The Cary Dog Park Gang!
I met Joe Palazzolo at the dog park in Cary, North Carolina. I would take my German Shepherd, Sophie, to the park every evening after work for exercise and had been doing this for a few months, I guess, when this guy visits for the first time with his Greyhound, Silver City Lou. We started talking and a good friendship was born.
The Character that was Joe Palazzolo
Joe’s family was from Sicily and he was proud of his Sicilian heritage. His wife was Kathy and her folks were from Sweden. Joe and I soon discovered we had a good bit in common. We were both familiar with the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys and the Adirondack Park of upstate New York State. We were both red-blooded, patriotic Americans, and we both liked to shoot. Eventually it came out that I enjoyed reading military history, and Joe told me he had a book for me to read. The book was Lucky Lady by Steve Jackson, and it is the story of a legendary World War II light cruiser, the USS Santa Fe.
During the war in the Pacific, Joe’s father served on the USS Santa Fe which earned the nickname Lucky Lady when the aircraft carrier, USS Franklin, was directly hit by two Japanese 500-pound bombs. As the Franklin listed heavily, becoming perilously close to capsizing, the light cruiser’s captain brought his ship in dangerously close, bellying up alongside the carrier’s flaming hull and keeping the ship afloat until the Franklin’s crew could be rescued. It is one of the most daring rescues in U.S. naval history.
Coincidently, Joe had a twin brother named Lou. One day during the Vietnam War, they both went down to enlist in the US Navy. Their mother put her foot down and said there was no way they were both enlisting and leaving her and their young sister to fend for themselves. Since Joe was doing a little better in school, the decision was made that Lou would enlist and Joe would stay home to look after the family.
Joe drove a bus in New York City for many years and eventually retired from his bus driver’s job. Often times he drove the early morning routes, and as you can imagine, he had some tales to regale listeners with. Both Jack Klugman and Tony Randall rode his bus regularly when they were in town filming episodes of The Odd Couple. Joe told me that Jack Klugman would hop on the bus and talk and joke with the other passengers. Tony Randall always tried to disguise himself and avoided talking to folks on the bus.
During his part-time limo driver gig, Joe had some adventures as well. One night, he was driving for some high school seniors on prom night. The kids left the prom and headed to Dangerfield’s Comedy Club. The limo drivers would park and wait in the alley alongside the club. One night, Rodney Dangerfield came out a back door of the club wearing a bathrobe and slippers. Spotting the limo drivers, he walked up to Joe and bummed a cigarette. He, Joe, and the other drivers had quite a conversation while Dangerfield smoked the cigarette. Then the comedian said good night, and headed back into the club. Rodney treated the drivers like anyone else. He was just one of the guys.
After his second heart attack, Joe was retired by the bus company. They told Joe they could not afford the risk of a third heart attack while he was behind the wheel of a bus. Undaunted, Joe took a job driving a hearse for a funeral company. He joked that the dead didn’t care if he had a heart attack or not. It didn’t matter to them.
Lou, Joe’s rescued Greyhound, is a great dog. Joe even had videos of races Silver City Lou had won during his career. If I remember correctly, Lou ran in fifty-five races. I believe Lou took something like twelve first places, and a bunch of seconds and thirds. By the time I met Joe, Lou had become a pretty laid-back dog who enjoyed relaxing. Occasionally he would get up and run around the dog park with the “pack.” Even at at his advanced age, he was poetry in motion when he ran. Lou and Sophie became pretty good friends and got along great the times I visited Joe and Kathy in their home.
The birth of Pallie
One day shortly after publishing my first book, I was telling to Joe about it. He said that he wasn’t much of a reader, but he’d love to read my book. So, I brought him a signed copy of Serpents Underfoot the next time we met at the park. Joe laughed because he’d already ordered a copy from Amazon. I think he gave one to his sister or something. Anyway, after Joe had read the book, he told me how much he loved the story, especially the characters. I laughed and said, that’s because you’re such a character yourself.
After some more joking around, Joe mentioned that he’d love to be a character in my next book, Montagnard, which I had just started working on. I thought, why not? So, a US Navy SEAL and good friend of my main character’s, named Pallie, was born. Joe was a perfect “model” for the part. Pallie is a tough-as-nails but fun-loving and big-hearted Sicilian-American Navy SEAL. His character is well-liked by many readers and will continue into the third book as well. Pallie, short for Palazzolo, has Joe’s personality, his sense of humor, his gruff exterior, and his kind heart. He is Joe if Joe had become a SEAL.
See you later, Joe!
Shortly after I moved back to Knoxville, Tennessee, I learned that Joe was sick and he was spending a good bit of time in the hospital. A few weeks ago, I went back to Cary to visit with Joe and some of our good friends. I am so glad I did. Just the other day, I learned that Joe lost his battle with cancer. I guess we all knew it was coming, but it is still hard. I will miss you, my friend. but I am happy you are no longer suffering. My prayers go out to Kathy, his wife, and his daughter, Lisa, who I met on my last trip, and the rest of Joe’s family.
If I know Joe, I am sure he is already spending time at a heavenly dog park with his previous Greyhound named Faster, and looking forward with great anticipation to Lou’s eventual arrival. And for my part, I look forward to talking to Joe again when Sophie and I get eventually there as well.