a deal as you might expect it to be.

But who needs a plot? You're watching this movie to get some laughs out of Cheech and Chong, and they are absolutely hilarious in this movie. I'm been pretty down lately, but Up in Smoke still managed to make me laugh more than I would during the average comedy. There is just something joyous about witnessing the chemistry between Cheech and Chong while they deliver their goofy dialogue and make their way through the movie's dopey sequences.

One moment that has been special to me since a 2005 viewing is when Anthony presents Pedro with a huge joint. Amazed by the size of it, Pedro moves the joint through the air like it's blimp and says, "Led Zeppelin!" A guy named Cheech saying Zeppelin. Both of my dogs represented at once.


After starring in five drug comedies in a row, Cheech and Chong appeared in the pirate movie Yellowbeard alongside members of Monty Python, and then made the rather odd and unexpected decision to put together a period piece that was an adaptation of an 1844 novella by Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask.

Directed by Chong from a screenplay written by Cheech, Chong, and Cheech's then-wife Rikki Marin, The Corsican Brothers was the last live action narrative feature the duo made together and seems to be their least popular film, but it's actually the one I was most familiar with for several years. It's a movie that I watched with my maternal grandmother many times during my childhood.

Revisiting it now, it's easy to see why it's an unpopular entry in the Cheech and Chong oeuvre. It's a really weird movie where the elements don't quite mix together like they should. It might be the perfect movie for a kid to be introduced to Cheech and Chong through because it is incredibly childish, but then there is also still some of their usual bawdy humor, so it has some things in it that you may not want your kids to see.

Cheech and Chong play Luis and Lucien Corsican, twins fathered by different men, and they play these characters from the moment they're born. There is a shot of them, bearded and mustachioed, as crying newborns. There are a couple more scenes showing these hairy adults playing the Corsican brothers in childhood, and these are scenes that would work for a child viewer much better than any adult watching this movie.

Eventually we reach their adulthood and follow them through a story that sees them becoming revolutionary fighters and standing up to the evil aristocrat that has taken rule of their French homeland. Played by Roy Dotrice under pancake makeup, the villain of the film is named Fuckaire. Like I said, there are things in here that don't fit with the kid-friendly moments and PG rating. It's sort of astounding that they dropped the drug humor they were known for and decided to do this movie. What demographic were they aiming for?

Confounding though the existence of The Corsican Brothers may be, I enjoyed it a great deal when I was a kid, and the aspect that really captured my imagination at that time is the strange link these twins have - when one of them is hurt, it's their brother who feels the pain. For example, when Lucien holds his hand over a candle, it's Luis who feels the burn on his own hand. I found that fascinating, and it allows for some fun moments in the film.

Objectively, The Corsican Brothers isn't all that good, but I'll always have a strong nostalgic appreciation for it. I'm glad Cheech and Chong made it, even though I'm not sure why they did.

I tend to give my pets all sorts of nicknames, spun out of their actual names. My chihuahua Cheech, I would often call him Charles, Charles Cheech, Chuck, Chucky, Chia, Cheetah, or Charles Chester Cheetah. I would also call him Little Charles, which evolved into Lido Chawls.

That's all a roundabout way of explaining how the Boz Scaggs song "Lido Shuffle" became the official theme song for my dog Cheech. One of the funniest moments in his life was when I put on "Lido Shuffle" and his ears started moving to the beat of the song. I would sometimes sing a version of it to him that had the lyrics all mixed up to make them about him and his puppy pals.

I'm going to miss Cheech a lot. I'm going to miss so much about him. His silly little face, his pointy ears, his curled-up tail, his little feet and the way he would prance around sometimes, the way he would sit down. How happy he would be to greet me when I got home from being away. I'll miss the non-threatening little growl he would let out when he was annoyed by something, and the sound of his bark. Especially when the barking was because he was excited that I had asked him if he wanted to go outside. I'll miss watching him and Zeppelin compete to see who could be the last to pee on a particular object when they went outside. I'll miss the way he would scrounge for every stray piece of dog food he could find. I'll miss seeing him around the house and acknowledging him with his name or one of his nicknames. I'll miss cuddling with him on the nights when he would sleep in bed with me, and will miss the way he would lie down on my chest when I woke up in the morning so I could pet him and say, "Good morning, Charles."

I'm going to miss everything about having Cheech in my life. I wish I could have him back, even if just for one more performance of "Lido Shuffle".

One more for the road...

R.I.P. Cheech
February 4, 2004 - February 12, 2016

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