“He kinda looks like a greyhound, just like, the way his body’s built.” They are gesticulating at the nearly cetaceous undulation of his spine.

“Yeah, we’re not sure. We were told he’s a black lab-border collie mix, but probably something else too. Maybe some greyhound.” I’m patting his back; yup he’s a dog alright.

“Yeah, you can kinda see it, just like, the way his body’s built.” Still miming the contours.

“Yeah, ha, he’s pretty skinny.” Pat pat, sure is a dog.

“Yeah, he looks like a greyhound, just like, the way his body’s built.”

This was when were returning some books outside the main public library, around the time I started reading a bit more. I had picked up Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us again after being halfway done with it for about a year. 

Lots of people in Grand Rapids have met Teddy. He’s out a lot, and he’s easily recognizable. Apparently, there’s a city-wide sort of mixer game happening where people ask me what kind of dog he is and then tell me what kind of dog he is. Usually, he’s a greyhound, sometimes a Doberman (a woman planted her hands on her hips and her feet at shoulder-width in the middle of Logan as I was trying to cross and insisted), once a German short-haired pointer. 

I’m sure this isn’t meant as a challenge. There are many white people in Grand Rapids, and gossiping about dog breeds is, I guess, what we do. It’s just an attempt to make a friendly connection, I’m sure, but I have friends, and I’m married, and I have this dog, and we’re just trying to get to the park to throw his ball while no one else is there. Though dogs aren’t supposed to be off-leash at Pleasant Park, there’s an unspoken but fairly successful social infrastructure of time-sharing in place for people to exercise their stir-crazy dogs there in peace. My time was ticking.

“Have you ever thought about having his DNA tested?”

“Ah, not really.” I would think about it if my life would be tangibly different in any way other than that I would be out a hundred dollars. Though seeing as the genetic makeup of the farm dog who nailed Teddy’s mom is of such great civic importance, I could probably cover the cost of a test by levying a tax on everyone who has offered that solution. 

I don’t like writing about artists I admire whom I’ve also met personally because I either feel like I’m doxxing them or like I’m trying to be some sort of insider, like I’m trying to claim some special connection with them. I guess “artist” is not the capacity in which I’m most familiar with Hanif Abdurraqib, not because he’s not a great artist, but because I’ve only read one of his four books, and most of what I have read from him are his tweets about dogs and ice cream. See, I already feel weird about this. I’ve seen Hanif read twice. In Chicago on the They Can’t Kill Us tour last spring when I was halfway done with it, and in D.C. on the Go Ahead in the Rain tour this past spring when I was still halfway done with They Can’t Kill Us

He mentioned during that reading in D.C. that he had been considering getting a dog. In the book-signing line that I started by sliding towards him way too soon after the reading, Taylor and I told him that, for what it was worth, we totally recommended getting a dog. I proceeded to pull out my phone and show him pictures of Teddy. Surely this is somewhere near the top of the list of Things You Don’t Do At A Book Signing, Are You Serious? Showing a writer pictures of your dog that they did not ask to see makes “this is more of a comment than a question, really” look like as chill and woke of a way of engaging with someone you admire as when Anthony Bourdain and Obama shot the shit over street food in Hanoi.

But he said “Awwww” and signed our copy of Go Ahead in the Rain with “Thanks for pushing me closer to dog ownership.” And a few months later, he has a dog named Wendy—I would say ambiguous in breed but certainly with some labrador in the mix—who looks a whole lot not unlike Teddy. And I know this because he and his partner tweet about Wendy a lot, not because I’m some sort of insider. But I guess the rules of interacting with people are different, somehow, when dogs are involved. They seem to wrinkle the social fabric of a place because making connections in is in their DNA, even with people they don’t know, even with people who may not remember them.

1 Comment

  1. Kyric Koning

    “How’s the weather?”…”how’re you doing?”…”That dog’s a ______.” Everyone needs something in their social interaction quiver.


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